Warmth – an essential nutrient for early learning
A necessary, but often overlooked, component of learning is emotional arousal. In laymen’s terms, that means we learn more when feelings of pleasure and interest are associated with a learning experience. Our memory system encodes what we are experiencing more deeply, more lastingly and in greater detail when we are not just cognitively engaged but also emotionally engaged. You know this positive force is in effect when your kids say, “this is fun!”
What can we do to trigger this powerful force? Set the temperature to warm. I’m referring, of course, to the emotional tone of our relationship with our kids. You trigger their pleasure and engagement when you hug them, encourage them, smile, laugh and give full expression to your love and enjoyment of them, especially while they are exploring and challenging themselves cognitively. I think this truth explains why young children love to be read aloud to — this is almost always accompanied with sitting in a parent’s warm embrace. That, more than the gripping plot line, explains the constant refrain, “more, Mommy, more!”
Unfortunately in the modern classroom, teachers are often prohibited from touching children. The potential for misunderstanding or false accusation of impropriety has led to this over-reaction and we’ve just impoverished the soil for learning in this setting even more.
This is one reason I say if we were to build a school from the ground up based upon what the research shows is how children learn best, we’d build a home. The three ingredients necessary for young children to learn — language, warmth and experience — are easily provided in a home environment. But in a classroom, there are many constraints that get in the way.