Learning by Osmosis

Kids don’t just learn by osmosis.

Or do they?

In our house, we have a ton of workbooks. The kids pull them out pretty often, especially after I reorganize the shelves. Yesterday, my five year old wanted me to help her read a story and answer the questions in one of Kindergarten workbooks. While working together, I realized that she was fully capable of reading the entire thing by herself. She was also capable of answering the questions on her own, and able to write the answers. It appears, that she wanted company.

Her choice of activity struck me. She chose something that was “easy” for her. It was an activity that she had already mastered, in the academic sense. She was just doing it for fun. She didn’t do lots of previous activities to work up to it (well, at least not in a workbook) and she didn’t attempt to do the activities that were beyond, or even pushing the limits of, her ability. She prefered the easy ones.

My immediate reaction was, “Well, how can she possibly learn anything new if all she does are the easy problems?” But my answer was right before me. Obviously, she was learning something new somewhere, because she could do these activities with ease. They were skills she already knew. Some set of experiences sparked her neurons in such a way that she was learning new things – by osmosis – when her brain was ready to learn them.

I decided not to say anything, and let her do the easy activity without my “expert” intervention, even though I knew she was capable of doing something more challenging. Some day, those challenging things will interest her and she’ll do them, because she’ll be ready. I won’t have to coerce her or bribe her or otherwise make her do something that’s just beyond her comfort zone. I can let her stay where’s she is happy and she will learn. How do I know? That’s what she’s already been doing. And it’s working like a charm. Why mess with that?

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