Supporting Child’s Learning: Infants Through School Age
Parents sometimes feel pressured to ensure that their children are learning as much as possible so as to be ready to begin formal schooling, to do well in school, and to ultimately be prepared to succeed in life. In a most challenging role – being a parent carries a responsibility to support a child’s development and learning from the moment the child is born. How can one sort through all the advice given by relatives, friends, social and other media, and others about what is really important for each individual child?
Take a look at what affects learning and some developmental issues. A child’s physical and emotional state can greatly affect the child’s ability and willingness to learn. Being tired, hungry, or sick are conditions which do not favor learning new skills. Also, if a child is upset about something, he/she is not in the best state to learn. It’s essential for us as parents to “tune in” to what’s going on with our child in these areas. One must be attentive to good nutrition, a well balanced diet, and the importance of getting adequate sleep every night. When a child is frustrated or concerned about something, it is a good strategy to acknowledge the child’s feelings and help him/her solve a problem by talking about it; to goes a long way when a parent takes the time to help a child consider what options might be open to move to resolving an issue in a mutually satisfactory manner.
Motivation is another factor which affects learning. Young children are naturally curious and are motivated to explore in order to learn more about their world. This inner drive to act is very strong. When a child experiences success with his/her interactions with people and in handling situations, motivation can increase. Unfortunately, if a child’s efforts to explore and understand meet with negative reactions, motivation can decrease. The most powerful motivators are social ones (e.g. getting attention). To support a child’s learning, one wants to encourage and comment on specific positive progress and to build on small, positive steps in the right direction.
Second, children (especially young children) learn through their senses. Most children have a preferred way of getting their best information. Some children are visual learners, focusing primarily on the visual aspects of their environment; these children pay particular attention to visual details such as colors, shapes, and sizes. Other children are auditory learners; words and sounds in the environment stand out. Music is a natural teacher for children, especially for auditory learners. Tactile learners like to touch and manipulate objects in their world, concentrating on the texture, temperature, and other factors. Carefully observing a child to find out how he/she prefers to learn can help parents work with their child.
Research has shown that children learn more during the first six years of life than they will during the entire rest of their life. Numerous strategies are abounding to support child’s optimal growth, development, and learning during the infant, toddler, and preschool years.
Much of the daily schedule for infants and toddlers revolves around routines: sleeping, eating, diapering or toileting, arrival and departure from child care, story time and others. One of the most important things about routines is that, when routines are consistent, they have tremendous positive value for children. It is comforting to children to know what to expect, what will happen during the day and to trust that it will be the same from day to day. Routines help to regulate behavior when they are consistent. They also reduce stress and offer opportunities to share feelings, thereby enhancing social development. Parents facilitate their child’s learning during infancy and toddlerhood when theytry to be as consistent as possible. Talking with a child about what will happen during the day, what they are going to do, and what will come next all help support this consistency and reinforce learning. Talking with a child frequently, expanding vocalizations of infants, giving infants and toddlers the words to reflect what they are trying to communicate, plays an important role in supporting language development. Parents who regularly comment about what’s going on in the child’s environment, whether it be colors, shapes, sizes, heights, textures, tastes, and sounds, as one goes about daily routines will realize the benefits of a language-rich environment in helping a child succeed in school.
Preschoolers also thrive on consistency. Like infants and toddlers, Preschoolers are egocentric: they believe that the world centers around themselves. This egocentricity is perfectly normal at these ages. Preschoolers also like daily routines to which they can look forward. The routines provide opportunities to learn new skills and to refine existing skills. Parents are wise to remember that “play is the work of children.” Through play, children learn to plan and organize what they will do, to engage in tasks such as sorting, classifying, problem-solving, negotiating with peers, imagining, creating, developing physical skills, increasing their vocabulary, observing, practicing, experimenting, making choices, and concentrating. Aren’t these the skills that are needed throughout one’s life?
Once children enter formal schooling, from kindergarten on up, how can parents continue to support learning? With the Core Curriculum, children are expected to listen and learn at an accelerated pace. Realizing this, it is imperative for parents to find out as much as possible about the curriculum and the school’s expectations at events such as Back to School Night, during teacher/child conferences, and at other school sponsored events during which various aspects of the curriculum are addressed. Ask a child to bring home the textbook if he/she needs assistance in subjects like math to see how the subject matter is being taught and refresh memories about the skill or subject. Review notes, study sheets, and other available information to help.
As with younger children, school age children also need that consistency. One of the areas of particular concern is with homework. Having a designated time and place to do homework which is free of distractions so a child can concentrate on the work helps tremendously. If a child has a lot of homework, it’s important to plan breaks and snacks. Sometimes children need guidance in breaking down large projects or assignments into smaller, more realistic segments: planning what will be completed at certain times, so eventually the project will be done completely and on time. Working with a child to balance the academic and recreational demands – knowing that all areas of development are important is well worth the effort. Give a child specific feedback regarding their strengths and specific areas of challenge.
Keep in mind that all parents and their children are human and that it’s okay and even advantageous at times to “learn the hard way.” It can be challenging to a parent to resist the temptation to shield a child from making mistakes. However, as long as health and safety are not jeopardized, it can be very effective to allow a child to learn by trial and error. Also remember that, whenever anyone tries to learn something new, practice and repetition is needed before that skill is mastered so make sure to be encouraging. Giving credit for effort will enable a child to be more responsive to feedback in the future.
Article submitted by Gail Reuther, executive director of Mt. Olive Child Care & Learning Center