Sponges. That’s how many people describe children. Kids naturally soak up all the information they see and hear without much effort at all, right?
Likening children to sponges might be true in some respects, but I don’t think it fits all children, and especially not children as they get older.
Are Children Really Sponges?
I’m of the opinion that children—at least my children—don’t seem to resemble sponges much. Instead they tend to be more like big, empty buckets. But not normal buckets; these buckets have holes!
I pour information into them via their curriculum, educational videos, discussions, etc. And sure, sometimes the information stays in their buckets and they can remember it days, months, and years later. But more often than not, the information I pour into them leaks right back out.
That was my problem when we first started homeschooling almost 10 years ago. I naively believed that my children were sponges and that all I had to do was present the information to them one time, and they’d retain it for life.
I'm sure I was the only new homeschooler that ever did this (insert eye roll here), but I religiously consulted my scope and sequence, I’d teach that next topic on the list, and then I’d move on to the next topic in order. That’s all I needed to do, right?
Homeschooling is not a Spectator Sport
It wasn’t long before I realized that although I was faithfully following my precious scope and sequence, and my children were very attentive during the lessons, they didn’t retain nearly as much as I had hoped. I was throwing the information their way, but they weren’t always catching it. I was puzzled.
Thankfully, over the next few years I slowly discovered much more effective ways to help my children learn what I wanted them to learn—and it wasn’t the linear throw-it-and-hope-they-catch-it approach I had started with.
Now I don’t mean that my children remember everything, because that’s most definitely NOT true. When my children follow a curriculum on their own, and they do it without active involvement or oversight from me, they don’t retain as much as I know they could. But when I apply the principles I’m going to talk about in this series—when I actively help my children plug those holes in their buckets—the results are amazing. They understand concepts better, and they retain the information for the long-term.
I finally had to realize that I couldn’t be a spectator and just sit back and watch my kids learn from the curriculum I provided for them. I needed to be actively involved in helping them assimilate the information and eventually store it successfully in their long-term memories.
Why Do Children Forget What They’ve “Learned”?
I don’t intend to delve into the complex topic of memory and forgetfulness in general, but I do wish to touch on some basic concepts that I believe are quite valid when it comes to the forgetting information.
Here are three main reasons I believe children—and adults alike—have trouble remembering information for the long term.
When new information is presented, if all the concepts are completely new or terms are unfamiliar, or we simply don’t see how the information pertains to us, we have a difficult time understanding and retaining the new information. New information must be connected to old information in some way, and we have to care about the new information—we have to consider it important—if we are going to understand and remember it. Otherwise it’s as if we’ve been given a folder of information to file away in our memory, and we either don’t have a place or a reason to store it. It’s no surprise the folder is quickly forgotten.
Unorganized information is difficult to understand, let alone remember. If a person is unable to organize the information in his mind, he’s not able to understand it fully and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to remember it later. Organization of information leads to better understanding which is paramount when the goal is long-term retention.
If we manage to organize the information and file it away in our minds, but then we disregard it, what we learned will eventually be forgotten. If information is not reviewed or applied, it will get lost in the clutter of the mind. (This is what we were doing when we first started homeschooling—a linear presentation of information with little or no review or application. No wonder they weren’t retaining!). Information truly can go in one ear and out the other if it’s disregarded and ignored.