How to bring children out of their shell and to love learning.

I've been teaching children robotics for almost 6 years now. I started when I was 15 years old - running workshops and basic classes as part of a robotics team - we were teaching students from ages 5 and up.

Being new and what some might consider naive - I didn't actually consider age to be a massive barrier to ability. That is to say - I figured if you taught kids, and explained things in an engaging and interested way - they'd eventually understand. Turns out, that's totally true! Disclaimer: young children often struggle to retain information for long periods of time - so whilst the information 'churn' is real, continual work and reinforcement meant that Kindergarteners were using 'greater than' and 'less than' to use sensors, or using gear ratios to make drag racers or winches to pull objects. 5 year olds understood that the more rigid a moving construction is (like a pulley or drive system), the less friction is generated when put under strain. 5 year old's were sharing ideas, and coming up with projects that many would say are: beyond their age.

These kids were not only applying ideas beyond their age - they were testing, experimenting and learning in a project based environment that mean these kids were overcoming barriers themselves and not just following instruction.

So, how did these students start to understand these concepts? And why is this important? I mean, their only 5, right? Age 5 is when most children start being schooled - this is where stigmas, and learning styles and friendships and so much is formed. Doing it right now - is more important than doing it right later in life. On top of this - the WAY kids learn and the WAY they are taught from a young age is so important.

Emotional maturity is something that comes with time, and so does the brain development required to retain large amounts of wrote learning. However, just like Dory in Finding Nemo - procedural knowledge (speaking, moving, interacting with people) is actually just fine, but declarative knowledge (recalling facts, names and other information) is weaker - this is the same with younger children. A young child at age 5 has the same amount of procedural knowledge and ability as a 14 or 15 year old kid. So how is teaching them things they'll forget useful? Well, teaching kids in a way that engages them, inspires them and makes them want to learn more, does several things:

Kids are no-longer having to wrote learn large amounts of information - they're discovering by doing.
By actually having teachers get kids to discover and learn things based on challenges they come across you get: high engagement from students; slightly higher information retention and...
Your teaching kids to OVERCOME barriers to a task. As oppose to limiting what kids think and dream up - you can get them to learn for themselves. What may shock you is: these kids will do things you never think of yourself to overcome the issue they face. No longer are these kids being told 'No. You can't. Don't.' they're being asked 'why not try something different? What do you think?' and they're being told 'I don't know, let's look it up. I'm sure there's another way. Well done! You failed, and that's awesome'. Getting kids to think about alternatives, and encouraging them to overcome barriers is super powerful.
Now, I mentioned failure in there as well: teaching kids to learn how to fail produces some epic results. No more is failure a reason to give up - it's a learning experience and reason to try again!

So next time you think about giving your kids something to do - try giving them a project and helping them do it, even if you don't know how yourself. Help them Google it, or keep trying things until it works. You'll start to raise children ready to tackle the unpredictable work, and ready to overcome challenge, not get shut down by it.

>Stop saying 'you can't' or 'don't' or 'that's impossible' and start letting them learn and find out WHY something is the way it is. It'll make for a much more exciting childhood and a much more capable child!

Project based learning is applicable across all areas of study - heck, it's exactly what adults do in the workplace - have a challenge - then solve it. TinkerTank does exactly that. It gives kids challenges and topics to work on - then helps them accomplish that; not by telling them what to do or think, but by encouraging them to think, helping them access the right resources and showing them that they are much smarter than anyone gives them credit for.

If you live in Sydney, try it for yourself, goto TinkerTank.com.au and book a course. If you live anywhere else, try it at home and start doing projects that challenge your kids - don't underestimate them!

~James