Monday, March 9, 2009

Learn Like a Kid

If you try to teach adults to wiggle their ears, they'll try once or twice to engage those muscles, fail, shrug, and give up. If it's absolutely critical that they learn the skill, they'll buy a book or hire a coach, and set aside time for diligent, grinding practice.

If you try to teach kids to wiggle their ears, they return to it again and again at odd moments, playfully experimenting until they finally develop the knack.

That's why kids learn easily and adults don't.

The trick to learning is to do it playfully and immersively, like a child (rather than the way schools have taught you to learn).

4 comments:

Chuck said...

I played the tuba for many years. When I first learned, I was about 10. I repeated the fingering patterns constantly in the car, on my desk, or in line. It was just a fun little game to me, but it set the foundations that allowed me to become relatively excellent at the instrument.

Now my youngest brother is learning the instrument, and I shared that little secret with him this past weekend.

Jim Leff said...

I said: "The trick to learning is to do it playfully"

Chuck said: "It was just a fun little game to me"


That's the thing. Adults, for whatever reason, stifle their playfulness. That's why they learn poorly. Play and learning are one and the same.

spedteacher said...

Not every child will continue to try to wiggle ears, play tuba or learn to read.

Persistence is a learned skill and to learn it one must have some sense of impending success.

Children who learn to expect failure instead of success do not develop persistence. They stop trying at the first sign of failure because they 'know' how it will turn out in the end.

Early success is key, but it must be what the child feels is authentic success, not one where there was no possibility of failure.

Jim Leff said...

Spedteacher, I'm not sure you're speaking to my point.

The ability to stoically apply persistence to a task is indeed a learned skill, and some are better at it than others. In my experience, persistence alone results in difficult and inadequate learning.

Play, by contrast, is natural, and an effective means of learning for just about everyone. For one thing, it makes persistence fun, rather than a goal in itself. Children are more apt to play than adults, which I believe explains the very steep decrease of our ability to learn new things as we age.

It's not that adults (or, for that matter, children) require more persistence in order to learn. It's that they need to apply a more playful attitude to learning.

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