Want your kiddo to become a speedier and more engaged learner? We have practical suggestions you can try!

Singapore is often praised for its top-notch education system, but raising kids in such a pressure-cooker school environment can be stressful. From common tests to major exams, a pupil’s life is all about keeping up, while not buckling under the pressure.

So, little surprise parents are eager that their children to learn quickly. Still, is this just the ability to acquire knowledge at light speed?

However, Freda Sutanto, a senior educational & developmental psychologist at Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre, points out that merely encouraging children to absorb information for the sake of “downloading” data into their brains or to give them a competitive edge over their peers is “not helpful”.

Sutanto states, “What parents should be working towards (in terms of enhancing a child’s learning experiences) is ‘meaningful learning’ and a ‘growth mindset’.

She adds, “Meaningful learning is when the brain stores information within a framework that makes sense to the child and aligns with their world view. A growth mindset refers to the attitude of recognising and dealing with challenges ― in the belief that evolving with challenges over time improves intelligence.”

Ultimately, you want your child to not only learn fast, but in a constructive, meaningful way.

Ultimately, you want your child not only to learn fast, but in a constructive, meaningful way. We detail helpful strategies to help you do just that.

#1 Help kids take charge of their learning goals

Noting that one reason why children do not learn well is because they are passively being fed information, Sutanto asserts, “Instead, they should be formulating questions and modifying their understanding of concepts as they go along.”

To help your child take charge of their learning goals, ask them what they would like to get out of learning a particular concept. For example, show your child a book cover page and ask them what they observe, think and wonder about it. They may come up with thoughts like, “I wonder why the food on the table is unfinished” or “I wonder why the cat looks angry”.

“At the end of the book, ask your child if they have figured out what they were wondering about ― as a means of further reinforcing the concept,” she suggests.

#2 Play games to encourage independent learning/self discovery

For parent Lee Jian Sheng, owner of Paideia Learning Academy, raising quick learners is more about letting his children engage in self-discovery than about following specific techniques.

He says, “I encourage my 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter to learn independently as much as possible. Currently, I find that introducing them to various card and board games helps them become faster and sharper learners.”

Lee reckons that reading, strategising and being exposed to the challenging situations in these games allow his children to use different aspects of their abilities.

He explains, “Children need to read game rules, learn the logical steps of each game and figure out how to win. The application of literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving skills really helps them learn better in general.”


#3 Provoke emotional responses, so the topic becomes more memorable

This refers to an entire spectrum of emotions ranging from curiosity and delight to a sense of anger or justice.

Sutanto elaborates, “Learning is emotional at heart ― when we talk about meaningful learning, we are really asking how a concept resonates with an individual and their experience. When a topic is meaningful and stirs up an emotional response, it does not get forgotten as easily.”

Of course, some topics are, by nature, more intrinsically meaningful than others. Examples include learning about endangered animals or natural disasters, and how they impact the earth. However, with more abstract topics (like pi in mathematics), the key lies in making the concept meaningful for kids.

Sutanto cites the example of a class taught by a good maths teacher, who, while explaining pi to students, spoke about how it was a constant (the ratio remains the same regardless of the size of the circle) and irrational (decimals never repeat).

“Then, he asked students to think of something in their lives that was both a constant and irrational (or infinite in possibilities). Students gave answers like pizza ― pizza is a constant food but there are infinite topping combinations. Another mentioned her family, where the members are constant but their antics are infinite.”

While there is no formula for making concepts meaningful, topics are better remembered once you get an engaged response.

While there is no formula for making concepts meaningful, topics are better remembered once you get an engaged response.

#4 Understand your child’s attention span and “on-task” limits

Kids don’t exactly have the longest attention spans, so keep this in mind when teaching them something. At times, they may appear focused ― in actual fact, they are zoning out. Nor is it a secret that forcing them to focus when they lack motivation slows down learning in the long run.

“Take some time to understand how long your child can pay attention for, and work within those limits to manage and stretch attention,” Sutanto advises. “This involves observing them closely over three to four sessions of learning tasks at home (use a timer inconspicuously), and averaging the ‘on-task’ time (how long they are actually doing or thinking about the tasks).”

If you find your child able to concentrate for around 15 minutes before getting distracted, create a study schedule that allows for 15 minutes of studying and a 5-minute break in between.

When it comes to break activities, motor breaks (such as jumping jumps or stretches) are ideal. Sutanto advises, “Break activities should not involve electronics or favourite toys as that makes the transition back to studying more difficult.”

For children with a shorter attention span, work towards stretching it slowly by increasing their “on-task” time one to two minutes every couple of weeks.

#5 Teach your child about the “learning pit”

When your little ones first learn about a specific concept, they may struggle to understand it and therefore fall deeper into a “learning pit”.

In this theory, challenge is seen as vital to learning ― you have to get worse /hit breaking point before you can claw your way out of this (deep) hole ― in other words, improve, Susanto explains.

The more challenging a concept or piece of work is, the deeper the “learning pit”, she notes. “Let children know that no learning happens without some sort of pit. Some may be shallow, some may be deep, but if there is no pit, then the concept has already been learned.”

Explaining this “pit” concept to your child helps them to understand that learning can be hard. However, they can use various strategies to overcome their challenges. Work with your offspring to help them overcome their struggles. These strategies include taking a break, reading up more about the topic, discussing it with someone else or trying a new approach.

Sutanto points out, “Subsequently, they begin to climb up from the bottom of the ‘pit’ when they feel the concept becoming clearer.”

Photos: iStock

Like us on Facebook and check SmartParents regularly for the latest reads!

Elsewhere on SmartParents.sg

What to do when your child misbehaves in school

7 rules to stop homework battles for good!