Why Children Learn

Posted by on Jun 27, 2012 in Parenting

What motivates Children to Learn.

Parents may say, “Nothing motivates my children to learn. They are lazy, indifferent, careless etc., not like when I was a kid.” Actually very little has changed in the education or children.
In descending order of importance, the motivations for learning in children are mainly these inherent drives and environmental factors:
1. Curiosity
2. Imitation
3. Necessity
4. Conditioning
5. Intentional Discovery
6. Friendly Competition
7. Accidental Discovery
8. Threat.
These are the ones that parents and teachers should encourage to help children learn most effortlessly. Remember that your main function in helping your children learn is to answer their questions, not to drill them on facts they are soon to forget.
A. Curiosity.
The best scientific evidence seems to indicate that the universe is designed for humans, not that we are fashioned by the haphazard exigencies of our environment. This would partly explain why humans from infancy are so curious about themselves and their world.

Recent evidence shows that learning results in developing new connections throughout the brain. The baby’s brain is most plastic and new connections develop rapidly. What he/she learns is hard wired. It takes a lot to change those first impressions. Yet, even in old age we can rewire our brain to some extent following a stroke.

1. Presuppositions:
a) Each child is born with an absolutely unique blueprint.
b) Children can intuitively discern their blueprint. More than anything else they desire to know themselves so they can be accurate in obtaining the right materials for the person they are designed to become.
c) Since life is passing quickly, children feel an urgency to know who they are, to be known by those who care for them and to find the nutrients and experiences for the person (house) they are building.
d) Like building a house, in building a person there is a logical progression and reasonably distinct stages of development.
e) When children easily obtain the ingredients for the person they are to become, they are much more malleable and content.
f) The concrete foundation for a baby’s development comes from affirmation, affection and attention.
f) Although there are major sexual, racial and cultural similarities, our individual differences are probably more numerous than our similarities.
g) The tragedy, sum and substance of child abuse and neglect is that he and she won’t become the person they were designed to be.

2) Hunger to know. Think of the child’s brain as a stomach. The child is literally starving for intellectual and emotional, input. In this analogy, the child knows what he needs to eat and when. You can count on that intellectual hunger being very strong but you can also kill it. You can kill curiosity (hunger) by stuffing a child with food (facts) he doesn’t want or too much of it when he doesn’t need it, or requiring him to express a great deal of gratitude or frequently testing him to see how much he/she retained

3) Charm. Children have a winsome way of extracting good things from those around them. If only the parents would watch children long and closely enough and respond to their charm, the child will guide them in knowing what to give them. If you carefully watch how a cat responds to your various attempts to be friendly, they will teach you the way that fits them best by subtle indications of their pleasure.

4) Searching. Until is child is properly fed, he/she is restless. This applies to emotional and intellectual stimulation as well as food. A child properly fed (taught) with what his blueprint indicates he needs, is comfortable. He/she is seldom a problem in class. Children’s sense of urgency and dissatisfaction will make them agitated and irritable until they are properly fed (taught) what their blueprint tells them they need.

5) Being understood. The child yearns to be known, to be seen and understood. Even as adults we become very attracted to those who appear to understand us. The child reasons, “If my blueprint could be seen and understood, my chance of getting what I need is much greater.” Because children so desire to be understood, they will do almost anything to please you, once they feel you truly know them.

6) Individual, not lock step, learning. As children know how much, when, and what they should eat so they know what is the right knowledge that they require at their individual stages of development. Since children are entirely unique, what they need to learn at any stage of their development is usually very different from all the other children. This is why group learning has great limitation. This is why home schooling takes much less time. A good parent, having so many similar characteristics, intuitively senses what his/her child now yearns to learn.

