Preparing for the Return to School in the Wake of COVID-19

While area schools set COVID-19 safety plans into effect for the official return to the classroom in the next few weeks, many parents are wondering what safeguards they should be putting into place as well. Since keeping our children, staff, and family members healthy during this unprecedented pandemic is the highest priority of our community, we certainly want to make sure we are all doing our part to ensure the safety of everyone upon our return to school.

Preparing Your Family for the Return to School

With the beginning of the new school year upon us, families have been filled with questions regarding how education administrators are planning to keep them safe in the wake of COVID-19. After several months of being away from the traditional classrooms, the return seems to carry a degree of uncertainty among families as we all work to safeguard our community from the spread of illness.

The best way to ensure the health and well-being of students and staff this school year is by staying informed of all guidelines and protocol as well as preparing ourselves for the new norms. School functions may look a bit different this year, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be scary or uncertain for our communities. There are several things families can do to help wane any animosity and keep the return to the classroom an exciting time for everyone.

Understanding State and Local Guidelines

The first step in preparing for the new school year is to familiarize yourself and your family members with the local and state regulations regarding safety in school settings. By knowing the legal health and safety requirements placed on all New Jersey childcare facilities and schools by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), we can begin to understand the extensive precautions being taken to ensure the safety of staff and students.

At the state level, schools are required to abide by strict COVID-19 safety protocols in order to remain open for in-person teachings this fall. These health measures include things like:

  • Daily body temperature monitoring of all who enter the facility
  • Classroom sizes are limited to no more than 10 students
  • Face masks are required for all staff members
  • Extensive sanitization and disinfectant cleaning routines by staff and students
  • Completion of proper daily licensing log for the DCF to retain program eligibility

Preparing for School Safety Regulations

Once you have familiarized your family with the DCF requirements for a safe return to the classroom, the next step is to understand any additional protocol implemented by the school administration. Since many schools are opting to include more extensive health and safety regulations, it’s important to know what to expect before the first day of class.

At Tessa International, we have carefully considered the most efficient ways to ensure the safety of our students and staff and are already utilizing our On-Site Safety Measure Considerations that have been put into place for all summer programs as well as the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. Among the new protocols, families should prepare for the return with the following requirements:

  • Staff are required to test for COVID-19 prior to the start of the school year. Students are urged (but not required) to do the same.
  • Ensure all children are current with their physical health screenings and immunizations.
  • Have all emergency medical and personal forms filled out in detail, including contact information in the event of sudden illness.
  • Help children prepare for daily body temperature checks and health screenings by getting them used to this at home.
  • Normalize frequent handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer at home – this will be a frequent occurrence during the school year.

Your 2020 School Supply Shopping List Additions

With the introduction of new health and safety procedures this year, it goes without saying there will be additional school supplies in order to perpetuate these sanitization efforts. In addition to the usual school supply items, families may be asked to provide items such as:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Surface disinfecting products
  • Gloves
  • Facemasks

Many schools may need help keeping up with essential sanitization and safety items, so it is possible you will see these items added to their list. As always, however, it’s best to check with school officials for a complete list of necessary supplies prior to the start of class to ensure your child is safely prepared for the first day.

Helping Kids Learn to Practice Healthy Germ Fighting Habits

One of the best ways families can prepare for the new year is by devoting time to helping children better understand what the changes will be and what is expected of them. By helping to normalize routines like frequent hand washing, using sanitizers, regular surface sanitizing regimens, and keeping safe distances from others, parents can help lessen any animosity they may face on the first day of class.

If you’re looking for ways to help your child ease into the new regulations, here are a few tips for parents to try:

  • Practice hourly handwashing at home – more frequently as needed.
  • Allow children to use child-safe cleaning and sanitization products on home surfaces after using them.
  • Have children wear masks at home to enable them to get used to having them on during school.

Community Safety Commitment to School

While the current public health state has caused a great deal of change for our global communities, it has also shone light on our abilities to band together – even at a distance – and persevere. Our commitment to not only the health of our own families, but those of our friends, neighbors, and fellow community members, is what will help us not just pull through this pandemic but come out with a greater understanding and respect for all. Welcome back!

