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Developing a learning style before starting school

5 ways to develop your child's learning style before they start school
Most of us want to give our children every advantage when they start primary school — it’s only natural. Finding the best school, taking an interest in feedback from teachers and doing homework is all great, but the best thing you can do for your child is to help them develop the key characteristics of being an effective learner.
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When your child starts school, it’s not so much what they know as how they learn that will have the greatest influence on their time in education. Alex Hasell, the co-founder of Little Hands Learning, explains how to prepare your little one for the world of learning.

What is an effective learner? 

The key characteristics of an effective learner, as defined in the National Curriculum, are:

  • playing and exploring
  • active learning
  • creating and critical thinking

So, how can you develop these characteristics in your child before their first day at primary school? The following activities will help...

1. Getting outdoors

There are endless opportunities for play outdoors but some easy ones are:

The great outdoors is an exciting and enabling environment which is exactly what children need to develop their playing and exploring characteristic.

Whilst playing outside, children are not only learning about the world around them, but also how to think critically and make links between what they already know. This, in turn, helps them understand new concepts. Give children time to think, talk and ask questions when you are outside together. 

Of course, weather will sometimes stop play, but there are plenty of things to do indoors…

2. Art activities

Some parents are filled with a sense of dread at the thought of art activities. You can keep it very simple though and just use what you have to hand at home. Paper, crayons, watercolours, poster paint and chalk can all be used to enable and encourage your child to experiment, create and explore as they wish. Art activities will encourage children to have a go at trying something new.

During these art activities it’s important for children to have opportunities to express themselves. The less structured the better! It’s not about the end product; the process in which your child creates the art is much more important.

After the artwork is finished, try to lead a discussion with them and ask questions so they can reflect on what they have created. For example: “Tell me about your painting?” or “Is there anything you would change about your picture?” These types of questions will support the development of critical thinking skills.

3. Small world play

Small world play involves creating a miniature world for your child to explore. It can be a farm, a pond, an ocean or whatever your child is interested in. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated and you can use whatever you have to hand. Animal or people figures, toy cars, pebbles, water and natural items all work well in small-world play.

This is also a great opportunity for open-ended play. It enables your child to explore how they wish. There are no right or wrong ways to play through this type of activity; they are free to imagine, explore and interact.

Small world play is also a fantastic opportunity to develop their language which will then support them in other areas of the curriculum. Whilst they play it is important to not only talk to them and join in but also to allow them some time to play independently.

This is the perfect safe environment for children to explore what happens when things go wrong. It’s important for children to learn that things don’t always go right and equally important for them to understand that this is ok and that we can learn through these experiences. This builds resilience within your children — a very important part of preparing them for primary school life.

4. Simple science experiments

There are endless science experiments that are simple enough for children to try. Some easy ones are:

  • floating and sinking a range of different natural objects or items from around the house
  • mixing baking powder and vinegar to create a reaction
  • melting ice using warm water or salt

Science experiments are a brilliant way to allow children to develop all the characteristics of an effective learner at once. Through science, children can explore, hypothesise and investigate. Science experiments are always exciting and lots of fun, giving a child the motivation to engage and persist with the activity even if it doesn’t go to plan. This will develop the characteristic of active learning that will be vital when they are at school and need to focus and persevere.

5. Sensory play

Sensory play is any activity that engages at least one of your child’s senses.

Fantastic (and easy!) options for sensory play are:

  • coloured rice
  • cold water scented with either fruit or herbal tea
  • playdough

These could all be presented in a tray with different tools, utensils, toys or containers and then your child can play freely.

Sensory play, like art activities, is great for helping children develop a give-it-a-go attitude as part of the playing and exploring characteristic. They can investigate and explore the different materials and they are able to think creatively about how they can play.

Sensory play also lends itself to developing finger strength and fine motor skills, which are important skills children will need when they start writing at school. Developing these physical skills whilst playing will allow children to enhance their progress in primary school. 

More tips and resources for starting school

Alex Hasell is a former teacher and co-founder of Little Hands Learning, an educational and eco-friendly subscription box for children aged three to six years. The play-based activities are handcrafted and designed by teachers to focus on key areas of the National Curriculum. The curated books together with the activities help nurture healthy minds and encourage early literacy skills, giving children the best start to their education.

You can also explore the Nursery resources and worksheets on TheSchoolRun for practice activities and download My starting school scrapbook and First Day of school signs to get into a positive, excited mindset for starting school in September!