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Educational osmosis, or the "sponge" method of learning

Sponge

Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The scientific definition of osmosis is diffusion of a solvent through any membrane or porous barrier. But you’ve probably heard the word used in a more metaphorical sense: osmosis as the gradual or unconscious assimilation or adoption of ideas. When we talk about kids soaking up knowledge “like little sponges,” we’re talking about learning by osmosis.

Today is the last day of fiddle camp with my daughter, and I’ve been watching osmosis happen all week. There has been plenty of formal education going on (two or three participatory music classes per day for six days), but something more mysterious and exciting has been bubbling beneath the surface. Without conscious effort, kids and adults are learning more than how to play specific melodies. Rhythm, dancing, confidence, musical expression … it’s all just emerging as a result of our immersion in a fertile and open environment.

It brings to mind how much children learn from immersion in the unique cultures of their families. I’m not talking about the culture of one’s national or ethnic background; more the unique way of the family: the assumptions, gifts, and prejudices underlying each family’s style of operating in the world.

It should give us comfort to know that we’re not responsible for teaching our children everything they need to move out into the world … the world is taking care of much of that job itself. However, it’s also a good reminder to pay attention to the nature of our family “environment,” especially as school gets underway and formal learning moves into the spotlight.

Without judgement or guilt, give a little quiet thought to these questions as they relate to your own family culture:

  • Are we okay with experimentation, or do we direct our kids toward pursuits in which they’re likely to succeed?
  • Are we willing to follow our kids’ interests, or do we encourage them to follow our interests?
  • Are we comfortable with serpentine learning paths, or do we expect progress to be more or less linear in nature?
  • Do we treat unexpected forks in the road as adventures or setbacks?
  • Do we treat new acquaintances as potential friends or potential inconveniences?

Hopefully your answers make you feel satisfied, maybe even proud. But if a few of your answers could use tweaking (as a few of mine do), know that you’ve already taken the first step, and you have plenty of time and space to adjust course.

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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