Learn like a Baby | By Sydney Rudko

A fascinating paper was published in Science on September 28 that looked at how children learn. They found that children actually learn just like scientists do.  By playing, children formulate theories, test these ideas and document their observations of the natural world. The study advocates for hands-on elementary education through play. By presenting ideas in an interactive and deductive fashion children will learn better (and probably have a bit more fun).  I see this every time I volunteer doing chemistry experiments for kids. It’s amazing the complex scientific phenomena children can understand when you let them get their hands dirty!

Upon reading the paper I instantly thought of my eighth grade health class. This is where I first encountered that ridiculous test that tells you if you are an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. I’m sure it has a name, I’m sure it doesn’t deserve one, and I bloody well hope no one won a Nobel prize for it. The test is total bullshit. I thought it at the time, and I definitely think it now.

When in our education does the shift from play and discovery to memorization and flash cards occur and why? But more importantly, how can we as adults, and as university students, use this play to further our personal development?  Can we create a renaissance of play?

Children learn best through interactive play. These young scientists are learning about changes in pH that result from adding dry ice to a solution of borax and universal indicator.

Some of the best things I’ve ever learned I taught myself. When I was 11 my dad bought me my first digital camera and I’ve been experimenting with photography ever since. I’ve definitely learned a lot about light and optics from this sort of experiential learning. That same year I started teaching myself the guitar, and how to speak Spanish: two skills I’m very proud of. I am, as always, also reminded of my favorite book, Decoded by my personal hero, Jay-Z. He talks about learning to write rhymes on scraps of paper while standing on street corners in the middle of the night selling crack rocks. See people? All the great ones do it. I want you to think about what you do best, and ask yourself who taught it to you? Now focus on what you want to learn, what’s stopping you from teaching yourself something new? After all, you’ve probably already taught yourself a number of things you’re great at.

Learning something for yourself can be challenging, but when you find something you’re motivated to learn about, taking the steps to teach yourself something in an interactive fashion can help you find your passion. I love science because I love to learn. My favorite thing about doing science is how well you learn things when you’re doing them. This is no different than a painter practicing a still life, or an actor memorizing lines. Be a baby scientist in everything you do.

Sydney Rudko is a forth year Immunology and Infection student currently teaching herself to be a better writer, and a more tidy individual. Follow her on twitter at @SPResistant 

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  • Graeme

    I fully support more playtime at all educational levels.

    Reading this I also thought about how many major discoveries were made by people that were self-driven and curious, and went and figured things out on their own. It’s an important concept that is definitely worth consideration in educating future generations.