How Your Child Learns Skills

When your child gets involved in an activity, it will probably involve learning certain skills. Home/life skills? Relationship skills? Athletic? Musical? Artistic? Mechanical? Construction? Academic? Thinking? Managing? If some of the skills your child has to learn are the kind that becomes valuable later in life, you may find yourself taking a special interest in your child’s success.

If so, there’s something you need to know. The human brain wires itself for skills/habits/behavior patterns based on how often the action is repeated. That’s how skill-building works: the repeated behavior excites the brain to interconnect brain cells into circuits that enable the skills. With enough repetition, the circuits will insulate, and your child will be able to execute the skill automatically, without thinking. This is the payoff for a lot of practice. And coaching helps, so that the proper skill gets wired.

And oh yeah. Because the wiring in the brain is physical, it’s permanent.

A personal example. Once a friend asked me, “Which course did you take in high school that turned out to be the most important to you?”

Good question. I had never considered it, so I thought about the courses I took, many of which prepared me for my later courses at West Point and the Duke University graduate school, which challenged me on higher levels.

old fashioned, vintage typewriter isolated on white background with a blank sheet of paper inserted

Finally, I said, “Typing.” He laughed.

But I wasn’t joking.

Typing was a skill course, and in my school in 1962 it was attended almost exclusively by girls. I was the only male student, but my thought was that I’d have to write for many of my college courses. Back then, there were no word processors or electric typewriters – only mechanical ones. So students weren’t expected to submit typewritten work. But I figured a typewritten paper would be looked upon favorably by my professors. As it turned out, this assumption was valid most of the time.

Also, as the only male student in the typing course, I wanted to show the teacher and all the girls that I could perform as well as they could, or even better.

The classes consisted of drills, and at the end of every hour, we were given a timed 5-minute performance test. All uncorrected errors were penalized by subtracting 5 words from the total words typed. The net total was divided by 5 to get the words-per-minute (wpm) score. To pass, a student had to turn in at least five 45-wpm scores. For an A, five 60-wpm scores.

I took this course so seriously that I practiced at home, doing drills and 5-minute tests. I didn’t know it, but all this repetitive typing activity was wiring my brain for typing skill. By the end of the course, I had fully ingrained my ability to type. I could do it at very high speed without thinking about what my fingers were doing. I submitted at least five scores above 90 wpm without errors, and of course got my A. My teacher thought I was some kind of typing prodigy.

Truthfully, I just worked harder at it than any of my classmates. Translation: I executed far more repetitions of typing skill.

Now, of course, I type on a keyboard and my brain wiring for typing is quite well insulated after decades of doing it. I’m sure that most of the time I type faster than 100 wpm.

And this skill, more than anything else I learned during my senior year, has helped me be successful.

I’m not sure my other teachers or my principal, who introduced me at my valedictory address, would have appreciated knowing this.

But the lesson for you and your growing child is clear. Your child has to do the work. If your child does more reps than anyone else, the level of skill is likely to be higher.

The most powerful skills your child can learn are thinking skills. My new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, including  “The No. 1 Way to Nurture the Bond with Your Teen.”