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How Do Children Develop Thinking and Learning Skills


It’s a fundamental question which is why there’s no easy and straightforward answer. Also, it seems we’re not meant to understand how our own brains work.

How do children develop thinking and learning skills

There have been numerous studies and attempts to understand how the brain works. However, for now what we only have is just a model or representation of what really happens. It’s similar to how we think atoms and molecules look like (with distinct electrons orbiting around the nucleus, but the truth is there’s a wave-particle duality in there). Although the model is useful enough for explaining other principles, it still doesn’t show the full reality.

In thinking and learning, the model we know is about neurons and neural connections. Estimate is there are 100 billion neurons and the number of neural connections is in the 100 trillion magnitudes. With that huge number and vast connections and possibilities, how do we expect to fully understand the brain’s function and operation?

We still have an incomplete understanding but the model mentioned above is useful enough to gain some valuable insights. For example, each experience (and even our dreams while sleeping) dictates or influences which neural connections are being formed. Also, repeated experiences (such as learning and practicing to gain a new skill) form and reinforce neural pathways. This is the “use it or lose it” where our brains try to be efficient on what connections to keep and what to let go.

Both children and adults undergo that “use it or lose it” and that experiences (especially emotional ones) influence brain development. However, the effect is much greater on young children because their brains are still in rapid development (and the early years is when the core brain architecture is being built). As a result, it’s important that children are exposed to positive and nurturing experiences while in a safe and supportive environment. This way, their brains are directed towards positive and optimal brain development.

Children develop thinking and learning skills on their own through experiences. However, children are exposed to a wide variety of experiences and each one may or may not harm them. Also, their environment plays a huge role in how they take up those experiences (e.g. whether the environment encourages play and exploration). Our children’s thinking and learning skills develop automatically (for reasons not yet fully understood), but as parents we have the power and responsibility to direct that learning and help them gain fun and meaningful experiences in our homes, early learning centre and other places and environments.