What is family learning? In the United Kingdom, The National Family Learning Network defines family learning as “families enjoying learning together”. The organisation encourages parents to learn new things with their children and share their understanding of the world with each other in order to inspire parents and children to think critically together.
Is family learning really important?
The answer is positive. An experienced museum counselor in the UK, Beverly Sheppard, once said the four following points in her speech:
- The stage of life in which we learn the fastest is the first ten years
- The percentage of waking hours children spend in school is 15%
- The number of questions a four-year-old can ask in a single day is 400
- The amount of individual attention most pupils get in their twelve years of formal education adds up to between 3 and 6 days
This set of data highlights two crucial facts: 1. Children’s time spent in school casts a relatively small effect on their personal growth and development 2. Nowadays, even in Western society, parents are still not spending enough time with their children.
In China, parents may not have enough time to prepare for what their children learn due to busy schedules. Indeed, when introducing the concept of ‘family learning’ to parents, many parents will frown at the thought of putting in a tremendous effort and time. Nonetheless, the benefits of family learning are that parents do not need to ‘prepare’ actively for it. They only need to bring with them an open mind and patience.
Attending activities with their children, from exploring local museums to going on a spontaneous rural culture trip, are all great examples of family learning. The commonality of these activities is that they will provide children with out-of-class experiences. They provide opportunities for children to explore new phenomena observed in society and interact with parents to share their discoveries.
What are the benefits of family learning?
1. Cultivate children’s curiosity and learning abilities
From a psychological perspective, parents’ company and encouragement can not only boost children’s confidence, but also helps them form a ‘secure attachment’ with their parents, which in turn helps them construct a conscious self-identity and go on to form healthy social relationships later. Securely attached children can also explore this world more actively. This then boosts their curiosity and their willingness to learn actively.
2. The transmission of cultural and social capital
Since French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu mentioned the theory of cultural and social capital, the transmission of these invisible assets has become one of the most discussed topics in elite education. Cultural and social capital includes education, skills, social relationships and social resources. French sociologist Bertaux believes that, familial interaction is the main channel for passing on these assets (language, social status, beliefs, moral values and specific skills).
3. Establish strong family belief system
Family therapist Dallos once suggested that a family’s behaviors, beliefs and emotions would construct a unique family belief system for the family. By interacting and exploring the world together as a family, parents are more likely to help children gain a deeper understanding of the family’s beliefs and values. From ancient times to now, power families in Eastern and Western communities all value the construction of such a family belief system. From Wang family (a really influential family with more than 10+ queens and 10+ ancient prime ministers) from the Han dynasty’s emphasis on their family rule, to the Medici’s never-ending passion for art during the Renaissance, a unified family belief system plays a crucial role in the prosperity of a family. It is only through parents constantly participating in children’s growth and development that such a strong family belief system can be built.
4. “All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
Family learning not only facilitates the growth of children, but also allows adults to learn from children’s unique way of thinking. Ms Sheppard shared one of her personal stories in her speech: she was visiting the aquarium with her son. As they stood in front of the large central tank, a giant crab-like creature swam directly towards them. Her instinctive response was: “Isn’t that yucky!” but before she could share her thoughts out loud, her three-years old son held her hands and cried happily: “Isn’t that beautiful, Mummy!”
Sheppard was glad that she never shared her thoughts out loud, it would have ruined her son’s appreciation of beauty. Incidents like this prompted her to reflect on her own influences on her children. Sheppard’s final conclusion is, the prejudices that adults form during their own personal growth can actually limit children’s development and exploration. But children’s unique way of thinking, their creativity and flexibility, can rarely be achieved by adults.
Like the Little Prince says,“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.” So instead of saying that adults are making an effort to help children learn, it would be more appropriate to state that adults are exploring new things with their children. They are rediscovering their lost curiosity along the way and growing together with their children.
5. Family learning is fun!
Learning with children is a fun experience. In the past few years, New Chapters has organized family learning programmes from teaching English etiquette to exploring unknown animal species on the Galapagos. These novel experiences inspire children and drive their curiosity, they also provide parents and children with an opportunity to explore unfamiliar knowledge and environment and to strengthen family bonds: children feel more confident to explore and engage with others, while parents obtain a deeper understanding of their own children.