12 October 2023

Being a lifelong learner is hard work

Early Learning
Being a lifelong learner is hard work
Being a lifelong learner is hard work
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Last week, I attended the Early Childhood Australia conference in Adelaide; sadly, the weather was worse than Melbourne. However, the conference was amazing, awe-inspiring and exhausting. The conference hosted over 2000 delegates from all around Australia, international and national keynote speakers and more presentation options than hours in the day. My head was bursting: there were new ideas to process, robust discussions with old friends and new connections made with early childhood colleagues. There was so much new learning, and it was both exhilarating and challenging.

It put me back into the place of being really challenged as a learner – and these opportunities always make me think about the challenges we present to children. Often, as adults, we can choose to learn new things and choose what we learn. For our children, however, it’s a different story – at least to some degree.

Learning requires perseverance, even when the area of learning is something you have chosen. It is, however, an important attribute to develop, and as we know, all skills take practice and a positive mindset. The notion of not being able to do something and flipping the language – ‘I can’t do this, yet’, rather than ‘I can’t do it’ – is an important one.

Perseverance is often learned by struggling for a long time with something that is difficult until it is mastered. At a very young age, we take for granted children learning to walk; there is a lot of effort, setbacks, frustrations and delights. For some children, this comes more quickly and easily than for others. As children develop, there will be lots of areas in learning and life that require perseverance. Sometimes choices that children make about a particular sport or language or musical instrument require much hard work and perseverance – it can take a long time to master a point where there is enjoyment of the chosen item. There will be ups and downs in this journey, and support, encouragement and a positive mindset are critical so that setbacks and frustrations are seen as positive and not as an opportunity to give up.

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I remember my son as a four-year-old, determined to be able to climb a particular tree at kindergarten (he was and still is a very determined person). He and his best friend worked together to problem-solve how to get a foot up in this tree. After many failed attempts, frustrations, and calling it ‘a silly tree’, they worked out that they needed some height to get a foot up. They used each other but realised soon they were not strong enough. With daily encouragement from their educators and positive questioning about what strategy they were going to employ, they ultimately decided on a ladder. After a few determined weeks, they had success. They were overjoyed and keen to share and celebrate with everyone. It would have been easy for their educators to solve this for them much earlier, but they would not have had the opportunity to struggle and certainly not have had the thrill of achievement – they went from ‘we can’t do it, yet’ to ‘we can do it’.

Supporting children for their effort, helping them understand setbacks are normal and not a reason to give up, providing feedback about what was noticed (e.g., ‘I noticed you are trying really hard’), sharing your own experiences of setbacks and helping them think about a new strategy are all ways that you can help to encourage your child’s perseverance, determination and love for learning – throughout their entire lives.

There is some great work around mindset by Carol Dwek, which you might find learning about interesting – and challenging!

Wendy Seidler
Director of ELC Kew

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