How to eat ice cream. Why a visit to the seaside teaches us about learning.

It was hot here this weekend. The first real day of Spring. Time for a walk i felt, so a trip to the beach was in order, a chance to stroll along by the sand enjoying some peace and solitude. Along with the hundreds of other people who’d had the same idea.

Oh well, it was a nice walk anyway. Along the way i saw a small girl with her parents, eating her first ice cream. She stood there, swaying slightly, holding the cone with two hands and wide eyes. Her mother was telling her how to lick it carefully and not bite it, because it would make her teeth hurt. Her look of concentration was intense and i shared a smile with her proud father.

I can’t remember my first ice cream exactly, but i can remember the sound of the ice cream van and queueing in the sunshine. When you’re two or three years old, there are lots of learning experiences, not all of them as nice as ice cream, so it was good to see the lesson being taken so diligently.

In real terms, it had all the ingredients of many learning experiences: a framework that you are supposed to learn within, socially learnt patterns of behaviour, tuition and reward. It’s polite to eat it slowly and you lick it so that your teeth don’t hurt. You learn to eat it quickly in response to the feedback of feeling it running over your fingers as it melts and down the cone if you’re too slow. Or a seagull pinching it.

The tuition is important too, being shown what to do, being encouraged, getting feedback. Sure, it was only an ice cream, but all the elements were there. I suppose when you’re a parent, these little microcosm learning experiences become second nature: handing on your ice cream eating expertise to the next generation. And she certainly seemed to enjoy it.

Which is why i had one myself. Clotted cream. Lovely.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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