Your children first discover and then experiment
with what they have discovered. They then repeat the activity, action,
behavior, or experience until they have either mastered it or determined it has
no value for them. When your children achieve mastery, their knowledge and
skills become conscious: they use the knowledge or skill when it is needed for
the sake of something else.
Language development illustrates this
progression both in terms of the process and the ongoing nature of learning.
Your child discovers the possibility of making noises and gestures. As he
experiments with making sounds, he soon learns people respond in different ways
to different noises. Once his skill has developed to the point people usually
respond in the expected way, a specific verbalization or gesture can be
Throughout childhood and adult life, though,
people continually discover new verbalizations and gestures. With each
discovery, the process of experimentation leading to mastery comes into play.
With adolescents and adults, the experimentation/mastery phase with new words
and gestures is very brief and requires little attention. From your young
children, though, you receive endless questions and requests mixed with a very
frustrating flow of verbalizations and gestures. You notice, despite consistent
responses, your child continues asking the same question, making the same
gesture, or verbalizing in the same way. Your child is experimenting. Is your
response predictable or does the answer change?
This pattern of discovery, experimentation, and
mastery leading to conscious use is seen in most learning. You tell your
three-year-old he has made a pretty picture. You are then inundated with pretty
pictures. You tell your nine-year-old his way of doing something does not work.
He persists, nonetheless, until his experiments convince him it does not work.
Once in a while, his way does work and he learns although usually you are right,
occasionally you are wrong.
Your children’s learning is continuous and
follows a fairly predictable course. It starts with discoveries leading to experimentation,
in turn, leading to further discoveries and more experimentation. Through this
repeating and expanding process, your growing children gradually come to master
a wide range of knowledge and many skills.
As their physical, emotional, and social
abilities expand, they discover new possibilities within things they had
relegated to conscious use. Learning is ever dynamic, ongoing, expanding, and
exciting. Effective parents encourage such learning while ineffective parents
tend to discourage it.
The process of discovery leading to
experimentation also means your children often do not learn the first time they
have an experience, the first time they are told about something, the first
time they discover things sometimes do not work or sometimes turn out badly.
Likewise, your initial efforts to teach them about most anything may not be
effective. Your children often experiment with your ideas and pronouncements
before they decide to integrate them into their views of things.
It is easy to overlook the reality you are
learning along with your children. Before your responses become internalized by
your children, you have ample opportunities to try again, when necessary. You
“Let me tell you this again.”
“I was wrong.”
“I made a mistake.”
“I didn’t do that right.”
“What I told you was
You and your children are learning together. Along
with this shared learning, you are modeling for your children appropriate
mistake-making behavior. Neither you nor your children have to always be right,
have to be perfect. It is enough to try your best, sometimes fail, learn
through experience, and try again. Learning is a three steps forward and two
steps back kind of thing sometimes. Both you and your children come to
understand, accept, and value the process itself and not give too much
importance to where you are in the learning process at any specific time.