“Learning is finding out what you already know…”- Richard Bach, Illusions
Last week, M learned to ride a bike sans training wheels.
The experience, eventually turned out to be almost effortless and far more enjoyable and memorable than I had imagined. But first, may I just say – what a revealing process it was! More than anything, thanks to this experience, it’s become crystal clear that learning is a very personal, individual thing. Whether it’s learning to read, to dance, play a sport or to ride a bike, you can read all the books you want on the topic and enroll yourself or your child in all the classes you can find, but nothing can ensure that you or your child will learn it. Other than the individual mind and the unseen force that drives it, that is.
Teaching the mind and as a result, the body, to do something is not just about training, memorizing, repetition, testing or peer pressure, although each of these may help with the process to varying degrees depending on one’s personality. But, what is really, really crucial to learning an art or skill while enjoying the experience is the right environment. Everything else – happens, as they say.
The story of how my 5 1/2 year-old learned to ride a bike is a simple one. At first, her father and I tried teaching her the old-fashioned way – which is the only way we knew. One of us would run alongside her, holding the bike, helping her balance as she pedaled away, keeping fingers crossed that the bruises would be tiny ones that we could kiss away. After a few unsuccessful attempts, and very unpleasant sensations in our 30-something-year-old backs, the realization that we weren’t going to get very far this way dawned on us. We then turned to online videos and figured out an alternative to this back-breaking exercise. Who knew there’s actually a fall-proof method to learn to ride a bike?!
4 hours later, our daughter was riding her bike, almost embarrassed by then that we continued to hover, demanding that we not run beside her as she rode.
The video hadn’t taught us anything new. It had however reminded us to create the right environment that would accelerate M’s learning process and make it more enjoyable, rather than seem like an insurmountable task. We hadn’t taught. We had merely facilitated her learning.
With the stage properly set and the student willing, learning the skill was but a byproduct. The fun we had with the whole exercise was the bonus.
I guess the same could apply to pretty much anything kids are learning.
Take reading. This is something else M is working on. Sure, it needs practice, letter and sound recognition and phonics awareness and most importantly, patience and time. But, after observing how M and a few other kids respond to the process and take to reading independently at their own pace, I’ve come to realize that what a child learning to read really needs is an environment where reading is enjoyed and encouraged, where stories have a special place and where loving adults read to the child consistently from an early age. It’s completely possible for kids with none of these to learn to read just as well, but something tells me that having the right setting is half the skill accomplished. It’s then only a matter of time.