There are two ways to learn new things – deliberately or incidentally.
Studying a specific topic is deliberate learning. Memorising times tables, historical dates, or scientific formulas are also deliberate learning.
Deliberate learning is important for memorising important facts and information but it is not the only way to learn. Often, things can be learned incidentally – by chance, in connection with something else, or as a result of natural curiosity.
Incidental learning is fun, stress free, and creative.
Incidental learning is learning that happens as a result of naturally occurring “incidents” or situations that create learning opportunities. It is indirect or unplanned learning.
It is based on the idea that children are more willing to learn if the teaching is based around their own interests or if they need the knowledge.
When I was nine my parents moved to an area where a lot of people couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English. Within a year I had learned the new language because my friends couldn’t speak English.
I had learned some of the language at school before moving, but because I didn’t need it I struggled to remember basic words. But once I needed the language to communicate with friends, I learned it quickly. Without stress.
Well, the only stress was the urgency to learn so that I could communicate.
Young children learn well this way because there is no pressure to remember or perform, and the knowledge sticks.
All day and every day!
It’s best if the need for knowledge exists before the skill is learned (like me and that need to overcome the language barrier). Emphasizing skills without a purpose can cause stress.
So if there’s something you really want your child to learn you can create the need for knowledge before you teach the skill or you can “set the stage” for learning by placing items around him, or taking him to places that stimulate questions etc.
Related: How to teach multiple kids at once
Incidental learning is all around you! Here are some ideas:
-then teach him to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. He can keep his own books for his “business”, and make sure he’s not being cheated. Now there’s a reason for knowing all those math facts!
-so she can read the letters that Gran writes just to her. (You may need to arrange for Gran to write those special letters to encourage your child to want to read.) The child learns fast because they need the knowledge.
Let your children compare prices while you are grocery shopping. Shop on a budget and let them help you decide whether you have enough to cover what’s in your cart.
Use gardening, the drunk in the street, caring for a pet, moving house – anything!
Teach them fractions, cups, litres, teaspoons, and tablespoons as you measure ingredients. This is knowledge with a purpose and because it’s relevant they won’t forget it.
The natural environment and everyday life is perfect for incidental learning. Make use of opportunities that arise while driving, cooking, walking, playing.
What is guided questioning?
Asking questions that don’t have a yes or no answer.
If you only ask questions that you know your child knows the answers to, they will not learn how to learn.
Ask questions about things your child doesn’t know. Then, instead of spoon-feeding the answer, help them find it themselves. Read books, ask people, and most important, encourage them to think.
Real life is full of learning opportunities. Make use of them!
Learn to be observant so that you can ask your kids thought-generating questions.
Doesn’t this make learning sound like fun? It’s all around us, in everyday things.
How can you make better use of incidental learning opportunities?