By Jet Sichterman

During this month’s Forum, Elize Burgess of Learning Plus informed us about the factors that contribute to learning, and how parents can support their child’s learning.  Among many things, Elize shared that learning is a unique process. A human brain is good at filtering what information it thinks is important to remember, and what not. And then, that brain covers the information in it’s own ‘sauce’; a person’s personality, identity, culture and emotions define how the bits of information the brain has filtered are perceived by that person. Because of this, I already know that it will be impossible for me to even begin and share with you the gist of her very informative presentation. Instead, I will focus on a few of the tips Elize shared for parents on how they can support their child’s cognitive development, with a few added notes from myself.

1 – Working with internal motivation
Learning is driven by internal and external motivations. When a child is internally motivated to do something, they will explore thoroughly and remember the most. It is therefore important that children have ample opportunity for free, undirected play. More on why play is important for learning you can find here.

2 – Working with external motivation
While internal motivation is great for learning, children are not always internally motivated for learning all the topics of a school curriculum. In those cases, you may need to rely on external motivation, for example by the use of reinforcement for learning. Think of using compliments and praise, or physical reinforcement such as stickers. Elize shares that predictable rewards in a variable timeslot are the most helpful for keeping the (external) motivation high. For example, if you would like to increase your child’s motivation for doing chores and decide to work with stickers you can give a sticker each time after they complete a chore. But soon you may notice that even the stickers cannot motivate your child anymore. If instead you give a sticker once in a while, sometimes after three chores, other times after four or five, and then two in a row, this is more powerful to keep the external motivation going.

3 – Model what you would like to see your child do
Instead of doing as they are told; children more often do what they see. If you as a parent like to spend time reading books, your child may too. If however you do not read books and share how much you dislike reading, chances are high that your child will not enjoy reading as much either.

During the presentation, questions arose about using E-readers and tablets or phones to read on. While they are omnipresent and have their perks, reading from a book has many benefits over reading digitally, including better retention and a more limited effect on your sleep. In addition, when you read from a screen your child may not know that what you are doing is different from what they like doing digitally (which often does not involve a lot of reading).

4 – Skip out on early intervention & CITO training
Elize shares that research show that early intervention or early literacy/numeracy programmes have no lasting beneficial effects for most children*. Generally, children learn reading best when they are cognitively ready, which is around 5-7 years of age.

While I am not sure Elize mentioned CITO training, my brain filters have definitely added these in the mix. Cito training may have a short term effect, increasing children’s score on the CITO end test which partially helps determine the level they can do at secondary school in The Netherlands. However, this effect only applies to the CITO test. It does not increase a child’s cognitive abilities. This means that children who do a lot of CITO training (getting better results) are sent to higher educational levels than they would without training. They will however often run into difficulties in secondary school because the curriculum is too demanding. In addition, Elize mentions only 25% of our school success is dependent on cognitive abilities (IQ) in the first place.

In short; unless your child has a need for specific targeted interventions, the best way to support your child is by allowing and enabling them to explore their lessons in a playful way, and show your child what you value by doing it yourself.

Do you want to know more about how to support your children’s learning process? Find out how Elize can help you!
If you have specific questions about your child’s learning process perhaps a psycho-educational assessment may be indicated.

Our next parent Forum will take place on October 2nd: Assertive Parenting for Toddlers by Early Years Psychologist Sara Dominguez. For professionals supporting international families, Vassia Sarantopoulou of Antiloneliness will share the benefits of using Projective Cards on October 1st.

* Some specific groups of children may benefit from early intervention.