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This video was sent to me as a motivational video but I want you to ignore that part. I wanted to share this video as an example of what children are capable of learning when they have a dedicated teacher.
The child in this video is very young. Although I don’t have the exact age of this child, I would say, judging from the body proportions, that the child would be no more than 3 years old. There is only one time when the child looks back for reassurance. Judging from the climbing proficiency, I would also say that this child would have been climbing for quite a while.
When trying to introduce our children to sports, we are often told by sports coaches to come back when our children are older. Coaches want children who are old enough to take instruction. They also tell us that children need to have the muscle strength to enable them to learn the moves required by the sport. When a child is too young, they lack this strength. Or so we are told.
And yet, there are parents who succeed in teaching very young children sports to a level we would not think possible. The child in the video above is a perfect example. This flies in the face of the argument that young children lack the motor coordination or muscular strength to engage in such sports. Then again, the kind of dedication and level of passion that must be exhibited to bring such a young child to this level would only be possible from a parent. We would be hard-pressed to find a coach who meets this level of dedication. Even if we could, young children are generally distrusting of new faces.
It’s not just sports that children can begin learning early. In the following video, a 4-year-old boy cooks fried rice for his younger brother using a wok and hot oil over a charcoal stove. While most of us are still worrying about our children burning themselves, this boy has already learned how to handle a hot wok. We need to break away from the thinking that a child is too young to learn how to do a thing. We need to stop saying “when they’re older”.
Just as many people struggle to accept the idea of babies learning to read, it can be difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that children can learn to do many things from a very young age. And the best way for a child to learn is through you – their parent and first teacher. They learn first by watching us do these things. I have no doubt that that rock climbing toddler spent a lot of time watching mother or father rock climbing before even setting one hand or foot on a wall.
One of the arguments why teaching a child to read earlier is better than waiting until a child is older is because of competing interests. An older child has developed their own interests and other things they would rather do. By this time, learning to read may not be one of those interests. It can then create conflict when a parent wants their child to read. The younger the child, the more eager they are to learn what Mum or Dad has to teach. Similarly, when a child becomes older, they may no longer be interested to follow the activity you wish to teach them because of conflicting interests.
In our lesson plans, we often include a range of hands-on activities. Some parents have asked, “Are these for older children? My child can’t do these things yet.” And when we talk about doing the activities while children watch, it feels like a waste of time. What’s the point when my child can’t participate? Even at this young age, your child is learning a lot by watching. Through observation, your child will also become eager to learn how to do these things themselves.
How does a toddler decide they want to learn how to rock climb? It wasn’t an idea they plucked out of the air. They develop an interest when they saw Mummy or Daddy doing it. It is the same reason children play pretend cooking after watching Mummy or Daddy cooking daily for the family. But what if, instead of giving them a play kitchen, we brought them into the kitchen and taught them the physical skills of cooking? For most of us, it sounds like a daunting idea. It takes five times longer than if we did ourselves. In the beginning, children will make a big mess and lots of mistakes. It takes an incredible amount of patience.
The best thing to start teaching your child is a hobby that you are deeply interested in. Since it is your own hobby, it will be an activity that you spend quite a bit of time doing. This gives your child plenty of opportunities to observe the activity in action. Allowing your child to watch you helps to develop your child’s interest to learn. They become interested because they wonder, “Why does Mummy spend so much time doing that? It must be fun. I want to do it, too.”
You are the best first teacher for your child because you spend the most time with your baby. As a parent and primary caregiver to your child, you have the bond required for your child to be comfortable learning from you. You will also be able to provide your child plenty of “demonstration” time where your child learns first by observation. Most importantly, as a parent to your child, you will one of the most patient teachers your little one will ever have.