A few weekends ago I took a 6-hour speed reading course. I was already somewhat familiar with the concepts of speed reading, but what I found most enlightening about the course were my observations of the adults in the room. Many of them would not even attempt any of the exercises until the instructor had repeated the instructions several times. Also, it seemed many had false expectations that at the end of the 6 hours they would be able to read “War and Peace” in 30 minutes. This got me thinking about the ways in which adults learn, and why children are actually better learners.
3 reasons why children learn better than adults
1. They are not afraid to fail.
I love watching babies learn to walk. They take one wobbly step, then another, and then **plop**, down they go. But within an instant, they pick themselves up, and take a few more steps. Before we know it, those same babies are running at full speed (with their parents in tow trying to keep up).
We all start out like this, but at some point we get it into our heads that we’re supposed to get things right on the first try. As adults we don’t like failure. Have you ever seen someone just stand a baby up on its legs, let go, and have the baby walk perfectly on the first try? I strongly doubt it! Kids know that they will fail a few times before they get it right.
Even if someone describes for you in perfect detail how to do something, there are some things that we simply learn by doing. Too often we put so much pressure on ourselves to “do it right” the first time, that we listen to the instructions or read multiple sources about HOW to do something, instead of simply trying to do it. Or worse, we might never make the attempt at all.
I don’t have an exact quote, but there’s an old sentiment that says something to the effect that the most successful people are the ones who have learned how to fail, because they never give up until they achieve their result. The observer may only see the success, not the several failures that came before. So embrace failure, and by doing so, you’ll embrace successful.
2. They don’t try to be perfect.
As adults, not only do we want to get it right the first time, but too often we want to be perfect. We set very high expectations for ourselves. A child who can play “Row, row, row your boat” after a week of piano lessons may be very pleased with himself. An adult achieving the same thing in a day may be disappointed that he is not able to play like Chopin or Billy Joel.
Children don’t really anticipate where they want to be. They just keep practicing at something and in turn keep getting better. Goals are fine, but sometimes as adults we can be unrealistic with our goals. As Malcolm Gladwell determined, it takes about 10,000 hours to truly master a skill. But we shouldn’t let that number deter us from starting something. We should just use it to accept that we won’t achieve perfection right away (or ever), but if we practice a little periodically, we’ll at least keep getting better.
3. They just want to have fun.
Kids remember the most important aspect of life, which is that things should be fun. Kids never say to themselves, it is imperative that I learn how to walk as a viable mode of locomotion. They just do it and enjoy themselves. Obviously, as adults we have our reasons for wanting to lean certain things – for a promotion at work, a hobby, bragging rights – but we shouldn’t let our reasons prevent us from having fun and simply enjoying the fact that we’re learning something. I really believe that learning can be and should be fun. If there’s no fun to be found in what you’re learning, maybe your attention would be better served elsewhere.
I am still learning and working on being a better speed reading. I’m not doing it perfectly and I’m not reading entire novels in a day. But I do try to practice a little everyday on short articles that I find online or in magazines. I’m enjoying the challenge of learning a new skill and feel good knowing that I’m improving a little every day.