There is a myth that once you get older, then it becomes more difficult to learn. It’s the ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ mentality, but it is simply not true!
As the world is entirely new to them, babies and young children learn at an alarming speed. They are sponges soaking up all new experiences – good and bad. They learn to differentiate, recognise familiar faces, places, things. They learn how to use language, to communicate, to reason.
Then they go to school and we teach them specific information, day in day out until finally school life ends and the next chapter in life begins. We quickly learn that the next chapter invariably includes taxes!
So as the routine of daily life takes over, that does not mean that we stop learning. We can’t stop learning. Our brains aren’t wired that way. We are constantly seeking out new information. That is how we learn. We look for what is already familiar and then we learn from what is different.
Neuroplasticity is term for the ability of our brain to keep learning. It is what makes our brain resilient. It is how we can recover from strokes, injuries or birth abnormalities. However, the brain is neutral. It learns whatever is repeated – both good and bad actions, habits and thoughts.
So, if you were repeatedly told in school that you were too stupid to learn, or can’t read or wouldn’t amount to much, then your brain begins to believe it – although it was NOT true.
I am always in awe of our adult hummingbirds, who do the Nectar Program with us. It is such an act of bravery to say, ‘enough! I’m not going to live like this anymore’. They have spent years hiding and are tired of it. The common thread between them all is the fear that even having come to us, they still won’t be able to read or spell or write better than before and that all hope will be gone. There usually are tears when they realise that fear has gone.
In my experience, our adult Hummingbirds are in fact incredibly resourceful people. They are predominantly driven by a desire to be able to help their children or grandchildren. Usually it is not rooted in a need to help themselves but to protect their loved ones. They don’t want their children or grandchildren to have the same experiences in school that they had. They want to be able to help them with homework or do something as simple, but as important, as reading a bedtime story.
And they want to be free of the shame. As a nation we are emerging from the many layers of shame that were used to control people. Illiteracy is one of those layers. Illiteracy prevented many people from reaching their potential, but it doesn’t have to keep us back forever.
We don’t have to stay they way we were in the past. Everyone can change their future. On Davina McCall’s ITV program This Time Next Year, a grandmother who could not read and write at all, gave herself a year to learn so that she could read stories to her grandchildren. A simple pleasure that was denied to her with her own children.
Our oldest Hummingbird was born in 1938! She wanted to be able to spell with ease. She was tired of not having confidence in her ability to spell and wanted to change her future. She jokingly said to me it was either Hummingbird Learning Centre or marriage counselling because if he had to listen to her husband complain to her once more when she asked him to spell a word for her she was going to kill him.
I am happy to confirm that he is still alive, and they are even more happily married now.
Neuroplasticity proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. We will always continue to learn and at any age we can decide to change our futures.