Discover Your Child’s Learning Style

Everyone learns differently. Identify your child’s learning style to broaden their learning capacity.

Child development experts and educators categorize us as having one of three different learning styles: visual learners learn with their eyes; auditory learners learn with their ears; and kinesthetic learners learn through movement and touch. Why exactly are learning styles important? All of us have the potential to learn in each of these ways, but usually one is more dominant and impacts how well we engage, learn and retain new information.

Note that most young children are kinesthetic learners – they learn by “doing” and practicing. As the other two styles strengthen, they may dominate as we grow older. You can engage children best if you match their learning style. By selecting experiences that complement their learning style, you also broaden their learning abilities.

Many teachers integrate project-based learning into the curriculum during preschool and early elementary years, because it accommodates a variety of learning styles. Your child can benefit from this approach if given an open-ended learning challenge (a "project") and encourage them to find their own path to completing it, without parental assistance or guidance. By doing this, you also encourage creativity and confidence as they figure out what they need to do, on their own.

Bring out the Artist in Your Child

Art is an important form of creativity. Teach your kids to channel their artistic expression.

There are so many ways that children can express themselves. It is the foundation for communication and an essential for self-esteem. Once children have acquired the fine motor skills needed to hold a pencil or crayon, channel their creative energy into expressive activities, such as drawing and arts & crafts. Such projects further develop their fine motor dexterity that will also help with writing and other academic areas. Since projects often require basic planning and focus, it will also be helpful when it comes to school work.

Children want and need new challenges to help them develop and build new skills. Making things is a big plus for building self-esteem. They will have pride in something that they’ve made themselves, and the process may spark their curiosity to know or do more.

Give them the tools to express themselves in new ways. For example, look for quality art easels or drawing tables that also double as kid-friendly project surfaces. Find all-inclusive kits that are easy to start and complete successfully and are fun to do individually or with others. For older kids, look for a variety of crafts, science or model-building kits. Experimenting with musical instruments can also lead to original music creation and artistic expression with sound.

Music Encourages Well-Rounded Development

Learning music is more than just a fun activity.

Responding to music comes naturally to young children. It is also a wonderful outlet for movement, communication, creativity, and socialization. Nurture a love for music in your child by providing an environment rich in music. Audio tapes or CDs, musical instruments that allow exploration with sound and rhythm, video tapes with classical music scores, or just the sound of your voice can enrich your child’s world. Music instruction can also support learning in other academic areas, and early exposure can make children familiar and comfortable with music as an important component of their daily lives.

Music makes learning about the world around us easier. It provides:

      Repetition that reinforces learning

      A rhythmic beat that helps coordination

      Patterns that help in anticipating what comes next

      Melodies that capture our attention and hearts in enjoyment

      Words that are the building blocks of language and literacy

Music supports many developing skills. It can:

      Build relationships, communicate feelings and provide comfort

      Help older toddlers share, make friends, and feel comfortable in a group setting

      Foster language development through stories, rhyming and rhythm

      Develop individuality by allowing children to discover their own sounds and unique styles of music

      Launch creativity by allowing children to fill in missing words, discover new sounds or make up songs

      Develop fine and large muscles through finger-plays, dancing, or playing instruments

      Build coordination by letting children follow a beat and use their minds, voices and bodies together

(Source: “Getting in Tune: The Magic of Music in Child Care”, published by Zero to Three, a national non-profit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.)

The fundamental processes and concepts which are necessary to learning music (such as analysis, quantity, main ideas, sequence, relationships, inference, conclusions and recall) are also necessary to learning in other areas.

There is considerable evidence to show that children who participate regularly in music do better in reading than those who do not. An obvious relationship to math would be the study of equivalents (notes and numbers) and the study of fractions. Geography and history can be made to come alive through learning songs of different times and countries and through the discussion of the people and origins of songs.

Development of physical coordination through moving, clapping, and dancing enhances goals in physical education classes. Expression of feeling through music can be compared with and enhanced by awareness of expression of feeling through art. Drawing to music combines the two areas very fruitfully.

The science of sound (acoustics) is important to music, as well as involving scientific and mathematical concepts.   (Source: “A Practical Guide to Teaching Music in the Elementary School”, by Genevieve Fitzmaurice, D.M.A.)

