Learning by trying something, doing it wrong,
and then trying again, is important and is to be encouraged. At the same time,
though, aim to help your child do a thing correctly the first time around. For
example, your grade schooler is gluing together a plastic model. Since it will
be difficult to take apart once put together, it is fairly important she learn
to do it right the first time. She will develop increasing skill through
practice, i.e. through trial and error.
Your children learn to “consider the
possibilities.” Putting puzzles together is a good example. Exploring the
possibilities comes up in numerous situations.
Any time your child wants you to decide, to tell
him how, to choose, or to figure out the right answer, consider the possibility
of suggesting he consider the possibilities. Yes, at times you simply show him
how, give him the answer, or solve the problem. Much of the time, though,
encourage trial and error and explore various possibilities. This approach to
learning has the desirable side effect of helping your child become socially
and emotionally independent.
A second concept involved in trial and error
learning might be thought of as successive approximation. your first approach
to a problem does not work or turns out incorrectly. You then look at why it
did not work, and your next effort takes this into consideration; you come a
little closer. For example, your adolescent hurriedly paints a fence. She steps
back, observes a few missed spots, and touches them up. Her hurried effort
approximated a good job and her touch-ups really got the job done. Writing a
theme for school similarly goes through successive approximations.
How do you help your children learn to use
successive approximations? You encourage them to look critically at what they
have done and to try to improve on it next time, whether it is their behavior
while visiting a friend’s house or school work. You encourage an orientation to
successive approximation when you refrain from always giving the correct
solution, or telling how to do something.
Learning through mental rehearsal may be the
highest learning skill. What is mental rehearsal? Learning through mental
rehearsal is more of a thinking process than a doing process. You imagine in
your mind’s eye or ear what something would look or sound like. You mentally
try out each of the possibilities for solving a problem or completing a task,
as if you were actually doing it.
How do you help your child use her capacities
for mental rehearsal? If your child is presented with a problematic situation
and asks what should she do, you say, “Let’s think about it for a little
while before you do anything. Let’s see if you can imagine all the ways of
dealing with it, and then think through what will happen if you follow each of
the possibilities.” You are encouraging your child to use mental rehearsal
as well as demonstrating the technique. If your adolescent is experiencing a
lot of anxiety about a debate, you can say, “Imagine yourself in the room
where the contest is going to be held. Now imagine the debate is about to begin
and think through everything you expect to happen (in sequence) before your
turn. Now it is your turn. Think about getting up, walking to the microphone,
looking at the audience, and giving your speech. Run this through a few times
in your mind to see what the problems might be, what other people are going to
do and say, and what you are going to say. Make mental notes about what you are
not sure of, and what you need more information about.” After the debate,
your adolescent says, “It was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.
It was almost like I had been there before.” It is really true; she had
been there before, in her mind.
With your preschooler, encourage her to slow
down and think things through a little before starting an arts and crafts
project, or participating in a special ritual at church, or making her first
solo excursion to the grocery store. With your grade schooler, encourage her to
think through an arithmetic problem before starting to work it, or how she is
going to hold the bat before her turn at plate, or how she is going to get to
school the first time she tries it on her own. There are innumerable
opportunities for mental rehearsal, and your children should be made
consciously aware of the technique and encouraged to use it.