Is your Child simply 'Lazy' or is there a way to help your child develop a Love for Learning

Published on August 29, 2016

best way for a child to learn

Education and learning have been one of the main drivers of our civilization and it has gone under dramatic changes in the last few centuries. Trends emerge and splinter off as they evolve and adapt to the times. The 21st century marked a key turning point with the dawn of the information age. There is now a broad variety of learning types, styles, and methods. Determining the correct way to learn can often be overwhelming.

This is made even more challenging for people with learning difficulties when finding the 'right' learning style or method. Often individuals with learning difficulties have to put up with being labeled as 'lazy' or 'unmotivated' when the truth is they usually have to put in extra effort to achieve the same results in school or workplace as their peers. In the long term, this can lead to frustration, sometimes even aggression and may result in the individual simply giving up. Interpreting these signs at an early stage and getting the right help can prevent such situations.

Studies have shown that attribution of low motivation to laziness can mask specific learning, attention or emotional problems in children. Linda Gilmore and Gillian M. Boulton-Lewis (2009) from Queensland University of Technology published a paper titled "Just try harder and you will shine : A study of 20 lazy children"[1]. The paper reported findings from an investigation of 20 children aged 7 to 10 years who were regarded as lazy by their parents and teachers.

The results of the questionnaires provided evidence of low levels of motivation and classroom engagement in children who had the label. However, the researchers also found that these children were also revealed to have a range of difficulties including phonologically based learning disabilities and attention issues. The paper concluded that 'the special needs of an unknown number of children may be overlooked because they are simply presumed to be lazy'. Often these children suffer under the stigma and struggle to find the right learning method suited for them.

How did Education develop and evolve?

In ancient Greece, the idea of knowledge was based on the premises that it is already within us and that it just needs to be drawn out of a person (education comes from the Latin term 'educere' which means to lead out).

Educators and philosophers used the technique of inquiry and discussion to draw out the knowledge in their students by asking them questions to stimulate critical thinking – it was a way of rediscovering one's own knowledge, one's own potential and inner resources. Thinking was driven by questions and not by answers.

Later during the Romantic Era[2], Pestalozzi[3] (who has been influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau[4] ) used a holistic and revolutionary approach - "Learning by head, hand and heart". Apart from the intellectual aspects, this approach also focused on the physical and emotional aspects of learning e.g. learning with all the senses which includes the mind, feelings (Gemuet) and body (physical elements).

This approach exposes students to a variety and combination of different subjects and importantly, allows them to make their own mistakes to learn from it. This led to great educational reforms in the 19th Century in Europe and Pestalozzi became the father of modern day pedagogy.

Jean PiagetIn the 20th Century, studies and findings from Jean Piaget[5] placed a great importance on the education of children. Cognitive development, according to Piaget, was a reorganization of mental processes resulting from biological maturation and environmental experience. Piaget believed that children are able to construct an understanding of the world around them by experiencing discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment (assimilation / accommodation[6]). Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory proposed four stages of cognitive development - sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational period[7].

Different learning types thus emerged. These include informal learning (which is learning from life and experience of day-to-day situations, like learning while exploring or playing) and formal learning which takes place within a teacher-student relationship like in a school system (it is characterized by the way learning is directed and organized, and the goals of learning).

Exposing and providing students with a variety of different learning types and styles allow them to explore and find the one that fits them best.

Early stages of Learning

Learning starts at a very early stage and it is often described as exploring. As soon as babies are able to grasp, they start taking objects into their mouth to explore it (is the object hard, soft, round or angled etc.). This usually happens through play and it is an important stage for a child's development. In later years, play learning becomes central and allows children to develop their emotional as well as social skills through playing (nursery, kindergarten, playground).

They not only learn to deal with anger and frustration but also to develop joy (emotional skill), sharing and collaborating with others (social skills). Play also facilitates the cognitive part of a child's development like creative thinking, problem-solving and in developing language skills. Children learn best through playing and exploring.

Later on when the child enters school, the 'play' is often replaced by 'learning' or combined as 'play-ful learning'. Educators use different strategies to make sure information gets memorized by the students so it can be recalled later. Learning rhymes, songs or basic calculus by repetition can be one such method. Although this technique has been criticized, this type of learning can be a necessary step when it comes to meaningful learning or deep learning where learned knowledge is fully understood and can be related to other knowledge. This encourages learners to make connections between prior knowledge and the current context.

Learning is a process that builds upon previous knowledge or experience and can be acquired through study (gaining knowledge). How we learn and which learning type to use is something that varies and is subjective to individuals.

Digital Techonology and it's use for Children with Learning Disabilities

The digital technology in the 21st Century offers a broad variety of different learning styles and tips for everyone. E-learning offers a multitude of possibilities to access and retrieve information. Digital learning can be particularly useful for students with special needs. The traditional 'face-to-face' communication is often challenging for individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders). Use of technology (Computer, ipad etc.) can eliminate conversational demands and help in reducing anxiety[8] in the learning process. The child can also learn at his/her own pace rather than to follow the teacher's pace that is generally tailored to the other students in the class (e.g. playing a recorded video of a lesson).

Because the digital world offers unlimited access to information, we should pay attention to not simply leave the learners to their own devices. We need to be aware that a social context has to be created for them too. Through sustaining a relationship (teacher-student; or parent-child) we get to know the learner's inner resources and their limitations. Finding them and becoming aware of it can be a first step for a learner to start believing in oneself again. This can then lead to increased motivation and self-esteem. When you can achieve that, intrinsic[9] learning usually takes place.

Spending more time together with the child, interacting through play or learning something together can be a first step towards that direction. Making an effort to start showing interest in a learner is different from just demanding a child to perform.

Learning as an abstract construct cannot last. It should become meaningful and made applicable and be transferable into our daily-lives. Otherwise it will remain just a reproduction of knowledge.



[1] Gilmore, Lina and Boulton-Lewis, Gillian M. (2009) 'Just try harder and you will shine : a Study of 20 lazy children'. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 19(2). pp.95-103.

[2] Romanticism (also the Romantic era or the Romantic period) was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. The group of words with the root "Roman" in the various European languages, has a complicated history, but by the middle of the 18th century "romantic" in English and romantique in French were both in common use as adjectives of praise for natural phenomena such as views and sunsets. The adjective to roman, meaning the fairly new literary form of the novel.

[3] Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer

[4] Rousseau’s Education Emile

[5] 1896-1980 Swiss Clinical Psychologist. Pioneering work in child development. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

[6] Assimilation: Fitting new information into pre-existing cognitive schema. Accomodation: Process of taking new information in one's environment and altering pre-existing schemas in order to fit in the new information.

[7] Berger, Kathleen Stassen (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). Worth. p. 43.

[8] Development of an internet-based support and coaching model for adolescents and young adults with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders: a pilot study

[9] Behavior that is driven by internal rewards (pleasure, enjoyment)  vs. extrinsic learning that earns external rewards (e.g. grades)

Category(s):Academic Issues, Child Development, Dyslexia, Learning Difficulties

Written by:

Irena Constantin

Ms Irena Constantin is an Occupational Therapist as well as an Educational Psychologist

Irena Constantin belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore