Teaching Children

An elementary school teacher wrote to me: “I like your articles on improving the education system. My question is what activities could I use to improve the elementary education? Thanks.”

Answer: I do not teach elementary so I cannot answer your question. But I have a personal view: “I believe today, all students need to be lifelong learners. It means they must develop a love for learning when they are still young . Whatever you can make your students to love learning, you are successful in improving the education system.”

Image: Internet

When parents and children read books together, young children discover and learn things. Children are Curious, they will ask a lot of questions and learn from the answers so parents need to be patient and help them to develop their love for learning. Even at a very young age, children already develop their own preference on what they like and do not like. Therefore, it is important for parents to NOT PUSH them to learn anything that they do not like, whether it is math, music, drawing, or reading. The purpose of education at this young age is to develop the love for learning, not to be good in any particular subject. If children like something, they will work hard without any help. For example, a child who loves to read will devour many books, more than the parents expected. A child who loves music will practice the instrument endlessly without being told. They are motivated to learn because they love what they do.

When children go to elementary school, they have friends and often share information and discover more things. Children always want to know more as their brain is developing so it is important for the teachers to listen and help explain what they want to know. At this young age, it is better to encourage their learning by answering their curious questions and not force them to learn things that you think they need. Any activity that makes them afraid of learning must be eliminated. To learn is to discover and experience. (i.e., To experience is to internalize, NOT memorize.) At this time, they need to be able to learn from multiple sources, not just the classroom learning. Having a laptop or tablet will allow them to access much richer learning activities such as films, videos, games, and educational websites so they can discover and experience many things. Students are not just reading but also seeing things and experiencing them. To support this learning, the teachers may need to design experiments for students to learn by getting “hands-on” instead of just lecturing. Following are some very popular websites that most elementary schools in the U.S. are using as supplements to their teaching: Khan Academy, Sesame Street, PBSKids, CoolMath, Starfall, and MakeMeGenius, etc.

Note: I know many parents want their children to be the best or even “genius” in math or music. The often force them to learn these subjects at a very early age. I have many students who told me that they “hate math” because they were forced to learn math when they were young. Throughout high school, they “suffered from math” and when they go to college, they do not want to take any math class. Since my course requires maths, they often lamented: “I thought I was liberated from math, but you make me go through my nightmare again.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University