Remember when your child was just a tiny baby? Look at him now, bounding around the house, eager to tell you what he has started reading in kindergarten. You can’t help but feel proud of him. Maybe you’re even hoping that he will grow up to be a paediatrician someday! So, all the more, you should start grooming your child.
Some experts believe that learning begins before birth. Talking to your baby while he’s still in the womb enhances the expectation of parenthood and helps you bond with your baby at an early stage. After birth, your child learns when he acquires new experiences and information that shape his personality, abilities and actions.
Learning is a lifelong process and the first five or six years of your child’s life are most crucial. His development during these formative years will pave the way for his future academic, creative and social accomplishments.
HOW YOUR CHILD LEARNS
Most little boys have this fascination with insects and frogs, and are constantly scaring their moms by bringing these creatures home. And then there are little girls who like trying on their moms’ makeup and clothes. At the same time, children from age three onwards are always full of questions, like “Why does this bug have six legs? Why are your shoes so big? How come dad doesn’t wear make-up? Why, mom, why?”
All this may test a parent’s patience at times. But it is also a sign that the children are eager to learn and discover as much as possible about things going on around them.
This is part of our children’s natural inclination to learn. By asking questions, playing with bugs or smearing on lipstick, they are constantly trying to understand how the world works. All the while, their brains are absorbing and making sense of all this information, and adding to their consciousness, which advances their intellect.
That’s not all. Children will then have to actively learn to use their new knowledge. In order to use it, they have to understand the information, decide if it is relevant and learn how to apply it in situations or solve problems with it.
Child psychologists have discovered that children learn a lot through play. Symbolic play such as ‘house’ or ‘tea-time’ helps your child ‘experience’ and better understand the adult world. Shape-sorting games and simple puzzles enhance your child’s analytical skills. Sports and ‘formal games’, such as Snakesand- Ladders or checkers, help your child learn to observe rules.
Another way your child can learn is through work. Meaningful work helps to nurture his mental development and teach him about responsibility and independence. It will be fun for your child, especially if you encourage him to think of ‘work’ as ‘play’. He can perform simple tasks like setting the table or picking up his toys, which he sees as helping the adults. This will make him feel useful and ‘grown-up’.
If your child has just learnt something and really loves it, he will want to do it over and over again. Playing with the same puzzle, for instance. You may wonder what the thrill is in playing with the same thing for more than 20 times, as he already knows how to solve it. This is just his way of learning, and perfecting, a particular skill.
WHAT YOUR CHILD LEARNS
What your child learns at home helps prepare him for kindergarten. Give him a head start by introducing him to ABC’s and 123’s in advance. Read books at bedtime from as early as possible, so that he will develop a love for knowledge and stories from these books. Armed with this knowledge, he will have a better time in kindergarten.
Kindergarten prepares your child for primary school, by teaching him simple reading, writing and mathematics. But even before learning these, your child will first learn a few important basic skills. For one, he will learn how to think. Good thinking skills are about being able to process information more effectively. This makes a child a better learner.
Classification is one of the thinking skills your child learns. Here, your child learns to group things with similar characteristics together.
He also learns how to understand the concept of relativity (‘more than’ or ‘less than’) and numbers. Besides these, he also learns reasoning and observation.
While he learns these thinking skills, your child will discover that his explanations are just as important as his answers. For example, when given a set of pictures consisting of three fruits and a book, he will have to explain why he circled the book as the odd one out. His reason could be that the book can’t be eaten, while the fruits can. Even though his explanation is simple, it still shows how he arrived at his answer, which is an important aspect of good thinking.
Besides thinking skills, your child will also learn counting skills. More than just 123, counting abilities teach him how to more accurately differentiate between concepts like ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’. Using everyday things (like toys or food) in addition and subtraction exercises is an effective way for children to grasp basic mathematical concepts. No expensive toys are required here
– old bottle caps or ice-cream sticks can be used.
