Part II: How Do Young Children Learn? Practical Tips | #TeachMeTuesday

Knowing how the brain works is one thing, however, using that knowledge to teach your child is another. ?? But it shouldn’t be. Last week I touched on the more technical aspects of how young children process information. Today I’m hoping to give you a few practical tips to get that dopamine pumping and ultimately, reinforce your child’s learning.

Children need to be in a positive emotional state to store information effectively  

If your child is stressed, bored, tired, or cranky, the brain goes into fight mode and diverts any incoming sensory info away from the brain. Introducing a new activity or concept is best left for a time when your child is alert and happy.

Young brains are not equipped for periods of high concentration. Give them the brain breaks that they need

If young children don’t get breaks, the brain’s messenger chemicals are depleted, which disables memory storage. If you’ve set up an activity and you find that your toddler has abandoned it after about 2 minutes in favour of a dump and fill game, it’s OK! Leave the activity out in an accessible spot for them so they can come back to it later. Physical activity is a GREAT way to give those young minds a break. Set up an obstacle course, challenge your preschooler to a race, or have a dance party if you find that your child is getting squirmy.

Plan activities that stimulate the release of dopamine

When learning is associated with pleasure, dopamine is released and this surge increases focus and attention, making children more likely to retain information.

Examples of learning activities that induce a release of dopamine are:

  • Physical movement (see brain breaks)
  • Music: play a song, sing a song, give them an ‘instrument’ to play (wooden spoons and pots provide a surprisingly large amount of pleasure to toddlers!)
  • Novelty: add something new! this does NOT mean you have to buy your child a new toy everyday. Simple adaptations to activities or games they are already familiar with will suffice
  • Sense of Achievement and Intrinsic Reward: verbal reinforcement that is specific to the task they are working on is key (eg. ‘I can see you’re working really hard on finishing that puzzle- keep up the great work!’)
  • Choice: young children (and adults!) like to feel like they have a degree of control and autonomy. When introducing a game or activity with your child, give them opportunities to make decisions (eg. ‘let’s do some drawing-what colours should we choose?’ or ‘I need some help setting the table-would you like to set the forks or the spoons?’
  • Play and humour (there is a purpose to prancing around and acting silly with your child!)

You know your child best. You know what excites them, bothers them, and bores them. Tap into their interests, keeping their moods in mind while allowing for the breaks they need.  And remember-have fun with it!

How Do Young Children Learn? | Part I-The Science


Mary_HeadshotMary Wolff

As R.E.C.E, Executive Director and Co-founder of Smart Cookie Club, Mary provides a positive perception, a sense of understanding and unique ideas to support and educate children, parents and caregivers.


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