I don’t remember how it’s like to learn how to walk. According to my parents, it was a painful process for everyone involved. I managed to master the art of getting up and gaining speed long before I was able to decelerate and sit safely back down. In result, for the first few weeks I kept smashing my head against a wall or a piece of furniture with full speed. If my parents didn’t supervise me 24/7, the results could be tragic.

I’m not alone in my problems related to learning to walk. My fiancé started doing it long before his bone structure was ready, and has had his hip misaligned ever since. It’s almost as if Nature designed this process in a very irresponsible manner. If I were to do that, I’d make sure accidents of such kind never happen, and every kid has a chance of learning to walk in a safe and empowering environment.

So how let’s design a walking school, shall we?

First of all, we’d need to postpone learning to walk until kids can communicate in speech. Sorry babies, I know you’d love to move around, but you aren’t just ready yet to absorb all the knowledge required for walking right. Believe me, it’s for your own safety. We’d need to make it super clear that walking is dangerous when done incorrectly, and that it should always be done in special learning facilities, under adult supervision, and following the recommended sequence of exercises. It’s terrifying to think kids like me could get up and run around without having the skills to sit back down carefully. A properly designed curriculum will hopefully prevent situations like this.

The next thing we need is a proper theoretical framework to make sense of the experience. How can kids learn to walk if they don’t understand what walking is? There are several different movements that make up the walking process, so it only makes sense to split them into separate classes that will each focus on a different aspect. We could have one class on the different getting up techniques, all the way from using a specially designed ladder, to using a pillow for support, to getting up on a bare floor, and another dedicated to different techniques to stop and sit back down. The most challenging one would obviously be about maintaining balance while standing on just one foot and shifting your bodyweight to the other. There are so many things that can go wrong at this stage, that we’d need to double down on preparing kids for this one.

Luckily it’s the 21st century, so we’re not going to bore the kids with lectures and heavy textbooks. We’ll have colorful videos with their favorite cartoon characters singing educational songs that are easy to memorize, and exciting computer games where they can test what they’ve learned. Our kids deserve to be taught all about the muscles, tendons, and their movements that make up the process of walking in a way that is both rewarding and fun.

Once every child learns the theory, we’ll be ready to move on to exercise facilities. Of course, not without safety helmets or knee and elbow pads. We’ll have soft squishy playpens for training to get up and sit down, and treadmills with a special harness to practice balance. By repeating each movement multiple times in isolation we’ll instill the correct posture right from the very start, and prevent possible injuries caused by incorrect hip or knee alignment.

The learning process will culminate in a final exam, first part covering all the theory of walking, followed by a practical one when participants walk down a standardized aisle in front of a certification committee. If they manage to do it safely without making any of the common mistakes, they’ll be certified as legal walkers and allowed to walk in public on their own. I’m sure families will celebrate this as an important milestone in their children’s lives.

There’s something unsettling about this vision, isn’t there?

But can you say what it is exactly? Even though I’ve exaggerated the safety aspect here a little bit, nearly all my learning experiences so far followed more or less the same pattern. Start with a theoretical explanation, break it down into pieces, test how the theoretical knowledge was absorbed, then do a few exercises in isolation that bear little resemblance with how the same thing is done in real life. The whole process ends with a standardized test certifying that you know how to avoid the most common traps people might fall into, and gives you very little confidence that you’re actually capable of doing the thing you were supposed to learn. Perhaps signing up for an advanced course in Walking On Uneven Terrain will help?

This, I believe, is why nearly everyone has been trying to learn a foreign language since forever, and very few people can actually speak one (or more) fluently. We’re trying to absorb a whole theoretical framework of how a language works, and to get to a point where we’ll never make a mistake before giving it a shot. We’re so afraid of using Past Perfect when Past Continuous is needed that we’d rather not speak at all than make a fool of ourselves. Let’s practice a few more grammar exercises until we’re sure which way is correct, or the teacher will interrupt what we say and give us a bad grade.

Every English teacher I had would flag ‘color’ as an error, since the standardized tests we were subject to were designed by the British. They’d be all terrified now to read about things that I ‘learned’. I earned my First Certificate in English half a lifetime ago, when I could only speak about very basic stuff. I wouldn’t be able to pass the same test again today. Mixing up past tenses and American spelling would be enough to disqualify me, even though I communicate in English for a living now, and I feel comfortable doing it.

Kapil Gupta once wrote that if kids could talk before they’re able to walk, we’d have 12-year olds still in walking schools, trying to get it right this time. Given what I observe in language-learning department, he is right. As terrifying as it must have been for my parents, I’m glad I had a chance to learn to walk by bouncing my head against everything. Otherwise I’d probably still feel insecure what is the correct sequence of glute movements when walking downhill.

2 thoughts on “Teaching children to walk, the safe and empowering way

  1. Fascinating breakdown and application of how our ideals can paralyze us – thank you! I am encouraged to take up my language training again ❤

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