Instinct to Learn
By Wendy Priesnitz
Life learning parents (or those who want to be) often
worry about how or if their children will learn without schoolish things.
One of the main reasons for that concern is the common perception that children
need to be taught how to learn.
The reality is, people have an instinct to learn.
Children are born with the desire to discover what they need to know about
the world around them. The late Robert White, a developmental psychologist
and Harvard professor, called this instinct to learn, to manipulate, to
master an “urge toward competence.” What he meant is that we are born with
not just a desire, but the need to have an impact on our surroundings, to
control and understand the world in which we live.
Life learning families trust that need. They understand
that their children don’t need to follow somebody else’s second-hand curriculum,
to be artificially motivated to learn, or to be tested about something they
are learning. They don’t need school; they can live as if school doesn’t
Unlike people who have been told to sit down, line
up, be quiet and wait, life learners don’t just sit and wait for the world
to come to them. They actively try to interpret the world, to make sense
of it. As Leonardo da Vinci put it, “It had long since come to my attention
that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them.
They went out and happened to things.”
These lucky kids are constantly learning…and also
experiencing the pride that comes with having understood new things and
having mastered new skills. As the adults living with these constantly learning
young people, we are most helpful when we can honor their right to set their
own learning agenda, trust them to learn what they need to know, help them
develop in their own ways, and provide opportunities that will help them
to understand the world and their culture, as well as to interact with it.
Wendy Priesnitz is Life Learning Magazine's founder and
editor, and the author of 13 books. Her daughters learned without school
in the 1970s and '80s.
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