Nurturing and Facilitating Learning

By Nancy Winans

Become a parent who nurtures learning:

1. Make sure your child is in good health – make sure they eat well, get exercise, and have unscheduled time for play and rest.  If you have concerns about your child’s health or development, let your medical practitioner know and get a complete check-up for your child, including vision and audiology assessments (by pediatric specialists.)  Ask if further evaluations should be done (for example: tests for anemia or thyroid function, screening for autism or AD/HD, or other psychological testing) to rule out a medical or developmental condition that could interfere with learning.

2. Appreciate and support your child’s uniqueness – love them for who they are, with their strengths and challenges.   Support both these parts of them by letting them know that their ‘kind of mind’ is just fine but they might need to do things a certain way, according to the way their mind works and their best way to learn.  If something is easy for them, help them to go as far as they have the interest.   If something has been hard for your child, let them know they will have the chance to learn and do with your support and the support of others, that it is still possible to develop that part of themselves!

3. Know that there are many kinds of intelligence and many ways to learn – Children can have skill in visual, visual-spatial, auditory, logic, language, perception, movement/kinesthetic, tactile/kinesthetic, social understanding, self-understanding, and nature awareness. So each child needs to be able to move, hear or see certain ways to process information and learn.  Pay attention to these differences and their sensory needs for sound, images, touch, and other sensations.  Some environments are a better match than others for your child’s particular way of learning and demonstrating what they have learned.  A child’s special combination of talents can help them become artists, philosophers, musicians, mathematicians, caregivers, scientists or athletes, with the right support.

4. Spend special time with your child – watch and be supportive while they try something new. Watch them play or show you their latest ‘trick’ and really listen without giving advice or criticism.  Let your child take the lead without you directing them and let them show you what they are learning or figuring out at the moment.  Pay attention to ways you can join in to support them in moving forward.  Do fun and interesting things but make sure each child gets to help choose what you do together and has a turn alone with just you.  This goes for all ages – infant to teen and beyond!

5. Give your child opportunities and experiences – take them to museums, apple-picking, or the yarn store; ask them to help with cooking, shopping, or home repair.  Allow them to try new things and give them a chance to ‘play’ about their experiences with dolls, stuffed animals, ‘dress up’ and other toys or have them keep a journal or photo album to remember and share about their experiences.  You don’t need to ‘teach’ – rather allow them to take the lead in asking questions, making observations, and then gently follow up with information or a suggestion for further inquiry together, if they are interested.

6. Start early to show your child they can make choices about learning- hold out two toys for your infant or toddler and let them reach for the one they are looking at.  Ask your 3-year-old if they would rather hold the bunny or just look at it.  Ask your 9-year-old how she wants to practice math facts – with flash cards, games, manipulatives, or picture stories.  Ask your teen to choose how they will prepare for sports, college, or work.  Being empowered around learning creates a love of learning.

7. Give your child increasing responsibilities – Encourage them to try new things and let them know that this is how people learn; we try something, make mistakes and adjust accordingly.  Give them an allowance or have them start a business, join in family or community projects, or have them take care of a pet or garden.  Your child will have the chance to do his or her own thinking and decision-making (with some guidance) which can increase self-esteem, develop academic skills, and teach life skills and problem-solving.

8. Offer support when they are struggling – let them know that you realize something is difficult but you can’t do the task for them.  You can offer to sit beside them while they try and let them know that you will be there if they have difficulty.  You can offer an observation, answer their questions and explain that the way people learn is to try something, and if the result doesn’t work, we adjust our thinking and try something else.  You will need to be calm to listen to their frustration and anger around learning.  If they are really struggling, tell them you will find help for them (manipulatives, special programs, tutoring, etc.) that offers a different way for them to learn.

9. Know that you have choices for your child’s education – if your child has a learning difference or disability or has other circumstances that affect their life, you might need to find a different path for education.  You can determine your child’s difficulties, think about their needs, brainstorm ways to meet those needs, and then find resources to help meet those needs.  These can include: special education, school resource program, private tutoring or educational therapy, private schools, alternative schools, homeschool (on your own, online, or through a public, private or charter school) concurrent enrollment between two schools or a school program with homeschool or community classes, or through enrichment activities (classes, programs, games, or educational materials.)  You can combine these methods in your own way!

