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Stimulating and learning opportunities for young children

Children rapidly acquire a range of skills including physical, emotional and cognitive capabilities during early childhood, which is also a critical period for brain development. These early experiences have a significant impact on their development; thus interactions and relationships with their parents are important. Learning opportunities are abundant in everyday life, but parents need to be aware and use these opportunities to allow the child to develop cognitive skills and knowledge. For example, being in a supermarket creates an opportunity for a child to learn about various foods and fruits and parents can discuss what healthy items are and what nutrients they provide to the body. By making learning fun and engaging, the child becomes more receptive to new things later on in life.

There are many ways to help young children develop their potential to learn, and to develop abilities that will allow them to overcome any challenges they may face in the future. By creating stimulating and learning opportunities for your child at a young age, it will help them succeed later in life. Music and chess are two ways of allowing children to have fun yet work on their cognitive abilities and develop concentration, patience and perseverance at the same time.

Music

Playing a musical instrument is not only fun and relaxing, but it cultivates many skills that will be useful for your children throughout life. Music lessons develop concentration, creativity, co-ordination, motor skills, relaxation, patience, perseverance and self-confidence. These are all important skills to have when facing future challenges.

An association between learning music and doing well in important areas (such as reading, spelling, mathematics, listening skills, motor skills and mental abilities) has been discovered by researchers.

With the increasing popularity of the internet and computer games, interest in music and the arts has been slowly diminishing. Several studies are showing that studying music can help develop skills needed for learning about computers. Music theory can develop intellectual and emotional skills in young children, as explored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Music also enhances the learning and academic ability of a child, so that they can read and understand mathematics better.

Children with one year of music experience were nearly a grade higher than their non-musically trained peers in reading. Those with 2 years of music training were 2 years ahead in reading. This may be because music can develop spatial-temporal reasoning and visualization as well as making a child more receptive to learning.

What research has shown

1996: Children in primary schools who were given music lessons showed more improvement in reading and maths. They had originally begun at a lower reading and math skill level than the children in the control group. However, after the music lessons, they had caught up to the control group in reading and actually exceeded their levels in maths.

1997: Music training was found to be better than computer instruction in enhancing a child’s abstract reasoning skills. These skills are needed for learning maths and science.

1998: Students who were taught music for 3 years had improved self-esteem, pattern recognition and mental representation scores in a study done at McGill University.

1999: Students whom were experienced in music performance and appreciate had higher SAT scores than students who had no music education. The students with music experience scored 53 points higher on verbal reasoning and 39 points higher on maths for music performance; 61 points more on verbal and 42 points more for music appreciation, thus music appreciation may have a bigger impact than music performance.

Music has many benefits- we have yet to finish researching all the effects of music on body and mind, but it is well established that music has positive effects on a child’s development.

Chess

Children find chess fun as they see it as a “board game” and can be introduced to this game as young as three or when they can grasp the basic concepts of this game.  A child’s brain is easily moulded; when more pathways in their brain is opened up by new experiences, the more capable the brain will be to pick up new skills throughout life. Stretching a child’s brain before the age of 7 will enhance their intellectual capability later in life. Chess may improve mental aptitudes such as problem solving, abstract analysis, spatial aptitude, originality, concentration and memory. These qualities are needed in the school years and beyond. Chess also demonstrates that learning can be fun. It also develops their ability to plan and consider consequences of their actions, enabling them to meet obstacles such as bullying and violence more effectively. They can look at these situations calmly and rationally and consider the possible outcomes that may result and then choose the best approach. Thus, chess not only prepares the child for school and academic learning, but for real life situations that they will encounter. It may also develop self-confidence in the child as they can compete fairly with parents and enjoy the time together.

Children under 5 have a very short attention span so parents need to make learning chess fun and engaging. Teaching concepts can then be followed by exploration of the game. Each session may last less than 15 minutes but their concentration will improve with time so these sessions may be eventually extended to over an hour.

Everyday learning opportunities

Children encounter situations every day that are rich with chances to learn, so learning does not need to occur only in a classroom. Parents need to be aware of and learn how to use the opportunities that arise for their child to learn.

Learning at Home

Every experience is new for a young child so even at home, there are plenty of opportunities to learn. Parents should make use of this by engaging them in everyday chores such as picking up toys. A lesson in colour, identification and sorting skills can then commence whilst getting work done. It may even turn into a game if the child is asked to locate all green items or put small things in one basket to develop their organizational skills too.

Learning on the Go

In a supermarket, parents may discuss with children which foods are the healthiest and what they contain. Kids also learn by absorbing all the information they see and hear around them and tend to emulate their parents. It is not unusual for a child to repeat what they’ve heard their parents say so it is important to be a positive role model for children and to have thoughtful conversations.

Language Skills

One of the best ways to help children develop their language skills is to engage with them in a conversation, by asking open-ended questions that require thought. This will help them both academically and socially. Phrasing a question properly to get children to open up and discuss in detail for example, what their day was like, is key to engaging with them. The key to engaging with children is to phrase a question properly so as to encourage them to open up about things, for example what their day was like. The child’s answer would be more detailed and well thought-out if the question was about the funniest or happiest thing that happened to them rather than just “How was school?”

Having a good grasp of language forms the foundation for children to excel in many areas- comprehension and communication to name a few. To assist children in their learning, word games may be played to expand their vocabularies, increase their confidence and competence in communication. This can be done at home or in the car and can involve games such as rhyming words or thinking of all the animals or colors they can, to foster a love of language and learning in children. Games can be made more difficult as children mature and improve their abilities.

Maths and science

Maths and science can be incorporated into everyday life easily as they are integral to our existence. Kids can help parents measure ingredients in the kitchen or help out in a vegetable garden and learn about photosynthesis at the same time.
Learning does not require a classroom or have to happen at a school; every moment in a child’s waking life should be seized as an opportunity for development and enrichment. Parents are their children’s first and more important teachers.

References

  1. Music: http://parentingaustralia.com.au/early-learning/education/333-giving-your-kids-the-gift-of-music
  2. http://parentingaustralia.com.au/toddler/development/44-promotedev promoting growth adn development in toddlers
  3. http://parentingaustralia.com.au/toddler/development/176-child-care-supporting-children-to-achieve-their-developmental-milestones developmental milestones
  4. Chess: http://parentingaustralia.com.au/early-learning/education/334-chess-brings-big-benefits-to-little-players
  5. http://www.kidsdevelopment.co.uk/everyday-learning-opportunities.html

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