Struggling with Your Child's Educational Content? Tips and Online Resources for Parents

Struggling with Your Child’s Educational Content? Tips and Online Resources for Parents

One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic stay at home order for many parents has been trying to successfully add homeschooling to an already hectic work and home life. From changing the classroom dynamic (structured at school to laxer at home) to putting parents in the driver’s seat of their child’s lesson plan absorption and completion, parents across the globe are looking for ways to successfully maneuver the changes without hindering their child’s educational growth. To help, below is a look at some of the most widely used and trusted tips and online resources for parents struggling with the homeschooling experience.

Consider Schedules

Your most valuable resource for assisting parents with homeschooling efforts will undoubtedly be contact with their teachers and educational team. In order to optimize your child’s time with their teachers, you’ll want to make sure you set up some form of schedule that matches their availability. In other words, if your child needs additional help outside of their allotted class time online, find out if and when their teacher has extra availability to help you work with them. From there, try to plan your educational time with your child during the availability window of their teacher.

Local Resources

If you find yourself struggling with your child’s educational content and are unable to speak with their teacher directly, try utilizing other local resources. Many schools and parents have organized online chat groups and calling lists for others to use as a community resource for learning aids. If you don’t have access to a school group, contact other parents of students in the classroom or even friends with older children who have been through similar coursework in the past. Peers can be an invaluable resource for struggling parents looking for innovative ways to reach the minds of their children.

Online Resources for Parents

Depending upon the subject your child may be struggling with, there are virtually limitless online resources geared toward home learning. Google has compiled a comprehensive list of free learning activities and sites offering educational opportunities for families to utilize while homeschooling. These include task-based programs as well as programs focusing on various levels and topics of education to help parents reach children from a different perspective.

Another popular online resource, has been offering hours of free classroom programs every day. These are organized by grade and skill level and easy for parents to maneuver in order to choose specifically what is needed for their child.

If you’re looking for a more elaborate and detailed list of resources, the U.S. Department of Education has an extensive list available on their website for every educational level. Their site provides links to everything from homework tips to subject specific help for math, reading and early learning links as well.

Above all, the most important thing to remember if you find yourself struggling with homeschooling your child, is that you’re not alone. Take stock of your available resources and don’t be afraid to utilize them to the max in order to help your child make the most of their at home learning experience.

Tips to Keep Your Children Focused During Home Learning Sessions

Tips to Keep Your Children Focused During Home Learning Sessions

With homeschooling suddenly becoming the new norm for families across the globe, many parents have been struggling to find innovative ways to not only balance the new scheduling dynamics of their household, but also maintain the focus and educational growth rates of their children. Taking away the structured learning environment of the traditional classroom can quickly lead to an issue with focus and motivation for kids – not to mention a major stressor for parents. So, how do you find ways to keep your children focused during home learning sessions?

Keeping Kids Focused During Home Learning Sessions

If you find yourself ready to throw in the towel with household distractions and a lack of focus during home learning lessons, rest assured, you’re not alone. Millions of families are finding themselves faced with similar challenges and are searching for creative ways to make the best of the situation and ensure their children are getting the most out of their educational time at home. Perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that our current situation has occurred in a time with amazing technological advancements that make it possible to not only learn from home during social distancing, but also to easily research and share ideas and innovations with one another with the click of a button.

Before you go Googling ways to keep your child fully engaged during home lesson plans, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, it’s important to know your child’s abilities, limits, and potential triggers. Knowing this will help make planning a learning session much more successful, so your first step should be to take note of what you know of your child’s learning strengths and obstacles.

Tips for Parents Struggling with Home Educational Plans

In order to lay out the best game plan for home schooling, take a look at what you have determined to be your child’s best learning techniques. Do they learn best independently, or do they get easily frustrated and need more guidance during lessons? Are they quick to get distracted and need a designated space to quietly complete lessons, or do they do better when they can brainstorm ideas in a group with their peers?

