What more powerful thing can you do for the children in your life than show them how adults learn?
I kindly suggest that we should always try to learn alongside children. Unfortunately, we are already quite good at many things that they are learning: walking, riding bicycles, writing, cooking, et cetera. This makes us great models for them to watch us and learn, but it makes it very hard for us to put ourselves back in the place of being a learner. We know how to read but do not remember how we learned the skill. We know how to drive a car but cannot remember the steps in backing up down the driveway.
Homeschooling icon Julie Bogart told a story on her podcast Brave Writer about practicing handwriting alongside her children (episode titled “The Value of Effort in Learning”). While her children practiced English letters and words, Julie tried other languages like Dutch and Hindi. She discovered how hard it is to write letters when she didn’t already know them. She discovered how difficult it is to put letters together into words when she was learning a new language.
This week I faced a longtime fear: origami. I failed at origami several times back when I was a teenager and told myself a story about my inability to do origami. My daughter is interested in all things Japanese: the food, the language, movies, manga. We went to visit a friend of mine, who showed us her fiber arts studio. Shelves on the wall held beautiful skeins of yarn in many colors. Finished pieces hung from the wall as well. Hanging from the ceiling was…you may have guessed it, many origami cranes.
I did not bring my children to my friend for a lesson, but sometimes life works out that way. Adults have so much they can teach when children are ready, and that day, my older daughter saw the cranes and asked for a lesson. My friend immediately produced out origami paper, and even though she had not made a crane in a long time, she opened up a book and reviewed for herself how to make a crane while also teaching my children and me. Because I had never successfully made a crane or any other origami, my daughter and I were on equal footing. We both made our first crane together. My friend may have been rusty, but she taught artfully as she had taught arts and crafts many times before.
The next day, my daughter asked me to teach her a new origami, a horse. I did not feel that I had mastered the crane yet, as I had only done it under my friend’s guidance. I suggested that I need to make at least seven cranes before I could learn another origami pattern.
I pulled up an online video but could not understand it. It felt different than what my friend had showed us in real life. I pulled up another video online. It was slower and looked more familiar…until one step was different. I immediately felt thrown for a loop. My husband understood how the move was the same as what I had learned, but I could not understand how it worked yet. Later in the video, the folding order was changed, even though all folds matched what I had learned. This felt much harder than when my friend taught me in person, and I took a break. I did the first half of two separate cranes. On day three, I finished both of those cranes with the video’s help and started to feel like I was able to do it. I did not feel like I understood what I was doing, but I was making cranes successfully.
A couple days later, I practiced again, this time with written instructions. Previously, I could not understand the printed instructions, but now I did. The in-person lesson and video had prepared me for understanding 2D picture directions. I made two cranes while looking at the directions, then put the directions aside, and made another three cranes mostly from memory, only checking the directions when I felt stuck. Eventually I was able to make a whole crane from memory, and I also understood much of what I was doing. No one had explained to me how this fold or that fold made the crane, but by repeatedly doing the work, I began to understand how the folds made the crane. Some of the folds were done to make lines, then undone, and those lines became guidelines for other folds. I began to understand what was happening and why.
I almost feel ready to watch those videos again and try to understand what the video makers were doing differently than my friend. Not quite yet, but by next week, I intend to rewatch those videos and try to understand how they fit with my crane knowledge.
After watching two videos and reading the written directions, I began to notice the words “squash fold.” As I write this, I do not understand what those words mean, but I am coming to realize that origami is full of folds that repeat in many patterns and would probably be useful to learn as they would create a foundation of origami knowledge. Whether I should learn them separately or as parts of other patterns, I do not know at this moment.
Meanwhile, my younger daughter made an orange crane today with my help, and when we finished, the crane had only one wing. I have no idea how it happened. My knowledge of cranes is not yet able to locate folding errors or make corrections.
This process very much reminds me of when I learned to knit at 18. A friend taught me how in real life, and every time I made an error and asked for help, she was able to fix it. Occasionally we asked another knitter. At that time, there were no internet videos or streaming, so I had to skip the video step and go straight to written instructions. Over time, I learned how to make many things from written instructions and the occasional help from more experienced knitters. Eventually I became a proficient knitter who could fix my own errors, and I began to teach others how to knit as well.
Here is an outline of my learning process for knitting and origami:
- The Initial Effort while Guided by a More-Knowledgeable Person
2. Repeat Practice with Video
3. Repeat Practice with Written Instructions
4. Repeat Practice with Minimal Support
5. Repeat Practice with No Support
7. Ability to do/understand the same task a different way, beginning to learn vocabulary and the building blocks of the topic.
8. Ability to recognize errors
9. Ability to find the location of an error
10. Ability to correct the error
11. Teach another person how to do the thing one way
12. Teach another person how to do the thing more than one way
Lastly, I would like to challenge you to learn something new and notice how you learn, especially if you spend time with children or teach them.