Friday, May 08, 2015

Learning How I Learn

The way most of our day works, children move freely about the place, engaging with the activities, objects, and people they find there. As a preschooler, my own child was a generalist, by which I mean she made a point of spending at least some time at each station each day, trying her hand at the art, sensory, construction, and other activities her teacher prepared for her. She wasn't always drawn to the activities per se, but rather the people, both the parent-teachers and her classmates. At the end of the day, at least, that's what we wound up talking about on the way home, the people.

Other children prefer to remain in the center of one activity or another for as long as our schedule allows. That might mean an hour of scooping and pouring water or playing princesses or driving cars on roads made from blocks. Parents sometimes worry about these kids, wondering when they are going to finally "move on." I hear them sometimes urging, "Don't you want to try the art project? It looks fun!" or "I see fresh, pink play dough over there." When these parents bring their concerns to me, I tell them that their child is just "going deep," which is, after all, what they are doing, mastering an environment or process.

There is no right or wrong way to do this, of course, and most, as they get older, tend to find more of a balance, perhaps not engaging with everything, but at least flowing from one thing to the next if only to remain close to particular friends.

And some kids come in knowing their passion, more or less demanding their needs be met.

I start each year by telling parents that I will not bring letters or numbers into the classroom, except as they occur incidentally, unless and until the children bring them in. A few years ago, a two-year-old boy did exactly that, entering the classroom in search of "the A-B-C's." Each morning, the first words out of his mouth, even before greeting me, were, "Where are A-B-C's?" I accommodated, of course, cycling through our alphabet blocks, alphabet cookie cutters, alphabet puzzles. As the year went on, I would sometimes "forget" the A-B-C's which caused him to hunt for them in books or packaging or by making them himself with pencils or play dough.

This year, I have a boy who is all about trains in much the same way, the difference being that he doesn't bother asking me. Instead, he brings trains into everything he does no matter what I do. He paints trains, he tells stories about trains, he chugs around outdoors playing engine. But mostly, I find him lining things up, making trains from whatever material comes to hand. I've seen book trains and bear trains and rock trains and trains made from fire trucks with their ladders lined up as tracks. Anything that can be sequenced, becomes a train or a train station or a train engineer.

Traditional schools, those that rely upon adults telling children what to learn and when to learn, give children very little choice in how they learn, starting from the false assumption that everyone is a generalist in search of a broad body of more superficial knowledge. This is particularly hard on children who instinctively "go deep." On the other hand, when the children themselves are in charge of what and when to learn, we take advantage of each child's intuitive knowledge of how they best learn.

In the end, learning how to learn, learning how I learn, is probably the most important "academic" knowledge there is. And the only way to learn this is through the freedom to figure it out.

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1 comment:

Elaine bennett said...

What a brilliant piece! In the UK we have the 7 areas of learning which outline what children need to learn. ..alongside the Characteristics of effective learning which are about how children learn. So many educators and parents get caught up on the 'what' instead of the 'hows'!