How to determine the child’s blueprint

1. Rediscover your own blueprint. As a child you had a beautifully clear idea of who God wanted you to become. That blueprint was ingrained with your spirit, genes and intrauterine experiences. Think back about what you most enjoyed doing as a child. Who were your hero’s? What types of books did you like to read? Did your fantasies take you back or forward in time? Think about skills that you suddenly discovered and really enjoy. What about those deep longings that you would fulfill if only you had the chance? What frustrates you most? What kind of person would you still like to become? The more clearly you observe your blueprint, the more apparent will become all those absolutely unique blueprints of the children you long to teach.

2. Watch children. Children will clearly indicate whether their interest is making a variety of sound (banging a stick on pots or furniture) or staging short dramas. Some will build towers from blocks. Others will collect beetles. It is possible to determine the nature of a child’s blueprint by watching how much time they spend on any activity in a great smorgasbord of junk. Listen carefully to the questions that children ask you. Make notes of patterns you see in each child’s thoughts and behaviors.

3. Challenge children. Give them what they need and then occasionally what you suspect they don’t like and see how they react. They will be most disappointed when they don’t get what they need from you because they want to trust you. Watch how contented they are when they are well fed with the right emotional and intellectual stimulation at the right stage of their development. Yes, all other factors being equal, children like what they need. Sadly they are all too easily tempted with junk food and titillated with entertainment that soon pervades their thinking with degrading images.

Why children do not learn driven by their curiosity:

1. Curiosity is killed by forcing information and by insisting on rigid ways of learning. Isn’t it surprising that Americans, with their “terrible educational system”, earn so many Nobel prizes compared to those with their tightly regimented style of teaching? Maybe school is less about learning than it is about maturing.

2. Curiosity is crimped by pressure to acquire facts at an early age.

3. Curiosity is hampered by education that is out of phase with a child’s development. Although most Canadian systems try to teach reading and writing at 5-6 years, for some children this is far too late and for others too early.

4. Curiosity in a child dies when they feel that a parent or teacher is not curious about them. When children sense they are known, that a parent or teacher can see their blueprint, then children become curious about others and this spurs other spontaneous inquiry.

5. Rivalry kills children’s curiosity. They can become too concerned about who got the best mark, rather than who makes the best observations about nature and people.

6. Just as junk food destroys a child’s appetite for food that is good for them, so does junk information. Emotional titillation can ruin a child’s desire for what is constructive and ennobling.

7. The television appears to satiate the brain. TV leaves less hunger to learn and experience wholesome new challenges. TV distorts (lies) all the time. TV’s compresses time leaving children with impatience. The angle of camera; senses not given (smell), policy of the TV producer, preference of the advertiser, etc.; all result in TV lying, but convincing their audience it is reality. Without the smell of a refugee camp, even well done documentaries cannot convey what it’s really like to be there. Parents and teachers should always remember that “garbage in, garbage out”. (If I ran a school, I would insist that the parents throw away their TV.) There is substantial evidence that children who are not absorbed with the media, Playstation, etc., learn better in school. It has often puzzled me why parents are so careful about what their children eat but are so careless about what goes into their mind. As Jesus said, what you eat passes on but what goes into your mind pollutes your whole life.

Children are naturally scientific. During their early development, especially when they’re asking questions “why” (the most essential question in science) we should teach them the scientific method. Reading, writing and arithmetic come later when they attempt to explain what they have observed.

It is very hard to reawaken a person’s curiosity. Too often while teaching medical students, I have presented some fascinating case illustrating a complex component of the human psyche only to see students yawning and falling asleep. Only when I indicated there would be exam questions based on this case, did these students pay attention.


II Imitation

Children learn more by imitation than by instruction. Second only to family members, teachers are the most important role models in a child’s life. Children will tend to do, (imitate) what you appear to enjoy doing. That is why parents need to show a much enjoyment and enthusiasm when learning. I can envision a parent excitedly saying to neighbour, “Hey did you see this”, or “Can I borrow that book”, or “Where can I find?”, showing by their enthusiasm for observing and discovery, the joy of it all. Sadly too often children see bored, tired parents struggling to control children’s behavior.
When children are given what they need they are content. But you have to know a child’s blueprint and their stage of development. You are in a much better position to help them learn what they need to know when you see them as they really are. As their joy in learning grows, so does your enthusiasm to teach and learn yourself. It becomes a joyful cycle.

