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Young children are learning and developing quickly. They are playing, learning and experimenting. They are also beginning to get a sense of their own identity and how they may be different from others, such as noticing boys and girls. Some children benefit from being at a nursery or playgroup at this age. Organised activities help develop their learning in an informal setting. In turn, this is preparing them for more formal school life. Cultural identity is important. Children need to have people around them that they can identify with and who have an understanding of their cultural and ethnic background.
How do young children learn?
Children learn through all their senses by:
Play is one of the main ways in which children learn. It helps to build self worth by giving a child a sense of his or her own abilities and to feel good about themselves. Because it’s fun, children often become very absorbed in what they are doing. In turn, this helps them develop the ability to concentrate. Providing children with a range of playthings will help them learn in a number of ways:
It's important that learning is fun at this age. It needs to be about doing things with them that they like. They might find unusual ways of doing things - for a toddler, building blocks aren't just for making towers, and paint can be used without a brush! Show them how things work, but if they want to experiment, let them.
Don't push your child too hard. Children develop in their own ways and in their own time. Try not to compare them to other children. You can also encourage reading, by reading to and with them. Look at the pictures together; this will help younger children make sense of the words.
It's also good to talk to them a lot, about everyday things while you are cooking or cleaning. This will give you a chance to teach them how things work and they will be able to ask you questions. Get ready for lots of “why’s?”
Anyone who spends any amount of time with pre-school children understands that providing them with opportunities for play provides so much more than a few minutes or hours of ‘fun’. Play also allows children to relax, let off steam, develop social skills such as concentration and co-operation, encourages the development of the imagination, develops motor skills and teaches self expression.
Sarah Owen, founder of ‘Pyjama Drama’ – drama, music, movement and play for pre-school children says, ‘Many children seem to be born with a natural ability to play, but some children find it more difficult and need to ‘learn’ how to play well and this is where parents can make a big difference. Whilst it is very important that children play with their peers and are given opportunities for unstructured play, children who also play with a loved adult can benefit greatly – the benefits of having fun together cannot be underestimated!’
Dramatic play is essential to a child’s social (or emotional) development and can play a large part in their physical development too. Children make sense of the world in which they live by acting out situations before they happen and by copying what they see around them. Pretend (or dramatic) play contributes to a child’s emotional development as they learn to see life from a different viewpoint and allows them to ‘trial’ situations before they happen.
Most children are naturally imaginative and will happily talk away to someone on their toy phone or drive the sofa to the shops, and this creativity should be actively encouraged! This type of play also develops children’s imaginations which are closely linked to intellectual development.