How Do We Learn – Making it Count for Our Children

Since we decided to send the boys to school, as opposed to homeschooling them, I have eased off considerably on our extra-curricular home activities. We still work together on stuff from time to time, but it is usually very flexible. Given the long hours Aristotle has at school (finishing at 3:30 if he has after school activities), I want to make sure he gets enough down time. Down time for Aristotle usually involves doing activities of his choice. These days, it’s usually painting, play doh, reading, Lego, TV or games on the iPad. Getting him out of the house and active is a bit of a chore, so I’ve made it mandatory for him to take on extra-curricular sports at school, like taekwondo and swimming, to help increase his physical activity.

Now that we aren’t so focussed on what to do with him at home, I’ve been thinking more about how to help him get the most out of his learning experiences – whether in school or out of school. Some time back, I wrote about figuring out our education priorities for our children because I don’t think it’s enough just to send them to school so that they’ll eventually graduate with a degree – however that may be achieved – because students who don’t care for what they are learning, who cram for exams just to pass, often leave with no memory of having learned anything. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about having a vague memory about learning a subject, we’re talking about zero memory. If a child cannot even remember learning about a topic then why do we bother to subject him to the process of “studying” it? If that were the case, then that child would probably be better off vegging in front of the TV.

Most of us would protest against that thought – allowing our children to while away the bulk of their time on meaningless TV programs. But getting by on having no memory of what they have studied doesn’t seem to bother as many people so long as the report cards are good. I am struggling with that because I don’t want my children coming home with a report card of straight A’s but not be able to tell me about what they’ve learned. That, to me, is a waste of time and our children’s time is too precious to be squandered so thoughtlessly.

Even if you don’t agree, you may want to ponder upon the following prediction from Brain World Magazine:

In a contemporary world where exchanges of massive amounts of information have become the norm, students are inundated by far more information than learners from just one generation earlier. Dr. James Appleberry, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, predicted that by the year 2020, human knowledge or information will double every 73 days.

Then there is another point I once heard someone say which, I must confess, offends me greatly… According to this individual, “some people can’t learn a particular subject because they are too stupid to”. The premise was that some people were born incapable of grasping certain concepts and there was nothing that could be done about it. I suppose this point of view arises from the idea that some people are musically talented, while others are physically talented, and, in this case, some are intellectually lacking. But I disagree. Shinichi Suzuki said it best:

In today’s society a good many people seem to have the idea that if one is born without talent, there is nothing he can do about it; they simply resign themselves to what they consider to be their “fate.” Consequently, they go through life without living it to the full or ever knowing life’s true joy. That is man’s greatest tragedy.

We are born with a natural ability to learn. A newborn child adjusts to his environment in order to live, and various abilities are acquired in the process. My thirty years’ experience has proved over and over again that this is true. Many children grow up in an environment that stunts and damages them, and it is assumed that they were born that way; they themselves believe it, too. But they are wrong.

Suzuki points out a very obvious fact that every child is capable of learning to speak his or her native language (unless they have a developmental or learning disability). Despite the awareness of this knowledge, the significance of this fact seems lost to many of us. Children are all born with the ability to learn. It is the environment they are in that impedes their ability. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the environment our children are in is one that supports their learning. And if a child is not thriving in their environment, then clearly, something needs to change.

Hubby once told me about a child he knew about. This was not a story that came through a grapevine, it was straight from the boy’s father. According to the father, the boy is up every school day at 5:30 so he can get onto a school bus by 6am. He goes to school and after school, he gets on a bus to go to after school tuition classes. He stays there to shower and have dinner and comes home at 9pm. He gets a little bit of time to wind down and get ready for bed. Then it’s bed time and he wakes up to do it all over again. On the weekends, he has weekend tuition. Over the school holidays, he gets school holiday tuition. Despite all this “studying” and extra tuition classes, the boy is failing at school.

Tell me… do you think the boy is just plain stupid? Or perhaps his learning environment is just all wrong for him. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I would say that keeping this boy in his current “educational” environment is insanity.

So I’ve been thinking about how we can provide the appropriate educational environment that will enable our children to do what they do best – learn. Here are a few environments that have been inspiring:

Here are a few learning methods that we’ve come across that helps to increase learning retention (click the links to read more about them):


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

One thought on “How Do We Learn – Making it Count for Our Children

  1. Hi Shen-Li – and thanks for including so many resources here. Really impressive. You’re right about our education system being so much about cramming for exams and forgetting the information again just as quickly. A few quick thoughts come to mind. One is that old saying that goes something like, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I teach and then I understand”… If we can encourage our children to recall what they’ve learned, and teach it to someone else shortly afterwards, the information tends to stick more easily in their minds.

    The same is true with the simple practice of training our children to mentally repeat what they are being taught in their heads, as they are being taught it. In other words, they might hear their teacher say something, then the child simply “says” the same words in their heads, in their own voice. I learned this from trainer Wyatt Woodsmall, and while it takes a bit of getting used to, it can be very effective.

    Finally, I’m not sure if you’ve come across Bernice McCarthy’s ‘4mat’ learning system? Some schools in America have adopted it as a way of teaching children in a way that matches their own specific learning styles.

    Thanks again for all the information you included here – Really enjoyed reading it! J


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