How children and teenagers learn
Children and teenagers learn by observing, listening, exploring, experimenting and asking questions.
Being interested, motivated and engaged in learning is important for children once they start school. It can also help if they understand why they’re learning something.
And as your child gets older, your child will enjoy taking more responsibility for their learning and getting more involved in making decisions about learning and organising activities.
Your child keeps learning from you over the years. When your child goes to primary and then secondary school, you can help your child have a positive attitude to learning, just by being positive yourself and showing you value the learning that the school provides.
One of the best ways to support your child’s learning and education is by building a good relationship with your child’s school and communicating with your child’s teachers.
Learning in early primary school
Children learn in different ways – some learn by seeing, some by hearing, some by reading, some by doing. And all children benefit from having a variety of learning experiences.
At this stage, children still learn through play. Plenty of unstructured, free play helps balance formal lessons at school. It also gives children a chance to unwind after the routines and rules of school.
Children also learn by using objects in many different ways. When your child is experimenting, exploring and creating with a range of materials, they learn about problem-solving in situations where there are no set or ‘right’ answers.
Children have to learn social skills, just like they have to learn to read and write. Giving your child chances to play with other children is a great way for them to develop skills for getting on with others.
Your child’s community connections can offer valuable learning experiences too. For example, visiting the local shops, parks, playgrounds and libraries or walking around your neighbourhood helps your child understand how communities work. As you and your child explore your community together, you can talk to your child about interesting things that you see or share things that you know.
If your family speaks a language other than English at home, this can be a great way for your child to grow up as a bilingual or multilingual learner. Bilingualism or multilingualism can have many benefits for your child, including better thinking, reading and writing skills.
When you know how your child learns best, you can help your child with all areas of learning. For example, if your child seems to learn best by seeing and doing but needs to write a story for school, they could make a comic strip to organise their ideas.
Tips for learning at primary school
Here are some practical tips for helping your primary school-age child learn:
- Show an interest in what your child is doing and learning by talking about school.
- Play rhyming games, letter games, and shape and number games with your child. Practise taking turns as you play.
- Use simple language, and play with words and word meanings – for example, you could clap out the syllables of words or play word association games.
- Keep reading to your child even when your child can read by themselves.
- Let your child hear and see plenty of new words in books, on TV or in general conversation, and talk about what the words mean.
- Make sure your child has time for free, unstructured play.
- Help your child discover what they’re good at by encouraging your child to try plenty of different activities.
Learning in upper primary and secondary school
Your child will become more independent as they get older. It might seem that your child wants you to have less input into their learning, but your child does still need your involvement and encouragement, just in different ways.
Even if your child is sharing less information with you, you can let your child know that you’re interested in what they’re learning by actively listening and paying attention when they want to talk. This sends the message that your child’s learning is important to you and that you’re available to help.
And when you talk with your child about their learning, try to focus on how your child is learning about the topic rather than on how much they know. For example, you could ask, ‘What was it like to work in a group to make that short film?’ rather than ‘What mark did you get for that film project?’
Most children have 1-2 areas that they don’t enjoy as much or aren’t as good at. As your child goes through secondary school, you could talk together about whether it’s an option to drop a subject they aren’t interested in. Your child’s teacher can also help you and your child work this out.
Tips for learning at upper primary and secondary school
Here are some practical tips for helping your older school-age child learn:
- Encourage your child to try new things, to make mistakes and to learn about who they are through new experiences. Keep praising your child for trying new things.
- Show an interest in your child’s activities. For example, if your child enjoys playing the drums, ask about the music your child is playing and whether they’d like to play for you.
- Watch the news together and talk about what’s happening in the world.
- If your child has homework, encourage them to do it at about the same time each day and in a particular area, away from distractions like the TV or a mobile phone.
- Help your child build time management skills needed for learning. For example, you could help them make a schedule to balance homework and extracurricular activities.
- Make sure your child has time to relax and play. For example, your child might like to read, take photos or kick a ball in the backyard.
- Help your child develop or maintain a good sleep pattern.
Sometimes your child will need your emotional support for learning, as much as your practical help. Here are some ideas:
- Try to be sensitive to when your child is struggling with learning tasks, and work out what your child needs. Sometimes it might be your help, and sometimes it might be a break from the task.
- Trust your child’s judgment. For example, if your child feels ready to play a contact sport or try a new subject, let them have a go.
- Accept your child as a whole person. This means appreciating that your child is strong in some areas of learning and needs support in others.
- Respond to your child’s feelings. For example, share your child’s excitement when they master something new, and be patient when they’re having trouble.
- Try thinking back to your own learning experiences, both the enjoyable ones and the challenging ones. This will help you understand your child’s experiences.