Once you have taken note of the best learning strategies for your child, you can start to develop a better learning approach for them. Using what you’ve gathered, be certain your child has the proper space and utilities available for lessons in order to tailor their educational time to their own needs and minimize frustrations as much as possible. From there, other ways to increase motivation and focus levels include:

  • Maintain a structured – but somewhat flexible – daily routine. Children tend to do best with routines but try not to keep it so rigid that there is no wiggle room – this can cause added stress if you try to force learning at a time that is not optimal for your child.
  • Utilize online resources. Sometimes a different approach is needed, so utilize your online resources like free educational tours, fun activities, or even group chat sessions to allow them to touch base with their friends and classmates to talk about what they’re learning.
  • Plan unconventional learning projects. If you find your child getting burnt out with daily activities, try switching things up. Think about what their interests are and find a way to make them educational. Teach them a recipe in the kitchen. Ask them to design a structure out of building blocks or random household items. Look for an online dance class or activity that gets them moving more. Send them on scavenger hunts for indoor or outdoor items. All of these are ways in which children can focus on following direction as well as utilizing their creativity – in other words, it’s home learning.

With such an unconventional approach to education occurring everywhere right now, trying ways to embrace different learning opportunities can be key to holding interests and gaining a broader educational experience. Think of it as a fantastic time to focus on what truly interests your child and expand on those real-life learning opportunities for them.

“This is a good time for kids to pursue interests they haven’t had time to focus on in the past. It could be cooking, building in Minecraft, or drawing. Bonus: If it’s something they’re truly interested in, you won’t have to bug them to do it,” explains

What to Remember When Managing Distance Learning

One of the most important things to remember when you find yourself faced with a frustrated child (and family in general) is to have patience and utilize your resources. Other parents can be a fantastic resource for innovative ways to keep your child’s motivation up during homeschooling as well as online sites that can offer tips, activity ideas, and free educational tools and activities. Above all, remember to give yourself (and your child) a break – both figuratively and physically – when needed. If things are getting too stressful or distracting, take a breather and try a new activity for the time being. When you’re able to come back to the lesson, try a new approach or bring in the help of others via online chats. Just remember, we’re all finding ways to manage the new dynamics and there’s no single “right” way to get through the day. Find what works best for you and give yourself (and your child) the space to navigate the experience at the right pace for your family. Some days this may look extremely structured and productive. Other days it may mean simply watching movies, cooking together, or doing other things like reading entertaining books instead of more traditional learning sessions. The point is, it’s all learning, it’s all important, and it’s ok if your daily routine isn’t as rigid as it was before social distancing.

Keeping Up with Educational Curriculum at Home During Social Distancing

Keeping Up with Educational Curriculum at Home During Social Distancing

With educational facilities across the country shifting to distance learning tactics in efforts to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, families everywhere are trying to adapt to the new way of educating their children. Between changing career dynamics as well as the social distancing and online learning switch for children, for many of us, our daily schedules have been thrown into a chaotic juggling routine. To ease the chaos and help your child keep up with their educational curriculum at home, here are a few tips for families to get the most out of the distance learning experience:

Organizing and Planning for Educational Curriculum at Home

If your child is having problems staying focused during the distance learning phase, it may help to do an evaluation of the learning space you have set up for them and make some adjustments. Since classrooms are set up to encourage focused and structured learning, the sudden switch to lessons in a non-structured environment at home can cause an issue with distractions and problems focusing.

To help your child concentrate and excel with home learning, they need a space that is designated for such activities. Organize a learning station for them that includes all of their needed supplies and materials and is located in a quiet area of the home that is free from distractions (or as much as possible). Have their supplies organized and in an easy to use location in their area so it is structured to promote learning just as their classroom is.

Scheduling Time for Distance Learning

Another element students get from their classrooms is a designated time and schedule for lessons. Learning from home can often lose the order provided by structured curriculum in the classroom. Providing a set schedule for your children to follow at home will help reinforce the new daily routine and promote learning during homeschooling exercises. Set aside specific times each day for your child to work on different areas of study and block out the time on a visible calendar for the entire family to see.

