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Do Your Children Teach Each Other?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


This week my granddaughters from Illinois visited my home and I had a chance to observe young sisters in action. The girls are four and six years old, which exactly matched that ages of siblings in a new study of children’s learning. Like kids in the study, my granddaughters shared information, helped each other learn new things, and acted as a learning-teaching team. See if your children do the same.

In the study, researchers sat in on 39 Canadian families for six 90-minute sessions, as children in the family interacted naturally. The kids weren’t given any sort of learning-teaching task, but simply did what kids do together. Like my granddaughters, the children in each family were ages four and six.

What the researchers saw was a whole lot of learning – far more than the lead scientist Nina Howe expected. She said she was surprised not only by how much teaching occurred of one child to another but also on the sorts of learning that was shared. Children not only taught each other how to do things, like how to make a block tower stable, but also concepts like the difference between a circle and a square or how to tell apart the days of the week.

Researchers also noticed that the teaching-learning process moved in both directions. Often the older sibling explained things to the younger child but sometimes the younger sibling did the teaching. There was a lot of sharing of knowledge and developing knowledge together.

Howe suggests that parents can capitalize on children’s willingness to learn from each other by making sure kids have lots of unstructured playtime. She says, “Give them the time and space to interact together, and have things in the home to promote teaching and learning, both toys and opportunities for kids to be together.”

Learning doesn’t always come from adults. Often learning is easier when the teacher is nearly the same age as the learner and can understand the learner’s point of view.

When kids are playing together, don’t interrupt or step in to do the teaching. It matters less that children get the right answer than that they consider the problem and come up with what seems right to them at the time.

Let your children play and figure things out. Listen in, if you like, but let the learning happen on its own.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.
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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.