Introduce Your Child to the World

Encourage your kids to explore geography and cultures.

Broaden your children’s awareness of the world beyond their immediate families and neighborhoods.  When children get to the preschool and elementary school ages, this becomes an important part of the curriculum and is often integrated with many core disciplines.

National and state geography standards require knowledge of geography facts and fluency with map reading. Bring countries and cultures to life with well-illustrated and inviting products that engage children in activities they love while exposing them to the broader world around them. Here are a few ideas to spark their interest in geography.

      Introduce the US and the world with puzzles, wall maps and games that create a fun and memorable learning experience

      Ask questions as you study other countries using atlases filled with pictures and facts about people, the land, and the culture.

      Puppets, dolls and other imaginary play sets with specific themes can encourage integration of multicultural or religious themes into imaginary play scenarios.

      Introduce the sounds of other languages with foreign language song CDs, or games that incorporate the languages you would like your child to learn.

Simple Ways to Enhance Literacy

Develop the foundations for speaking, writing, and reading at an early age.

Literacy is more than just reading. It is effective speaking, active listening, writing, and reading the printed word.  Literacy begins at birth, when your baby hears language for the first time, and when your baby starts to make sounds to communicate with you. Talking, reading aloud, and singing all stimulate children’s understanding and use of language, and contribute to the development of communication skills.

Encourage early communication by imitating your baby’s sounds and gestures. Soon they will realize that they can express themselves, and you will respond.  Babies desire to communicate long before they can speak. A baby’s listening comprehension is roughly three years greater than their vocal maturation. So they understand more than they can say, and with baby sign language (or simple gestures), you can address your baby’s needs immediately, without all the frustration and time wasted trying to guess what is wrong.

Puzzles, games, imaginary play, dolls and accessories, and play with puppets are language-rich opportunities that will increase vocabulary and conversational skills while promoting social and emotional development. Games and activities that expand language and “mental” imagery skills lead to strong literacy and communication skills. They will also help increase enjoyment of reading and books.

Encourage the desire for self-expression typical of individuals who communicate willingly and openly.  When children are able to hold a pencil or crayon comfortably, drawing and scribbling will give them the confidence to express themselves in new ways and help develop the fine motor skills that lead to writing.  Similarly, arts & crafts will also provide an opportunity for expression and help kids develop their motor skills.

Babies are born with the ability to hear the sounds used by many foreign languages; however, this window narrows by age eight. Early exposure to the sounds of a foreign language will support your efforts to teach that language, and it may also make it easier for your child to hear the broad range of sounds of that language if acquired later on.

Instill a Love for Reading

Getting kids to read isn’t always easy. Here’s how you can get your kids to love reading.

Learning to read starts with a love of books. To foster a lifetime love of reading, tell each other stories, and read plenty of books with a wide variety of story-lines and illustration styles to capture the interest of every child. Make sure they discover early on all of the wonderful things that can be found in books – from thrilling stories to fascinating facts. It is never too early or too late to start. As little as 20 minutes a day can inspire kids to read more.

Learning to read initially requires the basic pattern recognition skills needed to recognize letters, letter sounds, words and punctuation.  While puzzles encourage problem-solving, they also offer valuable practice with identifying visual cues and recognizing patterns. Putting patterns together or recognizing a pattern is the foundation of learning to read, since words simply letter patterns and letters are simply shapes with distinct features.

Once children can recognize letters, learning the sounds of letters – phonics – is important in helping them to sound out new words, and increase their reading vocabulary. Learning to read also requires the comprehension skills needed to understand vocabulary, meanings of sentences, paragraphs and storylines, and to remember sequences and conclusions. Creating a fluent, independent reader requires practice and modeling. Reading aloud to them often, even after they have begun to read on their own, is a good example of modeling.

Games and activities that expand language and “mental” imagery skills lead to strong literacy and communication skills, and will also help increase enjoyment of reading and books. Books are the gateway to imaginative thinking and creativity, which can lead to further imaginative play and opportunities for “mental” imagery – a wonderful cycle of creative skill enhancement.

 

Who Says Math Can’t Be Fun?

Give your kids a head start and introduce them to math concepts in fun and creative ways.

