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Why We Don’t Let Kids Learn

Children learning

I have noticed I tend to get frustrated watching my children learn new things, especially new things I already feel proficient at. Throwing a ball, using a remote, typing, I cringe a little bit thinking about watching them try to dig. Most of this frustration is due to a new learner’s inefficiency in their movements. My son was playing with a water table when he was about 18 months old. It occurred to him that he could pick up water using a paintbrush and move the water from one place to another. He repeated this process for probably ten minutes. He was at the age that I found his inefficient method completely adorable. I even saw it as evidence of some greater sign of out-of-the-box thinking. However, this methodology follows them into a lot of new things they do.

Since his earlier days I’ve felt the urge more often to step in and correct his inefficiencies. Him and his two sisters. Whether it’s looking for a toy or opening a snack, I try to show them efficient methods for getting things done. When I show them a better way to do it I cringe when they continue to use their own method. If you’ve ever cringed when you see someone “hunt and peck” at a keyboard then you know exactly how I feel. My cringe is evidence of a deep habit: I don’t trust the learning process. I forget that I’ve had to learn many things the hard way, and sometimes the hard way is the only way.

Children at computer
Minecraft

The most recent example is watching my three kids learn to play Minecraft on our iPad. Granted, the motions for this game are not simple. Developing the coordination to direct the eyes of the character with one hand while simultaneously directing the feet is complicated. When I was growing up we mostly had platform games. The idea of moving the head of a character with a different joystick as the feet would’ve been completely foreign to me. And yet, here I am, judging an eight year old for not picking up on this nuance. Instead, he and his two sisters use one hand to do one motion at a time. Move to the side, turn, move to the side, look up, move forward, look down, ad nauseam.

If only there were some way to help them see the world the way I do. But that’s actually a big part of the problem. I’m projecting my own view of the world on them. I’m assuming they are unhappy with their method and that they are just waiting for a wise person to help them out. This assumption leads to less patience in all our interactions. I’m more likely to get an attitude with them and say things I don’t wish to say. I’m glad I’m becoming more aware of my assumptions. I can calm myself down when I consider the fact that learning takes time and involves a process of self-improvement. While my way of doing things may be better there is value in their own discovery.

What has struck me over the last few years as I’ve experienced my children learning is that they don’t seem bothered by their inefficiency at all. They’ve found a method that works for the time being and it’s getting them through to what is next. I want to honor my children by allowing them to figure out things on their own. Where is the line between teaching them what they need to know and letting them figure things out? When children are asking for help improving, that’s when I try to step in. Otherwise, albeit grinding my teeth in the background, I try to stay back. Learning is something that happens naturally. It’s not wise to force it. 

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Philip Mott


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