Dispositions Necessary for Children to Learn

Recent events saw most children learning at home, under the guidance of their parents, and the direction of their teachers. Now, having returned to school, there are three conditions which are necessary for a child to LEARN. I am going to suggest that these conditions, or personal dispositions, are universally applicable to children everywhere.

The First of these Dispositions is Safety

First and foremost, for a child to be in a position to learn they must feel safe. Their safety would mean they have enough food, clothing and shelter, the basics for living a healthy life, so they can then concentrate on the task of learning.

In some circumstances, it is necessary for the school to take on that responsibility of providing food for a child. Breakfast clubs are quite common across schools in Australia, whereby children, who come from family environments that don’t have the capacity to provide breakfast for children, rely on the school to provide food, so the child has enough sustenance so they can concentrate in class. Clothing is occasionally also provided by the school. The school should provide children with second hand or even brand-new uniforms when their family cannot provide adequate uniforms. Uniforms help the child feel like they belong as they ‘look’ the same as their classmates.

The family home is the shelter in which most children live. Occasionally children may be living with other caring adults. Having a “roof over their heads” provides them with the third essential basic requirement. Other caring adults may include grandparents, other relatives, foster carers and family friends. Sleeping in a warm bed is important for children. The other element about being safe is that children know and understand their routines in life. They know who will be dropping them at school, and who will be picking them up. They have the confidence to walk out of the school gate at the end of the day knowing that someone who knows and loves them will be there waiting for them.

The Second Disposition is that of Connectedness

A child needs to have connections with their family and their social networks beyond their family. These networks can include their school or any cultural activities such as sport or artistic pursuits of the child. There needs to be connections between parents and grandparents who know and love the child. Then when a child moves to school, they will ideally find children with similar interests, potentially like-minded children with whom they make a connection and they form part of a group. The connections between a child and their parents and their school groups are critical so that they are part of a group which knows and cares about them. Being part of a group is key to a child’s well-being because human beings are social beings. We know, live, love, learn and work together.

The Third Disposition is that of Contentment

Originally, I thought the third disposition may have been happiness. But a wise colleague Jill Sweatman, the Brain Whisperer™, reminded me that happiness is an elevated state of joy that not everyone will reach. Everyone can reach contentment. My definition of contentment is that there is a degree of acceptance of someone’s current circumstances or lifestyle.

A child needs to accept their place in life; they need to accept the family in which they live; they need to accept the school which they attend; the social group of which they are a part; the limitations of their personal circumstances; and they need to accept (and embrace) the opportunities that life presents them. If a child is accepting, they have a degree of contentment, tolerance and understanding of their disposition in life. This then allows them to focus on the task at hand at school which is learning.

Children who are content and have an acceptance and an understanding of their circumstances may even find opportunities to embrace beyond their family and beyond school life. They already have a degree of solitude and comfort in themselves and their social network. Knowing that they are safe, knowing that they have connections, allows them to explore other opportunities beyond those to dispositions. (Please note acceptance of limitations of current circumstances does not mean that people should not strive to go beyond current situations for improvement. Striving to improve and excel should be a goal for all life-long learners).

The three dispositions described all have inks. It is not possible to have connections without being safe. Feeling connected without feeling safe is not possible. It’s not possible to feel content without having connections. And lastly, it is not possible to be safe without feeling connections These three dispositions are essential for a child to be able to attend to learning at school and beyond school.

Now that the majority of children across the country have returned to school, it only reinforces that those three dispositions are vital so a child has the framework and the capacity to attend to learning. If a child is safe, connected and content then they have the opportunity to switch on and to attend to the task at hand at school. Having returned to school recently it has been evident that the children who weren’t safe, who may not have had connections, and who were struggling with the changing circumstances over the last few months, may have struggled to attend to learning. Now that we have returned to our new circumstances, with the degree of some physical isolation still present, children are back in classrooms, back working with the teachers who know and love their job in providing high quality education for all children in front of them. We can reinforce these dispositions of safety, connection and contentment so that children will learn.

Once a child has these dispositions, they have the capacity to be receptive to learning. If any of these three dispositions are missing, threatened or jeopardised then the child’s capacity to learn is significantly impeded.

Let’s work together to ensure our children, our students, are safe, connected and content. Then they can learn and thrive.


About the Author 

Andrew Oberthur is the married father of two teenagers and a primary school principal, with over 30 years experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane. Through his vast experience and own study, Andrew has developed three main areas of interest and expertise: School readiness for families / staff of children getting ready for school, building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers, communication skills for teachers and parents working together for the benefit of their common interest – their children.

Andrew has presentations on each of these areas available for families and teachers, as he believes that parents and teachers MUST work together so children can thrive in our modern world. In 2018 he published his first book “Are You Ready for Primary School This Year?” which is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available from his website. He has done podcasts for PakMag, webinars with some leaders in their field, as well as various media appearances.


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