Learning in waves

I love this blog post about a new model of intellectual development, from Robert Siegler at Carnegie Mellon University.

When my eldest son was a baby, I frequented popular parenting websites. I read about what he should be doing at each stage of his little life. I could congratulate myself if he was ‘advanced’ compared to the majority of children his age, and worry if, conversely, he was not meeting certain targets when the website said he should.

These ‘ages and stages’ influence healthcare professionals and educational professionals alike. Once your child goes to school, their syllabus and teaching is largely determined by what someone has said that most children should be doing by a certain age. (This someone may not even be an expert in child development or education.) Parents who find their children are not meeting these targets, at either end, have to fight to get more attention for their child, either to bring them in line with the majority of children, or to make sure they are stimulated and not bored silly by the school classes.

But I have long been reassured by what people working with gifted children call ‘asynchronous development’. It is possible (and in fact fairly common) to have a child who is far ahead at maths, but whose handwriting is atrocious. Or who will talk with great interest, using technical vocabulary, about their speciality, but appears not to know the first thing about how to make and keep friends. I have worked with colleagues, in the field of museum education no less, who were as intelligent or more than their peers, but did not learn to read until they were 10 years old or above. That certainly challenged my own preconceptions about learning, education and intelligence. I am glad that I had this experience before I had my own children.

The more that I work with my own children and others, I have suspected that what is called asynchronous development is the case for most if not all children. It is just more extreme in children who are ‘gifted’ because you can’t avoid noticing the areas that they are advanced in. I believe all children focus on one area at a time, to the exclusion of others, whether it is learning to crawl, learning to talk, or learning to create 3D digital animations. As a parent, you may despair that they will ever remember to drink when they are thirsty or use a knife and fork correctly. Then suddenly your ten year old is making breakfast for his siblings and cooking the family dinner. I rarely notice simple stepwise progressions that are implied by the ages and stages information on the parenting websites or in the government syllabuses. I love the image of advancing and receding waves that Robert Siegler uses instead, in his new model.

Thanks to another homeschooling mum for pointing out this blog post. I try to stick to original material on this blog (and save the shares for my Facebook page) but I felt this one was too important to miss.


windy day in Manly (compressed for web viewing)

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