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The Best Ways For Children To Learn

Updated on December 22, 2009

Our knowledge of the ways in which humans learn and develop has simply exploded within the last 10 years. Previously it was thought that the brain is wired from one's genetics, we now know that this is not the case. When a child is born, they are eager and ready to learn, the brain has great potential for development and early experiences greatly influence the way they turn out.

The activities you do with young children help enable them to become active learners, problem solvers and critical thinkers later in life.

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How Babies Are Wired To Learn

Unless you are living in extreme poverty or isolation, the natural, everyday environment in which families and children find themselves promote strong brain development. Children with loving parents who enjoy them, play with them, and offer guidance and suggestions as they explore their environment will be healthy, emotionally well-adjusted, and psychologically advanced.

As a result of millions of years of evolution, the critical growth of the brain that takes place early in life is programmed by nature to unfold. This includes our eyesight, our speech, and probably our athletic abilities too. This means the brain grows normally as it encounters these experiences in its environment and builds upon itself.

Not all things fall into this category of course, your brain cannot assume you will encounter a game of chess for example. Things like this are cultural acquisitions and are designed to be picked up by the brain throughout our lives. These skills do not depend at all on early learning. They depend on our unique cultural experiences. This continues throughout life and fosters new brain growth and refines existing brain growth.

All of this being said, studies point to three main conclusions with regards to early brain development. First, there appear to be more and less receptive periods for learning certain behaviors, like language learning and visual learning. Second, and importantly, while young children do better than say grown adults, there does not appear to be a "critical period" that is suddenly over at a certain point in time for learning these behaviors. That is, the window for language learning does not snap shut after the first three years of life. Third, responsive periods do not seem to exist at all for the experience dependent behaviors (those related to cultural experiences) like chess and gymnastics.

Einstein Never Used Flashcards:

How Our Children Really Learn--and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

The basic message to take home here is that you, the parent, are not the sculptor of your childs' brain. There is no evidence that particular educational programs, methods or techniques are effective for brain development. Beware of flashy product lines used in advertising marketed to adults to sell products for brain development. For example, there is no evidence to suggest that listening to Mozart will make your child a math genius or a budding architect or even increase his general intelligence. Certainly listening to Mozart is not bad for your child, but you could also just as well sing lullabies, play The Beatles or the Indigo Girls or any other music you like.

Learn more about brain development and how our children really learn from the excellent text and resource for much of this page: Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, PH.D., and Roderta Michnick Golinkoff, PH.D

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Think Outside The Box

Your child will learn more when you play with them rather than leave him alone with some fancy 'state-of the-art' devices with claims to building his brain. Take your cues from your child. Notice what he or she is interested in and find natural opportunities to make to make them even more enriching.

Move away from memorizing and towards learning in context. If we read to our children when they ask what is written on the cereal box or street sign, we are implicitly teaching that reading is fun and has utility, and that letters combing to make words and each letter or combination of letters has a different sound. Some of the gadgets on the market today offer wonderful opportunities for performing but fail to create genuine learning. Learning is the most powerful and lasting when it occurs in context.

There is no need to travel to expensive theme parks or exotic locations to build brains. Step outside and witness the miracle of blades of grass blowing in the wind or of ants building homes, of all that teaming life that thrives right down in the dirt. For children, the yard is a world of bustling activity, science lessons and lessons about nature and color. Look, listen and feel with all five senses at the wonders of nature. Stimulate imagination by asking your child what the world would look like from the perspective of an ant, what sounds would you hear? What would you be afraid of? What instruments can you make from sticks and stones? Bring out a blanket and lie out with your eyes closed, what do you hear? Even children as young as 2 enjoy these games. Make up some stories together and make up some games. There are hours of fun and games in each patch of backyard no matter how small.

Sharing Nature With Children

(20th Anniversary Edition, Revised and Expanded)

An activity as simple as rolling a ball back and forth on the living room floor can be fascinating to your young child. How do you roll it so it lands near the other person? How hard to you have to push? What angle do you have to use? This is experience learning at its best, with math and physics thrown into boot and it costs no more than the price of a ball. Look around your house and notice all the things you already have that are fun and engaging - pots and pans, plastic containers, laundry baskets, large boxes, blankets for blanket forts and so on. Never underestimate the power of ordinary objects when examined with a child's eye.

All of these experiences, free and fun and unfettered with concerns, all build better brains.

