Kids learn best when mums are listening

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Washington, Jan 24 : Kids might not like replying to their mother' s questions, but answering her can actually help them learn.

According to a new study, led by Bethany Rittle-Johnson, assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt's Peabody College of education and human development, children learn well with their moms because they get feedback and help

"We knew that children learn well with their moms or with a peer, but we did not know if that was because they were getting feedback and help," Rittle-Johnson said.

"In this study, we just had the children's mothers listen, without providing any assistance. We've found that by simply listening, a mother helps her child learn," she added.

In the study, the researchers examined 4- and 5-year-olds, who were shown a series of plastic bugs, and then had to say which bug should come next in the series based on colour and type of bug, a problem that is challenging for 4- and 5-year-olds.

The children were told to explain the solution to their moms, to themselves or to simply repeat the answer out loud.

The researchers found that explaining the answer to themselves and to their moms improved the children's ability to solve similar problems later, and that explaining the answer to their moms helped them solve more difficult problems.

"We saw that this simple act of listening by mom made a difference in the quality of the child's explanations and how well they could solve more difficult problems later on," Rittle-Johnson said.

The researchers also found that children experience the benefit of explaining a solution at an earlier age than previously thought.

"This is one of the first studies to examine whether or not explanation is useful in helping children under 8 apply what they've learned to a modification of a task. We found that even 4-year-olds can use explanation to help them learn and to apply what they've learned to other tasks," Rittle-Johnson said.

Rittle-Johnson contemplates that the new finding can help parents better assist their children with their schoolwork, even when they are not sure of the answer themselves.

"The basic idea is that it is really effective to try to get kids to explain things themselves instead of just telling them the answer. Explaining their reasoning, to a parent or perhaps to other people they know, will help them understand the problem and apply what they have learned to other situations," she said.

The research is published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

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