New parents quickly discover that people are not kidding when they say babies are like sponges. Show them how to do something, and they pick it up just after two tries. Why do you think we should all be careful of introducing them to screen or gadget use? They also learn fast so it's easy to become fluent in two languages or learn how to play musical instruments. But have you ever wondered what it is exactly about kids that make them so adept at gaining so much knowledge?
Several studies have claimed that the reason children learn much faster than adults is largely involved with a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. As Abdul Malik Muftau writes on the blog of EdLab, the research, design, and development unit at Teachers College, Columbia University, the prefrontal cortex, which is where working memory is stored, is more developed in adults than in children. Grown-ups experience “functional fixedness,” which makes them associate a specific function to a specific object.
Your child's brain is designed for learning
On the other hand, since the prefrontal cortex of children is not yet as developed, kids can be more creative and inventive when they interact with different objects. For example, if an adult sees a broomstick as a cleaning tool immediately, a child may see it as a sword or a spear. As Muftau explains it, children’s minds are designed for learning, while adults’ minds are designed for performing.
Another reason why it’s easier for kids to learn new things has to do with nerve cells, also known as neurons. These brain cells form connections or synapses as a child goes through experiences that allow them to think, and as the child grows older and learns more, those connections become stronger, given that those learnings are reinforced and practiced consistently over time.
“Kids have more neurons actively creating new connections than adults do, so they can do things like learn to play tennis or memorize the multiplication tables or learn to play video games or fix a computer much more easily than we can,” says internal medicine specialist Michael Roizen, M.D.
How to encourage learning in your child
Since children have the ability to absorb knowledge easily, it’s important for parents to take the opportunity to expose their children to different kinds of experiences that will allow them to learn. As pediatrician Dina M. Gottesman, M.D., shares, “To encourage these connections and brain flexibility, expose your child to a lot of different experiences and activities early and often.”
Aside from common learning techniques parents expose their children to, such as teaching them how to count and identify shapes and numbers, outdoor activities have also been proven to have very beneficial effects for young children, since they can teach kids lessons that go beyond what they learn inside the classroom.
For example, allowing your child to participate in sports can help them learn about teamwork and discipline, while also developing their physical bodies. Dance can become a child’s creative outlet and help them cultivate their socializing skills and confidence in themselves. Giving your child the opportunity to learn foreign languages can be a way to instill in them an understanding of and appreciation for different cultures, as well as creativity and heightened problem-solving skills.
So if you want to maximize your child’s ability to learn, let them be exposed to different experiences and activities—you definitely won’t regret it!