It’s never too early to start.
Now here’s an amazing fact: did you know that babies as young as a few weeks can do maths? Not exactly complicated algebra and logarithms, but your baby will notice if you put two toys in front of her, and then take one away (neuroscientists measure this by the amount of time a baby looks at something before losing interest). Of course, we can’t actually teach our babies to read, write and do arithmetic – that joy comes later – but educationalists acknowledge that the period from birth to three years is crucial in terms of laying solid foundations for future learning.
Forget the flashcards and hot-housing, it’s the simplest pleasures that will delight and inspire your baby. For instance, gazing at your face helps to stimulate your baby’s visual neural networks, and talking or singing to her encourages communication and verbal skills. “If you consider the infinite number of words, as well as the potential mappings between words and meanings, learning a language ought to be impossible,” says George Hollich, Director of the Infant Language Lab at Purdue University, Indiana. “Our studies are determining how babies discover words in the fluent stream of speech, how they learn the meaning of words, and how they come to understand grammar. They also illustrate the importance of talking to babies early and often.”
Your baby will also benefit from a wide variety of experience. “The more sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile experiences we provide for our babies, the more neurons will connect to make sense
of the world,” says Dr Rebecca Shore, an educator at the University of North Carolina. All of these can be stimulated through interactive play, teaching all manner of exciting concepts like cause and effect, shapes, textures and numbers. And the big trick? Don’t concentrate on the ‘learning’ aspect of it all: instead, focus on the association of nice things, and your baby will naturally acquire knowledge, too.
How to start out on the right foot
Whether your child is just starting nursery, or is already working their way through the education system, enjoying the time they spend in the classroom is fundamental to their ability to learn well. “The human brain and body respond positively to laughter with the release of endorphins, epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine, and with more oxygen being taken in,” says board-certified neurologist Judy Willis, who is one of many experts who have recently highlighted the learning benefits of happiness and having fun.
“When a lesson starts with humour, children are more alert and the subsequent information is attached to the positive emotional event as a flashbulb memory,” says Willis. In other words, your child is far more likely to remember something that’s been taught in a joyful and entertaining environment.
A sense of happiness thus promotes learning.
Yet, as a parent, how can you ensure that your child is happy at school? Well, whereas a generation or so ago, you simply packed your children off and let the teachers get on with the business of educating them, these days parents are very much expected to get involved. One of the benefits of this more hands-on approach is that you can now have direct access to your child’s class through volunteering. This is welcomed by most schools. Even if you only go into the classroom once a month, it will give you a good steer on your child’s feelings about school and how they interact with teachers and fellow pupils.
You’ll also get the chance to see how the class is run, while allowing the teachers to get to know you better, too. If, however, work commitments make volunteering impossible, keep the lines of communication open by attending the regular meetings with your child’s teacher, and asking your child about the school day. More often that not, you’ll get the standard, “Fine”, so try things along the lines of who they played with, what was the most fun lesson, etc. That way, you’re more likely to get a real idea of how they feel.
9 Ways to Raise Children with a Genuine Passion for Learning
Follow these effective ways to raise a child who wants to learn — and, not just because they have to!
- Listening Time
The key to communication is listening and kids are no different. Set aside five minutes each day, away from the emails, laptop, gaming, iPhone (and other siblings) to discuss the day and/or any issues, homework etc. Even if you can’t fix it, your attention will reap dividends in the long run.
- Leading by Example
Children learn by observation. If you want them to read, let them see you reading. Likewise doing exercise, learning an instrument, or taking pleasure from nature. It really works.
- Talk about Failure
Teach your child that failure is a stepping-stone to success – ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…’. We take for granted that success requires hard work and overcoming obstacles – but this is not necessarily obvious to children. Kids who love to learn don’t let failures stop them from continuing along their path. And failure teaches resilience and in itself is a learning experience.
- Don’t Over Praise
Explain early on in life that everyone has different talents and that not everyone can win! Modern parents tend to over praise, which can lead to problems when children realise that they are not as ‘brilliant’ or ‘amazing’ as they thought they were. Rather than praising kids for set labels, praise your child’s efforts, not talents.
- Make Learning Fun
Learning is a hundred times harder if it is seen as a chore. Involving games, flash cards, activities songs or basing it on an activity your child loves will make learning much more fun. If you can turn learning into a game, younger children will respond and learn much more quickly.
- Follow their Passion
It’s really impossible to be good at everything – it’s much more important to be excellent at a few things. If your child shows specific interest in subject or topic they will naturally find it a lot easier to excel. Encourage them to explore other areas of this interest. For example if they love painting or draw, she already has a self-driven motivation to learn—nurture that desire with your support, maybe they can read about a special art movement or artist? Or, visit a gallery, take an online course – think outside the box.
- Make Subjects feel Relevant
It may be hard for children to understand why they ‘have to’ study maths, English or Geography – other than because they are made to by their teachers. But, if you can make academic subjects feel relevant to their everyday life or will help them in the future it can help them focus. For example – when travelling or out for a walk, involving your child in the map reading is basic geography, making some homemade modelling clay, play dough or slime is science, get them to help you write the shopping list or weekly food planner and that’s English and spellings and letting them work out some bills and household costs can count as Maths.
- Motivate by Consequence rather than Punishment
We’ve all done it. Used the threat of taking away something our child loves in order to try and motivate them. ‘If you don’t start doing your homework in the next ten minutes, there will be no iPad after dinner.’ Parents are often unclear about the difference between consequences and punishment.
A consequence is the result or direct effect of an action. The goal for giving consequences is to teach a lesson, maintain accountability and maintain safety. That then leads to positive choices.
A Punishment teaches that force, intimidation, and revenge are okay. It can shame, guilt, impose authority, or harm and can come from a place of emotion and a need to maintain control.
- Encourage Downtime
Kids need ample time to discover their interests, explore their creative side and learn about themselves and they can do this best with some free time. Unstructured play, being bored and learning to relax are good things for children. Downtime can promote creative and cognitive development where children can create their own innovations, do some pretend play and have a chance to unwind from studies, exams and ‘schedules’.