Ready To Learn

“You can struggle for weeks to teach a child to identify colors before they are ready, or you can do it in a few moments when they are ready to learn.”

[Image description: A picture of crayons up-close in a gradient from purple through blue, green, yellow, and to orange. Beside them, it says, “You can struggle for weeks to teach a child to identify colors before they are ready or you can do it in a few moments when they are ready to learn.” End description.]

True about colors. True about numbers. True about writing. True about lots and lots and lots and lots of things.

(And by “ready to learn” I don’t mean any kind of adult nonsense about them having listening ears or whatever we try to push on them in structured learning environments. I mean when their bodies and brains are ready, and fascinated with this topic. Something they don’t choose and neither do we.)

Let me give you a separate, strange example of how this worked in my child’s life:

My son, “Apollo”, is very, very tall for his age and always has been. He’s also my first child. Perhaps because of one or both of these things, I started to get really frustrated when he was two that he wouldn’t do a single thing to help me get him into his car seat. I would have to pick him up and put him in every single time — he wouldn’t even duck his head so I wouldn’t hit it on the frame. He wouldn’t put his arms through the straps.

I don’t mean that he was fighting me — we never went through that phase, thankfully — just that he seemed to have literally no concept of how to move his body to get into the car. More than having no concept, he didn’t seem particularly bothered that there could be a concept. If I said “Get in your car seat!” he would either stand blankly in front of the car staring at something else (or, let’s be real, pawing through the trash pile that is the back seat for a long-lost toy) or he would sort of ineffectually flop around with movements that sort of approximated movements one might use to get into the car, but no muscle mass or coordination behind them.

I don’t know why this caused me so much aggravation, but it did. He was just big and heavy and lanky and it was hard to get him in, and it felt like it would be so much easier if he would just figure it out. Several times I thought about “teaching” him how to get into the car.

I never quite got around to it. Covid happened, the world went on lockdown, and we stopped driving to our regular handful of places…and then, of course, we stopped driving literally anywhere at all. Other than one cross-country move, my kids did not ride in a car at all for a span of like five months straight.

And then the next time I went to put him in the car, he climbed up into it and sat down in his seat.

I remember standing there baffled. He hadn’t had any practice! He couldn’t have, because we literally had not taken them anywhere in the car!

When his body was ready to figure it out, his brain put the pieces together, and he figured out the coordination needed to be able to get himself into that seat.

There’s nothing wrong with talking with kids about letters or numbers or colors or whatever it is, as long as we can truly keep it in a no-pressure way. When we start quizzing them, we start insisting that they know things on our timeline instead of their own timeline. And that’s where we get in the way of their learning and become pretty useless.

People get concerned on here sometimes that I sound like I’m advocating for not “teaching” children anything, as if children can figure everything out for themselves and we should just abandon them to the wolves. If anything, I’m saying that adults make much better gentle guides than we do lecturers.

If you’re worried about your child not knowing the colors, make sure they have colorful things to play with and colorful books to read together and colorful clothing to wear. Talk about color in the way that one talks about something bright and delightful and wonderful in our world, rather than the way that one talks about a boring old textbook subject.

And trust them. Trust them to seize on magic and wonder. That’s what children are great at.