Language is another important skill. Learning language develops your child’s literacy skills, enhancing his reading, writing and creativity skills later on. It is vital that you pay attention to your child’s language progress, as delay or failure could be major signs of a learning disability (see below). Talk to your child in a normal conversational voice. Do not use baby talk or emulate his speech.
The learning skills described above may sound very intense, but kindergartens teach them in fun ways. They are the basis for more complicated lessons that he will learn in primary school.
HELPING YOUR CHILD LEARN
You are your child’s first and most influential teacher. It is very important to motivate his desire to learn right from infancy.
Praise is one of the ways to motivate your child to learn. Each of his achievements is worthy of praise. It might be the first time he rolled over, or the first time he managed to draw a circle. Praise will encourage your child to want to learn more and do better next time.
Sometimes your child may have difficulty picking up a certain skill. Here, you will need to be patient. You may have to persevere in helping him. Sometimes, you may have to sit back and let him struggle with it on his own, until he gets the hang of it.
Your child will find learning more fun if you are doing it with him. For example, spend at least an hour every day reading something new with him. If possible, let him help out with what you are doing as well. He can handle the simpler house chores while you take care of the more difficult ones. If you are working at the table, let him sit beside you and draw things. This way, he will think that he is as much a part of your work as you are of his.
Even after he has begun kindergarten, you can still help to enhance his education and improve his performance.
A big part of the kindergarten experience is learning social development and being more independent. Your child will be eager to show you that he can do things on his own now. There is no point in coddling him, as this may inhibit him from learning things on his own.
Still, he may need help in doing his homework. This doesn’t mean doing it for him, but rather, helping him figure out why he got stuck. Help him develop his reasoning and problem-solving skills.
If your child is struggling with a subject, don’t lose your temper with him. If he feels that he is being forced into learning something, he will naturally grow to resent it. It is normal for children to have some difficulties in learning certain things. Some children learn things faster than others. Avoid comparing him with his siblings or friends.
If you want to know how your child is doing in kindergarten, talk to his teacher. Together, you can discuss your child’s progress. You can also find out how he is coping with the lessons, getting along with his classmates and generally enjoying himself. The teacher will tell you if your child is not doing well. Both of you can discuss how to help him do better.
These are practical tips that will motivate your child to perform better in kindergarten. What he learns now will take him much further in the coming school years.
LANGUAGE AND LEARNING
You may have heard of children who have dyslexia and cannot read properly. There are other children who have trouble learning mathematics, due to a condition called dyscalculia. There are even children who can’t run, jump or hold a pencil properly, because they have dyspraxia.
These children are not slow or unintelligent. They each have a condition called a learning disability. A learning disability is caused by a problem in the way the child’s brain processes information. This problem impedes his learning ability.
One of the main clues to a learning disability is a delay in the child’s language development.Your child begins learning language at birth. Language is more than just being able to make sounds. Language is a system of symbols that your child uses to learn, express himself and exchange information.
You can mark your child’s language milestones starting from infancy. By the time he is 6 months old, he should be cooing. It helps him learn the rules of conversation. He should be able to look at you when you are speaking to him, smile in response, and take turns with you in cooing and babbling.
By the time he is a year old, he should know his name and be able to say his first proper word. By 2 years old, he should be uttering two-word phrases, like ‘mama play’. The complexity of his sentences continues to increase throughout toddlerhood, right into his kindergarten and school years.
If your child is not meeting these language milestones, take him to his paediatrician! Slow language development is one of the first signs of a learning disorder.
Even if it is not a learning disability, your child could have a hearing impairment or other developmental disorders, such as autism. All these conditions will affect his learning.
The worst thing you can do for your child is to wait until he goes to kindergarten or even primary school. He has many years in between that are crucial to his learning. Early recognition of a learning disability means that you can take the necessary steps to help him.
Even though there are no cures for learning disabilities, there are remedial measures (such as special teaching methods) that can help our children resume normal learning. Most importantly, they have to realise that it is not their fault, and that other people with learning disabilities have gone on to achieve success in various academic and sporting fields.