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Experimental Learning: How Children Educate Themselves

Have you ever watched a baby animal, like a pony or calf, get up and start walking minutes after they are born? It’s amazing that animals have this need and ability to be independent and strong right away. They do all this just to make us look bad. Just kidding!

It’s a survival instinct. Quickly separating from their mother gives them the opportunity to test out their bodies to make sure they can use them the way they will need to. After that, of course, they go back for a snack from mom.

“Human children are also biologically designed to educate themselves. In a way, they are born with certain instinctive drives shaped over eons by natural selection to serve the purpose of survival and  education,” says author and educational philosopher Peter Gray. He names names six such drives:

  • Curiosity: The drive to explore and understand

  • Playfulness: The drive to practice and create

  • Communicativeness: The drive to know what others know and share what you know

  • Willfulness: The drive to take charge of one’s own life

  • Planfulness: The drive to think about and plan for the future

  • The desire to grow up

Now take a second - have you seen every single one of these motivations in a small child, or have you seen every single one of these motivations in a small child? It actually seems that they are not wasting any time at all. Everything they do, from putting their feet in their mouth, to pulling at your hair, to pulling at your glasses, to pulling at your necklace, to pulling at your ear, are all actions to strengthen their bodies, minds and ability to communicate within their environment. 

Who knew you have a tiny workaholic scientist hustling every day to answer their own questions, to prepare for the life they want? 

This is the part of the blog where you might ask, “Ok now what is my duty in this regard? How do I help?” But that’s the thing - you don’t have to do anything but allow them to wander. Take note, ask yourself what they might be learning, and model self-reflective experimentation yourself. You’re still developing, too.

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