Children Learn By Doing - 4 Ways to Support Early Education with Active Learning

6 August 2018

Children Learn By Doing - 4 Ways to Support Early Education with Active Learning

If there is one thing that is shared by preschoolers around the world, it is that they learn best through active learning, moving, doing, and exploring-- not passively, by sitting and listening. The most basic form of active learning is play itself. So, when you take time to play with your preschooler, you are helping your little one learn in the best possible way.

Here’s an everyday example: When you involve your preschooler in a making snack together, you are enhancing the learning experience by the doing, through action. Instead of doing it yourself and talking about it as you do it, you have your little one actively involved in measuring and mixing. In doing so, you're helping your little cook’s early development in so many ways. You're encouraging listening and social skills in hearing and following the directions, math skills with every item you measure, hand-eye coordination in the mixing, and basic science skills through the combination of different ingredients. To top it off, there is that special feeling of pride and confidence in working together to accomplish a “grown up” activity. In these ways, face-to-face activities with your preschooler focus on growing multiple skills in the most effective way-- through doing and creating.

In these early preschool years, when you interact face-to-face with your preschooler you are maximizing their learning opportunities. And making active learning activities part of your everyday will go a long way toward getting your child ready for their future, including formal school and beyond.  

Here are four ways to easily create active learning experiences for your little one:

  1. Look for and encourage child-directed play. Play is basic to active learning. Child-directed play is play that evolves when your child chooses what to do and makes up their own rules for how to play. Child-directed play doesn’t always look like what adults think of as fun. It can be anything your child defines as play. When your little one is crouched down, completely engrossed in moving a stick in the mud-- this is self-directed play. Closely examining rocks, staring at a flower, making marks in the dirt are more examples of self-directed play. And sometimes young children can’t quite describe what they are doing when they are involved in this kind of play. They just enjoy it. In fact, it is often when children are most engaged in their own self-motivated, self-directed play that they look most serious. Unfortunately, in the busyness of everyday living and with so many things competing for children’s time, this essential type of open-ended play is often times the first thing to disappear. The good news is that you hold the power to identify your child’s self-directed play in the small, everyday moments of their life, and you can value, respect and support it. So, encourage this self-directed, exploratory play whenever it naturally occurs. The exploring, learning, and concentration that develop in child-directed play form the basis for future learning experiences, such as learning to read and write. You can find out about the different types of play as well as your child’s play style in our article, Types and Stages of Preschool Play.
  2. Encourage Active Movement Activities. Between birth and about 6 years old, children learn about their world by feeling and moving their bodies through it, another key form of active learning. The more young children move, the more they will feel comfortable in their bodies and in sync with the world. In these early years, children should spend equal-- or even better, more time actively moving than at sedentary, stationary or technology-based activities. It’s important to remember that computer-based activities do little to develop and enhance your little one’s creative, sensory, perceptual and visual motor skills. (That said, you can identify apps and games that are better suited and specifically designed for early learners. Our Technology and Young Children Series is a great place to start.) By moving within our three-dimensional world, your child will build a solid foundation for growing their skills in all key areas. One quick and easy way to encourage active movement is to introduce novel ways of moving throughout your day. For instance, instead of walking, try creeping on hands and knees during toy clean-up time. Or, they can scoot on their bottoms or wriggle on their tummies in your spare moments. Large-motor activities like these strengthen muscle tone and prepare young bodies for their next developmental milestone, small motor movements, which are key when using scissors and drawing with crayons. Check out Creative Movement activities for simple ideas to support active learning through physical movement. 
  3. Read any & all things to your child each day.  Even if you don’t have time for a bedtime story every night, remember that you can read anything out loud to your preschooler. Read the ingredients on the back of the cereal box. Or read the bus schedule. Or even read signs you see during your walk to the store. The important thing here is that you are showing your little one that reading is an essential part of everyday life. The preschool years are the years when you can make the most difference in how your child will approach key life skills, like reading. If you let your child see and experience that you value reading, your child will approach learning to read in a positive way. Our blog, Tips for Reading with your Preschooler has the best ways to read to very young ones.
  4. Have conversations with your child every day. It’s very easy to get into the habit of telling preschoolers things rather than conversing with them. Conversation, or growing the social skill for dialogue, with your preschooler is a great way to prepare your little one for success in school. So plan a time to have a real conversation with your preschooler every day. Remember that conversation requires time, as well as give and take. So keep in mind, there are better times for conversation than others. For example, when it’s time to quickly clean up and take a bath, it’s not a time for conversation. In contrast, when you have time after you’ve eaten your lunch, you can chat about what you ate, the colors of the food, how it tasted, what was their favorite food, and so many other things. It could be after reading a story. Or while you are waiting in line. The speaking skills and the thinking involved in daily conversations all help grow your preschooler’s language development. And when it’s time for your little one to go to school, conversing with an adult will not be an unusual thing for your child. They'll be ready and confident. Check out our Chatty-do activities for helpful suggestions for preschool conversation starters and our Keep Talking Collection for more educational ideas for language development.

As busy and frantic these early years surely are, they are the most precious for both you and your little one. Make the most of these years by encouraging and maximizing your little one’s active learning whenever and wherever possible. If you’d like to learn more about the key aspects and reasons for preschool play, check out our article, Child’s Play is Major Work. And you can find each of your child's early skills defined in our Child Development Guide.

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