Up. Down. Up. Down. Eight-month-old Dana stood holding onto the coffee table doing deep knee bends. Day after day, over two hundred at a time, perhaps thousands a day.
In amazement, I watched as Dana tirelessly exercised. There was no way I could do a thousand deep knee bends in a day, or at least get out of bed the next day.
Mentioning Dana’s gymnastics to my mother, she told me “It won’t be long before she walks.”
Mom was right. Dana was walking within two weeks.
Young children repeat an activity over and over again for several reasons:
- To perfect the movement,
- To create learning and knowledge within that activity, or
- To gain a natural high or “in the zone” feeling of perfecting a challenging skill.
When given the opportunity to repeat self-selected activities, children under the age of six will do so until there is some inner satisfaction of accomplishment.
Researchers who look at learning see this repetition of challenging activity as being in “flow”. True learning occurs at all ages as we grasp a new skill or concept and then repeat the experience—be it riding a bike or doing a division problem. True learning occurs at that moment when we finally “get it”, and can repeat an activity independently.
As we get older, starting at around age six, we continue to create moments of deep satisfaction through learning new activities but require a novel twist to create the challenge that will put us back in the zone.
The key to learning for the older child, and for the adult, is to present activities with an added twist or challenge, building upon previous learning while creating a satisfying flow of activity.
For example, perhaps we start to learn to shoot baskets with the hoop lowered. Little by little, we raise the hoop to standard height. We might begin shooting free throws in front of the line, stepping back day-by-day until we can shoot from the line. Adding challenge incrementally and spicing things up by using different methods keeps us in a flow of activity that makes learning a new skill exciting and rewarding.
As adults, we are responsible for challenging ourselves. As we become more responsible and self-directed in our learning and personal growth, we need to remain committed to personal development and learning. Not being open to new experiences causes us to become bored, depressed and discontented.
Young children show us the way to create a pattern of challenging growth for a lifetime. That template looks something like this:
- Choose an activity.
- Repeat it until you “get it” and can do it easily.
- Once you master an activity, repeat it often in order to solidify learning and create the “flow zone” for learning.
- To create new learning, add variety and challenges to mastered skills.
- The more time you spend in zone, the more apt you are to have the confidence to take on larger or more difficult situations.
Athletes, such as runners, experience being in the zone or in flow usually after only twenty minutes of activity. To add to their personal best, athletes challenge themselves by trying to go faster, longer, stronger or higher than before. Understanding that repeated activity leads to learning and self-satisfaction helped an athletic shoe company pick their slogan of “Just Do It”. That’s how we learn and enlarge our experiences; we just have to do it.
As you watch your youngster repeat activities, remember that this is how we learn. The successful repetition of challenging activities is the way our children lay a foundation for a lifetime of fun filled learning.