People will copy the person who is being rewarded. They will imitate the behavior of the persons who are enjoying themselves. They will imitate the person who is in charge. They will tend to imitate whoever is giving out rewards. The teacher’s can fill all four of these criteria and can easily bolster the child’ motivation to learn in these ways.

Children will imitate the behavior of the child in the class who gets the teacher’s attention for whatever they are doing, good and bad. This is probably the best explanation for why classroom’s become uncontrollable. A teacher, particularly a tired one may inadvertently re-enforce the very behavior they don’t want in a child. The other children tend to copy that child, because almost any kind of attention is rewarding and thus reinforcing. This is especially true of children who are neglected. Often these are children who attended daycare at an early age. Children copy other children not because they deduce this is how to get the teacher’s attention but because you have attended to that behavior It’s not conscious, it’s automatic.

Paul writes: Don’t be conformed in your thinking to that of the world. Jesus was a nonconformist and we are expected to imitate Jesus. We should show how a nonconformist Christian lifestyle is so much more enjoyable and makes learning so much easier.
Children don’t learn motivated by imitation because they see so little joy in discovery from parents or teachers or classmates. They learn to imitate intolerance and disruptive behavior because that is what adults important to them pay attention to.

III Necessity

Like everybody else, children learn in order to survive. This is why camping is such a useful experience. Children learn the basic necessities of how to create a shelter, provide warmth and light, and cook food. When you go camping with your family, on some days, do as little as possible. You will find that at first your children tend to sit around; that is until it starts raining or getting cold.
Children don’t learn motivated by necessity because they see little or no connection between what they learn and the need to survive. On the G.V.S. board I promoted the idea of abolishing grade 9 in favour of giving these restless, uninterested, early adolescents an opportunity of learning what life is like in a wide variety of good and poorly paid jobs.

IV Conditioning

Attention is a rudimentary requirement of the child trying hard to construct the “beautiful chalet” God intended him/her to become. Therefore attention, almost any kind of attention, is powerfully re-enforcing. Conversely, inattention is powerfully punishing. You “reward” any behavior that is occurring when you give a child your attention and “punish” all behaviors that occur when you ignore a pupil.
Too often, you tend to pay attention to things that are a reflection of your own struggles. Angry people tend to notice and comment on children fighting. They want this irritating, aggressive behavior to stop because it makes them angry. They are already struggling to control their anger and they sure don’t need this irritation on top of their about to boil over feelings. Sad people tend to see children crying and try too soon to dry their eyes. The child tears make them sad and they can barely control their impulse to burst into tears. Just like ex-smokers are sure to see somebody smoking, so you tend to notice and respond to some aspects of your own personal struggle that you see in others.
That’s why healthy, mature people are more likely to have healthy children. It’s also why punctilious parents have tardy children and hardworking parents have lazy children. That driven parent has also a component of himself or herself that is lazy, but they keep it well hidden by hard effort. They hope to suppress their covert characteristic by suppressing that behavior in their child. Inadvertently they reinforce (reward) the very behavior they didn’t want in a child.
Teachers and parents attend to children when they are not doing their homework. “Come on Jimmy finish your project. It’s getting late”. Sometime later Jimmy may start working, so parent goes back to watching TV. This is exactly the opposite of the way it should be.

Children are a reflection of you and your thinking. This is why it is so important to gain insight. The writings of Solomon in Proverbs reflect this repeatedly saying “gain insight”.

If children don’t get approval, attention, and affirmation, the concrete foundation of their early development, their core personality tends to remain shaky for the rest of their lives. The more neglected a child is the more demanding or attention seeking he/she will be. In addition, because they have been neglected by parents, they tend to distrust all adults and depend upon peers and seductive adults for any kind of attention. Too often they find attention in the wrong places from the wrong people for the wrong behaviors

Children don’t learn motivated by conditioning because teachers and parents don’t understand the basic principles. They tend to reinforce behaviors with attention that trigger their unresolved psychological conflicts because they are too lazy, tired, distracted or have poor self-control to be consistent.

