by Charity Chan

Have you ever thought about how you learn? Have you pondered how it is that you know something? Have you tried to break down your thought processes in order to discern how you discern?

You probably already know the first step of learning: observing. “Observing” is a bit misleading if you only think of observing with your eyes; and while seeing is one way to observe, there are four others: listening, feeling/touching, smelling, and tasting. Our senses are such a blessing because they are the means by which we experience the world. Those of you with young children at home know very well that babies begin observing even before they are born. They hear and feel. A baby can identify the smell and sound of his or her parents. Children love the feel of their favorite blanket or lovable animal. How can they do that?

The things children observe become “known” to them, and it is by comparing other things to these “knowns” that they learn. Children distinguish voices by comparison. If you’ve been around a baby, you know that babies like to taste and feel things with their mouths – they are comparing when they do this. They are moving from the known to the unknown. As children continue to make more comparisons, more information moves into the “known” category.

The ancients knew this was a natural form of learning, and instructed students accordingly. Paul uses this principle when speaking at the Areopagus in Acts 17. While in Athens, Paul conversed with philosophers and observed the city, which is why he can begin his sermon by stating the known, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” He then uses the known to introduce the unknown, “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown God.’” Paul proceeds to explain who God is by giving them examples of what God has done. He uses this type of instruction to give an opportunity for the men of Athens to respond to the gospel.

Parents, often without even realizing it, constantly use this type of instruction as a child grows and matures. It is most evident in the lives of babies and toddlers because so much is unknown to them. Parents and caregivers serve a crucial role in introducing children to new truths. The delight on a child’s face when first discovering the connection between words and objects can also be present when teaching a child about Nebuchadnezzar, Homer’s Odyssey, or Algebra. Together we are perpetually leading our young scholars from the known to the unknown. Let us take joy in this journey – realizing that each new “known” should lead us closer to our Master and Creator.

Charity Chan teaches PreK at The Academy