Learning Well

Dear Rich, you’ve been observing a growing child for the past five years, did this provide any insight on learning?

From what I’ve witnessed, mechanical learning is not a thing, parents do not provide a detailed list of instructions that the child eventually memorizes and follows. Instead, a switch of recognition is flipped via environmental cues. In other words, the parent provides minimal instructions during an appropriate time period and the child “gets it”. If instructions are provided too early, then the child attempts to mechanically follow through the steps, but output lacks mastery and there’s no progress. Yet when cues are provided at the appropriate stage, mastery comes quickly.

What this means is that knowledge is unlocked as if the child is granted selective access to a universal well of common knowledge. If mechanical learning was a real thing, then extensive and detailed training would be necessary, yet it’s not. Mechanical learning seems real because parents often attempt to introduce a topic too soon, before an appropriate stage, so the child struggles up until he finally “gets it”. But the struggle can be skipped by waiting until the child is ready.

Additionally, over ambitious attempts at mechanical learning might even cause delays, as it will likely frustrate the parent and child. The better course is to periodically introduce topics and evaluate whether the child shows interest and ability. Yet, because the days must be filled with some activities, lighthearted and entertaining attempts at mechanical learning are relatively harmless — but no pressure should be placed on performance as it’s expected the child will perform clumsily.

From sleeping to weaning to walking to talking to potty-training to playing to building to adding to reading, it all came in due time with minimal effort. The parent needs the patience not to push. I’ve been rewarded every time I took the gentle nudging approach and punished whenever I was overly enthusiastic about achievement. One path leads to smiles and success, the other to frowns and frustration. As is said: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.


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