The child is born with innate affinities, needs and abilities. They appear gradually, in proportion to its growth and its general maturity. But the very growth and maturity of the nervous system for certain activities is still not enough for a child to meet all its needs, to achieve all the affinities and to show his abilities. It has yet to be comprehended and realized through learning.
Psychologists define learning in different ways:
- According to Mc Geoch, what is learned is a change in a certain activity as a result of life experience. In most cases it is aimed at achieving a certain goal.
- According to Hilgard E. R., learning is a process that causes the appearance or change of a life activity as a result of constant and intentional repetition of a building subject to learning or skill, as opposed to changes in life activities that are the result of everyday experiences.
- According to Munn N. L., what can be learned can be considered when a person’s behavior changes significantly to more or less permanently as a result of repetition of a certain activity, special exercises or observation.
All these definitions indicate that man has learned something when he changes his activity under the influence of experiences, repetitions or even imitation of his environment.
The term learned includes the acquisition of conditional reactions and motor skills, memory of impressions and experiences, and the acquisition of problem-solving skills. It is very difficult to distinguish which changes in behavior are a reflection of human maturity and which are the result of learning. The processes of human maturation and learning are closely intertwined or – as Hilgard E. R .: “Human maturation as a person is the main rival of what is learned when behavior changes”.
In order for a child to learn a new activity or learn something new, certain conditions must be met. First of all, it should be something that it wishes, a need or an instinct that it wants to satisfy. Then something must happen that will prompt it to react in a certain way, such as: an impression, stimulus or experience that will lead it to some activity. The third condition of learning is the child’s self-initiative, which can take the form of: an act, a thought, an image, or a physiological change in the body. In the end, the child needs to achieve something through the activity, to be rewarded, to receive recognition and to enjoy the activity. It is important that in the child’s psyche are connected stimuli and reactions, which have not been connected before, then the child reacts to the same stimulus in a new way. Then we say that conditioned reflexes have appeared, reasons for a new way of behaving in the child.
The child begins learning immediately after birth. For example, when a newborn is hungry, it needs food, and the presence of the mother’s breast near the baby stimulates it to suckle reflexively. It is an innate activity that is not the result of learning. During breastfeeding, the mother takes the baby in her arms, brings him/her closer to it, talks or sings to it, the child’s psyche perceives this activity as a realized pleasure. Now the child is already learning that other mother’s actions, not just breastfeeding, can provide a sense of security and comfort, so the baby begins to reach out to the mother even when she is not hungry.
Sometime later it will hear and understand the praise from the parents when it defecates in a potty and not in diapers. The experience gives it a pleasure and connects it with the very act of sitting on the potty. That’s why the child is increasingly reacting to the need to defecate, so it starts looking for the potty itself. The reflex for that physiological need takes place under new conditions, the reflex is not only caused by the need for necessity but also by sitting on the potty. At the same time, this activity acquires a new motive, not only to “facilitate” the child, but also to meet the expectations of the parents with the newly learned skill. The result is defecating in an exemplary fashion.
Knowing its immediate surroundings, the child will sometimes encounter a hot object. The pain it will feel will be a lesson taught. When it finds itself in a similar situation again, the child will think before touching the same object, even if the object is cold. Now the very sight of the same object will be a warning to it before getting close to it, repeating the painful experience of the first time.
The child learns each activity gradually. Learning progresses faster when the activity is accompanied by a feeling of satisfaction while performing it. If the feeling of satisfaction through praise, recognition, or some other form of personal satisfaction occurs immediately after the act, the learning will progress faster than if it is delayed, the child must feel some benefit from what has been learned. The practice of praising a child should last until that activity becomes a habit. Otherwise, it can easily unlearn what was ready to be learned.
Generalization is important in the learning process, such as the hot object example. When it already knows that the object should not be touched without first checking if it is hot, then it will know that, wherever the child come across it, the same will apply. But generalizing experiences can also have negative consequences. If a child is frightened by a dog, it is likely that it will be afraid of any dog. Of course, this is an exaggerated reaction, so with the more advanced animal experience it will have to learn to limit generalization, and that it is necessary to distinguish situations in which an emotional reaction is appropriate, and in which it is not and does not make any sense.