In addition to having designated time blocks for home learning, it’s also important to utilize your calendars to make note of any and all due dates for items. Help your child track certain assignments, themes, and upcoming activities by placing them on the calendar so you can help your child better manage their progress throughout the week.

Allow Time for Breaks and Refocusing

As much as you may want to push structure and routine to help your child focus, remember it’s also important to allow them time to take breaks as needed. Children take frequent breaks in the classroom in order to give them a chance to not only move around a bit, but to allow them the chance to refocus. If you notice your child is acting frustrated or having issues staying on task, it may be time for a break.

Plan for some simple activities that can help your child have a bit of a breather during their learning sessions at home. Let them take a quick break to run outside for 15 minutes or allow them a chance to change activities indoors (coloring, playing blocks, etc.) and consider it a small “recess” for them. The change will allow them to get a bit of a cognitive refresher before asking them to sit back down and finish their lesson. Above all, keep in mind that your children are experiencing a major change as well – practice as much patience with them as possible.

How to Help Your Child Cope with Social Distancing

How to Help Your Child Cope with Social Distancing

With the global COVID-19 pandemic keeping populations isolated and practicing social distancing everywhere, many families are being forced to modify their daily routines and adjust to life at home. For some, this may not present much change from their current lives, but for many more, the closing of schools, businesses, and social areas have brought with it some major life changes. As parents try to navigate their way through a workday from home while simultaneously balancing homeschooling and the needs of their children, stressors can soar, wreaking havoc on family and career dynamics. Finding ways to help cope with social distancing while remaining productive and healthy can help the overall welfare of your family exponentially.

Dealing with the Pandemic

Anytime our lives are thrust into a major disruption of daily routines, we undergo a certain level of stress and anxiety. Research has shown that change results in higher stress levels in humans, in large part due to the uncertainty that come with the break in routine. Since the break in routine demands us to react and adjust, that adds stress to our otherwise auto-pilot sense of daily activities. While there is still debate over how some react with much lower stress levels than others, there are a wide range of choices we can make that will help us cope when faced with this demanding change.

With so much of the stress revolving around uncertainty, it makes sense to try and ease the anxiety of what we don’t know by learning more. By educating ourselves (and our families) about what is going on with the pandemic, we are essentially lessening the uncertainty. While it’s obviously not possible to eliminate the unknowns entirely, we can empower ourselves by staying current on the CDC guidelines and recommendations and ensuring we know how to do our part to help end the social distancing norm as quickly as possible. Knowing what is expected of us in the midst of a routine shift can help give us back a small sense of control which, in turn, lessens stress.  

Identifying and Addressing the Stressors

Once you’ve educated yourself (and your families) on the details of the social distancing changes, you can help continue lessening the stress by identifying and addressing the specific stressors. If you’re currently struggling with staying focused on your career with home-induced distractions, or your child is finding it difficult to focus on learning activities without the constructs of a formal classroom, for example, start by identifying the issues.

Make note of what the largest issues are that are keeping your family from functioning more smoothly during the social distancing and try to get to the root of them. Are you having trouble staying productive with work because of too many loud noises in your area, or are you lacking certain necessities you would otherwise have with you (files, resources, etc.)? Are your kids struggling to focus because they are away from a designated study area, or are they simply bored? Finding out what is at the root of your stressors and addressing these issues will help minimize the overall strain on your family.

Finding Ways to Cope with Social Distancing

After identifying the issues that are causing the biggest stress to the confines of social distancing, you can start making changes to help ease the transition. Find spaces that are quiet and designate them for various tasks throughout the day (homework station during set hours, workstation during other times, etc.), minimize distractions in some spaces (quiet time for homework) and create distractions for other spaces/times (giving kids activities to do to help give you more time for your own work). Essentially, reestablish a new routine to create a bit of order to the otherwise confusing new schedule.

Outside of work and schoolwork, it’s also important to understand the social effects of the new isolation norm we are all experiencing. We are social creatures by nature, and most thrive on a certain level of daily interaction with others. While it’s imperative we abide by the guidelines of the CDC for remaining sheltered for the time being, this does not mean we have to give up being social altogether. Be sure to allow time for interactions like playing games and chatting with friends – just do them all virtually. Kids can play games with friends through your family’s tech devices or keep in touch with other family members and friends via phone calls or video chats.

