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The characteristics of effective learning

The characteristics of effective learning are the ways in which children engage with other people and their environment, through play and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically.

It’s about how children make sense of things and have the interest and motivation to learn. Having high levels of involvement in play, exploring and being confident to make connections, underpins learning and development and supports children to be motivated learners.

Play and exploring

Children engaged in play and exploration are learning through experience. Young children’s development requires real hands-on engagement.

Children are strongly motivated to play and when deeply engaged in play they function at their highest level. The interactions that children have with you and other people to enhance their learning is crucial for them to make good progress.

Supporting play and exploring

Man and child playing with blocks

Children need time, space and materials to explore, investigate and play with. Provide interesting things for your child to play with and value their play.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you must buy the latest new toy. Find things from around your home that are safe for your child to play with, dependent on their age and stage of development. This might include empty cardboard boxes and tubes, pots and pans, wooden spoons or home-made playdough.

Give them opportunities to test their ideas, let them try things out, solve problems and be creative.

Encourage them to make their own choices and decisions, using their own ideas and imagination. When things go wrong, discuss what happened and share ideas of how to make it better or how it could be changed.

Active play

Active play is about giving children opportunities to explore their world through movement, using all their senses to find out what they can do, what things are like and what they mean. They build understanding and ideas from these early experiences.

Young children need to move. Early learning is active, messy, boisterous and often physical. Sitting still for too long can disrupt learning.

Active play allows children to have control over their learning, to follow their interests, make connections and develop their ideas through physical and mental challenges. This occurs when children are interested in finding things out for themselves.

Supporting active play

Children need to feel secure to actively explore their environment. They need you to help to build their self-esteem and confidence.

Ask your child what they would like to do and provide choices for them to be active.

Join in your child’s play. Say something meaningful so that they understand that you know about what they are doing or trying to do and encourage their persistence and a ‘can do’ approach. For example, “you kept trying to balance on one leg and didn’t give up. It took a lot of practice.”

Show them that you recognise that they are proud of how they have accomplished something-not just focusing on the end result.

Provide challenge but have realistic expectations of your child.

Creativity and critical thinking

Surprisingly, creativity and critical thinking is not about producing a work of art. It’s much more about children being able to develop their own ideas and ways of doing things; exploring and thinking about the possibilities of what could be.

This kind of thinking happens unconsciously within the flow of children’s play as they wonder and experiment with ideas, such as ‘what can I do with this?’

Nurturing children’s creativity supports them to move on from their understanding of ‘what is’ to the possibility of ‘what could be’. It supports them to make new connections which then transform their understanding.

Nurturing creativity and critical thinking

Child balancing on a bench

Children need to feel loved, valued and safe and to know that they have approval from you, that it’s ok to explore in their own way and have a go. It does not matter if they get it wrong or make a mess.

Children need to try things out again and again over time. For example, children may need to have lots of opportunities to run, jump and walk through puddles to check out what happens.

You can help guide your child’s creativity and critical thinking. This might mean that sometimes you will just stand back and let them explore in their own way and find out what causes things to happen. In other cases you might ask some questions to help guide their thinking.

Pause, wait and don’t jump in quickly to try and fix the problem for your child. Give them time to think and try out their own ideas to solve the problem. For older children, ask thinking questions such as ‘I wonder why….that happens?', 'what do you think ….?' and provide enough information so they don’t get frustrated, but not so much that you automatically give them the answers.

Respect your child’s ideas, whether you view them as correct or not. You could say, “That is interesting. Tell me why you think that?”

Encourage them to persevere by praising their efforts, for example, “I can see you are trying really hard to balance the..”.

Provide lots of opportunities for your child to play, so that they can explore cause and effect, such as what happens when they try to stick things together or make one thing balance on top of another.

Help your child to think by asking questions such as “If we do this, what do you think will happen?”