Children learn with all their senses. They discover, try and check things out. During the multiple phases of development, they achieve incredible results. Toddlers, in particular, are thought to be real wonders when it comes to learning new things. Never again will a person learn so much and so quickly in his or her whole life. Right?
Learning is a complex and complicated process that lasts a lifetime. Existing knowledge and experiences are connected and compared with new insights and new experiences every second. This process is how basic knowledge grows.
Linking the Old with the New
Example: riding a bicycle
- The bicycle should be steered to avoid obstacles. The optical impressions and visual perception connect with the body’s sensation and gravity experiences.
- Children must keep themselves and the bicycle in balance. They have already attributed the required sense of equilibrium. So the child’s motor development is growing.
- Children must also listen to acoustic stimuli to register vehicles or their parents’ voices.
The brain can interconnect these new stimuli for new abilities, in the example above for riding a bike. The more often the child rides the bike, the more likely different skills and new information can be combined and applied simultaneously. With each repetition, the connections get stronger and at some point, riding a bike becomes natural.
The brain consists of millions of brain cells: neurons, which are interconnected. But how do they work? There are multiple connections from one cell to another. Newborns have only a small amount of connections, but many cells. With each new experience, the child tries to activate an existing pattern in its brain. The new experience is, therefore, compared with the existing one. When seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting, new findings are being evaluated and linked with each other. If there were no similarities, nothing would happen at all (this is also the reason why cramming vocabulary is so difficult for us, because we have no context). If, however, the new perception partially fits into an existing image of memory, the old image completes until we have a new, extended image. By the way: the more senses involved in learning, the better we memorize new information.
In the end, we only keep the connections that we use. That’s why toddlers learn so much. We usually use the skills we’ve learned at the beginning of our lives daily.
Conclusion: our brain learns through making connections. Nerve cells, experiences and knowledge are being united in a vast network of information and knowledge. Information we already know combines with new data. The more often we use a connection, the easier it is for us to access the concerning knowledge or skills. This process is called neurological automatic, which is not only very practical for children, but it is also the basis for the adult’s learning process.
Explorers Learn Better
The more impressions a child gets, the more tension arises in the brain. Neurotransmitters are released, and a feeling of pleasure is activated. The child is now motivated and likes to continue exploring. The more fun a child has, the greater the child’s motivation is. As a result, children must learn with joy and explore new things on their own, keeping up their desire to learn.
The same applies to adults, and you’ve certainly experienced that on your own. If you explore and discover something on your own, it is easier to recall later. In this context, it is also essential that learning is an active process. Only one’s very own actions and discoveries lead to the neurobiological states such as happiness, sense of achievement, curiosity and desire, that are necessary for successful learning.
Allow yourself to discover and explore new things. If you have to remember math formulas, it helps when you derive the formula on your own. By doing so, you understand the background, and a simple formula suddenly makes sense; One that otherwise, you would have learned by heart.
Another example is language learning. Far too often, we have to learn isolated vocabulary and grammar rules in language classes. Our suggestion: discover the language on your own. This strategy is straightforward when using the Birkenbihl Approach. The methods basis is decoding, which is a word-for-word translation of a foreign text into your mother tongue. Translating a text word by word, you find out the words’ meanings, the language’s structure and its way of application in everyday life. The brain compares the new language with our native language and recognizes similarities automatically. You explore the foreign language using your mother tongue. It’s fun, brain-friendly and makes you want more.
Babies and toddlers learn new things following the “Trial and Error” principle. They try and either succeed or fail. By doing so, they learn more about how the environment works. They develop new skills and get to know their abilities and limits. Unfortunately, we always forget this principle, mostly because of the traditional school system, where mistakes are not allowed.
Children apply this principle in all possible situations: whether they want to persuade their parents, or when climbing a tree. Children try and fail, but they continue until they succeed. This way of discovering is an integral part of the learning process and should find its way back to the general learning approach. Allow yourself to make mistakes, because it is not always important to be 100 percent correct. It is instead a matter of understanding why something is not working. And that’s how you can do better next time.
Support Individual Learning Processes
That children are geniuses at learning is generally well known. However, how well and quickly a child learns depends on many factors and varies from person to person. In addition to hereditary factors, environment and personal experience also play an important role.
This theory means that: each child (and each adult) has an individual temperament; for example, one can be very curious or anxious. We need to pay attention to these basic moods. Because constantly confronting a child with something completely new is somewhat counterproductive. Just as over protecting an inquisitive child can lead to frustration. These neuronal signals in the brain lead to a blockade and prevent new connections.
That’s Why Adults Can Learn Even Easier
Between the ages of 3 and 6, children already show clear preferences because some regions of the brain are being used more intensively than others. Strongly used nerve tracks (connections) can get stronger; others can get weaker. On the other hand, children’s brains develop new synapses during learning processes. So-called “neuroplasticity” (the brain’s ability to form new interconnections through a selection process as well as through the formation of new synapses) is particularly high at a young age. The result is a network that is formed differently for each person.
The adult brain is the same way as that of a child: it consists of nerve cells and connections. The difference is, however, that adults have already made millions of connections. This existing network is beneficial for further learning because we can add new data to the existing network of information. It is easier for us to build connections, we can compare, evaluate and connect experiences.
Let’s take language learning as an example:
We already know one or more languages:
Remember the neuronal network in our brain: we all add new information to already existing information. When we learn a new language, we constantly compare it with our native language (and probably other languages we know). This allows our brain to expand existing knowledge, to derive rules and to add new information. Language learning becomes easier, the more languages that we speak.
We know our mother tongue’s rules (grammar) by heart:
Without even being able to explain it, we use the correct tense, terminology and sentence structure. We can use this basic knowledge and sense for our mother tongue to learn a new language – without cramming vocabulary and grammar rules.
We know different sounds:
As toddlers, we have to get to know every sound first and then to produce it. This process begins in the mother’s womb. Humans can recognize and use 200 different sounds. The sensitivity to our first language can be observed at a very young age: newborns react to their mother tongue differently than to a foreign language. In the first years of life, the sensitivity for sounds, which we aren’t used to hearing, is lost. To recognize and reproduce them later on, we need to listen to them very often, creating nerve tracks in our brains, that are necessary for talking.
We know how to read and write:
Do you remember things better when writing them down? Compared to toddlers, we not only listen, but we can also take advantage of our ability to write, allowing us to learn quicker.
We know how to learn:
Whether consciously or unconsciously: as teenagers or adults, we have already learned many things. Our brain is prepared for new information and knows how to deal with it. Only practice makes perfect.
Easy learning is not a myth. By remembering the functions of the human brain, it’s possible to have an easy time when learning a new language. Be courageous and try out alternative learning methods!