10. Get ‘in shape’ to parent by getting outside help for you and your family – take classes and read books on child development and parenting, ask family and friends for support (advice, spending time with your child, etc.) or attend support groups.  Talk to educators, physicians, psychologists or clergy for information and support around learning challenges, behavior, or family issues.  Get professional counseling to deal with difficult problems, or when you have strong feelings or worries about your child that you can’t resolve on your own.  Every person has difficulties and counseling can help change the way you see the issues and help you respond effectively.

11. Be a model for your child –Read, play, have hobbies, try new things, make mistakes, ask for help, and appreciate yourself.  Your children will follow your example.

Help Facilitate Learning:

12. Read to your child – every day, if possible, (starting with infants!) and even if your child is a competent reader, he or she benefits from hearing the written word and the special close family time while you read to them.  Read at their level of understanding and also above their level to introduce new language to them.  Encourage them to read to you – words on signs, captions under pictures, the back of the cereal box, and books when they are ready.

13. Provide your child with varied materials to explore and manipulate – have ‘open-ended’ toys like blocks, counting cubes, shapes, dolls, crayons, and clay where they get to direct their play and be creative, rather than having toys that ‘do all the thinking.’  Give your child a tray or tub with flour, beans, water, beads, or small figures so they can scoop, pound, pull, pour, sort, or manipulate to gain important skills in measuring, comparing, categorizing and design.

14. Point out patterns and differences – Establish daily routines and talk about what will happen next (after your breakfast, it will be time to take your brother to school or after the clothes are washed we will put them into the dryer.)  Make simple calendars. Help them notice patterns in their world (all the trees on this street have brown leaves because it is fall or ‘kangaroo’ and ‘koala’ both start with a ‘k’ or your necklace has a red, blue-blue, red, blue-blue pattern.)  Understanding patterns is crucial for math, reading, and language development.

15. Encourage flexibility in thinking – help your child look at things in new ways (that acorn looks like a man with a hat or skies aren’t always blue; sometimes they have pink, yellow and purple or this funnel looks like a horn to me or 2+3 makes 5 and 2 tens + 3 tens makes 5 tens, etc.) or just ask what does this remind you of?

16. Play games with your child – card, board, and family games are good opportunities to learn math skills, reading, logic, strategy, as well as basic skills and concepts.  Games like Go Fish, Racko, and Sorry can help with comparing, matching, addition, and planning.  Scattergories or scrabble help with language skills.  Family or group games help teach planning, leading, and team work. Find out about pre-reading activities to do with your child like sound or memory games, ‘drawing’ on their back, finding images in I Spy books, etc.

17. Encourage your child to have a collection – Collecting baseball cards, postcards, rocks or shells, stuffed animals, books, or dinosaurs can help children learn to compare, categorize, count, sort, and alphabetize, as well as make them an ‘expert’ on something they care about.

18. Find hobbies for your child – have them take the lead on what they are interested in, allowing them to have some say in what they pursue; this helps them to become a self-motivated learner.  Enroll them in art, tae kwon do, computer or improv classes.  Find crafts or projects they enjoy like model-building, embroidery, calligraphy, or stamp collecting.  Encourage their interest in insects, Egyptian History, musical styles, or linguistics.  Have them join a club or youth group.  These activities help with developing skills in math and language, fine motor or gross motor tasks, critical thinking, collaboration, as well as helping to develop self-esteem, a passion for something positive, and connection to a community.  Don’t put pressure on them to achieve or leave them with no down time. 

19. Provide for physical movement, exercise or athletic training – have your child do gymnastics, soccer, yoga, swimming, dance, or movement or sensory programs.  Movement and exercise are important for coordination and balance, motor planning, neurological development, focus of attention, relaxation, as well as for enhancing self esteem and teaching cooperation and team work.  Also, studies show that spending time in open areas and in nature helps children who have labels like AD/HD as spending time in natural settings and doing ‘heavy work’ (using large muscles and whole body) can help them to self-regulate their mood and behavior.

20. Limit television, video games and electronic gadgets – a child usually learns best when they are actively engaged, not passively watching or listening.  They learn when they manipulate things, move their bodies, or must interact with the things and people in their world.  There are good interactive computer games and television shows that teach or show things a child can’t experience first hand and if your child is a visual learner or needs assistive technology, these can be helpful – but in general keep the screen time and talking gadgets to a minimum.