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Improving Children's Education With Phases of Learning

Do Children Learn Differently Than Adults?

There has long been a debate about whether 1) children learn just the same as adults do, or 2) children progress through phases of learning that should ideally be taken into account in their educations. The first view has led to the development of our public school system, which essentially operates as a conveyor belt wherein all children are expected to learn all of the same things on a specific schedule.

The second view of children's learning, wherein it is believed that children progress though different phases of learning, has been promulgated by psychologist greats such as Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget. This view of children's learning is at the heart of the Leadership Education philosophy. As described in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, in this model of education it is affirmed that "children, youth, and adults actually learn differently and that this must be taken into account in the setup of their educational environment and in the approach of their parents, teachers and mentors."

My Experience With Both Views of Childhood in Our Homeschool

I started out homeschooling in 2011 by trying to replicate the conveyor belt model of education, and focused on my daughter acquiring as much knowledge as possible, as early as possible. I was using a rigorous, classical schooling method within the framework of modeling our school after the conveyor belt-type school that I grew up with myself. After several years, this schooling approach led us to homeschool burnout, resulting in a 6-year-old daughter who no longer liked math or writing, and a mom who was wondering where it had all gone wrong.

I started implementing the Leadership Education model into our homeschool in 2013, including its emphasis on honoring the different phases of learning throughout childhood. This model of education has lead us to much different results than the conveyor belt model of education did. Through my focus on making my educational methods and environment be appropriate to the phases of learning of each of my children, my kids are thriving in our homeschool. They love our homeschool so much that they both excitedly chose not to take any summer break in our schooling. My now-9-year-old daughter has had a complete turn-around in her attitude towards school, and I am feeling blessed to have found this method of schooling.

What are the Childhood Phases of Learning?

During the childhood and early teen years, there are three important phases of learning. When the phases of learning are respected and purposefully developed, they are:

  • Core Phase, which focuses on character development and typically lasts from age 0 to 8 (or 9 in boys), 

  • Love of Learning Phase, which focuses on giving the child the opportunity to fall in love with learning and typically lasts from age 8 to 12 (or 13 in boys), and 

  • Scholar Phase, which focuses on the child studying a wide range of topics with increasing ability and commitment, and typically lasts from age 12 to 16 (or 17 in boys).

These phases of learning do not happen on their own. A child does not move from Core Phase into Love of Learning Phase into Scholar Phase just because they are getting older. Rather, these phases must be purposefully developed in order for the progression to happen.

How the Conveyor Belt Schooling Method Hinders the Phases

The prevalent conveyor belt model of education actually hinders the advancement through the childhood phases of learning because it often instills in the student a hate of learning instead of a love of learning. Even when there is not an overt hate of school or studying, students educated in the conveyor belt model typically come out of that system having learned to do the bare minimum required to pass tests, having killed their own passion for their own interests which they were never given the time to develop, and having bought into the mistaken idea that their own self-worth is tied into how well they perform in school and whether or not they get a "good job".

I learned those same negative lessons in my own conveyor belt education, and they led me to an impressive career that was wholly unsatisfying to me. What was the point of being a NASA aerospace engineer for ten years, when engineering was never actually a true passion of mine? I suddenly realized what true passion felt like when I became a mother, and henceforth did everything in my power to enable myself to leave that illustrious career that I had worked so hard for.

I want my kids to have a different future than the conveyor belt model leads to. Instead of going to school with the ultimate end goal of getting a "good job", I want their educations to support them as individuals, to enable them to develop their own unique talents, so that when they go out into the world they are able to follow their passions and find their own life missions. One big component of reaching that goal is honoring my children's phases of learning as they grow up.

Want to Learn More About the Specific Phases?

Have you heard of the Phases of Learning? Do you have any experience to share about kids and how they learn at different ages?

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