We can support our children to be wise learners by encouraging ‘meaningful learning’ and a ‘growth mindset’.
Meaningful learning is when the brain stores information within a framework that makes sense to the child and aligns with their worldview.
Growth mindset is the attitude of recognizing and dealing with challenges. Knowing that you evolve with the challenges over time, as opposed to challenges hindering you. This may involve reframing challenges as opportunities.
What are some techniques parents can utilize to help children become wise learners?
- Teach children about the learning pit (There are many visuals about this available online). When we first learn about a concept, we may struggle to understand it (i.e. falling deeper into the pit). At some point, we may hit a brick wall when we feel frustrating and overwhelmed. We might need strategies to get over the brick wall, such as taking a break, reading up more about the topic, discussing it with someone else, or reflecting and trying a new approach. Then, we begin the climb up from the bottom, where we start to feel a sense of the concept becoming clearer and our efforts bear fruit – “Aha I start to get this!”. The more challenging a concept or piece of work is, the deeper the learning pit is. Let children know that no learning happens without some sort of pit, some may be shallow, some may be deep, but if there is no pit then it has already been learned!
- Elicit emotional responses when talking about concepts By this we mean a whole spectrum of emotions, including interest, curiosity, delight, a sense of anger and justice, etc. Learning is emotional at heart; when we talk about meaningful learning, what we are really saying is, “How does this concept resonate with you and your experience?” When a topic is meaningful and stirs up an emotional response, it maps more clearly in the brain and does not get forgotten as easily. Some topics are intrinsically meaningful, such as learning about endangered animals or natural disasters and how it impacts the earth and people. However, many topics are more abstract. E.g. Pi in math. How do you make the concept of Pi meaningful to kids? I once observed a class taught by an engaging math teacher. The first thing the students were asked was “Why do we need to know this?” The teacher spoke about how pi is a constant, the ratio remains the same regardless of the size of the circle. He also spoke about how pi is an irrational number because the decimals never repeat. Then he asked the students to think of something in their lives that were both a constant and irrational (or infinite in their possibilities) at once and think about why it was important. The students gave answers like pizza – pizza is a constant food and their toppings are infinite in combination. Another student spoke about her family, the members are constant but their antics were infinite. There is no one formula for making concepts meaningful but once you have an engaged response, then the topic has been successfully mapped to the brain.
- Understand your child’s attention span and its ‘on-task’ limits. Children can appear as if they are focusing when they are not, and forcing someone to focus when they are not motivated to do so makes learning unpleasant in the long run. Take some time to understand their baseline of how long they can pay attention for, and work within those limits to manage and stretch attention. This will involve observing them closely over 3-4 sessions of learning tasks at home with a timer (used inconspicuously), and averaging the on-task time (when they are actually doing work or thinking about work). For example, if a child can focus for around 15 minutes before appearing distracted, the provide a study schedule that allows for 15 minutes study and 5 minutes break before starting again. Break activities should not involve electronics or favorite toys as that makes the transition back more difficult. Stretch breaks or motor breaks (e.g. jumping jacks) are ideal. If the attention span is short to start with, stretch slowly by increasing the ‘on-task’ time 1-2 minutes every couple of weeks.
- Help kids be in charge of the learning goals. One reason why children do not learn well is because they are passively being fed information when they should be formulating questions and then mapping the information as they learn it. In order for that to happen, prime kids with the concept and ask them what they would like to get out of it. For example, when reading a book, show the first page and ask kids what they see, think and wonder about the book (e.g. “I wonder why the food on the table is unfinished” “I wonder why the cat looks angry”). At the end of the book or concept, ask kids if they have thoughts on what they wondered about to get them to further reinforce the concept.
Written by our educational psychologist, Freda. For more information about learning styles, or if you are concerned about your child’s learning ability, Freda can provide advice and support.
To learn more, visit our Psychology & Counselling page