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Incidental learning is nothing more than learning in an unplanned way or situation. It’s the opposite of deliberate learning.
If deliberate learning is what we do in a classroom or a training, then incidental learning is learning through other, more spontaneous channels.
The difference is in the intention
With deliberate learning we aim for something. There is a goal to the lesson taught.
With incidental learning, the goal isn’t really there. We’re just going about our business and we happen to learn something.
Incidental learning always happens while actually doing something else. For instance, while trying to put the cup back onto the kitchen counter, it falls off the edge. Your child will learn to put the cup further onto the counter.
I remember my son’s surprise on some occasion about things falling down
It’s obvious to us, but something kids need to learn about through experience.
One method isn’t really better than the other, both can be used in different situations. Incidental learning tends to be easier and faster, but it doesn’t have a specific focus.
Deliberate learning does have that focus, so when we want to learn something specific (say, some algebra that we wouldn’t quickly encounter in real life) deliberate learning does a better job.
Incidental learning is not the same as play
Incidental learning happens whenever we happen to learn something, such as when dropping a cup off the kitchen counter. However, play is a great example of incidental learning and a very important one.
One of the important advantages that incidental play has is that it involves emotion.
Kids enjoy play, and so they learn more easily if the lesson is learned through a game.
If a child’s fingers get between the drawer, they experience pain and fear. You can tell them a hundred time to be careful with the drawers, but they won’t really learn until they’ve felt the pain.
Some lessons simply need to be taught incidentally.
Which is exactly why incidental play is not only a good way to learn something, but also a very important method in learning.
So how do we go about including these incidental lessons in our kids’ lives?
We want the best for our kids at all times. So much so, that often we worry about things that we don’t really need to worry about.
The 5 ways mentioned below to incorporate incidental learning in everyday life are all very natural and easy. You’ll see, in fact, that all 5 will occurs naturally if only you let it.
So here goes.
5 ways to incidental learning
Yes, the stuff you kid wants to do all day long. Unhampered, spontaneous play.
It’s when kids “just happen” to practice speech. Where they roleplay various situations and go through the emotions and decisions linked to those situations. It’s when you suddenly find out that you kid actually can count to ten.
Really. My son decided to count the steps as he went up the stairs and counted to ten without hesitation. I didn’t know he could do that.
He never gets it right when I ask for it.
Helping mommy and daddy
Kids love helping mommy and daddy.
Too often we feel that we’re in a hurry. Or we just want to get a task out of the way.
But the chores we do around the household are perfect lessons for kids.
Just today, my oldest son really wanted to come to the grocery store. I only needed some milk and cheese, so it would be a quick run. But after a day of work (mother-in-law was sitting today) I didn’t really feel like it.
I lost that battle. He looked so sweet that I couldn’t say no.
It turned out to be a good decision. Not only did we have some great one-on-one time (holding hands, making up a story about a fantasy country that we were travelling through on the way to the store, some small talk) but he helped me at the checkout, and learned a little about money and the value of things.
Caring for pets
Obviously, young kids cant tend pets completely on their own. Hubby and I make sure the cat gets fed. And, failing that, our cat himself makes sure he gets fed (by stalking me).
But, with a little reminder the kids eagerly take responsibility and feed him as well.
They also pet him and learn to be a little quit(er) and gentle around him.
A pet teaches kids about responsibility, empathy and the consequences of your actions.
Games of all types, board games, card games and even video games are great for incidental learning. Take Monopoly Junior or Uno, they teach kids about being disciplined about the rules, thinking through their actions as well as being fun ways to learn counting and colors.
When they lose they also learn about handling the emotions that come with that.
Speaking of loss and pain, there is no better teacher than actual life.
As I said, kids don’t learn to be careful with the drawers until their fingers got stuck at least once.
We are there to protect them from getting hurt too badly. That does not mean we should protect them from everything. Sometimes, life is going to hurt. In case of the drawer, but also when a pet dies or a toy breaks.
All of these are facts of life. It is better our kids learn about these things while we are their to protect them from serious harm, and while we can still hold them in our arms to soothe them.
Ooph! What a serious note at the end!
And that in a post about play!
The gist of the story is, that if you let kids do their thing at least part of the day, they will learn many things.
Every modern, western home is fully equipped to teach babies and toddlers everything they need. And even my preschooler and 6-year old learn new things every day simply though play, chores, our cat, games and life in general.
All we need to do is to be aware that this is when important lessons are learned through incidental learning, and to make way for it happen.