How Children Learn In Early Childhood

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Everything written about child development emphasizes the importance of early childhood education.

Brain development is at its most rapid during the first five years of life. The neural pathways made during this time affect the physical structure of the brain and lay the foundations for later in life. If strong neural connections are not made during this time, it is much more difficult to catch up later on.

Preschool and other forms of early childhood education are associated with improved outcomes later in life. For example, in France studies have associated preschool attendance with school success, higher wages and the reduction of socio-economic inequalities.

Similarly, studies from Switzerland found that early childhood education improved educational mobility with children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefiting most significantly.

6 ways children learn best

1. Informally

Many of us do not have experience of preschool and so we think back to our schooling and apply this knowledge. Often our own time in school was formal with little regard for different learning styles and learning strategies.

From our own experience, we postulate that this is how learning happens, though perhaps with some colorful flashcards or worksheets thrown into the mix. This extension of primary education learning strategies down into the pre-primary level is not in children’s best interests.

Early childhood education should not be formal, so it rarely looks like parents or even some teachers expect. Children learn best through informal methods.

2. Through play

Quality early childhood education recognizes play as one of the key learning strategies. Effective teaching and learning are learning through play or playful learning.

This suits children’s natural learning styles, as children are naturally wired to play. There is plenty of neuroscience supporting the idea that play physically builds, shapes and develops the brain.

Children’s natural play creates powerful learning opportunities across all areas of development. For example, as children climb trees they build physical strength, gross motor skills, problem-solving, spatial awareness and the ability to assess and weigh up risks.

3. Physical activity

Children learn through doing. If you were to assess their learning styles, most children would come out as kinaesthetic learners. Physical activity is intrinsically bound up with effective learning in the early years.

Young children learn what their brains are primed for, and in early childhood education that is the physical and sensory aspects of the world around them. Learning is very hands-on for children and closely linked with sensory input.

As well as learning physical skills through physical activities, children can learn about more ‘abstract’ or ‘educational’ concepts in this way too.

Physical activity allows children to process their learning. It is a way for children’s brains to process many thoughts, feelings and make sense of what they have learned.

4. Pursuing their interests

Learning in early childhood education needs to be child-led. For example, some children may have a real fascination with dinosaurs. By pursuing this interest in their learning activities, children will be more motivated to learn. As they play with dinosaurs, children can improve their understanding of the world and build their imagination. They can also learn speech and language, gain an understanding of space, shape, and measure.

5. At their own pace

Different children learn different skills at different times. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach has no place in early childhood education. Different children will also have different learning styles and will require different learning strategies. Early childhood education needs to be highly individualized.

6. When they feel secure

Attachment is a key concept in early childhood development. When children have good, secure attachments to familiar adults, they can use the adult as a secure base from which to explore and experiment. Attachment also impacts the way the brain develops physically, so it is incredibly important.

How to help your children learn

Read

Reading has consistently been shown to expand children’s vocabulary, imagination, and to improve academic performance. Reading a wide variety of books with your child will build a love of reading that will help them learn throughout life.

Play outdoors

Outdoor play is so important! Fresh air and sunlight are good for physical health and spending time outdoors lowers stress and increases the production of serotonin, the feel-good, happy hormone!

The outdoor environment presents a whole host of different learning opportunities to time spent indoors. Children can experience different seasons and weather. They see how the world changes over time, and they take note of growth and decay. Children are also more likely to play physically outside. Physical play builds strength and gross motor skills, which lay the early foundations for writing.

Outdoor play also allows ‘risky play’ where children can push their boundaries in balancing or climbing. When children play at the edge of their capacities, they expand what they can do. They also build important skills like perseverance, risk assessment, and resilience.

Don’t force it

Trying to get your children to sit down and learn formally, is only likely to make them resist it and see learning as a chore. There is plenty of time for “homework” throughout school. Early childhood education should cater to children’s natural learning styles.

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