From Concrete Examples to Ideas

June 27, 2019

Years ago, I was asked by one of Robert’s instructor, “Why are you teaching him that?”  By “that” she meant counting by five.  The tone of her voice was such that I felt guilty of overburdening my son’s brain with completely useless challenges.  It appeared to me that this teacher believed that learning one thing leads to overcrowding the brain and thus making impossible for it to appropriate more knowledge.

I tried to explain that learning to count by five, might help with time telling (not necessary with digital clocks) or counting money.  At that time, I didn’t say that learning to count by five makes a student familiar with a concept of counting by any other number be it three or seven and that might help with learning multiplication or division.  I didn’t say, because , I had already understood that the person with whom I had this discussion would have never believed that Robert was capable of multiplying or dividing numbers.

Yet, I now understand that learning one skill related to specific activity  and then using it in a completely different activity helps the brain to grasp the concept behind that skill and see it in more general if not abstract form.

This occurred to me as I was first watching Robert turning his horse full circle while riding around a barrel and a few days later navigating to turn his kayak in a different direction and return to the beach. Both actions required using one arm with either more strength or more frequently  than using the other one. Learning to perform one activity helped with acquiring skills needed to complete different task. As a result an Robert grasped the abstract idea of asymmetry of movements as a way of dealing with specific situations.

The years of teaching Robert and learning with him, convinced me  that any new experience might unlock the door to learning something else.  Despite knowing that, I was reluctant to let Robert participate in 5 km run organized by HMEA. When Jan, his father, wanted to run instead of walk with Robert during the IncredABLE event I was against it.  After all, Robert had never ran before. well, sometimes while seeing joggers in front of him, he ran after them… for a few yards.   But they did participate.  They ran, they walked, they ran…. The completed the course.  Robert didn’t complain.  He was mighty proud.

A few days later, as he was learning to play soccer, Robert for the first time began not walking and kicking the ball, but running and kicking and running again. Tim, who was his instructor and tried unsuccessfully encourage Robert to run after the ball a few times in the past, was surprised by Robert’s new skill.  Both Tim and I attributed that change to Robert’s 5KM run.


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