Why have we all gotten worse at learning? The assertion that children glom onto skills at a much higher rate than adults is, by this point, folk wisdom (it is also a central premise of the Suzuki Method.) Many propose simple explanations for this observation. One common argument revolves around neuroplasticity, the idea that children’s brains are inherently more flexible.

But while this is certainly true to an extent, I have also noticed a variety of learning behaviors that might in and of themselves account for the disparity. One prominent difference is that kids are willing to make a vast number of mistakes. Having to figure out everything from scratch, they are used to it… but a lifetime of mastery in various fields creates the expectation of competence.

Adults grow frustrated, embarrassed and demoralized when we mess up, and this discourages the process of headlong trial and error that is at the heart of healthy skill acquisition. Among groups of children, I have found that the fastest learners are those who most exemplify that quality. It takes a great deal of resilience and positivity to live with error as the status quo. We must celebrate this attitude, foster it, preserve it, and learn from it.