Thursday, June 13, 2013

How Children Learn

Last night ended late. Very late...My kids finally had dinner and headed off to bed. (I won't say how late as that might put my mother-of-the-year award in jeopardy. wink...)

Anway...this was our bedtime scene:
My youngest daughter acquiesced to the oldest and got out of my oldest daughters bunk and into her own toddler bed. She listened to her older sisters' desperate whispers of getting into bed and quietly settling into sleep after a full and exhausting day. I waited until they did, in fact, settle down and went to tuck them in. All three were peacefully at rest.

My middle daughter was aglow with a flashlight that was resting in the covers she adamantly refuses to pull up herself instead insisting I'm the only one who can do it just right. My oldest was sleeping under the covers, a surprise for me. She usually lies on top of them so as not to mess up the covers thereby skipping the step of making the bed the next day.

And then there was my youngest. There she was lying on the toddler bed under a mess of multiple "blankies" a mere head visible from the mess. I straightened the covers and realized she needed to have her pajamas fixed. She had put her shirt on her legs and then her pants, leaving on her shirt from the day (hey, she is only 2). As I stripped off the pj pants I saw that one of the sleeves of her pajamas was on her leg and the pants had been put on over that. "Interesting concept", I thought to myself as I stifled a chuckle. At least her leg would be really, really warm.

As I got her properly dressed and tucked in, I started thinking. How do children learn what they learn?  I'm sure this thought has passed other parents' minds too. Now, of course, the most obvious answer to that would be that they learn by watching us parent (the nurture argument). The other camp might say that it's our environment (nature). But I've always believed that it's a little of both. This view became very clear to me after I was connected with a long lost family member. He and I had many (and I mean a whole giant multitude) of similarities.

It surprised me at first.

And then the old nature vs nurture issue that I had learned about during all those many months, years, and dollars came to light. It occurred to me that the fact that I had, for all my childhood and into adulthood, convinced myself I was just a standout in the family was anything but. I was a standout in my immediate family. The one's that shared my day to day life. But I was by no means as unique as I thought I was. I was not as much of a wanderer, traveler, free spirit, a diversion in the road, a change from the norm that I thought I was. This was a bit hard to take at first. I mean, let's face it, I am pretty general. I'm, as my middle daughter would say, "special". And I revel in the unique, the extraordinary, the different. I've never been one to desperately try to fit in. I've never been one to desperately stand out. I just didn't follow everyone else. And I found out  how much there is to be learned from all those people who took chances.

And I took chances. I never realized they were chances at the time, it was just what I did (we really, as my husband has been such an integral part of my life for so long). Were I alone, I have no idea the path I would have chosen. But with Ryan, I may have honeymooned in anywhere but an exotic place (a mere few hours from our hometown) yet we moved 4,000 miles away from home, friends, family. We wanted to try something new. Learn a different way of life from a different type of people. Search out ourselves, search out God, in a breathtaking place. For us, that meant a major we did it. With an adventurous spirit, a trailer, a cat, a ferret and a fat tailed gecko, we went west young, woman...and man. And we loved it. That journey has led us many more places and landed us here, in the beautifully breathtaking Pacific Northwest.

But where did I get that traveling spirit when all my family lives close to where we grew up? (As an aside, I do miss my family terribly but we are home here.) Back to the point, how did I end up so different: looks, attitude, interests. And yet so the same. Well, it all goes back to how children learn. It all goes back to last night.

I believe God makes us perfect in His image. It's stated right there in the Bible. He didn't make a mistake when he gave me the gift of gab, my sarcastic wit, or my family. I was put right where I needed to be with the people I needed to be with. I believe God gave children the ability to learn but He also blessed everyone with an internal intelligence. We learn from our families, friends, and society, but we also have certain traits that are part of our DNA so to speak. It's a balance of nature and nurture that create who we are. This became evident tonight, as I tucked in my tuckered out kids.

I started analyzing the situation. My middle girl had the flashlight on even though the hall light lit her room well. This could be either nurture or nature. We all have innate fears of things, the dark being high on that list due it's unknown factor. But, society and myself and her older sister could have taught her that fear through inadvertent means.

My oldest daughter convincing, coaching, directing her younger sisters. Also, a possible nature or nurture issue. Oldest child syndrome but also being old enough to mimick mommy's behavior. (Note to self on that one!!) And also her switch on sleeping under the blankets tonight. Did all my explanations that she really doesn't save time or effort by sleeping on top and being chilly all night finally kick in? Or was it just because it was too cold out tonight to do that.

And my youngest, getting into bed on her own and covering up with her shirt on legs covered by her pants. Clearly, she's learned some of the behavior. This would be evident in learning to listen to her older sisters since they seem to know the ropes. But, she still pushed the rules by climbing onto that bunk bed to start with. I don't see myself as leading by example on that one but maybe somehow I do. Maybe it's just that nature issue. She was born with that attitude. And would she dress that way if she'd had no influence otherwise, say stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes and some food. Would she learn how to properly dress and care for herself? She's obviously still learning that.

So my answer to how children learn is, I don't have a clue. My girls sure do seem to learn all my bad habits with no problem. Obviously that is nurture. And not good nurture. But nature also plays a vital role. Do you ever think of this issue? Do you ever wonder why one child does this and the other does that when they clearly grew up the same way? Have you solved one of life's great mysteries? Cause I'd sure like to know!

Happy Creations! Jennifer

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