By Dr. Lauren Starnes, Chief Academic Officer at The Goddard School
Cognitive and social-emotional learning is constantly taking place in young children, and parents play a pivotal role in their child’s development. The Goddard School supports an inquiry-based approach in the early learning environment, which ideally begins in a child’s home.
As children explore and experiment through new environments and experiences, here are some tips on how parents can serve as a guide as children become active participants in their own learning.
Create a space for asking questions.
Curiosity is, without a doubt, the fuel that drives lifelong learning. When children want to know something, they learn it faster, more deeply and more lastingly.
Studies show that when preschool-aged children are actively engaged with an attentive adult, they ask an average of 76 information-seeking questions per hour. However, long before children have the verbal skills to ask their first questions, they reveal curiosity about aspects of themselves, the people in their environments, and the world around them. They explore endlessly, with both a sense of wonder and determination. Parents can, and should, encourage and support these natural tendencies.
With age, children gain skills in noticing patterns and irregularities in the world, testing hypotheses, making discoveries and constructing new understandings. They may ask, “In the olden days, was everything black and white?” or “Why is the moon called the moon?” Children pair their seemingly endless questions with attempts to draw others’ attention to aspects of their environment that intrigue them.
Strategic guidance by caregivers can help children build on their initial states of curiosity by turning their interests into purposeful inquiry. Allow them to ask the question, and then provide a sound response, no matter how trivial the question may seem.
Engage in your child’s playtime.
Play is the laboratory for learning, not just entertainment as many caregivers once thought. It is a significant contributor to intellectual, emotional, language and social development. The brain does not treat play and learning as separate constructs. Play is associated with a host of developmental benefits, such as cooperative behavior, perspective taking, language skills, emotion regulation, and more. Without adequate opportunities for play inside and out, children often burn out from academic pressures as early as the fourth grade.
When a child’s play is engaged with peers, they gain social and emotional skills when they make efforts to create games and coordinate activities with each other. For example, children learn self-regulation when they develop and play rule-based games, and they learn perspective when they negotiate dramatic play themes with others.
Adults provide a valuable contribution to children’s play experiences when they find the sweet spot between directing children’s play and removing themselves from children’s play. Parents can allow children to lead by assigning them a role in play situations, engaging the child with fully-present conversation. Through material and interaction support, parents can help children identify associations and make connections to previously learned skills. For example, Erika is playing with dolls and tells her mother to get another doll and play tea party with her. The parent can then remind Erika of a time when they ate at a restaurant. The parent can have her doll ask Erika’s doll what she should do and what manners she should show. The parent is then pointedly connecting the play experience to authentic learning, while still allowing the child to lead the play. These simple measures teach children about cooperation and creativity while creating lasting memories that fuel development.
Recognize and affirm their interests.
Simply put, children flourish in settings in which their interests are recognized and supported. Focusing on what children are exploring and interested in has a significant impact on how and what they are learning.
If a child shows an interest in Lego, for example, the more a parent can engage with the child and encourage them to continue to develop that interest, the longer the child will focus and sustain interest on that, and the more curiosity it will trigger.
When learning has meaning, context and interest it has a stickiness. By creating an environment that allows for experimentation, collaboration and play, parents can help children make connections between what they know and new experiences they encounter.
We all want to feel affirmed and like we belong, and for a young child, getting that from their family members is critically important. With young children, this ongoing practice is necessary to learn how to be a friend, how to engage with others, advocate for themselves and develop self-management skills. A child’s earliest relationship is with their parent, and by acknowledging and engaging with a child’s interests, parents serve as a catalyst for a child’s learning throughout their life.
For more information about The Goddard School and our approach to inquiry-based learning, visit goddardschool.com.
Amber is the proud mother to four beautiful children, Damian (27), Rosaleigh (14), Carlyn (11), and Naomi (8). Her family also includes four cats.
She loves being a stay-at-home mom and feels blessed to be able to care for her children full-time and provide them with so many opportunities through Metro Detroit Mommy. In addition to Metro Detroit Mommy, Amber has a passion for hosting karaoke with Malibu Entertainment. She enjoys the metro Detroit nightlife especially, singing, dancing and meeting new people.