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Supporting Children’s Learning Abilities

In this day and age where we often unfortunately
burden young children with high expectations when it
comes to school work, learning new things or mastering
skills, here are some highlights of the 10 ways you can
enhance a child’s learning abilities:

1. Singing

Singing apart from being fun, is important to children’s

learning. On a physical level, singing “energizes” the

brain, as it promotes deep breathing, increasing oxygen

intake which makes children more alert and enhances

memory. Singing also helps children make transitions,

from one activity to another, or moving from one space

to another, readying their brains to learn something new.

And the lyrics and rhyming words boost literacy.

2. Ensure Emotional Safety
Just as a child can’t learn when she is hungry, cold, sick,
or tired, a child who doesn’t feel safe and secure cannot
learn. An atmosphere of threats and punishments will
shut down learning; conversely, an environment of trust
in which a child feels cared for and nurtured readies his
brain to absorb new information.

3. Use Calming Strategies
For very young children, the majority of each day’s
experience can feel new and potentially overwhelming.
So, calming strategies are a key to learning potential.
Simple exercises such as deep breathing as ‘pretend to
smell a flower…now pretend to blow out a candle…’ can
help young children diffuse any stress.

4. Keep It Simple
Less is more! Busy, cluttered rooms and classrooms can
feel overwhelming. Better to cut down on visual clutter
and limit a child’s choice of activities or toys to two or
three options, in order to make a more thoughtful, less
stressed decision. Less is more for early learners.

5. Pay Attention to Attention Span
According to research, a child’s initial attention span is
about one minute per year of age. So a 3-year-old starts
with a three-minute attention span. The average for
adults is 20 minutes, before our minds begin to wander.
Experts say that we can boost this ability, with practice,
to three times that amount. In other words, 3×3 is a
nine-minute span for a 3-year-old. Similarly, for adults,
3×20 minutes, or an hour, is generally the limit. This has
obvious implications for learning. Once attention span
is exhausted, the brain can hold merely 20% of what’s
being conveyed. In other words, for
young children, break learning down
into short pieces.

6. Focus and Reflect
For little ones, it’s critical to first focus their
attention, convey the learning, and then reflect on
what’s been learned. It is important to invite children to
think about what they’ve just learned. This is because
the brain needs time to process new things. Letting a
child reflect by speaking is critical, since the spoken
word helps them cement what’s been learned.

7. Laughing
Include laughter in learning, as a joyful brain processes
learning much better, and humor reduces stress,
enhances emotional safety, and increases the brain’s
production of endorphins (chemicals that produce a
euphoric feeling). Funny books, like those of Dr. Seuss,
are great. So is the use of a puppet to make kids laugh.

8. Use Colors and Aromas
Children are very sensitive to color and aroma than
adults. And the optimum color for learning is yellow!
Yellow puts children in a more alert state and helps
them to focus. (Think School Buses in Kenya ) Cool
colors such as blue, green, and purple calm us down.
Scents such as peppermint and cinnamon also boost
alertness, while lavender and rose are calming. Wearing
a dash of bright color, using yellow paper, putting color
into play dough, can be effective strategies. Though,
keep it varied so colors and aromas aren’t simply
repeated, as kids will start to ignore them.

9. Provide Repetition/Practice
Repetition “strengthens neural connections” in the brain.
And when a new skill or information isn’t practiced, the
brain won’t think it’s needed and will “wash it away.”
Asking a child, “What did we learn yesterday?” is one
simple way to repeat and learn. Allowing them to
practice as many times as possible is very important in
their growth or learning process.

10. Windows of Opportunity
Based on research, early child development needs to be
“wired” in a fundamental way during critical “windows”
of time or ‘Sensitive Periods’. Once established in a
positive way, these skills can be continually enhanced
as a child grows. However, if the window is missed,
the enhancement may never catch up. For example, if
a baby is in an uncaring, untrustworthy environment,
that child may never fully believe he can trust anyone.
Similarly, a child who isn’t spoken or read to, they will
be well behind other children who had that “wiring”
opportunity.