Many parents often wonder about their child's development and their ability to learn. They want to help their children learn, but often times, do not know what to do or the best approach to take. Parents must realize that the road to learning begins at ground zero. Children begin their journey into the world of learning the moment they emerge from the womb and enter the world. Many believe that genetics is the most significant factor in a child's potential to succeed in the academic world. However, genetics is not the only determining component of a child's potential to succeed. Environment and experience both play a significant role in the learning process.
A child's brain develops exponentially during the earliest years of their young life. All interactions between babies and their parents encourage the development and growth of tiny fibers called synapses. Even the earliest experiences can have the most significant effect on the young developing brain.
The journey to learning begins with the initial step when a parent teaches their infant to adapt to their new surroundings, by teaching them to eat, learn and respond to stimuli. Babies learn to give cues to their needs and abilities. Before they can run they learn to walk, before they walk they learn to crawl, before the crawl they learn to push themselves up. Each step is arduous and babies, often times, practice each step of the process over and over until they perfect it. Parents should familiarize themselves with their child's cues. Every child exhibits readiness to move on to the next step. It is the parents' job to recognize when the child should be guided to the next step or know when the teaching process should be set aside before frustration sets in on both parties.
Parents are their child's first teachers. From them children learn to thrive or fail by giving up. Studies have shown that children with active parents that take a concerted role in their child's learning adapt better to their surroundings. Research done in many European countries that house large orphanages where there is lack of interaction between children and adults show those children develop slower and learn with greater difficulty.
Learning in the Real World
There is a saying that life can be the greatest teacher. Infants instinctively know that they must learn to breathe and take in nutrients to survive. They begin to recognize the correlation between crying and getting their need met. Parents learnt that each cry is a different indicator to their child's needs.
Toddlers increase their knowledge through trial and error. Experience will remind them if a certain task or situation is enjoyable or not. It is then that they learn when to continue a certain set of experiences to attain a desired objective. For instance, an infant yearns to be mobile. They quickly realize that if they exert a little energy they can move toward a desired result. They practice even in their sleep until they achieve their goal of movement. They may experience a few falls along the way but they learn to work through the difficulty to reach the end. This process teaches them that failure is an acceptable stepping stone to success. Experience can also forewarn them of danger or unpleasantness.
Children also learn to interact with others through interactive play. They learn to take turns, follow rules and they learn sociably acceptable behaviors. They learn social skills that they will use throughout their life.
Part I: Surround Your Child with Learning
Every aspect of life can be a learning opportunity. Be descriptive to your young child when you're interacting with them. Continually use the same method to reinforce what you are trying to teach them. A child learns through repetition. The more they are exposed to the lesson that the parent wants them to learn the better their chances are in retaining the information.
Instead of just handing the child their favorite toy or comfort item describe it to them. For example, a parent can say 'here's your blanket' or the parent can seize the opportunity to reinforce a color lesson by stating 'here's your red/yellow/blue or green blanket'. You cannot start too early in the learning process.
When changing a diaper, that moment can be turned into a lesson for the child about body awareness. Describe the type of diaper the child had. This makes him/her aware of his/her body functions and is very useful when potty training. The parent can also use the short down time, when the child's attention is captured to learn body parts. Repeating the exercise often helps reinforce what they have been taught, soon they can repeat the labeled part then progressing to answering the question when they are asked for the part or objects name.
Even playing at the park can be a great tool for learning. Children can enhance their problem solving skills by trying various ways of getting from point A to point B. They learn and enhance social skills, in regard, to strangers. Count with them the steps that they climb and the action becomes a math lesson. State the color of the slide they use. Help them learn the difference between various surfaces and words by correlating it to the object that they are using. This attaches more meaning to what they are being taught. If they can actually see what it is they are hearing they can retain the information better.
Consistent labeling creates familiarity with what is being taught. They soon begin to repeat by mimicking the parents' words or actions. Eventually they begin to attach meaning to the word or action. They move to doing what they have learned on their own because they have gained understanding. Their vocabulary is built upon each word that they learn the meaning to thus building and increasing their conversational skills.
Watching television is not the desired approach to teaching children but there are some educational shows that will reinforce what they are learning from the parent or school. It is up to the parent to decide how they can effectively use the television as a tool.
Learning also happens through play. The activity inspires the imagination. A lot of how they interact in this type of play is what they observe from their surroundings or environment. They mimic interactions between families and friends as well as the process of a given task.
Play in a young child's life can teach them the fundamentals necessary to learn as they get older. Play can improve both fine and large motor skills, vocabulary and language skills as well as social skills. Do not rule out play as an important stepping stone in the learning process.
