Learning in the Real World

by Wendy Priesnitz

A retired school teacher acquaintance recently acquired her first computer. After plugging it in and connecting the components according to the instructions, she called me to ask if I could recommend a course that she could take to learn how to use her new toy. I said I couldn’t recommend a course because I’ve never taken a computer course in my life. Then how in the world, she wondered, had I become such a proficient computer user? Well, I responded, I just began using it!

I hadn’t given much thought to it before, but I realized then that I learn most things by just doing them. And I suppose that made me a good role model for our life learning daughters when they were young…or at least it helped me understand that “just doing it” can be an effective way to learn. And that is fundamental to my philosophy of living and learning.

It’s also fundamental to how all children learn to walk and to talk. They don’t take a course. They don’t “goof off” while learning it because they’re bored or it’s too hard. They are not marked, tested, graded or nagged to practice. They just do it. They are motivated by wanting to do it well, like bigger people.

To someone dependent on being carried or on crawling, walking must seem like a natural, easy and fast way to get around. Their parents, older siblings and other walkers in their lives have a mobility that they must envy, especially given their high level of curiosity. And curiosity is motivating.

Aside from modeling the behaviour, we create a safe environment, putting breakables away, toddler-proofing our homes so there are no stairs to fall down, no sharp corners to bang against. And we provide nourishing food so they developed straight bones and strong muscles.

We unconsciously encourage and stimulate them to learn, bouncing them on our knee at first as they try to push their legs straight against our stomachs, then holding them at floor level and pretending they are walking, then holding out our hands just a few inches in front of them, encouraging them to take those first few tentative steps.

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