Why Early Learning Environments Boost More Than Just Academic Performance

by Sanya Pelini October 10, 2017

A baby playing with blocks

The needs of an increasing number of kids are not being met by traditional education systems. More and more kids are being left behind, and schools are increasingly unable or unwilling to foster the holistic development of all kids. However, all is not lost. A newly released study suggests that early learning environments have a significant impact on skill development and later academic success.

The researchers from New York University examined over 2, 000 families from different backgrounds to determine the extent to which the home environment influenced kids’ pre-kindergarten school-related skills and later learning environment. Some of the measures included in the study were general cognitive abilities, reading, math, and vocabulary.

The researchers found that early learning environments can help kids develop early cognitive and language skills that may lead to later academic success. They identified three key features of positive early learning environments: kid’s participation in learning activities, the availability of learning materials at home, and the quality of parent-child interactions.

Here are some tips on how to turn the home environment into a successful early learning center.

1 | Help your kid cultivate a reading culture

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington suggests that reading and writing with your kid can provide him or her with tools for lifetime success. 241 families participated in the study that was carried out over five years.

Once a year, parents were asked to complete questionnaires about their kids reading and writing habits. Questions included how their kids felt about reading and writing, the activities they engaged in at home, how they rated their kid’s self-regulation skills, and how they supported their kid’s learning at home. The researchers found that reading and writing at home had a positive long-term impact on kids 'abilities to plan, organize, and complete tasks.

However, when it comes to picking the right books for kids, not all books are equal. There are things to keep in mind when choosing kids’ books. For instance, good books should captivate kids, teach them something new, and use age-appropriate language.

2 | Tell stories

Telling stories or reading stories has multiple benefits for kids. It teaches them new things and it helps strengthen the child-parent relationship. Educational philosophers such as Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that storytelling was a gift. He argued that making up stories helped kids develop their imagination skills. Making up stories can seem difficult at first but it gets better with practice. If you’re not comfortable making up stories, read to your kid. Start a read-aloud culture the entire family can participate in.

3 | Choosing the right toys matters

Choosing toys that facilitate expression and learning can help kids develop their cognitive skills. The right toys can help kids develop problem-solving skills, improve their vocabulary, lead to greater creativity, and increase their ability to notice fine details.

Much evidence suggests that quality trumps quantity when it comes to kids’ toys. Remember that taming the toys could ignite creativity.

4 | Spark learning everywhere

When we engage kids in learning activities at home, it becomes easier for them to incorporate even abstract concepts elsewhere. That said, engaging in learning activities doesn’t mean transforming the home environment into a formal learning center. Engaging kids in playful interactive activities will help them learn while having fun. For instance, your kid can learn about numbers by helping you bake (counting the number of eggs needed, weighing the flour) and can learn about volume by using different containers to weigh grains. Simply labeling objects in the environment or playing games like “I spy” provide opportunities for kids to learn.

When we encourage our kids to participate in age-appropriate tasks, we also provide them with important learning opportunities.

5 | Create high-quality interactions

Creating high-quality interactions with kids is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your kid. This involves treating her as an individual and engaging her in meaningful conversations.

A high-quality interaction is also one in which parents are attentive to kids’ emotions and respond to their cues in appropriate ways. Teaching kids about their emotions using age-appropriate techniques and helping them learn to manage those emotions by themselves can help them develop important self-regulation skills that they can use in childhood and beyond.

Creating high-quality interactions also means making time to spend with each of your kids, but don’t focus on quantity. Spending all your free time with your kids is not what makes you a great parent. Remember that even short regular moments spent together go a long way in strengthening the parent-child bond.

Sanya Pelini


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