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Quality, Not Quantity: The Science of Learning

Our universe is fascinating, yet there are so many people who are scared of learning, and it's not surprising when you realise that school is all about quantity not quality or connectivity. I think I had that fear for a long time, it’s like a fear of facing what you don’t know. But it’s so easy to just pick up a book or search on the internet for a completely new subject or download an audio book, and then you are away. Yet now I think I know why it happens - we are put off learning when we are at school.

Now that might sound crazy, because surely that's the whole point of school I hear you say, and yes of course it is. The problem is the way that it’s done. Too much is crammed into too short a time. Take my day yesterday for example, when I started as teacher and coordinator of homeschooling for my three boys. In one day my youngest son, aged 10 sped from writing a book review in English, to creating an experiment about rock layers and fossils, writing a summary about the project, to making a piece of African art, to learning about 3-D shapes, to coding in computing to doing some non-verbal reasoning. It was a race. Every hour was filled with a different subject, none of them interconnected, all rushed without really understanding the learning goal and constantly feeling one step behind.

To do any of these tasks it was necessary of course to understand first the context and overall picture of what you have to do and why. But first you need to be able to read well enough, and interpret what is actually being said. This wouldn't have been such a problem if he had been able to focus on one topic, but the amount to cover and the speed at which that had to be done was more like a repeating timed count down challenge rather than an effective learning exercise.

At the end of the day we were both exhausted. In fact I felt like I had been hit by a bus! He was just desperate to get outside for some air! But I insisted that he also did some work on his punctuation because to me that is a basic necessity in life and something that he hasn't yet mastered, but yet hadn't even been mentioned. My son was expected to do all of these things independently without being able to actually read, write or understand properly yet?! He was doing a lot of stuff, but not really knowing even what and so really achieving nothing.

My observation is that schools try to fit in much too quickly in the wrong way. Children are like headless chickens, just about getting through vaguely, rather than actually learning properly. Now with the home lockdown I can access my son's online learning platforms and there is just a litany of uncompleted tasks from the term before. These loom menacingly as a long list on his school record and he can see this. It's enough to make anyone feel like a failure, like having a to do list that is so long you give up before you have even begun because you don't know where to start.

I hadn't known as a parent about any of these tasks and so there has been no joined up learning between school and home. But now I understand why when my son comes home from school each day he doesn't want to talk about anything he is learning. It's partly because he can't really even remember what he is doing, but also because he feels useless having not really understood much anyway. And after the race of keeping up he is utterly exhausted day after day. His brain is being scrambled and confused and he is just being put off learning.

And so the next day I decided to do things differently. To enable him to learn properly one thing at a time. And that is what we are doing now, learning topics properly at a pace that is interesting and comfortable, but incorporating different areas of learning too. Each day I will be doing some maths and some punctuation but within the broader topic of 'evolution' in a way that incorporates the elements as well as the history of our world, and the environment. All of these areas can be incorporated into the amazing story of our world. Even layers in rocks can be made more interesting if done in the right way.

I want my children to grow up with a love of learning, not a deep rooted fear that they just aren't clever enough or good enough to learn.


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