Home homeschooling The Secret Ingredient to Real Learning (A Simple, Remarkable Trick to Help a Child Read)

The Secret Ingredient to Real Learning (A Simple, Remarkable Trick to Help a Child Read)

by Kelly Crawford

As a relaxed homeschooler increasingly persuaded of the power of a child’s natural ability to learn, I’m always reading the thoughts of educational reformers who have tapped into this forgotten phenomenon.

The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children’s Natural Joy of Learning, is the incredibly fascinating book I’m reading now, and so far, I love his ideas on how children learn so much differently from the way schools teach. (He’s not a homeschooling advocate, per se, but where school teachers benefit from his research, homeschooling moms so much more.)

And quite by accident, I had the chance to see one of his learning examples played out this week. In one way it’s simple, in another, quite profound. He tells the story of a method by which a group of miners were taught to read. They were asked to tell about themselves, while the woman teaching them recorded their words. She then typed them out and the next day, handed them their own words to read.

Once the words were recognized as their own, both familiarity and intrigue/interest in seeing their words typed out, caused them to much more easily learn the words they were reading, which encouraged them, gave them more confidence, and facilitated their desire to read more.

Coincidentally, the day after I read this, our sweet neighbor friend who is an artist and a book-binder, took my younger girls to her studio where she taught them to bind their own books (with hand-painted covers). They left them blank to fill in later.

Of course the girls came home excited and were eager to write their stories. For one, her reading/writing is a little slower, so she dictated and I wrote the words.

But afterwards, I asked her to read the story. What Kline described in his book was exactly my experience with her. She read much more fluently, even the harder words, and was excited to read it several times, to different people.

The difference? It was her book, something that interested her (as opposed to just being handed a random Dick and Jane book), and the whole process was meaningful.

The secret ingredient to real learning, then, is that students learn and remember what is interesting and meaningful to them. Our job is to present information in such a way that it becomes interesting and/or allow them to pursue learning the things that already interest them.

If you think about your own learning, you know that what you really learned well and what has stuck, are those things that you need or in which you are interested. That, opposed to “force-fed” learning, is far superior and way more fun.




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Beth September 7, 2016 - 9:04 am

I love this, but I’m also conflicted. I sometimes feel pressured rather than liberated by this approach. (That my job is to present things in order to make them interesting) I certainly desire to give my children lots of freedom to pursue learning what interests them, but there are also a lot of things that I simply need them to learn whether they are interested or not, and the thought of spending hours researching and trying to come up with creative and interesting ways to present material overwhelms me and and quite frankly, sometimes I just do have those hours. I feel like there has to be a balance somewhere between “present information in an interesting way” and “I know this is boring, but I’m your mother/teacher and I’m saying you must learn this.”

Kelly Crawford September 7, 2016 - 2:01 pm

I hear you. I’m in the middle of trying to balance these two ideas, but I’ve done so much research that I feel like the ones who need taught are us–that is, we need to be un-taught. So, let me play devil’s advocate:

What kinds of things do you mean that you “simply need them to learn”? Why can’t they learn it when it’s needful? Will they learn it anyway, if you “force” it? (I still insist my kids learn some things–multiplication tables, for example.) But I’m largely learning that the standard method of simply feeding information is a large waste of time because when that information isn’t relevant (“learn this because I say so” still produces a temporary retainment) they simply don’t usually keep it. Then, ponder this from “The Objective of Education is Learning”:

“Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much or what is remembered is irrelevant.”

Korie September 9, 2016 - 2:09 pm

So do you think there is any value in our children doing schoolwork they aren’t interested in so that they learn the skill of pressing through work they do not like? I’m thinking I want to prepare my kids for future careers that include work no one likes even if it’ is an ideal job. Or can chores at home do this effectively?

lorrie September 19, 2016 - 10:04 am

How do you all feel about higher education? College. We kind of took the approach you are describing through high school. By a certain point she wanted to learn what she felt she needed to learn to prepare for college. She wanted to go to college. She really wants to be a writer/ artist. She is also gifted with children. She is now graduated high school and attending community college to get an AA and transfer to a university to study towards a career in writing/art. She is frustrated by some of the required courses she must currently take. Esp. a “college transfer success” course. They have to spend a lot of time taking career interests/ skills tests and writing short answers/ planning their course load, etc. The problem is it is a one hour class and the instructor is very particular. She personally is wasting time doing this work and the test do not even lead to the careers she is interested in. Yet she has to make plans towards the careers identified by the test, take more classes about study skill, time management, etc. It was reminiscent of why we home schooled. I wish we could home school college. Some of the work is meaningless.

NJ September 29, 2016 - 10:11 am

Thank you Kelly! I am passionate about true education and saddened by how so many fellow homeschoolers settle for “school” at home. It saddens me because I know they are missing the joy that is inherent in learning as God designed!!
My goal from day one was to instill a love of learning in the heart of my children. My oldest would read encyclopedias for fun and would talk to me about what he was learning. He still (now 20) loves to learn and critically evaluates all that he reads.
I cannot figure out what to do about our current situation. We have 4 rough and rowdy, loud and messy boys at home. I often cannot be heard over the noise! Sitting and reading for hours (like I did with our first child) is no longer possible.
After one page someone needs a snack, someone is pestering, someone has to use the bathroom, someone is making noise, etc. I am a visual person and easily distracted.
My boys are all under 10. They enjoy Legos, making machines from Legos, electronics, audio books and playing board games. After much desperate prayer, I really believe that giving them freedom to do these things right now is priority over “academics”. We still work on Bible, some Science, reading (at their readiness) and math. Other than that, I try to provide a rich atmosphere of love and learning naturally. As they get older, I look forward to providing them with opportunities to develop their God given talents and drives.


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