How do you truly learn something? What’s the best way? Is it to just hit the books like they’re a punching bag and you’re headed for a big-ticket public match? Or is it better to chase that chicken? Well, the truth is, both scenarios from the Rocky movies.
The best way to learn a skill isn’t abstractly, but directly. Abstraction leads to confusion. Hands-on learning leads to understanding and enjoyment. If you can make it fun, then becoming more and more proficient won’t be work, it will be play.
The Musical Analogy
A great analogy is to consider the musical angle. Most everyone likes to listen to music, and except for those who are statistically bereft of true understanding through tone-deafness, most everyone likes to make music one way or another.
Anyone with enough drive—even a tone-deaf person—can become a great musician. Better to be tone deaf than totally deaf, as Beethoven became.
Like working out can make your body more healthy and strong, simply playing music teaches your brain to understand in musical ways. Likewise, there are those who were morbidly obese that managed to push through their disability and yet become fit. They are a statistical minority, but they do exist.
With music, continued practice and application of learned principles increase understanding and proficiency over time. But like exercise, it’s going to be more difficult to become good at music if all you do is hit the gym. True athletes climb mountains, ride for dozens of miles on bikes for the beauty of the trail and swim with the dolphins for the adventure involved.
Ever play a game of tag? How about laser tag or paintball? Suddenly the sweat and discomfort of prolonged, intense physical activity are less difficult, and you’re able to get a natural workout without sitting in a sweaty gym machine feeling disproportionate to the other meatheads.
If you really want to get in shape, find a physically strenuous activity that you enjoy doing. If you really want to learn music, find a way of playing music that you like, and go from there. If you really want to learn mathematics, find a direct application requiring the kind you need to learn, and build something.
Rocket science requires calculus. That’s the boring part, but seeing that rocket fly high in the sky, knowing you’ve built said rocket, and knowing where to find it so you can improve on it (with calculus), are all naturally exciting activities that don’t seem like drudgery because they’re not. They’re fun.
This approach can even help children learn advanced scientific and technological disciplines, like building circuits. Did you know there’s a new kind of innovation which allows children to use a kind of pen that will literally draw a circuit?
Even more astonishing, finding the circuit-building material isn’t all that difficult. According to Circuit Scribe, “Our favorite materials are Recollections colored cardstock (available at Michael’s) for craft projects and Epson Ultra Premium Luster Photo paper for PCB applications.”
Some children like arts and crafts. Some like dance, some like music, some like performance, and some like design. The “Lego Maniac” in your life probably wouldn’t be against building circuits, if the fun side can be demonstrated. In the end, they’ll have a life skill they can perpetually use down the line.
If you can find a way to make learning difficult tasks engaging and desirable to your children, they will pursue knowledge with greater voraciousness and success than any educational program can possibly induce. The key is breaking today’s normative trend of forcing square pegs into round holes.