Making the difference in helping your child learn

From music to swimming lessons, ballet to art classes, children today have their schedules packed to the brim with activities parents hope will give them a head start in life. Many parents seize every opportunity to maximize their child’s learning potential in the way they think is best. Others adopt the “let nature take its course” stance. The fact remains that people learn in different ways and at a different pace, and children are no exception. Children may not learn more simply through more teaching or learning activities. It is important to consider their interest level as well as how they learn best.

How do children learn?

Some people learn better visually. This means they need to see what is going on in order to learn. For instance, younger kids learn primarily by observing and imitating. Children who respond best in this way need good role models. They will also need drawings, diagrams, and pictures in their learning experiences. Others may be auditory learners and are better with tasks that require listening. You may have seen older children who close their eyes in order to concentrate, listen and work out a response. These children learn well when information is told to them and when someone verbally explains a concept.

Tactile learners (also known as kinesthetic learners) are children who learn through touch and action. This is most noticeable in very young children who learn about their world by feeling objects and exploring their environment. They will enjoy music and movement activities. They will also learn through mimicking others, e.g. through role-playing.

Other useful ways of learning include repetition and association. As the term implies, repetition involves the repeated practising of skills. It helps the child remember what is learned. It is important to bear in mind that there should be some basis of understanding prior to practice. Association is another aid in learning effectively. Children learn by associating one concept with another. For example, associating a letter of alphabet with a word (e.g., ‘A for apple’, ’B for ball’) or associating a cup with drinking.

The above are just some ways children learn. In general, using a variety of ways in teaching new information or new skills makes learning more effective and efficient.

Know your goals and expectations

Opportunities can be lost with unclear goals and unrealistic expectations. For some parents, learning equals good school grades. Parents need to know what learning constitutes and realise that it means more than academic performance outcomes. Social learning, for example, is where a child learns to observe rules and develop good relationships in life. A child who learns politeness and consideration for others is likely to grow up gracious. A child who returns his test papers to have marks deducted for an oversight in his teacher’s marking shows honesty – a virtue. A parent who trains her child to keep his own toys imparts a sense of responsibility. Most importantly, learning is a lifelong process that encompasses many areas that textbooks do not, and cannot, cover.

Learn together with your child

Although children do learn by exploring or playing on their own, learning can be enhanced through meaningful interaction with another person. When interacting with your child, it is important to take time to observe what your child is interested in, wait to see what he will do and listen to what he is saying or trying to tell you, parents have great influence over their child’s learning when they take time to connect and interact with the child. For example, talking to your child about the different flowers and trees in the park may cultivate an interest in nature.

Parents who are busy are less available to tune in to their children’s needs, and may not be able to enhance their child’s learning. Busy parents are also more prone to leaving their children to use mobile devices, thinking that they are learning as long as they are playing educational games or watching educational shows. These children may not be learning as they may not actually understand the concepts taught in the programme, or may not know how to apply the knowledge in real life. In contrast, parents who are constantly teaching and assessing their child may find him a stressed, reluctant and possibly bored learner. Parents who do too much for their children may also deprive them of opportunities to learn. These children tend to become ‘spoon-fed’ learners in the process, and might not learn how to problem-solve on their own.

Parents can provide a supportive learning environment through a balance of roles and activities. It is important to let your child know you are interested in him. You can tell him new and interesting things and ask questions to keep the interaction going. Take turns to make comments. Explore and experience new situations together. Soon, you find that you are learning more about your child and he is learning more about you. Each child is unique in his own way as you are. It will take time, effort and patience to work out what is best for both of you. Remember that you can make the difference in helping your child learn!

Contributed by:
Department of Child Development, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital