Our children are little learning machines - every day, and in almost every way, they're learning. Every time they go down the slippery dip, construct a Lego tower, and make a mess in the kitchen, they're creating pathways in the brain that help them develop even more skills. And long before our kids even get to school, all this activity helps them get ready for a more formal learning environment.
Even though our kids are natural little learners, there’s a lot we can do to support our children’s learning and give them great early experiences. Here are some tips to help develop your child's love of learning.
• Encourage your kids to pursue their interests: Children learn best when they’re interested. Your kids will probably already have some favourite activities, so encourage them to play, experiment and get messy with them. The more they get deeply involved in an activity, the more they are likely to learn.
• Let your kids fail: Many of us don’t like to see our kids get upset or hurt, but we all need to take risks in life, and that can begin when we’re kids. Kids can learn as much from their mistakes as from their victories - so instead of jumping in to fix something, let your kids sit with the problem for a little bit and see how they go.
• Set some rituals or routines: Rituals and routines are really important in a classroom because they provide structure and certainty for kids - and they can also help at home. Having some rituals around eating, playtime, packing-up time, relaxation time and sleep helps create a healthy learning environment for kids. Limiting screen time is also important.
• Ask questions: Chatting with your kids is a great learning tool - every time you ask a question, you're helping them self-reflect, think up new ideas, and communicate their thoughts. If we value our children's opinions, we’re also encouraging them to participate fully in their learning and feel like important members of the family.
• Praise effort not smarts: Whenever our kids draw a picture or build a tower, it’s easy to say, ‘How clever you are!’ - but a much better way to give feedback is to encourage their effort and persistence. It also helps to be specific about what you like, so rather than saying, "What a great tower", you can admire the colours, the structure or the height.
• Be a role model: Our children aren’t always listening to us, but they are watching! The more we embrace learning in our own lives, the more our kids will see it as a natural and normal way of life. It’s as easy as having conversations around the dinner table about what we've learnt, visiting interesting places, questioning what’s on TV, and simply doing activities we love.
Some questions to ask your kids to support their learning
- How did you build/draw/create that?
- What part was tricky?
- What do you like about it?
- What might you change about it next time?
- How did you feel when you were doing it?
Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author, and the director of parentwellbeing.com. She also hosts St John Grammar’s Learning Early video series, which has more info on learning in the early years and preparing your children for school.