How babies, toddlers and kids learn!
Notice how infants mouth everything they can get hold of? It may be annoying as a parent to worry about hygiene, safety and to have to put everything out of reach, but for the child, it’s all about learning. It is about forming strong connections in the brain or developing neural path ways.
No child thinks about developing neural pathways and making a stronger association about something, which is what learning is all about. It happens naturally as they explore and learn about the world.. When babies take in information about the world around them, their neurons branch out and form connections with each other. The more and stronger the connections, the more the babies learn.
If you have had to pick up your baby’s rattle over and over again while he flings it from the stroller, juts remember, it is them learning. A Swiss psychologist with a famous theory about how children develop cognitive or thinking skills says the first stage, is when babies use their senses—sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—to start to make connections. They mouth, shake and throw objects. All of these activities are actually precursors to control movement, vision and language development. The more your baby tastes, touches and explores, the stronger the circuitry in their brain gets and makes it easier each time to do it. The toys and objects that you provide then become their training tools.
With toddlers and pre-schoolers, it is a time for language skills. It is the best time to read to them so that they pick up different words and develop their own vocabulary and language skills. Let them explore books on their own as well and build a rich imagination. It is also a time for pretend play and constructions sets, blocks and toys that are simple and open to interpretation are best.
By age 7 kids learn through logic. They can figure out cause and effect and know how to follow reasoning. Their neural networks for simpler tasks like walking and running have developed but there is still room for fine tuning fine motor skills. It is also an age when social skills and friendships begin to form. It is a good time to provide them with more challenging toys like building sets, construction sets, cooking sets, balance bikes, books with more complex stories.
If teenage is a time for angst, it is probably because they have learnt to think in an abstract fashion by this point. They can project what others might feel in social situations and are able to anticipate and empathise with other people. The neural networks are intricate and can work with each other as well. Exposing them to more challenging experiences and academic challenges helps them strengthens the neural networks and helps them figure out what they might choose to do later on.
New experiences are in fact the key to all learning. It is only the kind of experiences that change as kids explore the world. While a two year old toddler might just pick up a basketball and throw it any which way, learning the connection between the act of throwing the ball and it moving in a direction away from him, a teen ager is able to shoot the ball through the hoop. Open ended play and exploration are thus a key to learning.
As a parent then it is important to provide age – appropriate stimulating experiences to a child. New experiences help the brain grow and learn. While a baby in a stroller throwing a soft crochet ball over and over may seem like it is doing nothing, just remember its all about learning. So, no matter how tiresome it may seem, pick it up and give it to them. After all, we want our babies to learn fast and best, do we not?