“When does learning begin?”, asks Annie Murphy Paul in her TED talk, “What we learn before we’re born”. She brings up ideas like, the first time in a classroom with a teacher, learning to walk and talk in the toddler years, or the 0-3 movement leading to the thought that learning begins at birth. But she mainly supports the idea, brought up by new scientific findings, that we actually learn a whole bunch even before we’re born. Paul is the author of the book Origins, “a report from the front lines about an exciting new scientific discovery” known as fetal origins. Fetal origins is the idea that “our health and wellbeing in the world is crucially affected by our 9 months in the womb.”
While still in their mother’s tummy, fetuses learn a multitude of things. They can hear their mother’s voice because it reverberates through her body constantly, allowing the baby to recognize it soon after birth. Also, babies tend to cry in their mother’s native tongue, meaning that their cries mimc certain linguistic tones similar to that language. This knowledge helps the child evolve, helps the baby further endear itself to its mother and gives them a step up towards learn to speak said langauge. Babies don’t only soak up sounds but tastes and smells as well. After 7 months, the baby swallows the tastes of foods that their mother eats while pregnant and have been found to develop a liking for those foods once out in the world. Much of what the mother does, such as the places she visits, what she eats, what she smells, and the chemicals she takes in, all are transmitted to her baby in some form, rather as a debriefing of the cultutre and setting he/she will soon be a part of.
As intriguing as this concept was and the questions it brought to mind, such as how children whose mothers drink or smoke while pregnant turn out, this TED talk held another message for me. Learning knows no age, no boundaries. It begins even before we’re born and doesn’t have to stop.With that idea in mind, a question popped up: why do people automatically assume that learning stops when school does?
I think learning doesn’t have to be limited to school, that it can take place anytime, anyplace and at any age. For example, my grandmother uses the ipad to explore whatever suits her fancy and to satisfy her curiosity. That’s learning. Engaging in discussion on twitter, following links posted on social media, reading blogs and acting upon them. All that is learning. Powerful, impactful, genuine learning that isn’t limited to school and doesn’t have an age limit. That is my ideal state of learning. The ultimate sponge experience.