On May 31, Kumon brought together parents from various walks of life at a restaurant in Montreal to discuss self-learning (independent learning) with regard to themselves and their children. Educators, researchers, entrepreneurs, and stay-at-home parents gathered for a roundtable discussion to share their experience, knowledge, and stories.
They shared reflections, ideas, and practical tips for helping their children learn independently. We wanted to highlight some of these to help inspire you.
What is self-learning?
Independent learning means something different for every individual depending on their development and experiences. But some elements came up again and again in our discussion:
- Individual development: One participant described self-learning as a path he chose to take. He had great difficulty staying still and concentrating and said that he felt stifled by the academic environment. But he has continued his studies to the postdoctoral level! His secret? The further he advanced in his studies, the more he had to learn independently, which helped him identify the learning methods that worked best for him and develop his own rhythm.
- Learning from others: Some participants said that learning independently also means learning from others and from the world around us. One participant said that as a blogger she learned her profession on her own over the years. She did so by gleaning inspiration from others and by looking around her—observing her peers, practicing, and reading a lot about the subject.
- An antidote for adversity: Other participants explained that they sometimes learned independently, not by choice, but out of necessity when a challenge or problem presented itself. For example, a mother may have to care for a child who has a virus or an illness she knows nothing about, or may need to help the child take up a sport that she has never played.
Self-learning at an early age
During the round table, researcher and child development expert Joël Monzée explained that a child’s ability to learn independently and control the amount of stress in their environment has a significant impact on brain development. According to him, children who experience too much stress have more difficulty reaching their full potential.
Monzée also added that it is beneficial to follow a child’s learning pace from a young age and to offer the right ingredients when the child is cognitively available. For example, a child’s motor skills do not always evolve at the same pace—some children will be able to draw before they learn to use scissors. That’s why enabling children to learn independently can help them develop their skills at their own rhythm and according to their own abilities.
More than just knowledge
developing skills and abilities
Participants identified all kinds of skills that their children could acquire over time by learning independently. Here are a few of them:
- Autonomy: Self-learning helps children become more independent and take control of their own development.
- Self-confidence: Children who learn to rely on themselves will be more confident and ready to learn. This will have a positive impact on the amount of time they put into finishing exercises and the way they deal with challenges.
- Concentration: By practising and being consistent, children can improve their ability to concentrate and pay attention for longer periods of time. They are able to develop their own tricks for dealing with distractions.
- Discipline: With time, practice, and support from parents, a teacher, or another adult, children can become more disciplined, especially in rereading their exercises and correcting their mistakes. With practice, this skill will become a reflex that they will use on their own, without adult intervention.
- Efficiency: A mix of autonomy, self-confidence, and concentration enables children to carry out their in-school and extra-curricular exercises and tasks more quickly.
Self-learning at home
the parents’ role
The parents’ role in helping a child learn independently is both crucial and delicate.
One round-table participant pointed out that it’s not always easy for parents to know how to support their child’s learning: They want to contribute to their development, but also need to let them go at their own pace. Parents have to strike a balance between the two; stimulating the child enough to nurture their thirst for knowledge and ability to learn independently, while not pushing them faster than their ability to learn. According to this participant, there is an art to striking this balance:
- Create opportunities to learn: One participant said that parents must show interest in learning new things with their children. That way, children will not only progress, but also feed off of their parents’ thirst for knowledge.
- Value: One critical role for parents is teaching children to value success. As parents, we can congratulate and reward our children for their successes, but we must make especially sure our children congratulate themselves and recognize their own achievements.
- Motivate and stimulate: Because parents know their children so well and have an especially trusting relationship with them, they are in a good position to find ways to ignite and sustain their children’s “spark”—their thirst for knowledge that is essential to their journey through life.