This post is sponsored by Finlee & Me.
Imagine your boss enrols you in a work related training course that you have absolutely no interest in. You find the course content dry and boring, and you come away with little in the way of new knowledge or skills. In your opinion, the whole session was a waste of time. In contrast, you enrol yourself in a course to learn more about a passion, a hobby you really enjoy or a topic of interest. You are switched on and motivated to learn, and you come away with lots of new ideas, information and skills that you are excited to try right away. In which scenario do you think the learning is most likely to stick?
As there are for adult learners, there are a number of important factors that increase the likelihood that children will retain what they are learning, that their learning will stick! Here are five important ways to do just that.
1. Learning that sticks engages the child emotionally
Human beings are emotional creatures. The stronger the emotion we associate with information, the more likely it is to be remembered. This type of emotional connection is what makes pursuing a passion or dream so important to us as adults, especially in our careers. We learn best when we have a strong interest in or passion for a topic. This is especially true for children. When children have an emotional connection with a topic, it’s no surprise that the learning is much more likely to stick!
One of the simplest ways to engage with a child on an emotional level is by reading together. Especially when you choose books that your child is likely to connect with. I was talking with a friend earlier this week about the difficulty she has had getting her eight year old son to spend time reading. Everything changed when she found a chapter book series that clicked with his sense of humour. All of a sudden, her son was taking time to read for pleasure, even asking for extra time to read before lights out. He had made an emotional connection with the series.
For younger children, taking regular time to slow down to read (and talk about books) together, provides you both with time to connect. It helps you maintain a close, nurturing relationship and your child learns that you are open to their thoughts, questions, ideas and interests. Reading together also demonstrates that reading, and learning from books, is important or valuable, worthy of your time and attention.
One primary benefit of regular time spent reading to children is that they attain a generally higher aptitude for language and for learning. Adding age appropriate, non-fiction books to your regular story time is one way to encourage a thirst for knowledge and learning. Books such as Questions & Answers About Our World and Questions & Answers About Animals (Usborne) do just that. Similarly, books like This Is a Ball (by Beck & Matt Stanton) and The Book With No Pictures (by B.J. Novak) challenge what children already know or play on their sense of humour to engage them with language and learning.
2. Learning that sticks is hands-on and practical
It is through active interaction with ideas, places, people and resources that children most successfully acquire knowledge. Providing children with time and space to experience, explore, experiment and problem solve is providing them with time to learn.
A hands-on approach is particularly important when tackling very abstract concepts, such as mathematical or scientific learning. Choosing new experiences and resources related to the topic being studied for their value to enrich and extend the learning potential is essential for keeping children actively engaged with the learning taking place.
Choosing good quality, educational toys that encourage children to do and think is one important way that parents can support young children as they learn foundational concepts and skills related to language, mathematics, thinking and reasoning, and physical development.
3. Learning that sticks is meaningful
Children are naturally curious. They are interested to learn about the world, their place in it and how it works, and they learn best when their learning experiences help them to answer questions they have or make sense of the world around them. Children are motivated to learn when they are engaged with or interested in the topic being studied, when the learning is meaningful and relevant to them personally, as this makes the child feel that their learning has purpose.
For younger children finding ways to engage them with real world learning is as simple as letting them find the numbers to press on the keypad as you heat something together in the microwave, as writing and posting a thank you card to a relative, or as letting them count out the money to pay for a purchase at the store. For older children the same principle applies but motivating them might be a matter of choosing topic of specific interest, using popular culture as a vehicle for learning, or setting a bigger goal or challenge to work towards with a reward at the end. Again, it is about finding what will be most meaningful and purpose-filled for the child and the learning concepts they are tackling.
Toddler, preschool and even primary school aged children will often re-visit their real world experiences over and over again through play, reinforcing what they have been learning. Adding props that support this opportunity for real world rehearsal, such as a letter writing kit and post box for mail play or a cash register for money and shopping role play, is a fabulous way to provide time and space for further learning to take place.
4. Learning that sticks is social
When children share what they have learnt, the very act of explaining reinforces their own knowledge. There are many ways that teachers make use of this principle – from having children make oral presentations about what they have learned, to acting as peer tutors or subject matter experts. On a simpler level, one of my favourite ways to add this important social element of sticky learning is through the use of games.
Games add an element of fun and playfulness to learning. They require the child to pay attention and concentrate, to use social conventions such as taking turns and co-operating, they often involve a range of problem solving and strategic thinking skills, and they encourage children to talk together. Carefully selected games provide a fabulous opportunity for the child to apply both knowledge and skills within new contexts. A game has the potential to reinforce the learning through application over and over again, in a social environment that provides instant feedback to the child about what they know, how they are doing, and even how they might improve their performance.
Playing a game can be one of the simplest and most effective ways that a parent can engage with and support their child’s learning. For a great hand-picked selection of games that challenge thinking, language and math skills, check out Finlee & Me’s Games for Kids collection.
5. And, in the case of learning that requires lots of repetition (such as learning to count, read sight words or recite times tables), learning sticks when new and interesting ways to provide revision and rehearsal are used.
Children often need multiple opportunities and a variety of experiences to understand and internalise the knowledge or skill being learned. Think about a child learning to count. Very rarely does a parent sit a child down to count five blocks and then the child knows how to count. Instead, the child is given lots of opportunities and positive encouragement to engage in counting – counting stairs as they walk, counting apples into a bag at the store, counting kisses and hugs.
These opportunities offer variety so the learning is not boring or overtly repetitive, instead the child is engaging with the concepts involved in learning to count in a variety of wide-ranging experiences. For the development of other learning concepts or skills, this might mean providing a range of different experiences or lesson formats, or using a variety of engaging, open ended toys and resources. So the child has the opportunity to re-visit and apply the learning with positive support and encouragement in lots of different ways.
Sumblox are a great example of a resource that provides the opportunity for children to re-visit learning concepts as active, engaged learners. Wooden Sumblox provide children of all ages with the opportunity to be tactile and hands-on manner with mathematical concepts – from preschoolers learning to identify and name each number, to first graders learning to memorise addends of ten, right through to older children mastering multiplication. They are also super fun to build with, so children are eager to get in and have a go at re-applying that learning, which is perfect for….making it stick!
So next time your child comes home complaining that multiplication is boring or you’re struggling to get them to read through their sight word flash cards again, think back to this list and consider how one of these five factors might be just what you need to encourage them to get enthusiastic about their learning, and to help make those seven times tables stick!