Explore Nature With Your Child

One Small Square: Woods
One Small Square: Woods

One Small Square: Woods is part of an amazing series of books which I highly recommend (including desert, seashore, your own backyard and many more) in which children unlock the mysteries of the woods,one small square at a time.This book is filled with fun-filled experiments and activities which use only simple equipment. It is beautifully illustrated and includes a picture field guide.

A Kid's Summer EcoJournal: With Nature Activities for Exploring the Season
A Kid's Summer EcoJournal: With Nature Activities for Exploring the Season

For the older child, there is an EcoJournal for each of the four seasons. Each one invites kids to write about nature on beautifully illustrated pages. It's also packed with nature activities based on sound science that teach them to love the world of nature.


Learning About Quantitiy

Studies have shown that the very best way to learn about numbers us to manipulate objects, line them up, compare sets and so on. There simply is no substitution for playing with objects and the good news is, you children already love to do this without being told. Throw out that video and computer game that shows infants shapes and get your child playing with them.

Find numbers everywhere. Just as you can find rectangles in buildings and hexagons in stop signs, numbers appear wherever you turn. When we deal the same number of cards or dominos to each player and when we count how many party favors we need for our guests, we are doing math. Taking a child shopping provides a gold mine of learning opportunities from comparing the sizes of boxes to the prices and shapes. Children will learn much more at the supermarket looking for big and small apples than they will from computer games.

Games such as the card game of war is math at its best and money offers wonderful opportunities not only for counting but for creating sets. The key is to follow the lead of your child and play games they love that foster mathematical curiosity. We all learn better when something is meaningful. At around age 3 or 4 children love to play games, when your child can roll the dice and move their piece, they are using one - to - one correspondence and the outcome really matters to the child!

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Learning Language

Parents don't need to be teachers of language but they do need to be partners. Children learn the rules of language simply by being spoken to and by hearing language all around them. Invite them to engage in conversation, allowing them to offer their insights and tell you new things. Make the space for their contribution even if it is only a babble and slow down enough so that you hear what they have to say.

Observe your child and talk about what they are observing and doing. Remember, it should be their agenda not yours when you go somewhere like a museum or the zoo. It takes longer for them to absorb the information and everything is new.

Build on what your child says. Scientists call this "expansion" and is seems to make a big difference for children, probably because we are showing them that there are other more complete ways to say what they just said. It also adds information that they can retrieve and use at another time.

Be the one to start conversations rather than stop them. Ask questions and probe for answers. Ask specific questions rather than broad ones. Don't be afraid to use baby talk. Research shows that it is fine to use baby talk with its exaggerated singsong intonation and high pitch. This gets your child interested in the language dance. Some research indicates that baby talk actually has some real advantages for children. The high pitched talk seems to indicate that this language is for them. Babies prefer to listen to baby talk that adult talk. It also conveys emotion to children so it is highly communicative. And because baby talk exaggerates language's properties, it helps babies figure things out about the way language works. There is no evidence that baby talk stunts growth, on the contrary, there is evidence that baby talk heightens infants' attention to language and its properties.

If you wish to introduce a second language, do so in a real world situation. Leave the toys that label things in French or Spanish behind. Research shows that children who are learning two languages do best when the languages are kept somewhat separate, so dad speaks one language and mom another or one language is spoken at home and one at school.

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What Do We Know About Brain Development?

The information presented in this section comes from the following site:

As scientists learn more about how the human brain develops, many of our ideas about the brain are being challenged. We are learning that some old ideas actually were myths that are being replaced with new facts and understanding. Consider the following examples:

Brain Development - Myth or Fact?

Myth: At birth the brain is fully developed, just like one's heart or stomach.

Fact - Most of the brain's cells are formed before birth, but most of the connections among cells are made during infancy and early childhood.

Myth: The brain's development depends entirely on the genes with which you are born.

Fact - Early experience and interaction with the environment are most critical in a child's brain development.

Myth: A toddler's brain is less active than the brain of a college student.

Fact - A 3-year-old toddler's brain is twice as active as an adult's brain.

Myth: Talking to a baby is not important because he or she can't understand what you are saying.

Fact - Talking to young children establishes foundations for learning language during early critical periods when learning is easiest for a child.

Myth: Children need special help and specific educational toys to develop their brainpower.

Fact - What children need most is loving care and new experiences, not special attention or costly toys. Talking, singing, playing and reading are some of the key activities that build a child's brain.