V Intentional Discovery

The joy of discovery is exhilarating to adults but much more so with children. Our joy of discovery is catching. It helps sustain the motivation to discover in children when they tend to give up on systematic observation. Because they can see us jumping up and down with excitement, shouting, “Eureka, I’ve discovered it!” they want to work hard at discovering also. Soon the joy of discovery motivates them to keep seeking, observing then recording their observations, analyzing them and sharing them. This is the essence of the scientific method and it begins with observation.

Too often children do not learn motivated by their desire to discover because their immature teachers and parents know all the answers. It would be so much better if parents could say “Frankly I don’t know. Could you find out for me”?

VI Friendly Competition

Children spur each other to learn more, as long as the competition is friendly. As soon as it becomes a rivalry to gain the important position, a place in graduate school, one valuable prize, the focus changes from how much they can learn to who knows the most.
When for genetic, economic or class reasons the competition is unfair and fixed, most children give up. “Dad, Susan always gets the best marks so why should I bother trying”. However if, based on IQ or past performance, pupils are given a semi secret golf type handicap, they can compete equally and enjoy it.
Children seldom get a chance to learn from friendly competition because education has become part of the dog eat smaller dog scramble for the fame, power and wealth that is reputed to bring happiness.

VII Accidental Discovery

Children stumble upon good and evil. Too often wrong ideas and behaviors are titillating but lead to experience and information they don’t need.

There are 7 or 8 factors that determine this “Pair Bonding”. Twelve and thirteen year olds should learn about pair bonding before they accidentally discover it by becoming bonded to somebody to whom they do not want to be married. Like ravens, wolves, and geese, humans are basically monogamous and are pair bonded for life. If young people want a unique intimate relationship with their spouse, they should refrain from pair bonding before that event.

I have reviewed the scientific literature on sex education. It can be summarized as:
1) The more sex education, the more sex activity.
2) The earlier the sex education, the earlier the sex activity.
3) The more the sex activity, the more pair bonding, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions, etc.
Young adults should be discovering the joy of sexual intimacy. A book on technique robs them of unique joy. They certainly do not need to be pair bonded to half a dozen people before they become “married”.

VIII Threat

People may learn because of coercion and threat of painful consequences but they are more likely to forget. It is like being forced to eat something unpalatable. Threats of grounding, lines, or expulsion have only a temporary effect as motivation and many side effects of resentment and avoidance. Remember any activity that you use as punishment will tend to be avoided. You don’t want to use writing lines as punishment.

Children don’t learn motivated by threats because most threats of: “You better get a good education or else you’ll be lined up for the soup kitchen”, are hollow. Parents, government and educators collude to insure nobody feels the discomfort of being a self-appointed town fool.


It’s all too easy to kill curiosity by pushing masses of information, especially at the wrong time of the child’s development. One of the most important thing any parent can do is to understand the child’s blueprint and let the child know that you understand that blueprint by what you help him/her learn. You must show that you want to answer his questions and help him find the material for the beautiful building he/she is to become.

Parts should be excited in learning. They should have research projects of their own. Children quickly lose the capacity to detect what is true by becoming inundated by BS (bad science), conveyed by the media.

Children seem to have the capacity to intuitively discern what is right and wrong, what is true and false. Truth resonates with basic structures within them. This is why children do not like distorted music and art. Bach and Beethoven much better soothe babies, than they are by jazz or blues.

A parent who is able to preserve a child’s curiosity, spends much more time answering his/her pupil’s questions than she/he does asking them questions.

When teachers and parents align their informing, explaining, answering and guiding efforts to coincide with these natural motivators to children’s learning, each child will be more content and peaceful. Every child will learn more efficiently and each parent will feel more gratified in his or her parenting. Try it.