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Learning How To Learn

I wrote a short post on Facebook yesterday that garnered some attention (by my own measly standards), so I thought I’d expand on the post here.

First of all, let me just say that I’m always wary of giving parenting advice such as this. Why? Because to a certain extent, it implies that I’ve got it all sorted out when the reality is quite the opposite. Being a parent is a bit like building a plane while flying it, or flying a plane while building it, whichever order you prefer. Most of the time I struggle to get my kids to stop playing ‘Frogger in Toy Town’ or ‘Cricket Through the Ages’. Heck, I often end up joining them…that cricket game is hilarious!

Cricket Through the Ages

Secondly, I’m aware of how lucky I am to have the luxury of staying at home to look after my kids without having to worry too much about where the next meal is going to come from, how to pay the bills etc. Being in lockdown is clearly a lousy situation, it really sucks. For some people, it’s an inconvenience; for others, it’s an unmitigated disaster. I don’t want to downplay the negative aspects of a lockdown, merely to share with you some of the methods I’ve tried to make the best of this unfortunate situation.

So to re-cap, the Facebook post was about giving my kids a topic to research and present. Basically I choose a topic at random, they get half a day or so to read about it online, and then they have to prepare a short presentation about said topic.

My reason for doing this is not so much to get them to learn things, but to learn how to learn.

Kids these days are faced with a daunting challenge i.e. how to make sense of things in a world overwhelmed with information. That’s why I think one of the most important skills to acquire at an early age is how to sift through the pile of information available, in order to get to the bit of knowledge that you need. This is a lot harder than it sounds, and unless you train them to do it, it’s not going to get any easier as they grow up.

I’m being relatively flexible about how my kids research their topics. In fact, I’m kind of hoping that they make mistakes along the way because I think it’s valuable to know how you ended up making a mistake in the first place.

Because they’re new to this, my kids often end up copying down whatever is in the very first website they encounter. Often, this is Wikipedia, so in that sense, they’re not that different from many university students! Eventually, I hope to nudge them away from just using Wikipedia, but for now, I just want them to develop a sense of excitement towards independent learning…so Wikipedia it is!

One tweak I’ve made is to get them to alternate between presenting their findings in English one day ,and Bahasa Melayu on the next day. I really want to include Arabic and Mandarin in this list, but I’m not fluent in either language. Oh well, something for the dad to learn I guess! I don’t know how long they’ll be able to stick to this routine, but hopefully they will pick up some useful habits while doing it.

And now, back to ‘Cricket Through the Ages’…

By Imran Idris

I am a husband, father, son, neurologist, neuroscientist-in-training, Tolkien-fan, and owner of two toy wombats named Mulder and Scully.