Approaches to Learning

Babies are born to learn. Their eagerness to learn, curiosity, and openness to new experiences seem to come naturally. Nurturing these characteristics in infants and toddlers builds foundations for their learning in the more structured environments that they will experience in the future. Make sure that infants have multiple opportunities to explore the environment and that they are offered a variety of materials that stimulate all of their senses.

At the same time, infants cannot be expected to build on these early dispositions on their own: caregivers play an important role in stimulating and encouraging exploratory behaviors and helping babies establish connections between these behaviors and newly learned concepts and skills. The key is to engage children in learning experiences that are meaningful and enjoyable for them. For example, play and exploration help children to learn and express themselves creatively. During play, they can use all of their senses to try out new things, make predictions, and solve problems. Play also allows children to be creative, flexible, and engage their imagination in pretend scenarios that build the foundation for later executive functioning skills.

Other dispositions and habits that contribute to children’s success in school and beyond—such as persistence, attentiveness, and initiative—may show greater variability between children. Some children may need more support than others to develop these characteristics. The ways in which infants express their approaches to learning varies depending on their temperament and the cultural context. Caregivers’ awareness of these differences and how to address them is critical for supporting these competencies. The ability to regulate one’s behavior is a competency that is equally important when applied to learning in the Cognitive domain as well as learning how to act in various social situations. Babies have some mechanisms that enable them to regulate their emotions and to use feedback to adjust their actions. To learn how to regulate more complex behaviors, they need to integrate these mechanisms with development of cognitive, social, and language skills.