What Ready to Learn Really Means

Alfie Kohn

The phrase “ready to learn,” frequently applied to young children, is rather odd when you stop to think about it, because the implication is that some kids aren’t. Have you ever met a child who wasn’t ready to learn — or, for that matter, already learning like crazy? The term must mean something much more specific — namely, that some children aren’t yet able (or willing) to learn certain things or learn them in a certain way.
Specifically, it seems to be code for “prepared for traditional instruction.” And yes, we’d have to concede that some kids are not ready to memorize their letters, numbers, and colors, or to practice academic skills on command. In fact, some children continue to resist for years since they’d rather be doing other kinds of learning. Can you blame them?
Then there’s the question of when we expect children to be ready. Even if we narrow the notion of readiness to the acquisition of “phonemic awareness” as a prerequisite to reading in kindergarten or first grade, the concept is still iffy, but for different reasons.