Children learn in a variety of ways.Parents and teachers can help them learn by varying our schedule and activities so they have a chance for some guided learning, some self-directed learning and some down time to process it all.
In this diagram by Kyle Snow, he divides four types of learning up by whether the teacher and child are active or passive. (His diagram shows the rectangles of types of learning – I have added the circles.) Whatever classes or daycare your child attends, it’s worth thinking about whether there are opportunities for all four types of learning.
Here’s how we use the four types of learning in my toddler classes with Bellevue College Parent Education.
Direct instruction is what we think of when we say “Teaching.” This is an adult telling information to a child, or doing an instructive demonstration of how to do something. Direct instruction from a parent or a teacher is a good way to convey core information and build “crystallized intelligence” – the database of information we carry around.
In our toddler classes, we offer little snippets of direct instruction throughout the day, doing simple things like showing a child how to pour rice in the sensory bin. But the main structured learning happens in circle time when we read stories, sing songs, and play with felt boards. We encourage all children to participate in the group activity together. (At the beginning of the year, we often have some wanderers, but by the end of the year most are engaged most of the time.)
Scaffolding / Guided Play and Free Play
The best way to build “fluid intelligence” – the kind that helps us adapt to new situations and learn new skills, is hands-on play and interaction with real world experiences.
We always have multiple stations set up around the rooms, and children have the ability to choose what to play with, how to play with it, and for how long. Sometimes the children play independently, exploring and discovering on their own. (Free play.) Sometimes, the parents or teachers are asking questions, giving suggestions, or modelling ways to extend the play and involve new concepts. (Guided play – read more about the teacher or parent’s role in play-based learning here.)
Children also need down time. Quiet time, with little to no input, so their brain can process all the new information, and cement the connections that help them remember what they have learned. Since our program is just two hours long, we don’t have a lot of down time built in – we hope that children are coming in well-rested, and that they have a chance to nap afterwards. (More on toddler sleep here.)
During class, we do have a book corner where parent and child can snuggle and read for a while. Children are also welcome to come sit with their parents during our parent ed sessions. Snack time also serves as down time for many kids.
Four Types of Learning at Home
Think about your family schedule for a moment. Do you have times when you’re teaching your child? Times when they are playing with you nearby, giving occasional suggestions or playing along? Times when they’re playing independently? Quiet time? A nice mix of these will help them learn and grow.
Some parents say “my child NEVER plays alone. He always wants me to play with him.” It’s wonderful when our children like us and want to spend time with us. But, it’s also good for them to learn to play on their own too. Can you choose some times each day where you say no to them and encourage them to play alone for a while. They may resist at first, but if given a moment to “get bored” and frustrated, most can find something to do. (You can plan ahead for these times by setting up “Invitations to Play” that you think will capture their attention.)