Some Classic And Simple Counting Favorites

Tupperware Shape O Toy Yellow and Green
Tupperware Shape O Toy Yellow and Green

Classic rattle, shape-sorter and counting toy that grows with a child. As a rolling rattle, it has lots of open spaces for infants to grab. Toddlers can use the 10 pieces to match the shapes on the toy, allowing them to identify shapes and develop coordination and dexterity. Each piece also has a number on one side with the corresponding number of dots on the other to teach preschoolers number recognition and counting.

Uncle Goose Classic ABC Blocks - Made in USA
Uncle Goose Classic ABC Blocks - Made in USA

A timeless favorite, blocks for stacking and counting, each with a letter, animal picture, number and math symbol

Melissa & Doug Geometric Stacker - Wooden Educational Toy
Melissa & Doug Geometric Stacker - Wooden Educational Toy

an added twist on the classic ring stacker toddlers are so fond of. Fun colors and different shapes.


Limit Sugar Intake

The consumption of added sugars to children and adolescents diets has increased dramatically in the United States. The average person eats one hundred and fifty three pounds of sugar a year. That is equivalent to over a half a cup a day. You may think this massive increase in sugar consumption in the diet plays no role in the learning abilities of your child but think again.

Sugar can be a contributor to learning disabilities and hyperactivity. Sugar intake affects the educational process. Learning requires optimal health and brain function. When a child eats inadequately or consumes foods deficient in proper nutrients, the possibilities for learning abilities increase. With the belief that food affects behavior, memory and learning ability, diet, and nutrition may be the cause and the remedy Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Sugar affects a child's ability to pay attention and can attribute to symptoms of being overactive and irritable.

Sugar has addictive properties and can cause a chemical addiction as severe as other drug addictions. Many children suffer from an addiction to sugar, eating it regularly instead of the important nutritious foods their bodies and minds need to function well. Excess sugar can cause health problems and affect your child to be more susceptible to illness. Over consumption of sugar makes children susceptible to yeast overgrowth, which can lead to chronic nasal congestion, eczema, or throat and ear infections.

Sugar hinders proper absorption of Vitamin B into the body and its cells. Vitamin B is necessary to endorse cognitive thinking, coordination, and memory. When there is a lack of Vitamin B, a child's blood sugar can drop about 20 minutes after eating sugar, which leads to a lack of oxygen to the brain. The lack of oxygen to the brain can cause forgetfulness and affect ability to concentrate. Sugar increases adrenaline levels, which can also interfere with learning as well as increase anxiety and irritability.

Sugar Shock!:

How Sweets and Simple Carbs Can Derail Your Life-- and How YouCan Get Back on Track

Be wary of sugar in 'healthy' foods. Fruit juices are thought by many parents to be a healthy option. Think again. Juices are primarily refined sugars and do not have the same classification as a fruit or a whole food. When a fruit is juiced, the fiber becomes removed and unless the freshly squeezed juice is consumed immediately, most of the nutrients are lost. Therefore, Fruit juices contain little or no nutritional value.

Sugar has become an American symbol of reward. The average American parent encourages and tells their child, "eat your dinner and you will be allowed to have your dessert". Behavior modification therapy and classes reward children with candy when they complete assignments or demonstrate good behavior. As a society, we must question the type of message sent and taught to our children. family and parental modeling needs to promote healthier lifestyles and healthier food choices.

For detailed information on how sugar affects health and behavior I recommend Sugar Shock! By Connie Bennett and Stephen T Sinatra an excellent text that discusses the shocking impact of sugar and simple carbohydrates on learning, aging, and quality of life.

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Limit TV Time

With television programs-and even a cable channel-designed and marketed specifically for babies, whether kids under two years of age should be watching becomes an important question. While we are learning more all the time about early brain development, we do not yet have a clear idea how television may affect it. Some studies link early TV viewing with later attention problems, such as ADHD. One study found that TV viewing before age three slightly hurt several measures of later cognitive development, but that between ages three and five it slightly helped reading scores

Science tells us that children need active, engaging activities that are interactive with other children and adults. Educational television can teach children some vocabulary but television and computer games don't build on children's talk or ask questions. If you allow your child to watch television, it is always best to watch with them so that you can discuss what they see.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no television viewing under the age of 2, and suggest that maternal, child, and household characteristics are more influential in a child's cognitive development. Contrary to marketing claims and some parents' perception that television viewing is beneficial to children's brain development, no evidence of such benefit has been found.