Math starts with observing and identifying attributes, such as color and shape, and then progresses to more abstract concepts, such as number representation and one-to-one correspondence. Here, a child associates the numeral 3 with 3 items and the number word T-H-R-E-E. Then there are mathematical thinking skills, such as identifying size and spatial relationships, logical thinking, sequencing, and categorizing by feature. All of this is, in addition to the thinking skills developed in infancy, are important to succeed at math in school. Math concepts taught in school include counting, math operations such as adding and subtracting, and concepts such as fractions.

To introduce mathematical concepts, start with sensory toys with many different attributes, especially colors and shapes, and opportunities for counting. Bring in puzzles and critical thinking toys that not only help develop basic problem solving skills, but also offer opportunities to practice identifying visual cues, create patterns, and learn sequencing and sorting. Learning to identify visual cues from puzzles and patterns is a basic skill for number recognition, sorting sequencing and categorizing. The ability to identify the features of an object and group, sort or sequence it based on those features is also an important math concept. Then, offer building toys, science kits, arts & crafts and other hands-on products that allow experimentation and application of these principles to create an end product.

Once a child starts school, more concepts are introduced. If some of those concepts are first fostered at home, kids will gain early familiarity and confidence. Games are also a great way to practice skills without being too computational. Look for games and fun toys that reinforce math facts, time-telling, measurement, logical thinking, and problem-solving.

 

Scientific Exploration for all Ages

Here’s how to instill curiosity and a love for the sciences at an early age.

Science is more than memorizing facts and understanding principles. It is a creative thought process that expands learning. Have you heard the expression “learn how to learn?” That’s what scientific exploration helps us to do. Science turns our natural curiosity about the world around us into fascinating discoveries, inspiring us to say “That’s so cool!”.

Early years

Nurture an early love for scientific exploration in your kids by engaging their natural curiosity as they play with colorful and interesting toys, such as sensory, critical thinking and building toys. Thought-provoking questions will highlight observations that will help children visualize a scientific principle. This is especially vital to understanding a concept when it is introduced in the school years. You can engage them in the process firsthand with hands-on experiments that allow open-ended experiences. The result is a personalized learning experience that opens doors to self-initiated learning. They’ll want to know more, know how, ask why, and ponder questions such as “what happens if…”

As you play, ask questions such as

      “Which is heavier?” to introduce the concept of weight and measure.

      “What happens if I remove a block from the tower?” to bring attention to balance and structure.

      “Why does it float or sink?” to make them aware of object properties and gravity.

      “How high do I toss the ring if I am further away?” to bring attention to angles, motion and the effect of distance and speed.

      “What does it eat? How does it grow?” to introduce nature and lifecycles.

      “Why does sugar dissolve in water? Or why does gelatin make water stiff?” to highlight chemistry concepts.

Music is also an excellent way to explore scientific principles. Experiment with pitch and rhythm and how to create it, noting the properties that cause changes in sound; for example, increased density, length and vibration.

If you don’t know the answer to the questions, you can find the answer together. When you do, you are modeling the question and research process that leads to self-initiated, independent learning.

School years

Is your child struggling to come up with a science fair project? Many science kits can be turned into science fair projects. By asking a question, developing a hypothesis and using the kit (components or finished product) to conduct the experiments, your child will be introduced to the scientific process through a fun open-ended learning experience that doesn’t feel like school. Look for kits that support exploration of the following scientific areas:

      Paleontology (excavating fossils)

      Astronomy (telescopes)

      Physics (gears & levers building kits, remote control cars, magnet kits)

      Nature: Plants, animals, insects (growing kits, microscopes, binoculars)

      Light and color (prisms)

      Sound (music instruments)

      Electricity and solar energy (building kits, model cars)

      Chemistry (fun food)

      Electronics and Computer Science (robots)

      Earth Science (volcano models, weather)

      Archaeology (historical models)

The do-it-yourself nature of science kits also fuels the same creativity and thinking processes found in arts & crafts and building toys.

Building Blocks Develop Creativity and Motor Skills

Building activities are a great way for kids to create things and discover new skills.

Unleash your children's imaginations, and build on their natural desire to create! Construction play not only offers a creative outlet, but it also develops the logic and spatial relationship skills needed for math, as well as the artistic sensibilities of design and form. When kids successfully build structures of their own making, their self-esteem increases as well.

