How To Learn
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber
is a lost art. Children nowadays are hardly ever required to think. Itís all
written in books, and they just have to learn and remember it. They need to
listen to the teacher and accept what he says. Unwittingly, children are
prevented and even discouraged from independent thinking. * How do you foster
independent thinking in children? * What are the benefits of doing so?
can and must be partners in developing the learning potential within every
child. In order to do so, you must first understand what learning is, then you
can know what tools to use in order to develop it.
regards to their day-to-day role in their childrenís chinuch, parents
mostly deal with the technicalities of learning. Is the child learning or not?
Does he read properly? What grades is he getting? In order to develop the
principles from which we will derive practical guidance, we must closely examine
the topic of learning.
Gemara in Bava Basra 21 says, "Rav said to Rav Shmuel bar Sheilas..."
Rav was a great rosh yeshiva in Bavel, and this is what he said to Rav
Shmuel bar Sheilas, who was a teacher of young children: "Donít accept
them before age six." This is surprising because why would Rav, a rosh
yeshiva, mix into the affairs of a primary school teacher, telling him whom
is explained as follows: Rav noticed bachurim in his yeshiva who
were having a difficult time with their studies. He understood that their
problem was not due to a lack of talent but to something that had taken place
previously that seemed to have stunted their development. Rav concluded that it
had to do with a certain lack of inner peace. There was a certain stage in their
educational maturation these students hadnít passed.
is why Rav mixed into an area which apparently had nothing to do with him. He
addressed bar Sheilas and said: Only accept six-year-olds so that when they
eventually come to me, they will be mature and will succeed in their studies.
proper educational approach when a child is young builds his future learning for
years to come! The proper direction when a child is young results in the child
adopting a positive approach to learning. In this way he develops the necessary
motivation and self-confidence needed for success in learning.
no such thing as a child who doesnít learn. As human beings, Hashem endowed us
all with intelligence. Our intellect is greatly involved in every stage of our
lives and throughout the learning process.
baby begins learning from birth. At first he learns to recognize his mother and
his family and immediate surroundings. Little by little the learning process
intensifies. The child acquires a vocabulary and constantly enriches his
knowledge. Through his daily activities he develops the capacity for deductive
child learns the parts of his body, formulating an awareness of his existence as
a unified whole comprised of various parts. In his first months of life he looks
at his fingers, examines his hands, and lifts his legs. It appears to him as
though each limb exists independently, but he quickly learns that theyíre all
connected. He arrives at this conclusion through the sense of touch. He learns
to differentiate between feelings and to associate them with the appropriate
limbs. Through this learning process of trial and error, there are more than
just a few errors! The child hurts himself, and falls down, etc. But he always
gets up again and continues learning in an experimental way.
it comes time to read, the learning process slows down significantly because the
words are technical and dry, and donít convey any sensory experiences to the
child that speak to him in his own language, the language he used until now.
many children at this stage of reading, progress is slow. Attempts to speed
things up cause the child to shun reading because he lacks comprehension. This
lack causes him to forsake trying to make sense of things in general, since
comprehension is connected with understanding what is read and he doesnít
understand what is being read. Lack of comprehension makes it difficult for him
to concentrate on writing, and he wonít want to sit and learn.
wanting to learn will put the child into an endless loop, which, if he doesnít
get out of it, can lead to other problems. Intervention will then be necessary
to ensure that he doesnít leave school and home altogether.
is vital to closely follow a child in the early stages, to see what stage of
development he is up to and how mature he is. Among other things, what needs to
be checked is whether or not the child is even ready to read? Can he concentrate
or is this still difficult for him?
have to know what to do and how to expand their childís capacity for
absorption, and they must help him in the learning process. Parents can do a lot
to stimulate their childís thinking.
child can be taught to think independently in all areas of life. For example,
when a child asks a typical question like: Why do I have to, and not my
brothers? There are two possible responses. One response is to answer him
thoroughly so that it is understood clearly without any effort on his part.
Another response is to say: Think it through for yourself. Whatís different
about you in this case as opposed to your brothers which would explain why you
and not them? This makes him think and come to the answer on his own. Itís
important to acknowledge his efforts in this, to say, "Very good! You
thought it through and figured it out for yourself."
is a neglected domain. Children nowadays are hardly ever required to think. Itís
all written in a book and they just have to learn it and memorize it. They are
required to listen to the teacher, to believe him (or her) and accept what he
says. They are expected to listen to their parents and are not given the
opportunity to express a different opinion. Unwittingly, we prevent and even
discourage independent thinking in our children.
higher education the problem is compounded, because the child has to know the
question as well as the answer, and even then he generally does so through
memorization, not because he thought it through. Why? Because he is not trained
their daily affairs, many adults who were not taught to think when they were
young donít know how to manage. They make terrible mistakes that cause great
heartache to them and those around them. They experience tremendous failure, not
because they are good-for-nothings, but because they never learned how to think.
other responsibilities, parents must direct their children to independent
thinking. If at first they find it hard to come to conclusions on their own,
they can be guided. They can be helped to find the answers themselves. This
understanding is extremely important in order to prevent young children from
reaching the wrong conclusions. From very young ages they should be guided so
that their judgment is sound, realistic, and well founded.
and directing while implanting the importance of thinking for oneself is
something that must be done wisely. Children have to learn not to simply accept
the conclusions of adults, but to think and analyze it with their own logic, to
use their own brains to draw conclusions about the matter at hand.
can contribute a great deal so that their children develop socially, as well.
