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What is the Optimal Time & duration for my Child to Learn?

Different aged children have different thresholds and capacity for learning and absorption. While you can certainly ‘force’ a child to sit down and learn at any time of any day, learning the pattern and flow of the best times for your child’s creative juices will enhance the learning experience for your child and lessen the frustration you may experience as well.

Younger children have much shorter attention spans. As such it is important

: What is the Optimal Time & duration for my Child to Learn?

: What is the Optimal Time & duration for my Child to Learn?

to intersperse sit-down learning and then movement learning in alternating cycles throughout the day. To say that all learning must be done in a seated, instructor-led environment is missing out on valuable ways to help your child absorb information inherently and thus retain the knowledge at a much deeper level. It has been said that all children, at any age, learn best when they are immersed in the experience, through interactive play or sensory learning. However, there are many different types of learning and not all children are alike. Some children actually learn best through reading and/or writing it down. Others learn by touching and smelling and experimenting for themselves. Still others learn best in an auditory environment where a teacher is reading aloud to them and their mind takes them to the right place to store the data for later retrieval. There are tests that can be given to help you and your child identify the ‘sweet spot’ for their knowledge absorption. That being said, it is still important to expose your student to all different types of learning scenarios as they will likely be exposed to them throughout their life in school, college, and then later in work.

Now that we’ve touched on the aspect of how children learn, let’s explore the other components that make for successful education and retention. Children ages 1-3 learn best with short structured play time where they can touch and feel objects or shapes. Then small stints a couple times each day of sitting and learning either with a book, or a computer or TV that teaches colors, numbers, or even beginning letter recognition. If, however, a parent or teacher tries to sit a young child in front of a device or book for too long, boredom and behavior problems will soon ensue. Toddlers need movement frequently, then short bouts of focused sit down learning. Children ages 4-5 can tolerate multiple cycles of sitting for short amounts of time as long as there is at least 30 minutes of movement right before each ‘required’ sit down session.

Ages 6-8 will be able to sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour before requiring an opportunity to stand up and transition to a new activity. You’ve got to let them get the jitterbugs out if you want them to be able to hear you. Older children can sit for almost an hour at a time before needing a break. Be aware that many studies have been done that show the average adult can only learn and absorb effectively for about an hour to ninety minutes before they start to lose interest. Knowing this might just help you realize that your child cannot sit for hours on end reading, staring at a computer, or watching TV. It’s just not humanly possible to maintain a learning environment for that long.

So what time of day does your child learn best? You’ve likely heard of the most productive time of day for adults in a work environment. Some get more done first thing in the morning before everyone else arrives and starts to interrupt them and emails start flying. Others are more productive late in the afternoon after all of the distractions have been dealt with and they can hunker down. Children also have a peak or optimal learning time of the day. This is not, however, not necessarily age specific. Being aware of your child’s cycles and patterns will go a long way towards making both your life and theirs easier. This being said, younger children are generally better able to absorb and learn in the mornings after a good breakfast. By lunch time they are wiped and need a good lunch and then some down time, whether a true nap or just some quiet time to rejuvenate. After the downtime they are able to learn again for a bit, but not usually for as long of a stint as in the morning. Conversely, children who have hit puberty, or are fast approaching it, tend to learn better after about 10am when their internal clock has had enough sunlight to truly wake up. This continues up into college. The exception to this, of course, is the perpetual early riser, no matter what age they may be. An early riser child will likely be one their entire life. Recognizing this and catering to it will help them succeed and help them to better understand their own ebb and flow in the journey of life.


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