By Natalia Sepulveda
During early childhood years, children are at the optimum time to develop skills in four main areas — cognitive, social, language and both fine and gross motor skills. The human brain forms more neural connections in the first four years of life than in any other developmental stage, and these connections are crucial for determining capacity in those four areas of development.
Yet, young children are known to have shorter attention spans, which means in order to get them interested in topics that may have educational and long-term value for them, it is necessary to incorporate into the process what they do best naturally — play.
Game-based learning can be done both online and offline and a blended approach which combines both digital and traditional methods to get the best of both worlds. Offline play such as arts and crafts or sports are ideal for motor development while digital activities due their capacity for interactivity be more beneficial to develop cognitive and language skills, for example. Digital resources are better leveraged in moments where it would be more difficult to incorporate offline materials into the activity, for example, when the parent is driving from A to B, waiting at the doctor’s office, or simply when they are tired and don’t have the energy that is required for preparation and tidying. Offline activities can be incorporated in longer time slots and in a fixed location, whether indoors or outdoors.
Motivation is key
Game-based learning can serve as a motivating factor for young children since it encourages a positive attitude toward what they may associate later in the future to “school work” and to the learning experience overall. Being able to associate concepts such as solving a problem or learning a new word to a rewarding and fun experience will help children not see these things as a chore. Creating positive perception of the learning experience will follow them for years to come.
Games that incorporate a reward system when the child does something right also serve as great tools for reinforcement and are known to lead to better learning outcomes and long-term retention of what is being taught.
How games are designed plays a big role in learning. Well-designed and researched content which leverage technology to include elements of personalisation that account for different styles of learning and ages can go a long way in early development. Many educational apps and video games do this very well, but parents and teachers must do their due diligence to make sure these are safe, actually of educational value and age-appropriate. Screen-time should also be limited to no more than one hour per day for children under five years, and after the age of five, it should not take time away from outdoor play and sleep.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but what we know is that learning through play is the most effective way to engage and motivate our little ones and as caregivers we should do our best to balance the best of both online and offline methods.
(The writer is Head of Communications at Lingokids, English for Kids.)