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Then, when they finally take those first triumphant steps, we celebrate the satisfaction of accomplishment with them. We also reassure them when they have a setback, cuddling them when they fall, patching up a scratched knee, encouraging them to try again. And reassuring them they can and will eventually walk.

But perhaps most important of all, we trust them to learn to walk. Unless they are severely disabled, we don’t think twice about whether or not they will learn to walk. People walk, so we know our children will eventually do it too. We take it for granted. We just let them get on with it, as we do the same.

We don’t worry that we might need a degree to help them learn this important and difficult skill. We know that we’re up to the task and so are they. They do it experientially, from real life, motivated by a real need. And they work hard at it. In fact, they relish the challenge to learn and put a lot of self-discipline to work on whatever they choose to learn.

In the same way, a child will teach herself the language spoken by the adults around her. And that same child can later learn to read it. She will do that as part of her real world experience – speaking and reading for real-life reasons.

Let’s take another example, this time looking at how a child just off the breast or bottle learns about a cup. As she uses it, she makes many discoveries: What it is, what is its substance? What are its attributes, what it feels like, tastes like? How is it different from the last cup she used in texture, weight, shape and colour? What will a cup hold? How much will a cup hold? Is it better to hold it with one hand or two? Where can cups be put down without spilling (and perhaps more interestingly to a young child, with spilling)? What happens when a cup is thrown across the room (first full, then empty)?

The child learns all this science experientially, not because somebody teaches her or tells her she has to learn it. She picks up the knowledge as part of her everyday life...in just the same way that we adults learn things. She didn’t learn it because we got inside her head to examine her thought processes...and whether or not she was “doing it right” or even knew the name we’ve given to that type of science. But she did challenge that curious notion that children have short attention spans! (In my experience, they only have short attention spans when someone is making them do something they are not interested in.)

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