How do children learn? This article explains the different factors affecting how children learn, and how this helps you to best work with your child.

By Sue Clarke, teacher and trainer, British Council

Introduction

Your child is an individual and different from all others. The way your child learns best depends on many factors: age, learning style and personality. Read the notes below, and think about your child. This will help you to choose activities and methods that will suit your child best.

Children pass through different stages of learning

  • A baby or infant learns about the world through the senses.
  • From about two until seven years old the child starts to develop the ability to reason and think, but is still self-centred.
  • After the age of about seven a child usually becomes less self-centred and can look outside themselves. By the age of 12 most children can reason and test out their ideas about the world.
  • This means that with younger children we need to personalise and give examples which relate to themselves, whereas older children need help to make sense of the world around them. This also means that children must be at the right stage of learning. For example younger children are ready to learn about numbers, colours and shapes but are not ready for abstract grammatical rules.

What kind of learner is your child?

  • It is important to understand how your child likes to learn best. Which are the child's dominant senses? Do they like pictures and reading? If so you can encourage your child to use drawings, pictures, maps or diagrams as part of their learning.
  • Some children like listening to explanations and reading aloud. You could use stories to encourage this kind of child. And most children enjoy learning through songs, chants and rhymes.
  • Does your child like to touch things and physically move about? Some children have lots of energy! You could play games to get them moving or running around, acting out rhymes or stories or even dancing!
  • Quieter children may have a good vocabulary and be good readers. Word games, crosswords, wordsearches, anagrams and tongue twisters would be good to encourage these children.
  • Other children require logical, clear explanations of rules and patterns, or like to work out the rules for themselves. They may be good at maths too. For these children, activities such as puzzles, problem-solving, ordering or categorising provide ideal opportunities for learning.

What kind of interaction does your child prefer?

  • Some children are outgoing and sociable and can learn a language quickly because they want to communicate. They are not worried about making mistakes.
  • Other children are quieter and more reflective. They learn by listening and observing what is happening. They don't like to make mistakes and will wait until they are sure.
  • If your child is outgoing they may prefer learning in groups with other children, whereas a quieter child may need more private, quiet time to feel more secure about learning a language. A bedtime story in English could be an opportunity to provide this quiet time.

Motivating your child

  • For a child to be motivated, learning needs to be fun and stress-free. Encourage them to follow their own interests and personal likes. For example if your child likes football he or she will probably like to read a story about football even if the level is a little difficult. Interest and motivation often allow children to cope with more difficult language.
  • Try to provide as many fun activities as you can for learning English. Songs and music, videos and DVDs, and all sorts of games are motivating for children.

For how long can your child concentrate?

Children can usually only concentrate for short periods of time. Make sure that you stop or change activity when your child is bored or restless. This might be after only a few minutes.

Correcting your child's mistakes

Children respond well to praise and encouragement – let your child know when they have done something well. Don't criticise them too much when they make a mistake. It's natural to make mistakes when learning a language. Don't correct every grammatical mistake – encourage your child to use English to communicate.

Repetition and routines

  • Children need to repeat language items many times to remember them so don't be afraid to repeat games or do several different activities with the same language topic or set of words.
  • Children often love to repeat the same song or story as it gives them a sense of confidence and familiarity.
  • Establishing a regular routine for homework is also important. Set a regular time for homework and help your child as necessary.

Comments

Hi,
I have a two year old daugther and when she was 8 months old I started with the nursery rhymes on youtube.
We lived in Quebec city which is only in french language so there aren't enough people who speak english.
Our native language is spanish so my daugther is really exposed to three languages.
At the daycare: in french
her dad: in spanish
and me: in english
Even though English language is not my native language and maybe my pronunciation is not really well. But I realize than she can understand when I talk to her in english. Do you think what I am doing is correct for her? What else can I do for teaching English or I must stop? I don't want she get confused or shocked with the three languages.
Please I need some advices. Thanks

Hello Karin,
Although I don't have any personal experience of bringing up trilingual kids, I have heard of many cases where children can learn three languages quite effortlessly, without getting confused.
I definitely don't think that you have to stop speaking English to your child, you are giving her a great opportunity to learn English at such an early age.
I believe that consistency is the most important factor, and in your post, you have explained in which situations your daughter is exposed to each language. I'm sure that if you stick to this, and don't change these language contexts, she won't get confused.

Can any other parents share their experiences of bringing up children with three languages?

Good luck and best wishes
Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team

hi I'm going to teach the children under 9 years old only for speaking and listening do you think that the short story's would be helpful for them?

Hi Ainaz,
Absolutely, I think that the short stories on the site are very helpful for teaching listening and speaking. You'll also find an activity sheet attached to each story.
Here is a link to some tips for using stories from the British Council's Teaching English site:
http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/teaching-kids/tips-using-stories
Let us know how you get on!

Best wishes
Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team

Hello,
I have a four-year old son and we try to teach his English words through pocoyo and the songs. He likes the three activity sheets to the pocoyo videos. But I can’t find more activity sheet on the website… Could you please add more worksheets to the pocoyo videos? Thans in advance!

Hi Olga,
Thanks for writing to us. We're really glad to read that you find our Pocoyo videos and our songs useful for teaching English to your son. We hope to have many more materials for young learners on the website in the future.
There are lots more Let's Go Pocoyo videos available to watch on YouTube.

Best wishes
Jo Blackmore

Hello,

I have a three-year old daughter and we teach her English words through picture-books in English and through some games. She counts to ten, knows many animals and some other words. However, she is only picking words, no phrases, as English is not spoken in our country. I am a teacher of English, but I have never dealt with teaching children, I am more into translating. What I want to say is that I have an excellent knowledge of English and a will to teach my child, but I don't have enoguh information on how to do that at this early stage. Can you please give me some advice, I would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

Hello, thanks for writing to us!
I think that what you have been doing already sounds great. Picture books and games and among the best ways to help a young child learn vocabulary. Songs are also a very effective way of teaching young learners. We have lots of traditional songs and other fun songs on the LearnEnglish Kids site. This is our selection of songs for very young learners:
http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/little-kids-songs
You might also like to watch DVDs and videos in English with your daughter. We have some Let's Go Pocoyo videos on the site which are perfect for this age, and you can find lots more on You Tube.
http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/lets-go-pocoyo
You can find lots of advice on teaching young children on the British Council's Teaching English website
http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/teaching-kids

I wouldn't worry that your daughter is only saying words and not phrases at this stage. I think that is quite normal for a 3 year old learning a foreign language. Carry on encouraging her, keep the learning environment relaxed and fun, and I am sure that she will start producing phrases and sentences as soon as she is ready.

I hope that helps! Can any other parents share their experiences of teaching English to their young children?

Best wishes
Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team

Hello, I have 8 yrs old daughter. She is studying an Arabic School. I want her to speak, read & write English as well. Can you pls help me? Also I wanted to know about your Kuwait school. Thanks

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How children learn | LearnEnglish Kids | British Council

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