Ways We Learn

With school starting again, education is front and center.  Most everyone has a new teacher, perhaps new students in the class, and some even have a new school.  Soon, if not already, there will be homework, and familiar struggles with children who would rather be doing something else.  With so much pressure these days on both children and parents for academic success, this may be a good time to think about how our children learn best, and how we as parents can best be helpful.

One thing certain is that even though children are taught in classes, that does not mean they are all in the same place or that they all learn in the same way.  For each child will find some things easier to master and others more challenging.  Children often resist working at things they are not good at, or don’t come easily to them.  This in turn can lead to pressure both from school and home, which then creates more resistance  in an endless cycle.

Children don’t always ask for help when they need it.  At times, some feel ashamed to show they didn’t get what the teacher was explaining – especially if it seems that others did.  Others may feel there is something wrong with them and try to hide it in various ways.  Some may fool around, or seem inattentive, or even provoke others sitting next to them.  These days, schools in particular are too quick to think in terms of attention deficit disorder.

Many times I have been asked to observe a child in school because of concerns about attention or behavior problems.  As an experienced observer, it becomes clear that the child is unable to do the work, or is experiencing difficulty with the assignment and is either avoiding tackling it, or trying to cover up the difficulty.  Sometimes, what looks like annoying another child, is really at attempt to get help from the other child.  At times this may signal an underlying learning disability, but more often it may be specific to a particular area of work.

When my son was a high school student he was convinced he couldn’t write and resisted homework assignments that involved any sort of essay writing.  In desperation I said I would do the writing and then asked him his thoughts about the topic, one sentence at a time.  I took down his words and after reaching one or two paragraphs I read back to him what he had told me.  I pointed out to him that this was something he had written; all I did was put down the words on paper.  Writing is simply putting down on paper the thoughts that are in your mind – but they are your ideas.

This seemed to demystify the idea of writing an essay or story, and made it seem attainable.  After a few more sessions like this he was ready to try his hand at putting his thoughts down on paper himself.  Today he excels at writing and is frequently complimented by others about things he writes, even emails.

What that taught me is the importance of finding a way that works for a particular individual – another way to learn the material that is causing difficulty.  The good news is that there are some beginning signs from the world of education of pushback against the focus on testing with rigid class lessons as preparation.  Some attempts are being made to create classroom environments that will foster creativity and the possibility of children learning in their own ways.

As parents we can be especially helpful because we know our own children best. If we pay attention to where they get stuck, we may discover what the sticking points are, and that can often help us find the kind of band-aid that will stick.