In a child’s early years, soft or lightweight blocks that stack and topple will provide safe, empowering opportunities to create–and knock down–which is all part of the building fun. While kids are doing this, they develop their motor skills and learn cause and effect relationships. When they are ready, offer early construction sets with blocks that are easy for little hands to put together, with many imaginative building possibilities. Some block sets feature animals, letters and numbers for added learning opportunities. Themed building sets also offer imaginative play opportunities for independent or social play.

When your child has mastered the fine motor skills needed for more sophisticated building sets, try Lego’s, which has a variety of themes. Science kits and arts & crafts offer excellent building and construction opportunities as well.

How to Get Kids to Think Critically

Inspire critical thinking by letting kids explore their world.

Children are naturally eager to understand how the world works. They start by making basic associations, such as “I call, mom comes.”  As they grow, they develop more complex ways of figuring things out. As they do, they will develop basic problem-solving skills essential for school. Encourage your kids to think critically with toys that engage cause and effect play, which will then lead to problem solving and strategic thinking. When you spark their curiosity about the world, the learning will follow.

Children are like little scientists–they are not afraid to explore and experiment. Touching, banging, shaking, filling and dumping help children understand how things work and allow them to observe basic principles that lead to math and science concepts. Comment on what they are doing to encourage observation (big, small, heavy, light, wet, dry) and to further exploration. When they start to make logical connections between things, they are ready for more advanced thinking that leads to hypothesis formation and testing, the basis of scientific thinking.

Toys such as puzzles are wonderful learning tools that encourage kids to approach challenges in more than one way. They not only help develop basic problem solving skills, but they also give valuable practice with identifying visual cues and recognizing patterns. Patterning skills are important to both math and reading.

      Learning to identify visual cues from puzzles and patterns is a basic skill for number recognition, sorting sequencing and categorizing–all important math concepts. The ability to identify the different features of objects and then group, sort or sequence objects based on those features is also an important math concept.

      Putting patterns together and recognizing a pattern are the foundations of reading, since words are simply letter patterns and letters are simply shapes with distinct features.

Once children are aware of patterns and can compare objects, they can apply this skill to material that will prepare them for school activities.  Start with simple 2D or 3D puzzles (shape sorters, stackers, knob or wooden matching puzzles). Then between 24 and 36 months, start to introduce multiple piece puzzles with plenty of visual cues or sound cues (clues that will help identify pieces that go together). Strategy games are an excellent way to enhance problem solving and critical thinking skills with older children, and as a result, strengthen math and logic skills. They will also enhance social and emotional skills when playing with others.

 

Get Your Kids Moving

Active play isn’t just exerciseit builds motor skills and the manual dexterity that will support a broad range of future creative interests.

Fine motor skills starts with the ability to grasp an object, such as picking up a ball. Further development of those small muscles later lead to writing and the ability to do intricate work such as knitting, model building, painting or playing a musical instrument. Gross motor starts with the ability to swat an object, such as pounding a ball. Further development of those large muscles leads to playing catch, dance and sports related activities in later years.

The development of motor skills in a child’s first few years is critical, and it is just as important as the development of sensory awareness/exploration, language, and social/emotional awareness during this period. Plus, developing an early enjoyment of physical movement will encourage kids to enjoy a healthy lifestyle in later years.

When babies are ready, encourage them to reach and grasp objects or sensory toys that interest them, eventually placing the objects within a short crawl as they progress in their physical development. Music can also motivate movement, and musical instruments can enhance the abilities to grasp and control. Playhouses and active and outdoor play toys will get children moving once they start to walk and run. Climbing, crawling, jumping and throwing or catching a ball can also offer rich imaginary play opportunities, or turn into fun social games as well.  Ride-on toys can encourage outdoor play and can turn into wonderful imaginary play opportunities as well.

Imaginary Play Fosters Creativity

Let your child’s imagination run loose. Imaginary play is a brilliant way to foster children’s creativity.

Role play isn’t just “kids being kids.” It allows kids to develop their minds and personalities by acting out themes. What’s more, it empowers them and helps build self-confidence as they develop fine and gross motor skills, practice social behaviors, and improve communication and language skills. All of these opportunities sow the seeds of ideas that later aid creative writing and thinking.

