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


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.
Do you or your child need more help with your English?



Hello and thanks for your question.
In the same way children go through a silent period when they are learning their own language, they can do the same for learning a second language. They will be listening and taking in what they hear but sometimes childen don't actually produce any language for a number of years. In this case, where your child is very young, what is important is to have fun with the language, play with it, let them absorb and be patient. Children are all different and progress at different stages, in different ways.
I hope that helps.

Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team

Interesting and really helpful. I will take these to teach my 14-month boy. Thanks so much.

As what i see here that you are always talking about a baby of 2 years old minimum ,my baby is 11 months I would like to know which type of activities we have to practice with him in this age to help him to develope his personality.

Hello Maria,
I'm afraid I can't give you advise on developing a baby's personality, but I can suggest some activities to practise English with children under 2 years. Very young learners respond well to songs and rhymes, especially those with actions (for example: 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' to learn words for the body), or with noises ('Old Macdonald' for learning the names of animals). Even if your child can't sing the songs, encourage them to join in with the actions or noises.
It is never too early to read picture books with your child. Board books with colourful illustrations are best for babies and toddlers. Point to things on the page and say the words in English. Gradually you can ask your child questions like 'where's the cat?'
Very young children have a short attention span, so its better to do the activities frequently but for short periods of time. Also, repetition is very important at this age, so sing the same songs and read the same books again and again.
I think that the main thing is to keep the learning playful and relaxed, and not to worry!
Do any other members have advice or ideas they can share?

Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team


english fo fun n give much experience!!!!

Iam a retired teacher of English.Four years of my teaching career was in the primary level.The rest .including now ,is high school level.
I have two kids,one girl and the other a boy 2years old. It's difficult handling them to acquire the standard english I wish for them.
Any help?

Hello and thanks for your comment.
The main advice I would give for teaching English to children in the home is to keep the learning fun and relaxed. How old is your daughter? For your two-year old boy, I would suggest singing songs and rhymes (I've given a few examples in a comment higher up on this page) and reading pictures books in English together. 
Have you looked at our section for Little Kids?
Although the LearnEnglish Kids website is aimed at children from 3 - 12 years, there are some simple stories and songs which can also be enjoyed by two year olds. You could try watching the Let's Go Pocoyo videos together. My young daughter loves them!
I hope that helps.

Jo Blackmore
LearnEnglish Kids team

I have a 3 years old daughter. She is going to play scholl and she knows A, B, C, D etc. But how can I teach her spoken english? We are bengali. So at home, we normaly speak in Bengali.