Staying Active

If you find your children (or even yourself) getting a bit restless or a serious case of cabin fever, it’s likely due to a change in physical activity. Unfortunately, one of the effects of being told to stay home, is that many of us are getting a lot less exercise and physical play time than our bodies are used to – a fact which can lead to a great deal of pent up energy that can come out in all sorts of undesirable ways.

With schools, gyms, and most parks being closed to the public right now, it may be difficult to find ways to stay active, but it’s important to incorporate physical activity into your family’s daily routine. Activities such as hiking and walking are still permitted as long as safety precautions are taken (keeping the recommended distance from others, using your elbow or a tissue if you have to cough or sneeze, etc.). Use the time to explore various hiking trails or try a new workout routine outdoors. Plan a race for your children or try out a homemade obstacle course in your backyard. No outdoor space to conveniently utilize? Try out an online yoga class for children or a fun dance sequence to get them moving and burn off some of the extra energy.

Remain Positive

Above all, the best thing you can do to help your children cope with social distancing is to work to maintain positivity in your household. Remember that we cannot change the current state of things that are forcing us to break from our routines, but we can change the way we react to the new (temporary) reality. Adaptability and education are our biggest friends right now, so stay in the know and try your best to go with the flow. Keep your focus on enjoying the new-found family time and finding creative ways to give your children some out-of-the-box learning and bonding experiences with the whole family.

Family Home Learning Tips: Online Educational Resources for Early Childhood Learning

Family Home Learning Tips: Online Educational Resources for Early Childhood Learning

While everyone is adapting to the current social distancing norm for health and safety, many parents are struggling with how to keep their families occupied and focused on learning while simultaneously juggling adult responsibilities. To say it’s been challenging would be an understatement, but as parents, we are resilient and will find a way to make it work because, well, that’s our job as parents.

If you feel like you’re ready to pull out your hair if you have to juggle being the parent, the teacher (seriously, how do they do it?), and an employee/employer all at the same time for one more day, rest assured, you’re not alone. Parents across the globe are facing the same dynamics right now, and our communities are stepping up to lend a hand everywhere. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some highly educational fun and free activities being offered to families right now that can be done in the comforts of home.

The Indianapolis Children’s Museum

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive online learning experience geared toward children, check out the “Museum at Home” feature of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum website. While being closed due to the COVID-19 social distancing phase, the museum is offering free educational sessions that include exhibit tours, story time, science experiments, sports coaching for physical activity and new daily behind-the-scenes sessions are added as well.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

For some educational animal fun while staying indoors, check out the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s “Home Safari” feature. Every day at 3:00 p.m., the zoo shares a new live video feed of a different animal in their facilities. The videos feature various care takers who speak with online guests, answer questions about the animals, and share insight into how each animal lives. Previous videos are available to view online any time as well.

COSI Connects: Digital Doorway

The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) is offering a “Digital Doorway” program for children which features several online activities, videos, and virtual tours of their facilities. There are informative video clips on topics such as the COVID-19 virus as well as various activities like making chocolate crystals and other at-home science experiments. Children can also take a virtual tour of their dinosaur exhibit and learn about excavation and paleontology studies.

Cosmic Kids Yoga

If you’re dealing with limited space or trying to avoid play dates and the park, but still want to get in some physical activity for your littles, try checking out some online yoga classes geared towards children. Cosmic Yoga is offering a free 2-week trial for new families looking to add a bit of healthy activity to their child’s home quarantine routine.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Kids Site

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Kids site is uniquely tailored to the interests and mindsets of young children. This site is free to the public and features a map that allows them to explore the museum on their own as well as a “time machine” that can search by various eras for further educational resources.

Art for Kids Hub

If you’re looking for some free online arts and crafts tutorials for kids, check out Art for Kids Hub. This site offers countless videos that teach children different techniques for drawing, painting, and even some sculpting and origami tricks as well.

