If I tell you that I hold the secret of teaching, would you believe me?
“How do you know that?! Where did you learn to do that?!” If you have children, chances are you have said these words once in your life. Whether you realize it or not these words are the gateway to finding the key to the secret of teaching. Children are learning. They learn quickly, they learn on their own, they learn together and we are too busy to watch them do it. We look back when it’s already done. But if we took the time to watch them learn, what would we see?
Children learn out of necessity
It’s like the “sell me that pen” story in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. When they need to do something and they really want to be able to do it, children learn it. So as teachers, we need to create that need and desire. A word of warning, it’s not about making them learn a mathematical formula, or a grammar rule, by telling them that they will need it to write or count. It’s about creating a need for something they really want.
My children would never have learned other languages if we hadn’t traveled. Since they need to communicate once abroad, they dive willingly into language learning.
Creating a scenario or situation that causes students to need certain skills will help them develop a willingness to learn those skills.
Children learn by curiosity
Babies are the perfect example: they learn by observing everything and everyone around them. First they watch, then they try to figure out how. How did mom disappear behind her hand, how did dad put milk in that bottle? The need to understand is ingrained in our DNA. As teachers, we need to cultivate this desire where it is present and awaken it when it is gone. This is perhaps the best way to sum up the teaching profession, creating curious individuals.
Children learn when it’s fun
Good learning comes through repetition, and it’s always easier to repeat something when it’s fun to do. Be honest, who wants to stop playing first, you or your child? So turn every learning experience into something fun, which doesn’t mean everything has to be a game. It can be acting or using art in any form. It means doing things for the sake of doing them, not for a grade or a reward.
Children learn at their own pace
There are many theories and studies that tell us about the optimal length of time for an exercise based on a person’s ability to concentrate. When my children pick up a book or start an activity, I never stop them because they have exceeded their “optimal concentration time”. Instead, I let them do it for as long as they want. And when it’s the other way around and I sense that they’re not having fun doing something they’re not ready to do, I let it go. We’ll come back to it later, when they need it, when they’re curious enough to want to figure it out, or when it has become fun.
Children are the best teachers
Through their behavior, our children let us know what works, why, when and how they want to learn. All we have to do is observe and listen. I would go even further and say that children are actually the best teachers there are.
I remember how my daughter learned to swing on the monkey bars. I couldn’t convince her, I cajoled her, I explained, I demonstrated (barely). Nothing was working, until another child came along and showed confidence and patience. Peer learning is really important; it facilitates the learning experience because it is from the position of an equal to another.
The secret of teaching
This is the real secret of teaching, be a kid. You will know what you need, what is fun, what you want to discover and when you want to learn or not. Go at your own pace and have fun, that’s how to teach.