Why eating virtual sand and being able to learn from it requires you – The Adult

Eva Fog,
Pedagogue and founder of the girls tech club DigiPippi.

Being a kid everything around you is about new learning or repetition of previously experienced learning.
It’s all you do, and it’s all you know.
Well — not all you know since a lot of it is done autonomously and without your cognitive processes even getting involved.
Nature did its best to make sure we get the most out of that big, beautiful brain we all possess, slowly introducing us to its capabilities.

Playing is one of the most fundamental methods of learning in our early developmental stages.
Getting to know why sand doesn’t taste good is as important, as you later learning how to write the letters of the alphabet.
It serves different purposes in our lives but still derives from the same path of learning.
Basically, we all need to learn how to learn, in the most sensible and fruitful way. More on that later.

Being a Waldorf-educated pedagogue I’ve learned to appreciate the basic methods of imprinting knowledge alongside the more cognitive and abstract methods of traditional learning.
In my experience, one requires the other to get the most out of the ‘human experience.’

Now, it may surprise you when I reveal that I’m also a specialist in children and technology and, that I believe that being able to tell that sand doesn’t taste good is a vital piece of information to have when starting to learn the more technical stuff.

We use the same sort of imprinting in the early stages of life, no matter if it’s learning how to google the internet or not to eat stuff, which has no nutritional value to us. Like sand.

It’s all about how we learn and when we start learning it.
Contrary to what I’ve heard some people postulate, being human doesn’t mean we only have a limited time to learn as much as possible. We have the ability to learn until the day we cease to exist, but there are more fruitful times in our developmental stages.

A child´s brain versus an adult’s

In the early years, we tend to receive and process information much more fluently, meaning that we still haven’t developed too many brain grooves where information will be forced to pass.
As kids, we have fruitful lush forests instead of manicured gardens, tended to as much perfection as we (adults) muster. This exact reason is why we need to let kids explore their world in as many ways, shapes, methods, and forms as possible! They need structured learning time as well as unstructured, and it is vital that we balance it.

In Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, we treasure playtime.
That’s why our children don’t start school until the age of 5–6 years old, and why they get as much free play time in kindergartens and nurseries as possible.
We focus on creative ways for the kids to play and explore, even when we ‘teach’ the little ones.

That’s why we use pedagogues and not teachers in the pre-school age.
It’s a completely different sort of education from being a teacher, though several government reforms have done their best to try and mash them together. Fortunately, not with complete success — yet. But that’s another subject entirely.

So to sum it up thus far: When dealing with our youngsters, play needs to equal learning every single time. Because it’s the same thing!
Until the age of 7, so many basic functions are formed through active interactions with the world and the things in it.
Touching, feeling, smelling, tasting, throwing, and so forth are all part of what makes the brain understand even the most basic functions of traditional education.

We program our brain with every physical thing we do, thereby making neat little paths in our lush brain forests. We teach ourselves sequential thinking without even knowing it.

What does eating sand teach us?

It teaches our brains to think “So when sand equals YUCK maybe dirt does too?”, and next time we encounter something that resembles sand or dirt, we recall the previous experiences and — maybe — stop ourselves from putting it in our mouth.
Until next time when the sequence starts over, or until it’s made a nice and comfortable path through our wooden brain landscape.

At that time, we’ve programmed ourselves to avoid eating sand — maybe even why — and we never have to think about not eating it again.
It’s now hardwired and part of our autonomous brain pattern, and frees up our learning process to get to new stuff.
So in short; Sequential thinking makes us able to do all the things we need to do.

What does all of this have to do with tech?
A lot, actually!

Though the parent generation grew up with computers, we still have a tendency not to teach our kids the basic understanding of the darn things.
In many ways, it’s the Wild West, and we’ve just let the kids loose with a six-shooter, cowboy boots, and a wild stallion, expecting them to fend for themselves in an unstructured world we barely understand.
How is that teaching them anything constructive?
How is that helping them develop the right set of skills to go through a world, where tech is everywhere and still growing?

When our kids eat sand, we tell them ‘Ew, that’s not food,’ thereby enforcing their own internal YUCK response.
When they play soccer, learn to ride a bike, or skip, we’re there to enforce their learning by praising, comforting, and giving advice.

That’s why we need to do the same when it comes to tech and IT.
There is no such thing as digital natives so adults everywhere — shape up and start helping your kids learn!

Children need to eat virtual sand and learn when it’s bad for them, and they need adults to help them reflect on it.
They need to have fights, friendships, and play with identities on the computer as well as the physical world.
They need to be taught how to learn, and if we adult isn’t there to help them, they’ll find their own way. Wild West style.

Let’s fast forward to classrooms everywhere that now use tech and IT in as many situations as possible.
The children that have parents helping them through the technological sand-eating have the ability to navigate a whole lot better, than the children galloping in with guns held high, screaming demands.

Some might say that the teachers then have the responsibility to be the sheriff in town, but that’s unreasonable.
Sure, you can try to bulldoze your way through the unstructured brain woods of the unruly kids, but that has never been the way to good and sustainable learning environments.
No matter if the environment is tech-based or paper-based.

It’s our responsibility to help the next generation learn how to learn, and stop focusing on what platform they’re on.
It makes very little difference when it comes down to it.
In the end, it’s all about learning how to be human.