Do Children Really Need to Attend Preschool?

Do Children Really Need to Attend Preschool?

If your child is nearing the preschool age, you’ve likely had quite a few questions regarding whether or not they’re ready – or even if they need to attend at all. Many parents wonder about the significance of the earliest educational experiences and contemplate the overall value of sending their children to preschool programs. Luckily, this is a topic which has had a great deal of research and studies done providing plenty of information to help answer your questions. So, do children really need to attend preschool?

Early Education Development

The short answer to the question is no, children do not have to attend preschool, however, research has shown that children who do attend early educational programs have a much higher rate of success during their older school years. To put it simply, children who participate in pre-k programs learn invaluable lessons and keystone elements that help them ease into their next-level education experiences.  

“Children who attend preschool are more likely to have long-term educational success, attend post high school education and even have a higher income in their careers,” explains Michigan State University Extension’s Early Childhood Development experts.

Pre-School Benefits

With so much research pointing toward the benefits of attending preschool, it’s no wonder the early educational experience is so highly regarded today – but just what are the benefits of pre-k? According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), some of the most important benefits gained by children during pre-k programs are considered the building blocks for later learning.

While you may think the earliest programs are all about play time (and there certainly is a lot of that involved), your children are learning highly valuable skills that will prepare them for the future. Preschool play and lessons are focused on helping children develop social skills, hone their physical coordination and motor skills, and learn to manage emotions as well as gain listening and communication skills. Even further, children will also gain problem-solving skills and begin to grasp early reading and math comprehension as well as how to work with others to reach a common goal. All of which are lessons that will serve to help them thrive in their later educational years.

How to Know When They’re Ready

Since there are no set standards for when to attend preschool, it’s generally up to parents to determine the best time to send their child. Most programs cater to children aged 3 to 5, though some can begin as early as 2 depending on the area. How long your child attends will also depend on you – 1 to 2 years is the most typical choice today.

In general, your child can be considered ready for preschool programs once they have mastered certain basic skills at home. Most pre-k programs prefer your child be able to use the restroom on their own before entering a class but tend to be fairly open otherwise. If you’re considering sending your child to preschool and feel your child is ready, here is a look at some of the long-term benefits of preschool.

Does Bilingualism Lead to Language and Speech Delays?

Does Bilingualism Lead to Language and Speech Delays?

Chances are, if your child is actively learning a second language at a young age, it’s with high hopes that they will someday become proficient bilinguals. Let’s face it, parents don’t generally enroll children in dual language studies without the desire for them to one day become fluent in multiple languages. Along the path, however, are some key questions and even concerns that should be addressed in order to give a child the best chance at achieving true bilingualism.

Will Bilingualism Cause Speech Delays?

One of the biggest questions parents of young children face when considering a second language for their child early on is – will bilingualism cause speech delays? The concern is a valid one to address since no parent wants to inhibit the learning path of their child by any means.

While many children often display what appears to be speech delays when exposed to dual languages, it’s important to note these pauses are not delays in learning. On the contrary, when a child takes pause to consider which language to use at which time, they are actually beginning to show a mastery of both languages. The “pause” or “delay” is a sign their minds are processing the information and learning not only the language cues, but also, to problem solve and compartmentalize simultaneously.

Does Multiple Language Learning Cause Confusion?

Often times children who are learning a second language may pull words from both languages in regular conversation. This “mix up” may be seen as confusion to some, but it’s actually a sign of high cognitive functionality and impressive progress. Since children are operating on a smaller vocabulary than adults, they often need to rely on tried-and-true words to describe things they don’t yet understand. By pulling other words, they are showing they understand a cross-correlation which will help them to eventually pull together a more complete picture.

“One misunderstood behavior, which is often taken as evidence for confusion, is when bilingual children mix words from two languages in the same sentence. This is known as code mixing. In fact, code mixing is a normal part of bilingual development, and bilingual children actually have good reasons to code mix,” explains the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s National Institutes of Health.

Should You Wait to Introduce a Second Language?

