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Young Children are Always 'in School' to Learn

Posted: September 23, 2013

For most families with children, fall is “back to school time.” If your children are very young, between birth and 5 years old, you may not consider them always ‘in school’ since they are learning every waking moment. Everything you do with them, including raking and jumping in leaves, cutting up pumpkins and singing seasonal songs, stimulates their brain and learning.

We have learned from neuroscience research that the human brain is constructed through formation of neural connections that begin before birth. In the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. These connections form the architecture for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow in the child’s life.

The child’s experiences or interactions with his/her environment determine whether this architecture is sturdy or fragile. Parents and other adult caregivers in a child’s life play a critical role in making sure infants, toddlers and preschool children have enriching experiences that form a sturdy foundation for future learning.

So, what are ‘enriching experiences’? Don’t worry, you do not have to have an education degree or purchase expensive educational toys and videos to help your child’s brain develop. The attentive, nurturing, and growth-promoting interactions with invested adults are the best educational tools around.

Penn State Extension’s Better Kid Care program is pleased to offer a new resource for those invested adults. Nurturing Learning, a research-to-practice fact sheet series can be downloaded from our website, http://extension.psu.edu/youth/betterkidcare/early-care/our-resources/nurturing-learning. Nurturing Learning is filled with easy-to-do ideas to help you provide enriching experiences daily for one, two, three and four year-old-children  in the following curriculum areas:
•    Language and literacy
•    Mathematical and scientific thinking
•    Arts and creativity
•    Play and music

Experiences in all of these areas are necessary to build the foundation for future learning. Each fact sheet provides research-based information on what children of the specific age are doing, and then what adults can provide, say and do to nurture learning in that area. You will discover that you have everything necessary to give children what they need, when they need it.

Play is children’s work, the way they explore, interact with, and enjoy the world around them. While they are born with curiosity and creativity, they rely on adults to provide the time, space, materials and language that lead to learning through play. The Nurturing Learning series provides the information