Credit: Parent Cortical Mass (adapted from How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School)

Kids spend less than 20% of their time in school. What do they learn during that other 80%?

The major portion of our learning happens in what are called “informal” learning environments. During our first few years of life, we spend a lot of time close to home as we learn to be little human beings. As working adults, we do most of our learning on the job. …


Credit: videoblocks.com

Parents, teachers, and anyone who’s been around children know that kids really like to be hands-on. All the time.

Touching and manipulating things, or “tinkering,” is how kids learn naturally. Tinkering has come to the forefront of educational psychology research, whether it’s crafting with art supplies, engineering a miniature bridge, or building LEGO masterpieces. Open-ended learning experiences—as opposed to linear tasks, with only one solution start-to-finish — are the best way for kids to improve their skills in creative thinking, trial and error, and just plain “figuring things out.” …


Sometimes, a “project” is something like a solar system diorama or a tabletop volcano in a Rubbermaid tub.

But sometimes, “project” means something else: A big, complex, challenging problem or assignment that happens over a longer period of time, in multiple steps. Compared to, say, a single pencil drawing or piece of math homework, this is pretty high-level stuff.

Project-Based Learning, or PBL, is a type of active, “inquiry-based” learning. This means the student has to ask questions, be creative, and identify problems that need solving — instead of just memorizing or following a set of instructions. …


Learning is unique to every individual student, and it depends a lot on their cultural background.

Credit: American Psychological Association.

Learning is a very personal experience. Research shows that for students to really engage in a subject, they must be able to relate to it somehow, on a personal level.

Philip Bell, a professor of Learning Sciences & Human Development at the University of Washington, once did a study that worked with immigrant families in Seattle to try to understand how they learn about STEM. The mother of one student from Haiti told Philip the story about how her daughter, Brenda, had grown up…


Credit: FirstFiveYears.org

Learning is very emotional.

It’s easy to treat and as opposite things. If you’ve ever taken a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs, it probably put you somewhere on a spectrum between two “opposite” traits like ‘emotional’ and ‘intellectual.’ But in reality, these aren’t separate things at all. Feelings are essential for our survival. Fear tells your body to run from a predator. We need love, sadness, and happiness to form important social relationships that keep us alive. Research shows that emotions — anger, fear, happiness — are highly intellectual cognitive processes happening in the brain.

Developing our emotions…


“But why?”

For a parent, babysitter, or children’s educator, this question probably sounds very familiar.

As adults, we are constantly sorting through the endless stream of incoming information and putting things into a huge network of neat little boxes. We know intuitively what information to keep, and what to discard because we’ve learned it before. We learn new things for a specific purpose: We want to fix a broken sink. We want to speak French. We want to prepare for a job interview.

Kids, on the other hand, are new to the world. They want to learn just for the…


Hand-drawn hummingbird, as seen through the Curio x-ray device

For young learners, the joy of play and drawing is universal. There’s a special sense of total freedom and creativity that can only be achieved with a crayon and a piece of blank paper. A child’s drawing is totally their own. With it, they can tell whatever story they want. They can immerse themselves in the 8.5x11-sized world they’ve created.

When it comes to educating our kids, why not use this joyful experience to our advantage?

More and more kids are disengaging from STEM — especially in under-served communities. Educators are always working on creative ways to solve the problem…


Great Escape

And how I found refuge from the nonstop chaos inside my own head

Illustration: Hannah Buckman

I’ve always sought comfort in familiar things. I rewatch the same TV shows. I reread the same books. I listen to the same songs for months on end. My routine isn’t about scheduling — it’s about having a shortlist of familiar activities. It feels as if I’m trying to escape my own spinning brain.

No two people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) present the exact same way, but there are commonalities. The vast majority of adults with ADHD, for instance, aren’t hyperactive on the outside, but on the inside.

The moment my head touches a pillow, my brain starts…

Natalie Slivinski

Freelance writer, disease biologist, and burgeoning eccentric from Seattle, WA. Website: www.natalie-sly.com.

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