How Do Children Learn?

Group of children in a primary school in Paris...

Group of children in a primary school in Paris Español (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your child is an individual and different from all others. The way your child learns best depends on many factors: age, learning style, personality. Read the notes below, and think about your child. This will help you to choose activities and methods that will suit your child best.

Children pass through different stages of learning

1. A baby or infant learns about the world by reacting through the senses.

  • Seeing shapes and different colors through the eyes.
  • Do you ever wonder why babies always put things in their mouth? This means that they are learning to explore objects around them by using their mouth.
  • They learn through touching the different shapes, textures and softness of things.

2. From about two until seven years old the child starts to develop the ability to reason and think, but they will only think about what’s best for them.

  • They start understanding the concept of cause and effect.
  • They start to learn how to operate simple toys and equipment, and thus can explore more about the world around them.

3. After the age of about seven a child usually becomes less self-centered and can look outside themselves.

  • They begin to grow concern for other people.
  • They start socializing more with friends and family.

4. By the age of 12 most children can reason and test out their ideas about the world.

  • Children begin experimenting to test out their ideas.
  • They become more curious about the world.
  • They begin to have small goals and ambitions.

Younger children are ready to acquire the concepts of number, color and shape but are not ready for abstract grammatical rules. It is best to keep learning simple and easy for a child.

What kind of learner is your child?

It is important to understand how your child likes to learn best. Which are the child’s dominant senses? Do they like pictures and reading? If so you can encourage your child to use drawings, pictures, maps or diagrams as part of their learning.

1. Verbal Learner

  • Some children like listening to explanations and reading aloud. You could use reading stories to encourage this kind of child. Most children enjoy learning through songs, chants and rhymes.

2. The Explorer

  • Does your child like to touch things and physically move about? Some children have tons of energy to burn off! You could play games to get them moving or running around, acting out rhymes or stories or even dancing!

3. Problem Solver

4. Logical Learner

  • Other children require logical, clear explanations of rules and patterns, or like to work out the rules for themselves. They may be good at maths too. For these children activities such as word puzzles, reading and writing puzzles, problem-solving, putting things in order or categories and computer games provide ideal opportunities for learning.

What kind of interaction does your child prefer?

1. Extrovert

  • Some children are outgoing and sociable and can learn a language quickly because they want to communicate. They are not worried about making mistakes. If your child is outgoing they may do best learning in groups with other children

2. Introvert

  • Other children are quieter and more reflective. They learn by listening and observing what is happening. They don’t like to make mistakes and will hang back until they are sure. A quieter child may need more private, quiet time to feel more secure about learning a language. You can provide this in many ways – even through the bedtime story in English.

Motivating your child

  1. Learning needs to be fun and stress-free. Encourage them to follow their own interests and personal likes. For example if your child likes football he or she will probably like to read a story about football even if the level is a little difficult. Interest and motivation often allows children to cope with more difficult language.
  2. Try to provide as many fun activities as you can for learning English. Songs and music, videos and DVDs, any kind of game especially computer games are motivating for all children.

For how long can your child concentrate?

Children can usually only concentrate for short periods of time – when you are doing an activity with your child, using flashcards for example, or doing a worksheet, make sure that you stop or change activity when your child is bored or restless. This might be after only a few minutes.

Correcting your child’s mistakes

Children respond well to praise and encouragement – let your child know when they have done something well. Don’t criticise them too much when they make a mistake. It’s natural to make mistakes when learning a language. Don’t pick up on every grammatical mistake – encourage your child to use English to communicate.

Repetition and routines

Children need to repeat language items many times to get them to ‘stick’ so don’t be afraid to repeat games or do several different activities with the same language topic or set of words. Children often love to repeat the same song or story as it gives them a sense of confidence and familiarity.
Establishing a regular routine for homework is also important. You can check what they have to do for homework and set up a regular time for doing it.

Source: Sue Clarke, British Council