Many parents consider postponing bilingual studies until their child is older and believed to be more equipped to study a second language. The belief with this is that they want their child to master one language first before introducing them to another. While this may sound plausible in theory, in order to have the best chance at fluid bilingualism, most researchers agree it’s actually best to introduce multiple languages as early as possible.

Since our brains are poised best for learning at an early age, it makes sense to introduce more learning possibilities early on. As we age, our minds evolve and begin to adapt to several environmental factors as well as physical determinants that change our ability to learn new topics. In other words, the older we get, the more our minds work against us in our ability to pick up new concepts as easily as we did when we were younger.

So, what does all of this mean? Essentially, if you’re concerned about inhibiting your child’s ability to learn by introducing a second language early on, don’t be. Research shows that the earlier and the more frequently children are exposed to dual languages, the higher their chance becomes of being fluent in both later in life.

The Environmental Advantages of Language Learning in Young Children

The Environmental Advantages of Language Learning in Young Children

As any adult who has ever attempted to learn a new language or skill can tell you, picking things up later in life seems to be much more difficult than it was as a young child. No matter how hard you study or how many times you try to master a new skill, the older we get, the harder it becomes to pick things up. So, do children really learn faster than adults or is there a trick to their ability to grasp language concepts and skills at a more effective and efficient rate?

Language Learning Differences with Age

You may assume that a younger brain is more conditioned to learn, much the same as a younger body is more physically able to compete in triathlons than an older body. While you wouldn’t exactly be wrong, the process of conditioning a brain for learning is much more complex than simply age. It’s true that we do lose brain power as we age – particularly reducing our ability to pick up new items and retain new information – a fact which has a direct result on the rate in which we learn (obviously). It’s not as simple as saying adults learn slower than children because of age, however. Understanding how our minds change as we age is key to grasping why we learn differently at various stages of our lives.

“As a person gets older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. Certain parts of the brain shrink, especially those important to learning and other complex mental activities. In certain brain regions, communication between neurons (nerve cells) can be reduced… These changes in the brain can affect mental function, even in healthy older people,” explains the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While our brains undergo degeneration and deterioration naturally over the years, this still does not account for a complete picture on learning differences over the ages. In other words, yes, aging minds are physically less capable of learning as younger minds, but not to the extent that thoroughly explains why children are able to pick up learning new languages and subjects so much faster.

Unconscious Learning Vs Conscious Learning

Outside of the physical difference of young minds versus older minds, there is another piece of the puzzle that helps to explain how children learn so much faster than adults: unconscious learning versus conscious learning. In the simplest definition, unconscious learning is that which takes place without even trying. Think of it as picking up a favorite line or phrase from a movie you’ve seen a few times – you didn’t intend to learn it, you just picked it up and remembered it while watching in enjoyment. Conscious learning then, is the opposite. It’s the intentional act of trying to learn a new task or subject. This form of learning is like trying to study for a test or memorize new policies or manuals for work.

So, how does this translate to language learning as children versus as adults? It’s really quite simple; young children tend to learn unconsciously while adolescents and adults lean more on conscious learning habits. Young children do not focus on studying specific grammar books, diagrams, or memorization – in fact, they don’t focus on learning at all. Instead, young children inadvertently pick up information like a sponge by simply absorbing what they see around them. Adults, on the other hand, spend hours poring over learning techniques and specifics, trying to memorize new information and, subsequently, absorb less information in the process.

Environmental Advantages of Language Learning

“(Children) are literally built to absorb information; they do this in an unconscious state of mind, like they’re learning, and they don’t even know it. Adults and older children, on the other hand, have to consciously learn the information which makes it harder because when we learn that way, information sometimes gets lost or disassociated,” explains the Instructor Blog for Penn State’s SC200 Course.

In addition to picking up learning cues unconsciously, the environments in which children learn are more conducive to information absorption as well. As children, we are encouraged and praised for the very concept of learning despite not picking up proper grammar cues or techniques. Children are met with smiles, accolades and support when they are able to communicate the basics of a new concept or language because they are not expected to learn all of the details all at once. This allows them to grow by picking up specifics a little at a time without fear of failure or sounding unintelligent if they don’t get something 100% correct.

