When we provide children with rich experiences such as diverse play, including exposure to the arts, their brains flourish. When we also provide the social situations of personal connectedness, children’s brains also benefit.
So, if a variety of learning stimuli is what helps young children develop their brains, what else does research tell us about maximizing this golden opportunity? Research points to 4 critical actions for us to follow:
- Encourage a love for learning, no matter the topic
- Focus on broadening a child’s learning, not necessarily deepening it
- Pay attention to their emotional intelligence
- Parents are critical learning partners as accelerated learning happens well before kindergarten
Let me explain each one a bit more …
LOVE OF LEARNING
Nothing brightens a child’s eyes more than the joy of discovery — finding that they have toes on their feet or they can put some blocks together is a beautiful thing to behold. The joy in such discovery is a learning multiplier. As parents, we should be celebrating the beauty of these times with our children. Celebrate even when they make mistakes. Children love learning if we show enthusiasm and excitement for the process over the results.
BREADTH IS BETTER THAN DEPTH
A wide variety of learning experiences is better than one or two. Some parents erroneously choose to focus time and energy into a singular focus such as academic knowledge — things like reading or mathematics. To provide the best brain development for a child, focus on exploratory learning in areas like music, sports, arts and languages. The broader the exposure, the greater the brain benefit. Developing the brain in this way encourages creativity and abstract thinking — exactly the type of foundation we want to develop in young brains.
Learning empathy, kindness and teamwork are essential life skills. Even 2 year olds can learn these things. Adults can help by including activities that promote these skills.
- Learn to label and explain their emotions (e.g. “I feel sad because …)
- Learn to empathize. What emotions are other people feeling?
- Help with simple chores, which builds an understanding of shared responsibility
PARENTS AS A CHILD’S FIRST TEACHER
If a child’s brain is ready to absorb large amounts of information by age 2 then all adults, and especially parents, play a critical role in their development.
Einstein never learned physics as a young child, yet he proposed his Special Theory of Relativity when he was 26 years old and won a Nobel Prize at age 42. And while very few of us will turn into world famous scientists because our parents provided us with a violin, we can learn from the research that informs us about the importance of providing wonderfully diverse and exploratory learning opportunities.
KINDERGARTEN — WHERE PLAYING IS THE LEARNING
Kindergarten programs are purposefully play-based — there is no better way for children to be engaged, to stimulate their brain growth, and to accelerate their learning. Research clearly shows that young children learn best through a play-based environment — they not only learn physical skills, they learn important social and emotional competencies along with other abilities such as self-reflection, empathy and problem solving.
Learners begin maturing in areas such as independence and self-confidence at a very young age. They do so by playing and interacting in adult-supported ways as well as playing independently with their peers. They learn best in diverse environments where they have the option of exploring a number of different things. Kindergarten is where this focus on playing happens in classrooms that are filled with multiple areas meant to stimulate that incredible brain growth.
IT’S TIME TO PLAY
So, play with your child — regularly, and in ways that help to diversify their interests. Focusing on academics like reading before they get into school actually misses the point of how young brains develop. Explore their world with them. Get down in the dirt along side of them. Bring music into their lives. Build a fort out of sticks. Read a magical story to them. Discover the abundance of life in the park next door.
Give the gift of learning by playing.
Sounds like a ton of fun to me.
8 thoughts on “The Glory Years: Ages 2-7”
From a Kindergarten teacher, “thank you!” You explained this so well.
Thanks, Monika. I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂
As a new grandparent and a former primary teacher, this age is the lens I use most when I think about education. Over the past number of years, I’ve been truly committed to protecting childhood and encouraging the idea of play and wonder as a core tenet as foundational for life. You only get to be 5 once. Thanks for writing about it.
Thank you, Dean. We miss the golden opportunity to capitalize on the enormous benefit of play when we choose to focus on academic skills when our children are in their youngest years. While I’m not a grandpa, if that should happen, I might just be a bit ‘over the top’ with the playing aspect of babysitting. 🙂
Early years are so important. I was fortunate enough to lead a staff who saw the benefits of having small kindergarten and early grade classrooms even though it meant the older grade classes were slightly bigger. This made it possible for the early grade teachers to structure play and observe their students to see what might be the next best step and how that might be introduced into their play. The older grade teachers saw that many learning difficulties could be addressed so their focus could be more n curriculum. It goes without saying that art, music, dance and drama at every level are all part of that. Second language learning also is a great thing to introduce in the early years. The ability of children to see different perspectives is so much enhanced through singing. playing and experiencing other languages in these years.
Yes, yes and yes. The wider the variety of experiences the better. Thank you for your comments, Sheila.
So true! Exposure to a diverse range of activities, not just in younger years but all throughout life, is so important. Even in sport, studies have shown that being exposed to multiple sports and taking a break from a primary sport is very good for the mind and body, and will make a better overall athlete. Or how playing music can also enhance an athletes performance and visa versa. Another fun fact: It is believed that Einstein had ADHD (along with a multitude of other ‘out of the box’ thinkers). This could in part explain his struggles in his early years but incredible success later on. So, just another reason why early intervention, understanding, & support is so important for those who are neurodiverse and who struggle with: learning, breadth, emotional intelligence, and play. These game-changers are waiting to be discovered….
Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Chris. I had not heard about the possibility of Einstein having ADHD. Makes some good sense.