The child can learn a new activity only when it is mature for that activity. In the learning process, it is very important to repeat what has been learned once. Repetition strengthens the newly formed processes in the nervous system and what is learned is manifested through new physical activities or verbal reproduction of what is learned.
The child learns something new better when the attention is focused on the impressions that transfer knowledge about a new activity. But a small child is not yet learning with a plan, with a conscious choice of content. It learns on a random basis, based on current experience. Much depends on how much and what it learns from the environment in which it lives, and the engagement of the parents around its expansion of knowledge. Initially, the child learns only from its own experiences. Later, when it matures intellectually, it learns based on an insight into the relationships between things and phenomena and based on an understanding of different principles. Then it can be said that it learns with intention, planning, according to a certain system, consciously choosing the content of the material that is the subject of study.
The impression left by the parents on the child is of great importance in the process of learning about things. The child identifies through the examples seen by the parents, and therefore repeats the same thing that they do. If the parents do not do what the child is taught, it is likely that the child will accept what the parents are actually doing and not what they are telling it. The practical application of behavior always leaves a greater impression on the child than the theoretical one. Some parents often wonder why their children are lazy, uninterested in school, stubborn, undisciplined, or act through other negative behavior, although they constantly point out the opposite and constant need to be diligent, ambitious, and disciplined. However, if these parents are honest about their personal example, they are likely to find that they themselves are not very positive. Then their words are just empty words and cause confusion and the opposite effect in children.
The chances of a parent’s positive influence on the child are as high as the mutual emotional connection. When a child has full confidence in the parent or teacher, when it does not feel threatened, but emotionally accepted, the child usually identifies with them in a positive way. This means that the child accepts the habits and behavior of the parents from the parents, as the parents practice with their behavior. Then the parents become the authority, so the child automatically accepts them and easily adapts to the instructions and demands that come from the parents.
But it also happens when the child has emotional resistance against the parent, because they does not inspire it, does not trust them or is afraid of them. Then the hidden or open defiance against the parent or teacher will affect its identification with the adults around it. It is likely that the child will have some trait of the parent that he or she does not identify with. Instead of becoming valuable as a parent, or disciplined as a teacher, it will become lazy and undisciplined. In this case, it is a matter of negative identification of the child with the environment.
Children learn better when they are directed and warned of mistakes. It is important to know how to give instructions when learning a certain activity. It should be done calmly, gradually, clearly and completely, in an encouraging way. When a child is taught something, it should not be in a hurry, the parent should not be impatient, the instructions for the child should not have a negative connotation, such as: “Do not do it” instead, should be positive, such as: “Do it.” By encouraging the child and showing confidence in its abilities, a better learning outcome is always achieved than by threats and humiliation.
If the parents have already developed a useful habit in their child through their own example and influence, they will continue to be present with him even when there is no praise for what they have done or when they will not be there to supervise it. By learning and repeating what the child has learned, many habits are automated and they continue to persist even when the motive for which they began to practice disappears.
The systematic encouragement of the child in the learning process is an important factor for progress. The more children are encouraged, the faster and better they learn. Encouragement is more than necessary, and more intense when the child needs to master a more difficult task or activity. But encouragement must be present even when the tasks are not so difficult and the child’s abilities are relatively modest. Therefore, it is especially important for children with special needs from all categories to be constantly and persistently encouraged in the learning process.
The learning process progresses better if the motivations that motivate the child to acquire some knowledge are stronger. The first and primary motivation for learning is the motivation of the child to reach the desired, and thus to satisfy some of his needs. Such motivation is present from the very beginning of life and remains in the subconscious for a long time. A small child instinctively moves with his limbs and body, and thus exercises various muscular activities because that activity causes a pleasant feeling. Late, it learns many things just for the sake of personal satisfaction and the need to be praised by its parents, and to please them in that way so that they can regain a sense of self-satisfaction. Fulfilling the demands of adults and gaining recognition for it, the child becomes more and more convinced that the environment accepts it and contributes to its individuality. According to Freud S., the child learns to behave according to the model of his parents for fear of losing their love and not to be punished.
Strong motivation for learning new activities and skills arises from the need for the child to identify with the environment, first with older members of its family, and then with its peers, or with slightly older children. Even in later childhood, in the child’s psyche, in addition to emotional, there are also intellectual motives for learning, i.e. interest in specific content.