Part II: Reading Success
There are several schools of thought in regards to the best way to teach a child to read. Many attest that phonics is the sole way, in which a child should read. Others rely on the sight word method as their primary source of teaching. However, a combination of both methods may be the most accurate and well-rounded approach to learning to read.
Learning to read can be an arduous and time-consuming process. Parents must first develop an insight on how children learn before they can effectively teach them with minimal frustration to parent and child. Children can easily be overloaded with information when too much is introduced at any one time. Parents must pace themselves and their children to capitalize on success.
Start with small goals before moving on to more complex ones. Once the goals are met praise the child and reinforce what they learn through repetition. Take one objective and teach it to your child and spread the same lesson out over a week's time before moving on to the next lesson. Intermittently, review the learned objectives, this continually reinforces what they learned.
Begin by familiarizing your child with the alphabet. Songs with letters are fun and stimulate children into being active participants in the learning process. Take a letter per week when beginning a more in-depth approach to learning to recognize letters and their corresponding sound. Emphasize words within the child's environment that begin with that particular letter.
Adapt games that involve your children, to help reinforce the letters that you are teaching. For instance, playing tic-tac-toe with the letters d and b. Each space is awarded when a word beginning with each letter is stated.
When reading include your child in the process. Begin with books that capture your child's attention and imagination. As the child looks at the books begin by pointing to the word that is being read. Have the child echo what is being read. This gives him or her practice on the process of reading. They may not know at first what they are reading but they soon learn to correlate specific letter groupings with particular words. You may also wish to engage in simultaneous reading. This exercise also involves the child in the process; this is especially useful when there are repeating patterns in the text.
Flash cards with pictures help children identify and recognize letter groupings. They learn to relate the pictures with the words, giving them a mental image that stays with them. Make sure that each letter or cluster of letters is sounded out to emphasize letter-sound recognition.
Reading is fundamental to learning and developing other skills. All aspects of the child's education are based on their ability to read and decipher what is in front of them.
Part III: The Road to Developing Math Skills
Recognizing numbers is as important in your child's learning as recognizing letters. Math is introduced in the same way that they learn to read. A child must first learn the corresponding symbol that represents a certain number.
Parents can introduce the numbers 1-5, and then as they begin to master them others can be introduced. By preschool they should be able to recognize numbers up to 20, many can master up to 100 without much difficulty. Children can easily be taught number patterns. A good way to introduce this exercise would be to write down a numbers 1 through 100, make it fun, let each number represent a section on a long caterpillar. Point to each number that is in the number pattern, such as counting by ones, fives, tens etceteras.
Encourage your young child's curiosity by setting out a number of certain category of items then ask the child to pick out a certain number of them. Continually count with them reinforcing with repetition.
Begin adding and subtracting basic numbers by representing them with objects. The objects help the child relate the number sequence and make it easier for them to relate to what is being taught. Try to use the same objects so the child is not confused. For example, use blocks. Have them count the number of blocks then begin to add and subtract blocks, each time having them recount the remaining. Make the process into a game and they will feel more inspired and less pressured.
A great way to teach your child coin recognition is by placing a large number of various coins in a bag they cannot see through. Have them place their hand inside the bag and retrieve a coin then have them state what type of coin they have pulled out. Set a timer so they can better their score each time, giving them a discernable goal to reach toward. If more than one child is involved change the rules so that the first person to a certain number wins the game. This not only teaches them coin recognition and counting, but it encourages controlled competition, which helps them to learn to be good losers as well as good winners.
Use inventive ways to introduce math without the dread that many associate with learning math. Word pictures help to solidify what they are being taught. Games help them to relate math with fun.
Part IV: Bringing it together
Be innovative as a parent when teaching your child. The more you involve them and make them an active participant the more pleasure they take in learning. Over-saturation can lead to frustration and an unwillingness to try to learn. If the process of learning is presented in a fun and exciting way the child is more willing to attempt learning and is better able to retain the information.
Repetition is far different from drilling the lesson. Repetition can take many various forms. One moment it can be a game and the next it can take the form of a song. It is up to the parent to find what best motivates his or her own child. Leave the criticizing outside the learning process, it frustrates the child and is not conducive to learning. A child can easily be discouraged if they are made to feel that they are not successfully doing the lesson right, but by creating an environment of fun, encouragement and praise a child can learn at his or her own pace. Teach the process and then let them try on their own. By doing this, the parent encourages independence and builds confidence.
Involve your children with others. Join a playgroup or developmental class. These interactions teach social skills necessary to function in the world. They learn to deal with difficult situations and people and they encourage problem-solving skills.
Make the most of every opportunity when it is presented. Through repetition and familiarization a child can retain the information that is being presented. There will be times when your child will learn something taught, then seemingly not know it. With continued exposure those lapses become fewer and they will eventually retain the information presented to them.
By Koh Mei Poh (Carmen), T2