What is my child learning?

As a parent you have the unique privilege of seeing your child learn over many years. If your child is very young, it is very hard to pinpoint what exactly she is learning. For instance, many times a child may not have the vocabulary to express any idea and even if she does, she may not have the cognitive ability to assess her learning and frame an opinion. It gets very hard to immediately assess what your child has learned.
The key is patience.
Here are some things to keep in mind while exploring and learning with your child (if you have a very young one!):

Materials are very interesting to a young child. It may take a few sessions before the novelty of the materials wears off and the child is able to look beyond the materials and to the experiment itself. Don’t be afraid of doing the same experiments many times. Little children have much more focus and greater attention spans than most adults.

If the project or experiment has many steps, the child may seem to lose interest and wander off or wander around you. Don’t stop what you are doing. She is watching you even if you don’t think so. This is a great chance for you to model persistence.
Don’t worry about doing things perfectly. Your child may not cut in straight lines, but her

participation is more important than a perfect model. However, you need to make the decision whether its more important for your child to see a working model quickly before being invested enough to build one with you. Either way, you do need to let your child experience failure and help her learn strategies to overcome it.
Do not be afraid of saying, “I don’t know. Let’s go find out” or “I don’t know. Lets go ask”. That is a very good thing to model. Similarly, if something is not working, your first response should be, “Lets see what could have gone wrong. Lets try again. We have to try many times before the model will work.”
Make sure you take on projects you enjoy doing yourself as very often you will be left completing them on your own. Children are sensitive to authenticity!
    Do other things that connect to the experiment or project. For instance, if you design a flying
    bird model, you could follow up (at some point) with a movie on birds (Winged Migration or the Flight series by David Attenborough). This will help you reinforce that experience and it will help you gain a window into your child’s world. Ask what she remembers of the experiment. Keep coming back to the experiment over time and you will see that your child’s articulation of what she learned becomes more sophisticated.
    The key learning objective for these exploration sessions is not the content, but the emphasis on the process, the act of creating something new – something that the child imagined and developing persistence. The bird wont fly the first time. It needs to be tweaked many times before it will fly. That is the biggest lesson to reinforce.  
      Immediately after the session is not the time to ask your child, “Did you have fun?”. She will most probably say, “No!”. Social interactions are very important to your child and if there was some minor conflict with another child over materials, then that will completely overshadow your child’s learning experience. And it is not wise to reinforce the negative feeling by asking if she had fun. A few days after the session you could draw attention to the model your child created and ask what she was most proud of doing or learning or if she had any questions or thoughts about how the model could be improved.
      Patience. It takes time. I started playing with a digital microscope with my little girl when she was two years old. A pre-school teacher told me that it was a waste of time as she probably couldn’t understand the concept of looking through a device to see closer. I pressed on figuring that I had nothing to lose. One day my little girl and I were talking about invisible germs in water and she said, “Mama.. we should look at the germs under a microscope”. This was roughly 4 months after we had played with it.
        Patience. You have nothing to lose by being patient, observing and learning with your child 🙂
          Have fun. Loosen up. It is all about exploration, building, playing with materials, having no fear, being a child again 🙂
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