Where Does Learning Begin?

Where does learning begin? Some believe that it is a primary function, set in our DNA from the start, that without nurturing can vanish, possibly never to be seen again. If we do think learning happens at the start, then the real question to answer needs to be: “How do we keep learning happening after that beginning?” The answer, in part, may be to remember to nourish that natural creative, inquisitive, seeking, and need-to-accomplish gene.

But how do we do that on a local, as well as global scale? We sort of know how to learn from the start, and when we have that innate power to be creative that is gifted to the very young. Somewhere, though, and it’s very early, and most times begins at the start of formal schooling, we lose that that gift, that creative learning spark. When that begins to happen at the earliest stages of learning, it can get worse, unless there’s intervention in later grades, and then, it may be entirely too late. In many cases learning doesn’t happen, or not in the energetic and natural way it was intended—without super heroic teaching efforts. And it doesn’t get much easier during, and after higher education if students get there—and into careers, where there may be no intervention at all. The majority of students lose the learning gift, as most researchers believe, they had in the womb—before birth.

Many of us have heard stories that it’s important for parents to talk soothingly, sing, and play music to babies yet unborn. Some of us have instead told jokes, made funny noises, or tapped a baby bump, asking,  “Are you in there? Can you hear me?” In a recent University of Helsinki study on the subject, music was used, in the form of an old childhood favorite, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to test what really happens “inside there” before birth. Does learning actually occur? Well, it turns out those babies in the womb who listened to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star showed spikes in brain activity when it was played. Furthermore, when incorrect notes were played, babies’ brains showed no stimulation. Only the correct notes lighted up brain activity. It seems babies recognized the lullaby. It seems learning begins early.

Turns out maybe the answer is yes. There’s another of those studies, this time out of the University of Helsinki. The study used music and the familiar tune Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Certainly a classic, but who knew how memorable?

Now, this should give us a reason to think further. Children are capable of so much more learning at even earlier ages, and it seems, quite possibly, even before birth, too—if exposed to it. If that’s the case, parents, educators, and governments have an increased responsibility to keep the learning environment properly stimulated—and not just for the unborn, but for those children just beginning their learning journey. There’s a need for more of the right learning stimuli and not less. Funding, starting, improving, and maintaining pre-school and nursery venues for all children, not just for those who can afford it, or are lucky enough to be in a place that supports it, needs to be the norm. Funding and support for learning should be occurring in every country—including the poorest socio-economic.

It is important to keep the gift of learning bright in all students, at all levels and grades. Educators know this is true, but sometimes it’s not enough to move talk to action in those, who don’t quite get it, but hold the education purse strings. So, here’s a simple point that requires very little thinking. It requires far less to finance learning, now, for all students on a global scale than it will cost to support, feed, and care for them as adults because they can’t survive for lack of an education, or support from an adequate career. Simply put, learning is economic survival. Each day that goes by, without proper learning funding, is one that will never be recovered again. When we talk about student learning in years, we really should be talking in days. The loss of one day of learning is another domino, which will bring down so many more—if allowed to continue. It is quite possible that for most of the world’s children, learning could and should begin now as a rebirth—with proper support and funding. We know where learning begins.

Ken Royal

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is an Education storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.
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