Among other things, they should become aware of the qualities and talents of
their friends, and should be ready to accept help from them when necessary. This
is also something acquired with proper guidance.
who find learning difficult and get stuck, rendering them incapable of making
progress, are generally embarrassed to share these problems with their friends.
For some of them, the word "challenging" is synonymous with
"failure," and naturally they donít want to share their failures
with their friends. Other children are just too proud to be helped.
parents and educators convey the importance of learning with someone and that
learning by oneself is simply not possible, the children would acquire a
valuable rule for life. The advantages and benefits of learning with others are
numerous. It sometimes happens that a child is taught something but doesnít
understand it. If he learns alone, unexposed to someone with a different
approach who can help him, he loses out. Itís only when learning with someone
else that itís possible to help and be helped.
to ask questions detracts from other areas of life. There are adults who will
spend hours wandering a strange city, refusing to ask passersby for help. Why?
Because they think that asking for help is a great embarrassment. Maybe they
remember an unpleasant childhood experience in which they tried to ask a
question and were rebuffed.
order to prevent the child from being unwilling to ask questions in the future,
we have to push the idea of learning with others from when they are young. There
are children who, even when older, donít know what it means to learn bíchavrusa,
and what benefit there is in it. A talented adolescent with social problems once
described it this way: "I donít get it! Whatís the chavrusa for?
If I know the material, what do I need him for? And if he knows it, how does
that help me? So that he explains it to me?! I donít want that! Iíll figure
it out for myself!"
must make sure our children know that learning is acquired with dibuk
chaveirim (the closeness of friends), as it says in Pirkei Avos. The
benefit is double and contributes to greater socialization when through the
learning, the two of them open up to each other. They discuss their feelings,
their insights, their way of thinking and their approach to various topics. They
give each other attention by listening, and show they appreciate a logical
deduction, a good resolution to a question, or a sharp answer.
is possible that a major cause of social problems is an incorrect approach to
learning. Learning is an inseparable part of communication between an individual
and his environment. You canít learn without including others. Learning
becomes part of life, and itís important to include it in oneís daily life.
You canít learn in isolation. You must see the reality and be a part of it.
Joining oneís surroundings is also part of learning.
willingness to listen and accept, to be helped, are also steps in learning. This
openness also contributes to the childís being willing to accept guidance.
will the child understand what a teacher or rebbi is and what their role
is? We bring him to the classroom where there is a teacher, whose job is to
teach, and we tell the child to listen to him. We donít give it much thought,
so the child thinks: I hope I have a good teacher. If I have a good teacher,
life will be good. If chalila I donít, oy vei...
needs to be addressed in a structured way so that the child understands that his
job is to learn. He is responsible to himself to succeed in this task. He has
the potential and the tools he needs for the job, as well as the difficulties
and limitations he has to contend with, and which the teacher is there to help
system the child enters is not a goal unto itself; it is a means to help him
learn. If it seems to the child that he is not receiving the necessary or
appropriate help, he needs to direct the teacher in how to help him. This is not
only when it comes to learning, but also socially - which is connected with his
the child finds it hard to make friends, it directly affects his learning. When
he feels good and comfortable among his friends, it helps him acquire
self-esteem, which is expressed in his studies and provides him with the
motivation to crack the books.
parents guide their child into realizing that success in learning is closely
connected with friendships - that it is impossible to learn without help from
others, and in order to get that help he must guide those who need guidance in
how to help him -the child relates to his learning in a much more positive
manner. The results will be that he will put the tools available to him to
better use, and will make the most of his potential.
more successful parents are in providing their child with the proper tools, the
more successful he will be connected to the learning he needs to do. If he does
not provide the right tools, the child will seek tools on his own, and he may
even find them, but they might very well be the wrong tools and will not lead
him to the desired results.
the parent doesnít acclimate him to his environment, the child will look for
another environment. The child may come back but the parents will have to be
mighty patient and wait years for that to happen, and will need help from
professionals. We can prevent this by knowing what to do when the child is
is all expected of parents, while simultaneously we must remember that we need
tremendous siyata diíShmaya (help from Above). We must do our part and
Hashem will do His. The more we ponder the significance of our roles as parents,
the more we will find ourselves being helped in all sorts of ways we never
dreamed of. When thereís siyata diíShmaya, the results are
incomparable. But in order to recognize the siyata diíShmaya, we must