Pediatricians strongly oppose targeted programming, especially when it's used to market toys, games, dolls, unhealthy food and other products to toddlers. Any positive effect of television on infants and toddlers is still open to question, but the benefits of parent-child interactions are proven. Under age two, talking, singing, reading, listening to music or playing are far more important to a child's development than any TV show.

In addition, TV can discourage and replace reading Reading requires much more thinking than television, and we know that reading fosters young people's healthy brain development. Kids from families that have the TV on a lot spend less time reading and being read to, and are less likely to be able to read.

Finally, there have been thousands of studies that investigate the link between violence and television viewing. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. Even in G-rated, animated movies and DVDs, violence is common-often as a way for the good characters to solve their problems. Every single U.S. animated feature film produced between 1937 and 1999 contained violence, and the amount of violence with intent to injure has increased over the years. Even "good guys" beating up "bad guys" gives a message that violence is normal and okay. Many children will try to be like their "good guy" heroes in their play. Children imitate the violence they see on TV. Children under age eight cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, making them more vulnerable to learning from and adopting as reality the violence they see on TV. It also makes them more frightened and upset causing bad dreams and anxiety. Repeated exposure to TV violence makes children less sensitive toward its effects on victims and the human suffering it causes. Viewing TV violence reduces inhibitions and leads to more aggressive behavior. Again, if you do allow television viewing, watch with your kids so you can discuss what is happening, teach your kids to be media savvy and know what they are watching.

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More Simple and Classic Toys and Activities For Learning

Nice of you to Stop By - I would love to hear your comments

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      If we are talking about old scoohl, kindergarten times then any and all of the Clifford the Big Red Dog books (partially because I always wanted a dog and parents never let me). If we are going by elementary status then Where the Red Fern Grows (again partially because of my love of dogs. If we are talking middle scoohl then the Ender's Game series, mainly for is philosophical innuendos. Good question. April 01, 2011

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      3 years ago

      Yup, that shuold defo do the trick!

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am an mom of three looking for information on how to help my oldest learn his abc's and his counting. Here's a little bit about Cam'Ron he is 4 years old and go's to a very good school but as I sit in on his class I sometimes notice he's just dragging along the teacher maybe hasn't noticed it yet but when the whole class is counting he's not really counting or say things unless he knowns the answer. I can get him to count the number with me and sometimes (very few) but sometimes even alone. But he says it and then forgets it and where back at step one again. Same way with his name he can say it and reconizge that, that is his name but he can't spell it. I know most kids are at the age where they can even tie there shoes but I can't get him to understand that part either as much as I am working with him on these things it is only starting to frustate me more each day. Is there any one who may have solutions to this issue that can help.

    • kwhiting644 lm profile image

      kwhiting644 lm 

      7 years ago

      I like this site. I am a teacher and Mom. I look forward to readig more of your sites. They are set up nicely also.

    • Brookelorren LM profile image

      Brookelorren LM 

      8 years ago

      Great job. I'm a homeschool teacher, and I'm surprised at what my 3 year old has picked up just from his older sister.

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 

      8 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      This is right on target. Unfortunately kids spend way too much time on various screens from TV to video games to computer pages like facebook. If parents did limit that stuff and promote half of what you have here it would make a huge difference.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      8 years ago from Royalton

      Children thrive on creative, hands-on learning activities. Sadly I see these types of activities being taken away from children at earlier and earlier ages. There was a time 20 or so years ago that hands-on learning was even being encouraged in high school Now it is being taken away from even two year olds.

      Thank you for your very wise lens. I will be lensrolling to many of my lenses and passing it on to young mothers. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective.

    • eclecticeducati1 profile image


      8 years ago

      Great information!!! Wonderful lens!

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Excellent lens and great advice including limiting the sugar intake and proper nutrition. You did a great job capturing some critical points here that can help parents. I'm lens-rolling to my Proper Nutrition, Diet, Exercise & Your Immune System as it has a video section to teach kids about the importance of the immune system.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      9 years ago from United States

      Excellent Advice! I am lensrollling this lens to my My Morning Glories lens. It may not sound like it belongs there, but don't let the name fool you. It is about the Morning Glories my son planted for me when he was just a little fellow!

    • profile image


      9 years ago


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for all the insightful information! It's really helpful to have a site like this as a resource. LOVE the pictures :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow, terrific information!


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