How exactly do imaginations develop? It starts at birth, with you reading aloud and singing lullabies to them. As they hear and start to comprehend language, the stories they hear – the “mental” imagery they remember – will transform into play scenarios that empower them to be the hero or heroine, or to act out their fears and solve problems.

Between 12 and 24 months, children learn that objects can represent other things – a shoe box can be a parking garage, a straw can be a rocketship, a block can be a sandwich. This is the beginning of imaginary play, which is crucial for mental and emotional development. This type of imaginary play also helps introduce the idea of symbols, which will later aid in math and reading and also lead to creativity.

With open-ended toys to inspire them (even everyday household objects will do), children will enhance their ability to “see” a story in their minds as they develop imaginary and dramatic pretend play scenarios. This skill will also help them increase their enjoyment of reading and books.

Playhouses, trucks, play food, tool benches, dolls, trains, animals and people figures let children play out real life skills and scenarios – the things they see everyday. Pretend play makes scenarios feel more familiar, and it lets them practice the behavior they’ve observed and that you’ve modeled for them.  When children encounter adult problems or situations with people in the future, they will know how to deal with them openly and successfully.

Play with puppets, theaters, dolls and costumes will also help develop communication skills. According to Dr. Steveanne Auerbach, also known as Dr. Toy, “Creativity and communication are important aspects of a child’s development. [...] Puppets and dolls aid in communication, and provide dialog, warmth and comfort.  Every child uses imagination playing with puppets, dolls, costumes and playhouses.” 

Give Kids Opportunities to Develop Social Skills

Social and emotional development is crucial, especially when it comes to making friends and dealing with uncomfortable situations.

As children branch out and explore the world, social and emotional development, which starts from birth, becomes more and more critical. Building self-confidence in social situations is not only essential to get along with others on a daily basis, but it will help kids transition to new situations and take on opportunities for leadership roles and more. To achieve success in school and beyond, children must learn to understand emotions, express emotions, and manage emotions in appropriate ways. This will then lead them to learn to cooperate with others, handle frustrations, and resolve conflicts. 

Play is an important part of a child’s social development. Playing games, for example, can reinforce taking turns, manners, and good sportsmanship. When you play with your child, you model the social behavior will be picked up by your child like a sponge. Toys, puzzles and books can introduce emotions and reinforce social skills. Classic games can also engage family members of all ages, time and time again. Imaginary play with playhouses, themed playsets, dolls, animals and puppets also give children the opportunity to play out social situations and practice social and emotional skills. And when they engage in imaginary or pretend play with others, they have an opportunity to develop communication skills.

Let Kids Explore through the Senses

We’re all born ready to explore the world. Here’s why sensory exploration is important at an early age.

Exploration is an important foundation for so many learning areas.  It leads to discovery, an essential part of independent play.  Exploration starts with sensory stimulation, which encourages infants to reach out and react to the world as they learn through their senses. Sensory exploration, movement and stimulation are all critical to a baby’s brain development.  These stimulations inspire wonder, and soon the child will be ready to initiate activities – play is then at that point driven by the child.

A sensory-rich play environment will invite exploration and independent discovery and become the springboard for the development of many other areas.

      Play will develop motor skills, both fine motor (small muscles, finger manipulation and dexterity) and gross motor (large muscles, flexibility, strength, balance and coordination).

      Experimentation will lead to the discovery of cause and effect relationships. For example, “I did that!” moments will not only build esteem but will also lead to “what will happen if….” questions. This furthers exploration and discoveries.

      Exploration of sound and rhythm can lead to the creation of music.

      Independent exploration will naturally lead to dramatic and pretend play with toys that encourage open-ended child-powered imagination and creativity.

As children explore the world around them, enticed by a fascinating, sensory-rich environment, they develop the critical thinking and reasoning skills that underlie many important academic areas.

“Children are born ready to learn. Children are naturally curious beings who are motivated to make sense of the world around them. The brain is the only organ that is not fully formed at birth. During the first 3 years, trillions of connections between brain cells are being made. A child’s relationships and experiences during the early years greatly influence how her brain grows.”

”Getting Ready for School Begins at Birth:  How to Help Your Child Learn in the Early Years,” published by Zero to Three