Discover The Best Strategies For Learning That Sticks

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Preparing an educational activity for young children has the great potential to open up a new world of understanding and experience. So as parents we look around for the perfect activity to develop their already awesome abilities. However, sometimes it is difficult to know how to engage in these activities with your kids so that they benefit from all the learning that is offered. We want to share with you 7 strategies that will help you understand how to unleash learning potential from your home. By using these strategies:

  • you will be able to use and understand the learning opportunities provided by educational activities
  • your child will happily engage and want to do them more often with you
  • you will learn about your child’s abilities and interests
  • your child will learn in a fun and positive way, leading to learning that sticks

A lot of STEM activities on social media are adult-led, focus on the final outcome, and give little freedom for child-led discovery. For example, a beautiful but not developmentally appropriate craft that young kids can’t do by themselves or an experiment that requires constant adult intervention. We believe this creates an obstacle for deep understanding and learning that sticks. Especially when doing activities with younger children. So we’ve rounded up the strategies that we believe are key when doing any educational or STEM activity. Follow these strategies and engage with your children, have fun together and take advantage of the awesome learning opportunities.

1. Build Motivation Beforehand

Motivation is key for learning. It helps associate positive feelings to whatever we are doing, creating positive connections and memories which will be easier to recall. This boosts learning. And let’s face it, if you do something you enjoy, chances are you will do it again. The more you repeat, the better you learn.

One way to help with motivation is to create excitement. We can do this by talking to our kids in a very positive way about the activity or experiment. The more excitement we show prior to the activity and the more we talk about it as something we do together, the more engaged and motivated our kids will be.

2. Get The Timing Right

Timing can make a huge difference for kids benefiting from learning opportunities. This has to do again with associating positive feelings and emotions to the task at hand. Make sure you understand your child’s rhythm, their ups and downs. For example, our kids are more open to new experiments in the mornings, so we try to do them at that time of day. Also, we’d recommend not doing activities with hungry or sleepy kids. 

3. Find The Challenge Sweet Spot

If something is too easy, kids tend to lose interest fast. But if the activity is too challenging it can lead to frustration and lack of motivation. But struggles are part of life, and we help our kids get through them on a daily basis so they grow. We do this by offering a safe and supportive environment. This environment is what you should try to recreate in any educational activity that you do together. Because a certain amount of challenge is needed for learning to occur. This is known as productive struggle. So, how do you know if the activity has the right amount of challenge?

Some activities will give an age range, so you can start there. However, we believe more in the power of observation so you can truly tailor activities to your kids. Because each kid is different. The more you observe your child the more you will understand what their level is. Make sure there is room for them to learn, that they don’t know all the answers, but that it is not too advanced.

So you can understand the concept of productive struggle a bit more, think about it this way: Productive struggle refers to a challenge that is just out of reach but that requires tools that we mostly understand and can use to solve the problem. Try to find activities that can be adapted to different levels.

Activities With Different Challenge Levels

4. Let The Child Play

Play means exploring, making mistakes, interacting with our environment and so much more. If you look at this closely, it is the foundation of learning. Play-based-learning activities are a great way for kids to take control and become active participants of their learning experience. So all you have to do is set up an environment that will foster learning through play and you’ve got it. If you want to guide and be involved, make sure it comes from a place of playing and discovering together. Become scientific teammates instead of having all the answers. The more children are allowed to follow their curious and playful nature, the more they will be willing to experiment and discover. Learning is just a happy by-product of their play.

Play-Based Learning Activities

5. Match The Activity

Try to match the theme of the activity to your kids as much as possible. This is connected to motivation and is key. Choose activities that build on their interests or that can incorporate topics they like. For example: include toy cars, animals, or role-playing with any activity that allows it. Use your imagination to find ways to connect with them through these educational experiences and the learning will be deeper.

The type of activity is also important for learning. For example, our daughter loves to touch everything, so when we tried a typical sodium bicarbonate and vinegar experiment it was over quite fast because she kept wanting to put her hands in the mixture all the time. This is ok for a little while, but we did not want her to spend an hour with her hands in vinegar. So that experiment was not a good match for us. Even though it is a very cool and educational activity, our kid was not able to fully engage and benefit from the learning experience. If however, your kid is more of an observer, it would be perfect.

Every kid has different ways of learning and experimenting, tailor activities to meet those needs. Having said this, we do believe that children learn best when they can manipulate things as much as possible and use as many senses as possible. Hands-on and sensory activities are great for this.   

Hands-on And Sensory Learning Activities

6. Manage Expectations

For this we want you to remember one thing, learning is a process and not an end result. Try to steer clear from activities that lead to just one outcome and try to do things that are open-ended. Focus more on observing, guiding, and connecting during the activity rather than rushing to a conclusion. This allows for time. Time to engage, to experiment, make mistakes, try again and actually learn something that will stick. If you can manage your own expectations about the perfect result, you will also transmit this to your kids, avoiding frustration when things don’t go as planned. And also remember, repetition is key for learning. So it is actually better to repeat the experiment many times than to do it just once perfectly. 

7. Add A Touch Of Color

When we do colorful activities, it appeals to their visual experience. Our kids are more interested and motivated, and motivation and engagement leads to better learning. So make it colorful! Ways to do this: always have food coloring at hand and use it whenever there is water involved in any activity (which in our house is quite often). It adds a whole new level of fun to any experiment!    

Rainbow Activities

So these are our 7 strategies for learning that sticks. But remember, just because you don’t see a specific expected outcome does not mean that learning is not happening. Learning can take on many forms. Just make sure to create a home learning environment that encourages discovery and acknowledges mistakes as part of the learning process. Model excitement at any learning opportunity. Have fun together. Play. The learning will happen naturally and it will be deeper and longer lasting.

Happy STEM learning!   

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