Learning the Best Way to Learn

I love learning, so always enjoyed school. I was inspired by teachers, encouraged by classmates, and transported by new ideas. But as I got older I realized I couldn’t learn everything I wanted to know in a classroom. The way school taught things—as if the wisdom were trickling down from a smarter teacher to a less smart student—didn’t seem to work for many things it would be helpful to learn.

A recent New York Times article by Alison Gopnik, What Babies Know About Physics and Foreign Languages, confirmed my suspicion. It points to evidence that in children, learning by observation and experimentation allows for more creativity and spontaneity than learning from instruction.

“It’s not just that young children don’t need to be taught in order to learn. In fact, studies show that explicit instruction, the sort of teaching that goes with school and “parenting,” can be limiting. When children think they are being taught, they are much more likely to simply reproduce what the adult does, instead of creating something new….

We take it for granted that young children “get into everything.” But new studies of “active learning” show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments. Preschoolers prefer to play with the toys that will teach them the most, and they play with those toys in just the way that will give them the most information about how the world works.”

After getting a degree in Art History, where I learned from others what was good art and what was not, I studied horticulture for two years in a program that was part hands-on and part classroom education. The approach was such a revelation—you could learn about soil structure all you want in the classroom, but getting your hands in the dirt was the only real way to get to know the soil. And once you get to know soil, you can then do marvelous things with it—grow food, create beautiful gardens, make bricks, throw a ceramic pot—wherever your imagination takes you.

Writer Hugh MacLeod says, “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the 'creative bug' is just a wee voice telling you, 'I'd like my crayons back, please.”

For me, the Feldenkrais Method® is a “creative bug.” It immerses me back in the “active learning” process, exploring, trying, and experimenting, leaving me with a sense of awe and a new way of being in the world.

written by Jenn Brown