Should We Be Looking to Children to Teach Us How to Learn?

When we think about the world of children, it is a world of discovery, investigation, and exploration. A world of first times. They’re absorbing information, learning without even realizing it is happening. Do we become weary of learning or are we, as adults, just afraid to put ourselves out there?

Researchers have been studying this question and concluded that kids can teach adults a thing or two about learning for the following reasons:

  • Children are naturally open-minded. They’re eager to learn and happy to explore outside of their comfort zone. Adults, on the other hand, are reluctant to push beyond boundaries of comfort. They have become familiar with their sphere of knowledge and often feel fearful of the unknown.
  • Children understand from an early age that they must be resilient. Skills are developed with effort, they must try and fail numerous times in order to perfect a skill such a walking, talking, reading and writing. Adults struggle with this try, try, try again mentality and are much more likely to give up after an early failure out of impatience or fear.
  • Access to teachers is unlimited as a child. Parents, carers, teachers and peers all fulfill the role of tutor. Adults need to search harder to find experts to guide us in our chosen pursuit. As adults, we assume that we need to invest time, energy and probably money – all of which can be discouraging.
  • Children are expected and allowed to make mistakes. Children command patience and understanding. It is much harder to allow an adult this space to make mistakes and to fail. Most often training is costing a company or an individual time and money and so mistakes become much more difficult to tolerate.
  • A child is committed to learning skills such as walking, talking and reading because they are essential life skills. It isn’t optional to learn how to walk, it’s an innate urge. When an adult chooses to learn a new skill, this is usually as a hobby, an outside interest. The non-essential value of the skill makes a lack of commitment and unwillingness to persevere much more likely.
  • As we get older we get out of practice at learning lots of things simultaneously as a child does. In a single day, a child will be trying out language, social skills, and visual cues all at once. Our familiarity with the world and our existing skills set means we rarely ever have to face this challenge. Except perhaps in a foreign country and think how taxing that can be!

As adults, we hold onto a fear of making a fool of ourselves and being judged by our peers. We aren’t good at stepping out of our comfort zone and making mistakes. As a rule, we focus on what we are good at, and not on what we aren’t. We generally assume that as we get older we lose the ability to learn as easily as a child but could it be that this cognitive decline is due to our lack of effort rather than our reduction of ability?


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