Magazine article Work & Family Life

Understanding the Powerful Connection between Feeling and Learning

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Understanding the Powerful Connection between Feeling and Learning

Article excerpt

If we stop and think about it, most of us are aware that feelings-pleasant or unpleasant-have an impact on our ability to learn. What's curious is tow often we ignore this fact in relation to our children.

There's no area of child development as misunderstood by parents as the vital connection between emotional and intellectual development. In fact, feeling, thinking, learning and remembering are so tightly woven that they are, for all practical purposes, inseparable.

And now we can prove it

These connections are what the brave new world of scientific research has shown us.

We now know that during the toddler period (18-36 months) the central nervous system undergoes specialized and accelerated growth in the part of the brain most closely connected to feeling and mood. Learning and feeling become yoked in an incredibly powerful way that was previously not possible because the wiring simply didn't exist at birth.

This means that toddlers, unlike infants, have the mental hardwiring to enhance their understanding of the world, just as they are ready to strike off down the road on their own-a few feet at a time.

How does it work?

For the young child in particular, experiences are more easily understood and filed away if they are connected to the emotions contained in that event, pleasurable or not. Thunderstorms are terrifying if you are alone, wet, or hungry. Thunderstorms are okay If you are snuggled on your dad's chest, and he tells you what's happening and how safe you both are, and that the noise, lightning and water will not "get you." Either way, you will remember thunderstorms! The same is true for remembering dogs, grandmothers, songs, pictures, books, butterflies and so forth.

Kids' appetite for the novel

The way children accumulate these images over time is what makes this period of life so interesting. Recent memory research has built on the pioneering work of Jean Piaget, the famous Swiss psychologist who had the idea that children learn best from comfortable, repeated and predictable sequences. This is why children delight in repetition-why they demand the same favorite game, song or story over and over.

However, once they are comfortable and satisfied with a learning experience, something unexpected happens: they start to demand the new or different. This appetite for the novel is a critical intersection between emotion and thinking. Even though children love repetition, they are also natural seekers of a new challenge. Why? Because the experience of exploring and conquering "the new" makes children feel so good.

Emotional development is key

Emotional development goes right to the heart of the adult that all parents want their child to become-- interested and adventuresome, trusting and cooperative, confident and secure, able to solve problems and enjoy life to the fullest.

In their efforts to stimulate children's thinking, parents may focus on skill-pushing memory activities and programs. But emotion and feeling, both the parents' and the child's, are really what drive learning most efficiently. Children learn better if they are interested in what they're learning and enjoying what they are doing. One well-documented trait of kids who do well in school is that they love to learn.

The pressure to learn

What about the push to early learning? Pressure to learn can make the experience anxious or boring rather than pleasurable. If this happens, learning begins to take on all the wrong connotations in the young child's mind and feelings. …

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