7 min
Aneesh Bangia

How do children learn?

Everyone is trying to teach children in different ways. But, how do children really learn?

How do children learn?

 Let me ask you a question. Which of these do you think is the best way for children to learn anything:

A.    Watch a video

B.    Read a book

C.    Having a teacher teach

D.    Answer a worksheet


I have no way of knowing what you have in mind. But, the research shows that children learn when they think. We learn when we think from different directions. We learn when we evaluate an information and try to relate to it to our experiences.


A video is the most common mode of teaching these days. Everyone – school teachers, tuition teachers and even education companies - is using videos – live or recorded – to teach children. Teachers who know a subject well believe that if they somehow ‘teach’ their children with enthusiasm and the use of animation, maybe children will learn well.

If children watch a video without thinking, then they are not learning. In a research conducted by a researcher called Derek Mueller, he made a group of students watch a good physics video. After watching the video, the students reportedthat the video was concise and easy to understand. The students also believedthat they had understood the topic. WhenMueller asked them a set of MCQs, the students scored 6 out of 26 on an average.


Many children read a book and believe that they have understood. However, if children are reading a book, but not thinking while reading the words, then they are not learning. That is why good book shave questions at the end of the chapter. But most of those questions come too late (not during learning) and are not challenging enough. They can be answered easily by either applying a formula, a procedure learned during the chapter or can be found as that exact information within the chapter.


Watching a teacher teach has the same problem. For all you know, children are blankly looking at a teacher while thinking of something else. I hope you get the drift.

How do we make children think

How do we make children think?

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, here are two things you can do to make children think:

- Ask good questions

- Making children spend time on a question


What is a good question?

While this is subjective, from our experience, a question that makes children think about a concept learned by him/her but in an unfamiliar situation is a good question.

Here is a question that Open Door team would design:

A good question testing children's understanding of lack of air on the Moon


Here is a common question found in most school books and worksheets:


A common question asked in school

Lesson: It is important to ask questions that put them outside their comfort zone

Making children spend time on a question

After a good question is asked, it is important to make children spend time on a question.

We have seen many children attempt a question. And if they are not able to answer or even when they are able to answer, they want to flip the pages and see the answer. A researcher called Alan Schoenfield conducted an experiment in which he videographed more than a hundred people solving unfamiliar math problems. He found that people – including a nurse - who persisted long enough were able to solve the problems.

How much time do school students spend on answering problems?

The average time is 2 minutes.

Alan Schoenfield found that people who are able to tolerate some mental discomfort at able to solve math problems.  

Lesson: Once children are out of their comfort zones, it is important to make children stay there for at least a few minutes. Some discomfort is important for learning!

Most of the questions in school assessments and worksheets can be answered without much mental effort. If you know how to solve one type of question, you can answer all questions on an auto-pilot. If you have the textbook with you, you can easily find the answer in the textbook.

Lesson: Worksheets is a collection of questions. If those questions challenge children to think, then the worksheet becomes a powerful learning tool.

Importance of wait time.

Most teachers try to teach very well. When they ask questions, they are straightforward questions. Even when they ask good questions, children do not get enough time to think. Do you know how much time do teachers give children to think after asking a question.

Research shows that the average wait time is only 0.9second.

Good worksheets do two things right –

1.     Challenge children to think

2.     Provide children the time to think.  

For example, OpenDoor’s Thinksheets does both things right. Each question makes children think from a new perspective. And there is no time limit to a worksheet!

A good teacher ends up speaking passionately. But, children learn when they are made to think.

Aneesh Bangia

Aneesh Bangia

Aneesh Bangia is the co-founder of Open Door. He writes about the past, present and future of education.

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