Children are natural learners. Yet, they become disinterested and apathetic to learning at times. Though factors like physical and mental wellbeing have a bearing on this, the time and effort invested by parents in a child’s journey of learning make a lot of difference. It’s important that the approach to providing the right environment for learning is tailored to suit the child’s age and developmental stage.
Preschoolers (Ages 3–5)
A preschooler learns through activities. Give her enough stimuli to explore this beautiful world. Here are some ideas, and the ways they help:
1. Colours of life: Give the child crayons and colour pencils. Let him express himself. Ask him questions about his picture while he draws.
- He will develop both imagination and motor skills.
2. Play-way: The most natural activity for a preschooler is play. Ensure your child gets enough time outdoors to run about and play freely with others of her own age.
- She will establish connections with people. She will get to experiment with ideas and strategy, which will boost her intellectual development.
3. Power of praise: A word of encouragement makes a load of difference to a child. Praise him even for the tiniest improvement. He may not have drawn a perfect picture, but appreciate the effort he has taken.
- He will be encouraged to try new things and learn more.
4. Story time: Read to your preschooler. Ask questions while you read; make the child participate in story-telling sessions.
- Stories enrich the mind and imagination and help the child develop empathy.
5. Work-way: The most joyful learning happens when you include your child in daily chores like buying and sorting vegetables, clearing the dining table and folding clothes.
- Use the opportunity to teach her numbers, colours and shapes; see how quickly and effortlessly she learns.
Primary schoolers (Ages 6–9)
This is the time a child is introduced to homework, exams and grades at school. It can be a very exciting journey provided parents don’t get too pre-occupied with academic performance. Many a child loses his love for learning at this stage because of the pressure to ‘perform’. So, parents need to watch out! Here are practical things you can do:
1. Get out: Children of this age love outings. Take your child on day trips or visits to parks, the museum and the beach. Each trip can be a treasure trove of learning. Talk to her about the places you visit; encourage and answer her questions. Tell her about your own visits to similar places as a child.
2. Join them: Set aside your own likes and dislikes, and take an interest in what your child loves. If he likes to draw, find out about art and encourage him in this pursuit. If it’s swimming he enjoys, take him to a pool, and try to learn swimming yourself.
3. Roll the dice: Board games help children develop various skills. Spelling games, number games, puzzles and traditional games involve reasoning, critical thinking and math. And they’re fun too!
4. Be Constructive: Be positive in your approach. While your child is learning to play football, don’t dwell on how many times he missed shooting a goal; instead praise him for that one time he managed to send the ball in. Positive reinforcement instils a love for learning.
5. Share your world: Involve your child in your world. If she wants to know what you are doing on the laptop, don’t brush her off by saying, “This is office work; you won’t understand.” Explain what you are doing in simple terms. She will learn something new.
6. Welcome questions: When your child asks questions, irrespective of whether they’re ‘smart’ or ‘silly’, always reply and show that you’re pleased with his curiosity.
Pre-teens (Ages 10–12)
1. Lend a ear: At this stage the child has started forming opinions and having his own points of view. Instead of crushing them and imposing your own ideas, hear him out. He may not agree with you on everything, as he did earlier. Accept the differences of ideas and opinions gracefully, even if he sounds impertinent at times.
2. Encourage research: Children in this age-group are required to have greater depth of knowledge on various topics, and produce original work. This is daunting to students who have not been encouraged to do research themselves. So, take an interest in the subjects your child learns at school, and guide her to read up more on those topics. Follow up with discussions.
- Caution: Keep it casual and friendly, or the dinner table will turn into a classroom!
3. Channelise creatively: Channelise your child’s abundant energy and enthusiasm into a sport, music or art – whatever he enjoys most. Encourage him to read more about it, and become knowledgeable about his interest. Encourage a hobby. It could be gardening (potted plants on the balcony work) or doing crossword puzzles.
- Caution: Take care not to force him into learning something you yourself wanted to, but could not.
4. Cultivate the arts: A sense of aesthetics and arts is fundamental to the overall development of a child. Watch good films together, go for art shows and music concerts, discuss good books with your child.
Teens (Ages 13–18)
Teenage is an interesting though challenging phase. Often, the child’s learning curve goes down sharply and parents complain of indiscipline and rebellion. The child, standing at the threshold of adulthood, is understandably confused.
Here are some suggestions to help your teenager continue to love learning:
1. Give freedom: The sense of the self is very strong at this stage and the teenager craves for freedom and autonomy. Advise her, but give her freedom to choose subjects to study, clothes to wear (although you may not like them!) and chalk out her own timetable. That way, she will learn to take responsibility for her choices.
- Caution: Advice is important, but don’t overdo it. That will only make her try to avoid you.
2. Give respect: Treat your teenager with the same respect you would give an adult. Discuss politics, social and environmental issues and encourage him to speak his mind.
3. Lead by example: If you want your child to read, make sure you read every day. If you want her to keep her desk tidy, see that your workplace is neat. She will imbibe and learn most by observation.
4. Keep talking: Learning happens with constant engagement. Keep talking to your teenager although at times he may not show much interest. That’s natural.
- Caution: Don’t impose your views on various issues, offer suggestions instead. That works better.
5. Make criticism constructive: The child should understand that when you criticise her, you aim to help her improve, you’re not pointing a finger at her weaknesses. Convey that by your language and tone.
6. Encourage healthy debate: An atmosphere of healthy dissent and debate is essential for a child. He will learn other points of view even if there is disagreement.
7. Make learning relevant: Children love to learn when studies are relevant to their lives, and they find connections. For example, a lesson on India’s freedom struggle can be made relevant by discussing the idea of freedom and their current rights and duties.
Learning is one lifelong journey. If we parents enjoy doing things with our children, every activity becomes special. A long walk, a visit to the zoo, rustling up a meal, looking at old photographs and telling them stories - every activity turns into a joyous learning opportunity.
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