The Richmond Register

November 23, 2012

The bornlearning Academy

Workshop 1: The science of early learning

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer (a.k.a. Ryker’s Mom)

BEREA — Editor’s note: The Register published an article in November about the addition of the Toyota “bornlearning Academy” at Berea Community School. The school received a $11,500 grant to fund the academy, which includes monthly workshops for parents and children 0 to 5. The workshops teach parents and caregivers how to turn everyday activities into learning activities. Three Register reporters have children age 2 and under and decided to sign up for the Academy. This is the first in a series about what was learned at the bornlearning workshops.

Although my partner Jimmy and I feel like we’re good parents, when it comes to our son Ryker, we can always be better.

He’s in such a formative stage at 21 months. He repeats everything I say, mimics everything I do and (usually) ignores me when he’s misbehaving — I could use all the help I can get.

When I was pregnant, a former co-worker thought I was strange because I read books about child-raising. She had already “reared three kids,” she said, there was nothing a book could tell her.

But, I realize I don’t know everything, as much as I would like to think so. The bornlearning Academy was an opportunity to learn how to enhance my son’s learning — and it’s free (even better).

The workshop began at 5:30 p.m. at the Berea Community School. Most parents, at this point in the evening, would be worrying about dinner plans. But we were welcomed with cold drinks and a hot meal of chicken strips, mashed potatoes and green beans — Ryker’s fave.

After spilled water was wiped up and green beans picked off the floor, BCHS seniors Sativa Thompson and Olivia Jacobs kept an eye on our children in another classroom.

Being the parent of a toddler, I was a little apprehensive about how Ryker would react to being left alone with someone he didn’t know. But the program’s coordinator, Diane Smith, rolled out a crate full of toys and the desperate cries for “momma” soon died down.

Awww, peace and quiet, a precious commodity to parents. How often do we get a free babysitter?

For around 30 minutes, Barb Mills, the workshop facilitator (and who also is an Eastern Kentucky University health professor), introduced the science of early learning. Every parent was given a binder with all the material covered in the workshop. 

We started off by discussing common misconceptions about early learning and rebuttals supported by the research of scientists, doctors and professors. Two misconceptions stood out.

Misconception: Social, emotional and intellectual learning are separate, and intellectual or cognitive learning is most important

Studies show that all types of learning are interconnected. Children learn through their important relationships (social learning); they learn when they feel good and are engaged and motivated in what they are learning (emotional learning); and they learn when they are making sense of their world (intellectual learning).

Misconception: The adult’s role is to “teach” children, making every moment a teaching moment

The adult’s role is to encourage or increase children’s engagement in learning. Adults who bombard children with factual information — like colors or numbers or letters — every moment or who feel that they must entertain children nonstop, are likely to overstimulate and turn children away from learning, just as much as if they criticize or ignore children’s engagement in learning.

The last misconception was the biggest “whoa, wait-a-minute” moment for me because sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not “teaching” my kid enough. With a full-time work schedule, I’d rather spend those few precious evening hours squeezing into my son’s tent with him or playing with his endless number of toys. I thought maybe we were playing too much.

Monday night after the workshop, I understood what Mills meant by “following the child’s lead” to engage them in learning.

When we got home, Ryker handed me his magnetic drawing board, put his arm in front of his nose and pretended to be an elephant.

He wanted me to draw an elephant, and then Elmo, and then a dog, and so on, until we went through every animal/object in his vocabulary.

I always doodled on his drawing board as we played, but I never thought he paid attention. This is what Mills meant — we’re “playing,” but he’s learning, and I didn’t have to force it.

Pushing children to memorize information can result in “drill and kill,” she said, and can turn your child away from learning.

My co-worker Sarah said her son Johnny names every color yellow and is apparently pretty insistent about his claim.

Mill advised to correct Johnny, but “let it drop and eventually it will sink in,” she said.

Another point Mills made was that learning should be about the child and not about the adult keeping up with other people’s children or proving themselves as a perfect parent or caregiver.

I admit, I take pride in my son excelling over other children his age. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t. But we should remember having those bragging rights is not what its about.

Mills also said children, like adults, need “hang around” times to explore, reflect, imagine and learn on their own.

My co-worker Ronica said she feels bad when she’s doing chores in the kitchen and her daughter Erica is just quietly “piddling around” in the living room.

“When she gets too quiet, I know she’s up to something,” her husband Chad joked.

But Mills said that is necessary and valuable time for children and it is good for them to learn how to play by themselves.

The last 30 minutes of class, Mills got out the crayons, styrofoam plates, dried pasta and duct tape so we could make homemade maracas. This was an activity we could do with our children using items we may have sitting around our home.

Here we were, seven adults drawing “hand turkeys” on plates with crayons. It felt like kindergarten all over again. I’ve discovered one advantage to being a parent is that I can color and play with toys, and nobody thinks I’m weird because I have a kid.

The children rejoined the group and played/destroyed the maracas we made. As we left, each was given the book “1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12” — I needed that. 

During the workshop, I realized we all had heard some of this information before. But for me, Mills not only taught new ways to be involved but reminded me of ways I was already engaged in Ryker’s early learning without even knowing it.  

The next bornlearning workshop is Dec. 11 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Those who are interested in joining may contact Diane Smith at 986-1021 by Dec. 7 to reserve a spot.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.