As a teacher of 20 years I have always been intrigued by the traits of a good learner. What makes a child able to learn in a contented and effective way? Of course school is the key to this but the home environment has the greater influence as this is where a child begins their learning.
Through out my career I have noticed that the successful learners have had some key traits. Happiness, resilience, independence and risk taking. These are the children that can solve problems, make decisions, try new things, take on challenges and enjoy the experiences they have. These are also the children who come from families that love their children but don’t see them as too precious. The children are encouraged to contribute to the family by helping and respecting others, they are the children who can independently take care of their basic needs, they are the children who are expected to laugh at everyday mistakes. These children can be high achievers but their family recognise they are more than the sum total of their achievement. The family has helped develop these traits by encouraging independence, by recognising that their children learn from challenge and by celebrating their strengths AND recognising and supporting their weaknesses.
Sadly I have no degree in psychology nor have I had the opportunity to study the brain and its complex function at university, but I do have a lifetime of work in schools… watching children, listening to children and observing them over time. This is a privilege and I have now come to understand more fully how very important the home is to supporting children in their learning. School has the expertise, the equipment, the resources, the environment for educating, and even though children spend a large part of their day at school, it is the home that has the greatest effect.
After all, a child’s first learning experience is with her parents, with family, in the home. She started to walk, she started to talk, she developed skills that allow her to communicate and interact, all in the home. This is a vitally important learning ground. Children learn to be curious, to make mistakes, to satisfy their needs and to connect with others. If they are encouraged to make mistakes, take risks and to laugh at these experiences they are being prepared for learning at school, and ultimately learning in life.
But…if children are discouraged from developing early experiences of independence, such as getting their own drink, feeding themselves with their spoon, returning their plate to the kitchen sink, putting their toys away, they are being denied the opportunity to learn early problem solving skills.
These early problem solving skills that children need at school, are based on an acceptance that the child can be a participant in her learning. This means that they need to be active not passive in their life. Hence, the early independence skills children experience, such as feeding themselves, getting their own drink, helping out with chores, give the foundation for this very concept. Without this a child is less able to access the curriculum and develop skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. To fully develop an understanding of this she needs to develop skills of perseverance, patience and, the key understanding that, she needs to be active in the process.
The child who does not have early independence, is the child who responds with non- action when posed with a situation that they are unsure of, don’t know or are confused by. The child who has early independence has already come to understand that she can use a variety of strategies to solve a problem….try again, change the angle, use different resources, or ask for help. If a child does not have these skills she is inclined to be passive and respond by doing “nothing”, as they have never had to do “something”.
Sometimes the children who have not developed these early independence skills can struggle at school as they defer to inaction. Consequently, when posed with a challenging question, new experience or task, they don’t know what to do unless they are held by the hand. They may have interest and often very high potential to succeed but no strategies for doing it on their own. They have not been encouraged to make mistakes or if they do they are not encouraged to understand or value the mistake. It just gets resolved FOR them. If this is a child’s usual experience with life they have no reason to change or seek independence to ensure future success.
So firstly, think about your child and what you wish for your child. Learning is a gift for all of us and children are full of potential, but if they do not learn to reach for it themselves they can not capitalise on what is available to them.
Secondly, think about how you support and empower your child to be a learner. Is there room to help your child to be more of a risk-taker, more of a problem solver and more active in her learning?