Things I Know About Kids – Learning

First, I feel I should point out that I have done no real research on the topic of learning capabilities in small children, nor have I read any research done by others. What I know I’ve learned from my own daughter, and to a lesser extent my niece and the children we see at playgroup.

With that aside, what I know is that we as a society have a bad habit of underestimating small children. We follow guidelines that tell us what skills our kids should know and by when, we buy age-specific toys based on assessments made by the companies who designed them, and we get upset if our kids haven’t learned a specific skill by a specific time, even if they’ve become quite advanced in a different skill in the meantime.

In other words, we group all children together, expecting them to learn and grow at the same rate, and limiting them by focusing on only the skills we’re told they should have by now. I personally think this is very silly because, while you shouldn’t push your children to “learn learn learn learn learn!!!” you should always encourage them to go further and further.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter has a wooden alphabet puzzle. The back of the puzzle board states that the puzzle is for ages 3 and up. At the time we purchased the puzzle I thought that “ages 3 and up” couldn’t possibly refer to any kind of safety issue because the puzzle pieces are quite large, and a quick examination showed that there is no way the pegs could possibly become disconnected. When the safety check was all clear we gave our daughter the puzzle to play with…at the time she was just under a year old. Yes, we gave our one year old a toy that someone, somewhere, decided was meant for three year olds and up. We weren’t pushing the learning toy on her, and we certainly didn’t expect giving it to her to make her a genius or anything; we just figured it was a good, educational toy that she’d enjoy playing with. But here’s the thing…she caught on pretty fast. It only took her a few weeks to be able to locate where the pieces went, and by the time she was just under a year and a half old we had her telling us what all the letters were as she was doing the puzzle. It didn’t take long after that for her to understand that letters naturally went in a particular order, and if I wrote down letters she’d tell me which ones came next.

There were other factors that contributed to her success, of course… For one thing we took the time to sit with her and tell her what all the letters were. For another she also regularly watched a Sesame Street special that teaches kids the alphabet. But the point of the story is that if we had set the puzzle aside, assuming that she wouldn’t be able to understand it until she was at least three years old, she might not have caught on to the alphabet so soon. If we took it upon ourselves to assume that the Sesame Street special was too advanced for her, she wouldn’t be THIS close to being able to sing the whole alphabet song at less than two and a half years old (imagine me holding my fingers a few millimeters apart).

Again, I’m not saying my kid is a genius, but I can absolutely say with certainty that she has advanced faster than expected because we don’t hold back teaching her new things just because she’s still young. We make sure her toys are safe, and if we buy her something meant for older kids (Ninja Turtles action figures and My Little Pony sets come to mind) we make sure to remove any small pieces she might decide to swallow for fun. Once those two things have been accomplished, we let her play with what she’s interested in, and we encourage her to learn new things. In fact, she and her soon-to-be-four-year-old cousin can work my Samsung Galaxy Tab2 better than some adults I know.

Kids are sponges, they really are. We regularly take this into consideration when taking care not to transfer bad habits, but we rarely think about it when considering teaching and learning practices. Encourage your kid to learn, and (as long as safety permits) let them decide what toys and programs are appropriate for their age group. They’ll thank you for it later.

Effort Begets Effort

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

78. Tips for fostering a love of books in our children

Personally, I believe that this is easier than it sounds, and that the long and short of it is…read to your kids. It’s as easy as that.

See, I believe there’s a bit of a plague happening in the modern world, and that is an unwillingness of parents to spend a reasonable amount of time and effort actually teaching their kids things. I’m not saying I’m a super-mom or anything, but I’ve noticed that whenever parents complain that their kids are behind on something (not walking yet, not talking yet, doesn’t feed themselves, etc) there seems to be a distinct lack of the parents actually attempting to teach the child. For instance, a couple I met was complaining that their three-year-old didn’t seem to be talking enough. What I noticed, as they were complaining and talking about taking the kid to speech therapists, was that they barely every seemed to actually talk to the kid themselves. Now let me ask you this: how do you expect a kid to learn how to talk if you don’t show him how to?

It’s no different when teaching kids to read and enjoy books…they’re only going to catch on to it if you put forth the time and effort to show them what’s so great about it. Take my daughter, for instance. She can’t read of course – she’s only recently 2 – but we started showing her letters and teaching her what they are when she was only about a year old. We were patient with her and showed them to her whenever we could, and applauded her whenever she learned something. The result is that now, at 2 years old, she knows all her letters and the order they go in, and she’s almost able to sing the alphabet song. Now when she looks through books she’ll point out letters and be so proud of herself, and when one of us reads something to her sometimes she’ll point at the words and mumble along…she understands the concept even if she doesn’t have the skills to actually read it yet, and the fact that she’s learning makes her happy and excited.

That’s the key, I think, to fostering a love of reading in children. Teach them, because (particularly when they’re young) they want to learn, make it fun, and show them how proud you are when they accomplish something. If you put in the effort, they’ll put in the effort, and the more they do, the more they’ll enjoy it.

(Also, for the record, Sesame Street is still the best educational program around, bar none. Ernie is totally the main reason my daughter can already count to 13.)