Our children's world is much different than that in which we grew up, and acknowledging these differences--without judgement--can result in expanded and authentic learning opportunities. There is no evidence that our (adult) context for learning is best, and yet often that perspective dominates our thinking. At times we may unknowingly put false barriers between our children and the natural processes in which they learn and explore, solely because it does not align with our view of learning. To do so, however, is to partially deny them the opportunity to reach their full poetential.
I am not immune to creating false barriers with the best of intentions. One example was a few years ago when I was convinced that my son was not reading enough. My bias was that the primary way in which we learn is by reading. If you read a lot, you learn a lot.
Somehow I forgot that this was not my view when I was a child and a teenager, and that the way I learned back then was not solely by reading, but by doing. The more I did and the more mistakes I made, the more I learned. If I couldn't figure something out, I'd turn to friends and we'd figure it out together. Whether it was changing leaf springs, learning how to tune-up a car, or trying (forever unsuccessfully) to enable water injection to increase horsepower, I would try and try again.
Somehow I had forgotten that and found comfort in a "read more, study more, learn more" mentality, one that certainly would not have worked with me in my younger years.
I recall being dissapointed that my son was spending too much time in front of the television and not enough time reading, so I approached the problem from my (misguided) context and chose to enable the parental controls on our television. In my naive world of old school thinking, this would control when he could watch television, and somehow this encourage him to read and to learn.
I was successful in getting him to read and to learn, though not in the way I imagined. When I came home one evening and heard the television blaring, I was perplexed. "David," I said, "who allowed you to watch television and who unlocked it for you?"
"Nobody dad," he replied, "but I knew if you were here you would let me watch this show about World War II, so I unlocked the TV myself."
Yes, my son had indeed used reading to solve his television dilemma. His context for approaching a problem was similiar to what mine had been years ago; figure it out. He told me that he knew most adults would forget how to set the controls, and therefore they must be written in the owner's manual. He found the owner's manual, followed the steps for resetting the password, and then proceeded to watch the documentary.
I was proud, and (re)learned an important lesson. Children need to have opportunities to figure things out on their own, to collaborate with others, to try--fail--and try again.
By removing the false barriers we sometimes impose in the hope of helping our children become better learners, we may very well discover they learn quite differently--and quicker-than we might otherwise have imagined.