I have little experience with teaching young kids but I think this could be the reason why teaching them from time to time is such a joy for me — a time when I learn a lot more about learning than about teaching — a place where I learn about the nature of the learner inside everyone of us. From working with children, I learn great lessons that I then bring to the teaching of teenagers and adults — who approach learning from almost the opposite end of the spectrum than kids do.
Here are three things I’ve learned from kids about learning — things that also explain why kids learn more easily than adults do and why it is good to remember as adult learners, too.
Probably one of the most amazing things kids have taught me is the importance of mindfulness. It is something we adults, need to learn again. Watch a child in whatever activity he or she is doing. You will probably notice they do not believe in the concept of multitasking — a concept so popular (and damaging) among adults. When they build a sand castle, their minds wander from little towers, gates to water dams. When they draw, they can hardly focus on more than what they hold in their little hands, one colour at a time! When they listen to your story, they imagine every single word you say. And when they don’t, they go and do something else. They stop when they are not interested or attentive. As a teacher, you know that is why you need to change activities very often to keep kids active and interested. Engaged brains learn naturally!
Teaching kids leaves me with a greater feeling of responsibility. Don’t get me wrong please. I am a responsible teacher with every student no matter what their age is but kids themselves can make you feel that way. They come, sit and wait for what you tell them and yes, they misbehave and do things you don’t ask them to do but they trust you as a teacher — as a person who cares about them — and they accept you know a thing or two they don’t. With adult learners it is not always easy when it comes to trust. It is not easy with teenagers either but they are in a bit different category – a category I love most of all by the way. The problem is that the minds of adult learners is that they are have been so influenced by all the books, methods, friends’ experiences and their own ideas that they wind up overwhelmed by their expectations and doubts about how you should teach them. They often think they know better than you do what they want and need, and they forget you may know better how to get where they want to go or at least trust enough that you will do your best to show them the door that will help them get there. Working with kids is very different because they are very different. If only adults could be more like this: more trusting.
You will probably agree with me when I say that every child is creative. However, I believe every person, child or adult, is creative! Kids’ lives are a manifestation of creativity. Adults chase creativity as if it was something they can only find somewhere outside themselves. It is our fear of what others may think or say that stops us from seeing that creative element we carry inside ourselves. You know you’ve found it when you do something with joy and are not thinking too much about the judgment of others. This is what I was writing about recently when I wrote in a recent iTDi blog post that there is an artist living inside every one of us. Look again at how kids draw, write or play. They observe the world; they try to express it as precisely as possible but still through their own eyes and other senses. Later on as they get older, we tell them to stay within the lines when they write, and not to go beyond the margins or do not draw dragons on the edge of their notebooks. Because they trust us, they follow such instructions. As a teacher of adults, don’t be afraid to go back and tell your adult students to draw the flower where there should be a word or paste a piece of paper in their notebook even though it may look messy. Encourage childlike creativity in everyone.
You can only hope they will do things again in their own way, learning in the way that suits them, learning as if it was not compulsory and separated from the rest of their lives — as kids do!