On the flip side, older children and adults are often faced with (sometimes paralyzing) fear over sounding like anything less than a native speaker on their topic of study. In other words, adults have a fear of failing or making mistakes and being criticized for said mistakes which can (and does) inhibit the ability to fully absorb and learn through their environments.

Immersion and Bilingualism

Closely linked to the environmental advantages to learning – particularly with language learning – is the difference of learning through immersion. Immersion is the act of learning by being fully immersed in the topic of study for at least 50 percent of the time. In terms of bilingualism, it means learning by being in an environment which speaks the language being learned for at least half of your time awake each day. This is something which has benefits for both adults and young children, but again, there are differences in the rate at which each pick up the immersion learning cues.

While immersion is a highly productive method of learning, adults and children still pick things up at different rates. Referring back to the previous differences, despite being immersed in language learning, adults are still prone to cognitive degeneration inhibiting their ability to learn as well as holding on to the same fear of mistakes. It all boils down to a combination of both physical deterrents as well as environmental inhibitors that present as learning obstacles with age. It is the overall healthier cognitive functionality in combination with more favorable environmental stimulants (among other, more unique, criteria) that ultimately gives children the advantage when it comes to learning new languages and other topics more quickly than their older selves are capable of pulling off years later.

How to Continue Your Child’s Bilingual Learning at Home

How to Continue Your Child’s Bilingual Learning at Home

When it comes to language learning, many parents often wonder how they can help their children become more proficient in their comprehension. In many cases, students will often struggle to pick up new language cues and improve fluidity of bilingualism if their studies don’t extend beyond the classroom. In fact, in order to obtain true bilingual capabilities, children require an immense amount of exposure to the languages – exposure that extends well beyond the classroom. So how can you help your child continue bilingual learning at home?

Bilingual Learning at Home

It’s well-known that pediatricians and early education professionals have long supported the relationship between reading and communication with language skills in young children. Parents are encouraged to both read to their children and interact with them directly as much as possible in order to expand their child’s language understanding. The same is true for learning a second language.

The key to expanding a child’s understanding of bilingualism is exposure – lots of exposure – to both the native and second language. Since language learning does not stop once your child leaves their classroom, parents should be continuing the learning at home by incorporating the second language as frequently as possible in the home life. This can be done by reading books, playing games, following recipes native to that language, or even just simply in regular conversations with their children.

Hands-on Learning, Not Screen-Time Learning

It’s important to understand there is a major distinction between direct bilingual exposure at home and that picked up by screen time. While certain online activities can help boost a child’s basic understanding of language, true fluidity is only possible by frequent submersion in the language itself. In other words, talk with your children in meaningful, bilingual conversations, or read to them directly to give them the most proficient means of immersion.  

“In order to foster language development, the exposure has to be person-to-person; screen-time doesn’t count for learning language in young children – even one language – though kids can learn content and vocabulary from educational screen-time later on,” explains the NY Times in report of pediatrician recommendations on bilingual language learning at home.

Plenty of Language Exposure and Patience

With language learning, the best thing parents can do for their child’s learning process is to continue the language education at home by increasing their child’s exposure to the linguistics. There are virtually unlimited ways in which parents can do this, as mentioned above, but also, home submersion isn’t the only aspect to keep in mind when helping children grasp bilingualism.

No matter the age, bilingual individuals will always have a tendency to combine, or mix-up, their languages from time to time and children are no exception. Parents need to keep in mind that their child will need plenty of patience during the bilingual learning process, as well as the ability to not get discouraged when languages get mixed. This is normal and all a part of the learning process. In fact, experts say that language “mix-ups” are actually a sign of a deeper understanding of bilingualism and considered a sign that individuals are truly grasping the second language when this happens.

Above all, parents who want to help their child expand their bilingual learning at home need to take an active role in helping them do so. Frequent and fluent language interactions in both languages will help continue the submersion outside of the classroom while patience and encouragement during the learning process will help them gain the confidence they need to continue their learning even further.

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