It’s only natural as a parent to want your child to excel both in and outside of the classroom. But, just what is reasonable to expect of your child at different ages, and what is likely to be beyond their capabilities? When (and how) is it appropriate to challenge your kids, and when should you take the pressure off? To get a better sense, here is a breakdown of what the CDC notes about the different child development stages and kids’ learning ability.
Preschool (Ages 3-5)
In this developmental stage, children are learning how to learn and developing a sense of curiosity about their world. While their attention spans are short (about five minutes), children are growing in their inquisitiveness, asking all those pesky yet endearing “why” questions. However, remember that certain concepts are still not fully developed at this time, like how long an hour actually is. Kids at this age are heavily influenced by the adults in their lives, and understand how to follow directions. By the end of kindergarten, your child should be able to read words, but may not be able to understand everything they read. They should also grasp basic math concepts like counting and sorting, and be able to write and copy words, like their name.
Tips for Learning:
Encourage interactive play and give your child the opportunity to learn, discover, and experiment. They will learn best when they are given the chance to explore things on their own. Consistently read to your child and help them develop strong language skills by speaking to him or her in complete sentences. Model the behavior you’re looking for and be clear and consistent when disciplining your child.
School Age (6-8)
In this developmental stage, physical, social, and mental skills are developing quickly, so it is crucial for children to develop confidence in all areas of life. Children are able to reason and think more logically, and their attention spans increase significantly. Abstract ideas such as “past, present, and future” are becoming more understandable to children. Friendships are gaining greater importance during this time and begin to shape and influence behavior. Children are also beginning to be less egocentric and are better able to focus more on other people. They are also able to better articulate what they think and feel. As they get older, children may grow more interested in the subjects that they have greater confidence in.
Tips for Learning:
While children can read on their own now, continue to read to them to build fluency and comprehension. Also, be sure to encourage your child to continue asking questions. At around this age, they may also begin to become more self-conscious, and may be afraid of doing something wrong and being singled out; teach them how to ask questions in order to learn. Children at this age also thrive on affirmation and praise for specific things that they do well or are working on diligently.
Middle School (9-12)
At this time, physical changes may begin for some children, especially for girls as they mature sooner than boys. Children are growing increasingly coordinated and are growing increasingly aware of the difference between boys and girls. There is also a growing sense of responsibility to go along with their budding independence. School is getting more complex, and kids are able to see other’s points of view more clearly. Critical thinking and reasoning is growing, and your child will be able to ask deeper questions, make sense of analogies, and grasp concepts more clearly.
Tips for Learning:
Get involved at your child’s school, and get to know the teachers and the staff. Helping your child engage in extracurricular activities that they enjoy and excel at can also benefit their self-esteem and confidence. Talk with your child about their homework, and encourage greater independence and responsibility by having your child help around the home. Help your child set his or her own goals, and encourage them to think about skills and abilities they would like to develop.
This stage is another developmental time where there are many changes as children enter puberty—including physical, mental, emotional, and social shifts. These changes might result in kids feeling worried about how they are seen by others. Teens are also making more of their own choices about friends, sports, studying, and school, becoming more independent about their own personality and interests. However, despite how they might treat parents, parents are still very important and influential in their lives.
Teens focus largely on the present, resulting in an inability to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. This spurt of growth also results in a lot of development in the frontal cortex of the brain, which largely explains the risky behavior often exhibited by teens. Given all these psychological changes, children may experience major swings in emotions which could be confusing.
Tips for Learning:
The ability to learn and memorize is stronger and more natural in this age window. There is great plasticity within the brain during the teenage years, which both adults and children can capitalize on. This is a great time for identifying your child’s unique skill sets, building strengths, and correcting weaknesses. Don’t get frustrated by your child’s desire for greater independence: the best tip is to respect your child’s need for privacy, and trust that they still need your support and guidance, even though they may not overtly express it.
Keeping in communication and working as a team with other adults in your children’s lives, namely teachers and other adults at school, involved in extracurriculars, and within your family, will help you as you cultivate your child into a life-long learner, as well as a healthy and responsible adult.
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