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Organic Learning


"Mom, no, that's too easy!". I try to place the rocket underwater so that it lands on the bottom a little further away from the edge. "Nah, that's too difficult again! Or wait - I'll try it." I'm standing in waist-deep water at the spa, being coached by my son to support him as he teaches himself to swim. To write 'teaching my son to swim' would be just plain wrong. Because that's not what's happening right now. Of course I can swim, and I've also tried to explain something about the frog and breaststroke movements, but this information was only noted with mild interest by my son. Something else is happening here, much more exciting: He dives, swinging his legs in all directions to get under water. He gets hold of the small rocket and brings it back to the water's surface. 'Mom! It worked, did you see it?' we smile at each other. I love those moments where I can deeply feel that my only job now is to share his excitement. No need to praise or cheer him on. What he does is rewarding enough in itself. His radiance touches my heart. He sees that I saw it. My testimony and the mirror of his excitement in my eyes fill him up. Makes him return to his research immediately: 'Mom, now I want to swim to the other end with you'. That is not a matter of course. A premiere without water wings and the water in some places too deep to stand. But something in him has chosen this task as the next step. I slowly begin to swim through the water with him very close to me. I have an image of a manatee drifting slowly through the water, her cub close at hand. There's something very archaic mammalian about accompanying the little one. Beside me, he gasps and clutches my shoulder. His swimming movements are not yet sufficiently developed to enable him to breathe easily on the water surface. But after this brief assurance that the saving manatee island is drifting close enough next to him, he lets go and tries again alone. There were a few more games or 'training levels' that afternoon, including jumping off the edge of the pool. At the end of the bathing day he was able to swim. Alone. Without water wings. Within me was a solemn, almost reverential, gratitude for the intelligence of life.

No swimming school and least of all I myself could have taught him that better or more effectively. Especially not with so much fun. What kind of learning process is it that seems to have evolved and is freely available to us, as long as it is not disturbed? It's something Moshe Feldenkrais called 'Organic Learning'. It's what taught us as toddlers the wonder of walking upright and what children do when they have undisturbed space to play. It is 'acquiring life in a playful way' that follows its own laws. These differ drastically from what we commonly associate with learning:


1. Self chosen

The motivation to deal with a topic arises by itself from within. Something is learned or researched because there is a personal urge to do so.


2. Fun

Engaging with the topic in a way that is fun and interesting enough.


3. Pauses

If it is no longer interesting, a pause is taken or the game is modified in such a way that it becomes interesting again.


4. Intrinsic motivation

Praise or encouragement disrupts this sensitive process and, in the worst case, can disrupt it if the focus is pulled away from the inside and instead directed towards getting more praise.


5. Challenge

The game is creatively used to ensure that the task is challenging enough but still manageable.


6. Nonlinearity

A goal is approached in a variety of different ways. Never would one strain or try through clenched teeth to achieve success through practice.


7. Whitnessing

It is helpful to have a counterpart who shares your enthusiasm


8. Security

Doing something new takes courage and is exciting. The nervous system needs the experience of being safe and secure again and again. From this secure footing and from the relaxation you can - in the truest sense - dare to venture to new shores.

In FELDENKRAIS lessons we create a framework in which these elements of organic learning are fulfilled and we can find access again - even as adults - to the playful wisdom that is in our bodies and nervous systems. It is often a learning process to open oneself up to this more natural way of learning, since most of us adults bear the traces of a very different learning culture within us. Or who allows themself to only go as far as it really feels good? Or to follow what is easy and makes you happy? I believe that our children know exactly what they want to learn and teach themselves exactly what life wants to teach them. If they find the framework conditions in which they can devote themselves entirely to their playful interests undisturbed. What if every generation has its own learning tasks? Our world is changing so fast, how are we supposed to develop didactic programs that prepare our children for the tasks of their time? The good news is: we can't. We don't need to either. As long as we step aside with the thought of having to direct our children's learning in some way and instead are available to them as a present counterpart lovingly and with respect for their deeper knowledge, they will assimilate life while playing.


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