How Children Learn: Understanding Their Learning Curve

Mar 12, 2022 | Red Deer


“Geee .. you were able to do this fraction problem last week .. how come you can’t do it now??” Sounds familiar? Don’t worry, parents, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning. They ARE learning. It just takes more time and practice to master a math skill.

Think about how a child becomes toilet trained. It doesn’t happen all at once. First the child has no control. After a period of time filled with many unsuccessful attempts at personal control, the child will begin to have “accidents”. Following that comes a period of increased control, followed in turn by more accidents. Finally, one day, the process is complete.

This pattern of:

no ability –> initial success –> “backsliding” –> increased ability –> mastery!

is an outline of the struggle known as Learning Process.


Learning Curves

Intellectual Growth. This graph shows the ability acquired during a period of time, Intellectual growth follows this pattern of ups and downs.


Physical Growth. It lacks the ups and downs of intellectual growth, and proceeds ever-upward to its limit. Hair does not grow shorter; people do not grow younger (except of course .. Benjamin Button 😊)

Food for thought: Which curve best shows the way a child learns to ride a bicycle?


More details of Learning Curve

Three important features shown here are:

  • Peaks
  • Backsliding, and
  • Plateaus.

A “peak” occurs at the end of a period of steady growth in ability. When a child rides a two-wheeler all the way down the whole block for the very first time, and then comes to the end and falls off crying, the child has “peaked” in ability for the time being.

The next few times out the child may not be able to ride the whole block before failing. They will appear to be “backsliding” in ability.

A “plateau” is reached when, as time passes, there is no apparent increase or backsliding in ability. This does not mean that growth has permanently stopped. Instead, it is a period of “settling in”, before the process begins again toward a new peak.


“Preview of Coming Attractions” and “Beginner’s Luck”

Another phenomenon of the learning process is “preview behaviour”. A child learning how to walk may one day stand and walk across the room, and then for days or weeks after that be unable to repeat that skill level. The walking was a “preview” of things to come. Preview behaviour is a lifelong occurrence.

Have you experienced “beginner’s luck”? It is the phenomenon of doing something new very well the first time you try it, and then “bombing out” time after time after that?

Beginner’s luck is the first peak in the Learning Curve. That first success is followed by a series of lesser performance until sometimes later a new peak is reached.

So parents, it is important to remember the roller coaster nature of the Learning Process of your child. Your child might have shown the preview of things to come when they were able to do equivalent fractions last week, but don’t be alarmed if they aren’t able to do the same thing this week. It is a natural process. They will get it.


Mathnasium of Red Deer is your neighbourhood’s math-only learning centre, and we are here to help your child. Our centre director, Riwan, and the whole team would be happy to meet you! We are conveniently located in the shopping destination area in Red Deer: 5250 22nd St, Unit 30 B – at the Gaetz Avenue Crossing shopping centre, in the same area as Chapters Indigo/Starbucks, Michael Arts, Petland and Ashley, and the phone number is 403-872 MATH (6284). 

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