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.

التعليقات

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

Dear Kareema,
Thanks for posting your question. You can find out lots more information about courses for Young Learners in Kuwait here:
http://www.britishcouncil.org/me-kuwait-english-courses-details.htm
I think that 8 years old is a great age for your daughter to study English. I hope that you find a suitable course for her, and that she'll enjoy using the LearnEnglish Kids website to practise at home.

Best wishes
Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team

I like this

Hi! How do I motivate my son to read? He's 10, can read, but hates it - reads only as part of school work. I would like him to read more to increase his vocabulary and general knowledge. I've tried reading with him various types of books - picture books when he was a toddler to books of various interesting topics - dinosaurs, animals... to even comics. He just has no compunction to pick up a book to read. Every time he reads it's because we make him. Please help.

Hi April,
I can understand your frustration in wanting your son to read. You know what a wonderful thing reading is, and you want your son to benefit from it.  I think that many parents face this same problem and often boys can be reluctant readers. In my own experience as a parent, I know that whenever I try to make my kids do things they don't want to do, they want to do them even less! (I recently made my son take swimming lessons and now he says he hates swimming). I guess that as parents we just have to be patient and remain positive and encouraging. 
What you have been doing already is great, reading with your son and offering him different kinds of books and reading materials. Have you tried going to a bookshop or library with your son and letting him pick out the books you buy or borrow? Keep browsing until your son finds a book that appeals to him. Being part of the choosing process can be very motivating for a child.

Can any other parents share their experiences of motivating reluctant readers?

Best wishes, and good luck!
Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids

thank you for this important information. i was very happy because i found a website have this learning english material for kids .
thank you

It interesting, am still gathering material to aid my special students and what I saw is quiet amazing.

i have 6 years old daughter, she want to play with her friends, dont want to learn school books, pls help me

Hi, thanks for your comment.
Does your daughter have her own account on the kids section of this website? She might enjoy writing some comments in English and making friends with other children on the site. We have lots of fun word games, stories and songs which could motivate your daughter to practise her English. 
I hope that helps

Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team

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