During a thorough session of Spring cleaning this week, I came across some notes from a child development class about the ways in which children learn.
I wanted to share the content of the notes because I fear that when we define the word learn or learning, as adults we are tempted to think about structured teaching opportunities, like we see in classroom settings. However, as this article points out, this tendency of adults to think that we need to schedule structured learning opportunities in order for kids to learn may actually be detrimental to their ability to learn the things that we want them to learn!
As you read about the four ways in which children learn, make a plan for how you can encourage all four ways of learning on a weekly basis. The more you plan ahead and think about the ways that you can help to facilitate this kind of learning, the quicker kids will pick up the concepts that you want them to learn.
The child accidentally stumbles upon a learning opportunity by asking a question or saying something that sparks conversation with an adult or a child.
Child: Look mommy! That bird is sitting on eggs!
Mom: Do you know what’s inside of those eggs?
Mom: Nope. Those eggs are different than the ones we have in our refrigerator. Those eggs have baby birds growing inside them. The mommy sits on the eggs to keep them warm until they are ready to hatch.
Mom: Yup, hatching is when the baby bird uses his beak to break the shell of the egg. The baby bird comes out to meet the mommy bird and then the mommy takes care of him.
What You Can do to Help
Set up opportunities for your child to experience new and different things. Sure, it’s a lot easier on you to leave your child at home when you have to make a quick run to the grocery store. But think of all of the learning opportunities that your child is missing out on when you run these errands alone. Out of convenience, sometimes children are confined to similar, repetitive places day after day (the car, daycare, home, repeat for 5 days in a row). While this does make life a little bit simpler for parents, it’s important to remember that the more your child is exposed to new people, places and ideas, the more questions he’ll have and the more he’ll learn.
2. Trial and Error
The child tries an action over and over again to learn what happens as a result of his actions.
Baby: [drops his spoon on the ground from his position in his high chair]
Dad: [picks up the spoon and puts it back on the tray of the high chair] Here you go, buddy.
Baby: [examines the spoon, then throws it on the ground again; points at the spoon] Eh!
Dad: [picks up the spoon and hands it to the baby] No more of that, buddy.
Baby: [smiling, pushes the spoon off the high chair tray]
Dad: [picks up the spoon and tosses it into the sink] No more spoon for you, buddy.
Baby: [Kicking and pointing to the sink] Ahhhhhhh!
What You Can Do to Help
Use as much language as possible to help the child to understand cause and effect. For younger children, adults can simply make statements like, “You pushed the lego into the vent and now it’s gone” or “You pushed that button to start the music.” For older children, adults can ask follow-up questions about what the child learned, like “Why do you think the toy broke?” or “What do you think will happen if we push this button and try it again?”
The child watches what other children and adults do and copies those actions.
A little boy watches his dad get ready for work in the morning. He watches as his dad squeezes hair gel into his hands and smooths it into his hair. Later that day at daycare, while playing house with some other children, the little boy plays the role of dad. Before he gets ready to leave for work in the game of house, he rubs his hands together and touches his hair while pretending to look in the mirror.
What You Can Do to Help
Be a good role model. Children learn how to talk and act based on what they see their parents doing. Use the kind of language that you want your child to use and act in ways that you want your child to act. He is 100% guaranteed to watch you and play out the things that you are doing. Make sure that the things he sees represent who you want him to become.
An adult plans a scheduled learning event where the adult teaches a specific lesson to the child.
Every morning, the preschool teacher leads a circle learning time in which she teaches the letters of the alphabet, numbers up to 20, common Spanish words, the weather, the days of the week and common emotions.
What You Can do to Help
Structured, directed learning from an adult to a child always has its place. Even though I’ve argued that other methods of learning are essential, directed learning still has a variety of benefits. Parents should try to schedule in some structured moments of teaching things like letters, numbers, shapes, colors, emotions and how to manage them, how to be a good friend, using manners, etc.
Teach the skills and lessons that are most important to your family and don’t forget to focus on social and emotional skills in addition to cognitive skills. A good rule of thumb is to remember that if your child knows the ABCs and 123s, but can’t keep his hands to himself, this isn’t going to help him much in kindergarten.