How do children learn? How do any of us learn for that matter?

Learning in a way that is going to make a real difference to our development is only possible when there is genuine motivation.

And that will seep away unless we get recognition for our achievements from those whose opinions we value.

This is as true for small children as it is for students or adults learning at the workplace.

Nothing is more effective than learning through doing: discovering for yourself how things work and then, with help, drawing conclusions.

It involves learning from mistakes, sharing problems, observing, listening and participating. Above all, it means being stretched so that you are always trying that little bit harder.

So much for the broad outlines.

The reality is that children can achieve this by doing what they have always enjoyed doing: playing with sand and water, learning nursery rhymes, listening to stories, painting and so on.

The question for parents is: how does all this come together as early education?

The answer lies in the early learning goals.

Communication: Before children can learn to read and write, they need to be able to communicate.

They need to be able to listen and understand, ask questions as well as answer them. They need an environment where books are as vital as food and drink.

More prosaically, they also need to learn how to control a pencil before they can write.


Many parents are concerned about maths but the best way of preventing low achievement by tomorrow's teenagers is to introduce under-fives to numbers in a meaningful way.

That is why you will find your child counting and measuring as an integral part of activities not obviously related to maths. For example, counting out beads to be used in a collage.


Children thrive in an environment where creativity and originality are nurtured.

Apart from the craft activities they love, it also means active involvement in storytelling, singing and making music.

And all these draw on other skills they are developing at the same time: they will be counting out paintbrushes, discussing who has first go and so on.

Social and emotionaldevelopment:

This is an aspect of learning that is all too often sidelined. Learning is a social activity, which involves building relationships with their peers, learning to share and consider others' feelings.

Physical development:

By exercising their bodies and developing physical skills, children are exercising their minds. They are also drawing on all four senses to experience fully the world around them.

Knowledge and Understanding of the world:

Finally, by experimenting learning actively rather than passively small children are acquiring the rudiments of a scientific approach to their surroundings.

They are observing similarities, patterns and change and drawing conclusions about the world they live in.

Tomorrow's physicists and biologists? Who can tell?