Let’s teach children why they are such quick learners

An excellent newspaper article on adult learning recommends adopting the mindset of a child to help in acquiring new skills. We know that young children are exceptionally quick learners, with an insatiable appetite for new knowledge and skills. But is there an argument for teaching them why they are such good learners?

The journalist and author Tom Vanderbilt has published a Long Read article in The Guardian called The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners. It is well worth a look. His description of learning a new skill alongside his daughter (in this case, the game of chess) will doubtless resonate with many parents, and there is plenty for people involved in educating children and young people to reflect on as well.

Vanderbilt is a champion of lifelong learning, highlighting not just the intrinsic benefit of acquiring new skills but also the positive impact on mental acuity and general wellbeing. The trick, he argues, is to think like a child:

Children, in a very real sense, have beginners’ minds, open to wider possibilities. They see the world with fresher eyes, are less burdened with preconception and past experience, and are less guided by what they know to be true.

They are more likely to pick up details that adults might discard as irrelevant. Because they’re less concerned with being wrong or looking foolish, children often ask questions that adults won’t ask.

Tom Vanderbilt, The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners

The Forum for Life-Based Learning also focuses on how children learn. We believe that children’s learning will be better if they are taught how the brain itself learns.

Let’s teach children about the role of the senses and sensory uptake, and about different types of memory — short-term, routine, working, operational and long-term.

But there is an important emotional dimension to learning as well. The current National Curriculum turns too many children off learning rather than engaging and motivating young minds and instilling a love of learning.

We need to combine what Vanderbilt refers to as “the spirit of the novice” — the open mind, the willingness to have a go, the courage to fail — with oodles of praise and encouragement. We need to make learning a pleasurable and rewarding experience, not a disagreeable chore.

The Mind is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

If children know why they are such effective learners, they are more likely to carry that knowledge and that mindset into their adult lives — exactly in the way that Tom Vanderbilt advocates.

The Mind

Find out more about the Mind learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve children’s learning

Image at the head of this article by Anna Ventura from Pixabay

The UK Primary School National Curriculum needs an urgent reboot

The gap between what is known and what is delivered to children in the National Curriculum is every widening. 

For example: children learning about and looking after their bodies (1), their emotions (2) and their minds (3).

(1) Physiology scientists know more about the body, yet the National Curriculum focus is not on the knowledge and the skills children need to be genuinely supported in learning about and looking after the body. 

(2) Psychologists know more about how to develop emotional resilience (EQ if you like), but the knowledge is not applied to the learning set up in a consistent and intentional way so children are not getting the emotional development they could be getting.

(3) Cognitive neuroscientists know so much more about how the brain learns and therefore, how teachers can facilitate learning so that children can learn the way the brain works – it is not happening

Given the urgent challenges facing individuals in today’s fast moving and everchanging society, the sooner the National Curriculum gets its act together the better.

Public Support for a Focus on Health and Wellbeing

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

A YouGov survey indicates that 82% of the British people would prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth during the current coronavirus emergency. It also suggests that 61% of people would choose improved social and environmental outcomes over economic growth even when the pandemic finally subsides.

The survey was commissioned by a campaigning group called Positive Money and features in a new report called The Tragedy of Growth.

Read more about the survey results here.

Life-based learning promotes health and wellbeing. The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has themes that focus on body, emotion and mind.

Please note that the Forum does not necessarily support or endorse the aims of the Positive Money campaign. We are highlighting the poll as evidence of popular support for quality-of-life priorities.

Five tips for creating a healthy school

The work of Fairfield Primary School in Cumbria around promoting health and well-being is really inspiring. Click here to read five useful tips to make your school more healthy, courtesy of the tes.com website.

What’s also interesting is that the five tips correspond very closely to what is set out in the Body learning domain.

We’re new. Come and have a look around the site. Let us know what you think. Join in the discussion about how we make the primary school curriculum better for our children.

Life Spark

The area of life called Self covers children learning about and looking after their bodies, their emotions and their minds. However, life is not just about the individual looking after these three aspects. The interdependence of the three aspects is crucially importance. Without the body, you are dead. Without the mind, you are no longer recognisable as the person you were. When emotions are turbulent, the body is under stress and the mind is unable to function.

It is the integration of all three that makes for a positive, lively human being.

The human being is more than the sum of their parts. The person is defined by more than their physical attributes, more than their emotional dynamic and more than the mind’s processes.

At the centre of every individual is their life spark, their anchor point, their sense of being. Whatever the physical, emotional or mind task being engaged in, it is essential always to relate children to their inner core.