From the moment babies are born, sensory experiences contribute significantly to their development. The combination of sensory information and the environment in which children live influence development, behaviour and life experiences. Although genetics plays an important role in children’s development, play experiences during the early years are equally valuable to the learning and development process. Think of how genetics and experiences relate to brain development. Genetics influence how the brain is wired from birth. The types of experiences and the people within the environment determine how the brain functions and develops.
From a psychology perspective, there are three major theories that help to understand how children learn. Click on each category below to gain further information on how children learn.
Classical conditioning refers to children making an association between a stimulus and a response. For example, when children have had pleasing experiences outdoors, when they hear the word outdoor or playground, they associate those words with the experiences that they have had. Children might associate seeing rain boots with being able to walk in puddles.
Operant conditioning refers to rewarding a behaviour in an attempt to have the positive behaviour repeated. For example, when children are praised for engaging in outdoor play experiences, they are more likely to want to return to the outdoors.
Observational conditioning refers to learning from watching others. For example, children watch adults, parents, peers and other children in their environment to gain information on how something might be done or what they are doing. Children may also observe environmental attributes and then figure out what they could do within the space and place.
Other Ways that Children Learn
Children will spend more time interacting with and learning from peers when they are in environments that are reflective of their interests and when they are given the time to experiment, explore and try out ideas. When children are rushed or on a defined schedule there is less peer interaction or desire for in-depth exploration either independently or with peers (Dietze & Kashin, 2012). Depending on the environment, the materials, and adult role modelling, peer relationships may have positive or negative effects on children’s learning.
During the early years, children’s learning is influenced by their curiosity levels and the people, materials, and environments that they are exposed to. Children in early learning centres that are designed to support their interests will spend much of their time interacting with peers and learning from them. Peer relationships may have positive or negative effects on children’s learning.
Programming and Environment
Children’s genetics and the environment are always interconnected to their learning. Genetics influence one’s ability to learn, while the environmental experiences enhance those abilities.
Gandini (1998) identified that children’s environments that are flexible and adaptable support them in being able to change or reconfigure things as they create new knowledge. Similarly, Fraser (2011) maintained that spaces that function as a third teacher “will be responsive to the children’s interests, provide opportunities for children to make their thinking visible and will foster further learning and engagement” (p. 67). The environment is directly correlated to the depth of learning that children are willing to engage in, experience and use for further learning.
Children’s development and learning are influenced by their family and community. Children’s cultures and attributes of their cultures influence how they learn and experience life. Think about children who grow up in families that have active play and outdoors as part of their values and beliefs. How will those children’s life experiences differ from children that are exposed to more sedentary play such as technology games used in the indoor environment? These life experiences contribute to children’s ability to take risks, explore ideas and build upon previous experiences.
Look at the pictures above. What types of learning do you see the children involved in and who and what might be influencing the learning?
Using the comment box below, discuss the types of learning that you envision children could gain from the experiences depicted in the photos.