Friday, April 3, 2015


I've been thinking lately about clicks. 

Have you ever said, or heard it said "...and then it clicked..."?  If you've ever had that moment when all the individual pieces of your knowledge suddenly coalesced into understanding, you know exactly what that means. 

It just clicks. 

I think this gives rise to a bit of a false phenomena on the part of adults observing young children as they grow and develop.  We think that they demonstrate understanding "suddenly" or overnight; when in reality the child's understanding was developing step by step as individual points of knowledge and then "one day" the whole thing falls together and the show us that they've gotten it.

I guess that's what traditional education is trying to do.  Throw out a barrel of (sticky things?) and hope that enough of them stick and if they keep doing that, over time the whole picture will have... stuck?  (Sorry, that truly is a terrible metaphor.  I'll do better next time.  Promise.)  School is trying to force the clicks. 

I invite you, however, to observe the way children learn things before they enter into the structured instructional environment.  Babies learn to talk by being spoken to and surrounded by speech.  Do Spanish speakers need to instruct their toddlers to r-r-roll their Rrrrs?  Nope.  Those complex, back of the throat sounds in other langauges?  They learn it through language osmosis. 

They learn a great deal of other things without any direct instruction: people's names or titles (click!), where to find Fun Stuff (click click click!), how to get out of a crib (big click!), where the kitty sleeps (click! Mrrroowww), what facial expressions mean (click), how to use mommy's phone (yay click!) - and a whole unnameable host of things.  Through observation, trial and failure - and most importantly - interest/value. 

The other key aspect of this learning process is Time.  They have time to complete several cycles of observe, observe, observe, try, fail, observe observe observe, try fail succeed! with no real pressure (except where the adults start to get antsy). 

I believe in this process.  I believe in the clicks.  I believe in the Time. 

So we give them learners an Observation Menu from which to "order" and then we give them ample time to do said observation, time to try, time to fail and time to do it as many times as they need to have their Aha! moment. 

I was telling my daughter recently that learning a new and big concept can sometimes be like looking at a large image through a small opening.  One is able to pick out and name (and know) some of the small parts - tiny piece at a time - until one day the veil falls and the whole picture is revealed and the lights go all the way on.  Aha!  Click!
The fact is that many of us are carrying around quite a bit of knowledge, but not nearly as much understanding.  Those are things about which we are not very curious but we've seen some things and we know some things and we can tell you these things. 

A perfect example is my knowledge about radiation.  Things I knew about radiation:
  • It is dangerous
  • It can kill living beings
  • It lasts a long time in the spaces to which it has been introduced (Chernobyl)
  • Marie Curie coined the term.
  • Not all radiation is harmful.

But I had no idea - until recently - exactly what ionizing radiation is and how it harms people.  I didn't even know the term "ionizing radiation".  Things I have recently learned about radiation:
  • It is measured in units called Rads
  • 100 Rads is 1 Gray
  • There are specific amounts of Rads and Grays that different species are able to tolerate
  • There is a micro-organism that can survive an crazy insane amount of Gray (thousands and thousands of times more than any human can).
  • Scientists are trying to learn how this is possible
  • Exactly how ionizing radiation kills people (well, for the most part kind of)

It is with much gratitude to my son that my points of knowledge grow.  One day I may fully understand it (my measure of understanding something is my ability to explain/teach it to someone else).  In the meantime, I had a small click.  Some 30 years in the making, I might add. 

Oh, I get it.  All we need (to embark on a meaningful learning journey) is love time loving support and time.

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