Approaches to Learning

Beginning at birth, young infants are able to form relationships with adults, develop trust, and explore the world. With a developmentally appropriate learning environment and nurturing responsvie adutls, young children are explore and learn. As they gain knowledge and skills across the physical cognitive, language,a nd social and emotional demains, children also develop approaches to learning, or specific skills that help direct their learning. There are specific characteristics that determine a child’s approaches to learning. (Hyson 2008)

  • Intrinsic motivation to learn: Jack, age four, chooses to research meerkats, not because he has to, but because he wants to learn about this special interest.
  • Interest and joy in learning: Toddler, Sarah squeals with delight when she realizes that she is making marks on paper with her crayon.
  • Engagement: Seven-month-old Gary, in is FCC educator’s arms, stares for long periods of time at the birds at the feeder outside the window.
  • Persistence: April, age three, keeps trying to get her shoes on until she succeeds.
  • Planning: Preschoolers Tye and Tanner decide to apply their knowledge of the engineering process to design and redesign a house for the pigs that the big bad wolf cannot blow down.
  • Ability to focus and control attention: Toddler Ray, a slow and determined eater chooses to remain at the table and finish his macaroni, even though the rest of the children have cleared their dishes and gone off to play.
  • Flexible problem solving: Two-year-old Alex tries several different ways to get the train up the hill and through the tunnel to the other side of the track.
  • Inventiveness: A group of preschools turn an empty box into a pizza oven and setup a pizza parlor in the dramatic play area.
  • Tolerance for frustration: Four-year-old Joanna stays calm when she has difficulty turning a corner on her tricycle.

Children’s approach to learning are closely linked to school readiness. Children who can plan, focus, and remains persistent, curious, and engaged tend to be more successful in school and are more likely to one day graduate from college. Each child’s approaches to learning are different. For example, some children are problems solvers and others are naturally persistent. Evidence that boys and girls differ in their approaches to learning also exists. For example, girls tend to be more persistent and more likely to plan than boys. Early educators can best support children’s approaches to learning through effective environments and specific teaching practices. Marilou Hyson suggests the following strategies to arrange an effective setting.

Create an effective environment

Arrange the setting so it:

  • Welcomes children and families
  • Gives clear cues about what to do in each area of the setting
  • Provide spaces for individual pursuits, lively interactions, and physical activity.
  • Allows children to choose materials, activities, and playmates, thus supporting self-regulation.

  • Establish clear, predictable routines and a flexile schedule that provides enough time for children to get fully engaged in activities.
  • Organize children in small groups to allow for individualized teaching, interactions, and discussions.

Use intentional teaching practices:

  • Model positives approaches to learning
    • During group meeting times: “My story hat keeps falling off. I think I will add some ribbons so I can tie it on.” (Inventiveness, tolerance for frustration)
    • In one on one or small group interactions: “I want to learn about meerkats, too. Let’s watch this video together.” (Engagement)

  • Emphasize learning goals and mastery
    • Encourage children’s curiosity and genuine interest in doing an activity.
    • Provide opportunities to learn specific skills such as using a spoon or cutting with scissors.
  • Respond to children’s ideas and actions:
    • Elaborate and join in with children’s play and explorations. “You rolled the ball back to me. Let’s roll it to Edward now. He can play too.”
    • Scaffold by providing assistance for a while, then withdrawing the help to allow the child to progress on her own. “It is safe to saw the piece of wood when it is in the vise. I can tell you how to use the vise. Turn the handle to loosen the ‘jaws’ of the vise. Then pull the wood in and turn the handle the other way to tighten it. Now it is secure and you can saw the wood. Next time you can do it and I’ll watch.”

  • Offer meaningful, challenging choices:
    • Plan alternative self-expression opportunities. “How do you feel when you hear this music? Do you want to dance or make a painting or invent a story?”
    • Encourage children to plan how they will use their time. For example, while transitioning to outdoor play you might say to toddlers, “Think about what you want to do when we get outdoors. Will you ride trikes, pull a wagon, play in the sandbox, or something else? Kim, what are you going to do?”

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