How do children learn? - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

How do children learn?

By: Judy Lyden

As a faculty, as a staff, as a student body, our primary interest at the Garden School is learning and doing. That's what we do as a group. Sometimes it's formal learning and sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's a teachable moment and sometimes it's one child who found out something all by himself.

When one of our young students told me that her favorite part of the day was classroom time when she could learn, we realized that her ability to discuss this was a high point of our success. Verbalization, independence, and motivation; these are the mind builders.

One of the problems in early childhood is in knowing what to teach. Lots of people believe that virtually nothing should be "taught" to children under five. They feel a child's day should be entirely his own to do with as he chooses.

As the mother of four and the grandmother of six, I've watched children for many years wander in the "I don't know what to do, so I'm going to go back to my toddler roots and just smash this toy." I've spent a lifetime showing how to, how not to, and what to do. Sometimes it's a simple measure of "try this," and other times it's a "sit down and let's start at the beginning."

Children really need to be taught. In older generations, parents taught the first child, and then it was the job of the older children to teach the younger guys how to do life stuff, and it worked. That is not readily available anymore. What is available is a classroom adult who is supposed to know enough to do the teaching.

So what do you teach a three or four or five year old? Reggio Emila, a program started in Italy back during WWII, which is very popular now, says that children should be taught anything they ask about. And there's the clincher.

If they ask about writing their name, how does one bypass the letters to get to the name? If you don't teach children about the months of the year and the days of the week, how will they appreciate the circular system of space design, the seasons and time in general?  

A few days ago we explored numbers and tried to understand time. During what I thought was a teachable moment, I took a regular piece of colored paper after repeating the names of the months of the year and talking about how those months got their names and then I took a scissors and began to cut the months away from the sheet of orange paper. I named the months as I cut, and at the end, we had twelve strips of paper. The children could understand that there were twelve parts to the whole.

Then I cut each of the strips into four pieces or weeks. Then we built weeks into months and months into a year. Then we cut the four pieces into seven days each and continued to build again.

Does this kind of learning help all children understand time? It depends upon the child. Every child learns differently. For one of the children or two or three, it might have been the lesson that "bingoed" the mind. Or, time might have to wait for another day. The teacher keeps teaching; keeps trying; keeps presenting because no child can understand space, time, seasons all on his own.

Teachable moments are not every time and not every child and not even every day. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but the idea that there is always something brewing, something happening, something in the hopper, is what allows the atmosphere of teaching and learning to continue day after day.

What parents looking at curriculum should know is that children are bored with restriction and retention. They come alive with an advance on a day much like explorers crossing new territory.

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