Learning Beyond Reading

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

By Jodi Dee 

Reading is of course one of the most important elements to learning. Children learn to read, then read to learn, especially in formal and traditional schooling.

But children learn in a myriad of ways -- not just by reading. Learning is multi-faceted, especially for young children. The brain is developing well before a child can even recognize a letter.

The National Early Learning Standards and Frameworks organize how a child learns into domains that target the essential areas in proper growth and development. To simplify, we’ve grouped these into four main areas of learning:

Language, Cognitive, Physical, Social & Emotional.

Children should have exposure to all of these areas each day. Though these are grouped into areas, children learn in an integrated fashion, meaning that more than one connection is happening at a time. One connection triggers or affects another. Areas of learning will overlap and some activities will reach all learning connections and domains at once.

If a child plays a game of ball, for example, she is using more than one connection:

• She will call to another player (Language)

• She will follow instructions by her coach or imagine she is her favorite professional player on the field (Cognitive)

• She will use her hands and arms to catch and throw and legs to run (Physical)

• She will talk before, during and after the game with other players and friends (Social/Emotional)

 Even though a child appears to be doing one activity, many connections are happening at the same time.


This is the area of learning that refers to the child’s ability to understand and communicate the spoken and written language in which he or she is immersed. Educators refer to this as “receptive and expressive language.”

A developing fetus is already constructing language through hearing and listening (people talking, music, or sounds around its mother). This is the first experience of receptive language, and it continues every time a child hears a spoken word.

Expressive language is the ability to speak or communicate. This progresses from crying, smiling, cooing and babbling, to single words, two words, and then sentences. Language is the most complex function of the brain. A child learns to express himself by first learning from and using words he or she hears.

Indicators of a child’s progress through Language and Literacy Development:

• Hears and can distinguishs the sounds of words

• Sits and pays attention to a story

• Recognizes sounds as letters and words (phonetic)

• Understands and follows 2-4 step directions

Expressive Language

• Asks and answers relevant questions (juice or milk)

• Recalls words in a song or rhyme

• Can tell or repeat a simple story

• Understands and figures out meaning from formal books (non-fiction)

• Uses words to express feelings and ideas

• Talks with other children during activities

• Makes up stories

• Speaks in increasingly complex sentences (more than 3 to 10 words in a sentence)

• Talks in a group (more than 2

children in a conversation)

Literacy (Writing)

• Enjoys and uses books appropriately (front to back, turns pages)

• Recognize pictures and text on

a page

• Understands the meaning of some print (signs like McDonald’s or a stop sign)

• Recognizes written words (their name, Dad, Mom)

• Imitates by writing some letters, names, and numbers

• Makes increasingly representational drawings (draws face or body with parts)

A child continues to learn language through all these areas, beyond just reading. A child hearing and having conversations is a very important part of increasing vocabulary and knowledge. Simply by having conversations with your children about where the calendar came from or  discussing how the President was elected can increase their understanding.


This is the area of learning that refers to the psychology of thinking and how children acquire and use their increasing knowledge. It establishes the foundation for curiosity, exploration, creative thinking, imagination, planning, math basics and computation, as well as logic and reasoning.

Cognitive learning  is the gathering of information and putting it together, which creates knowledge -- for example, a stove is hot to touch but used for cooking.

Playing with blocks, Legos, and different manipulatives help build these connections.

Construction of knowledge is a child’s ability to be aware of and learn from what is around him. This involves reasoning and problem solving skills, logical and symbolic thinking, memory, concentration, attention span, and the ability to understand concepts.

Indicators of a child’s progress through Cognitive Development:

• Shows curiosity and a desire to learn (ask questions)

• Shows interest in exploring, observes and makes discoveries

• Uses planning skills (socks before shoes)

• Shows creativity and imagination (scribbles a picture and names it)

• Applies information and experience to a new situation (burns hand and learns not to touch stove again)

• Persists at task (will depend on the child, 5-15 minutes)

Logical Thinking and Memory

• Classifies objects as same

(2 apples) and different (1 apple,

1 orange)

• Sorts objects that are the same (apples with apples)

• Recalls a sequence of events

(1st, 2nd, 3rd)

• Arranges objects in a series

(a line, a circle)

• Recognizes patterns and can repeat them (red white, white red)

• Increases in awareness of cause and effect (rain makes things wet)

Ability to Understand Concepts

• Can make believe a pretend role or pretend situation

• Can make believe with objects

• Can sustain pretend play with friends (this will change with age, at young ages even until 4 years old, children parallel play rather than engage, stand next to each other while doing an activity)

• Can make and interpret representations (drawing, writing, building with blocks)

• Shows increasing awareness of time concepts (now, later, today, tomorrow)

• Shows understanding of space concepts (here, there, home, school)

An older child needs to continue to use his or her body and explore and experience the world around them and evolve their fine motor skills. Even taking a child fishing adds a completely new element of experience and a context for understanding an ecosystem. When a child has had a exposure to something; their ability to comprehend what they read changes.


 This is the area of learning that refers to a child’s physical growth, large and small muscle motor skills development, increasing control  over body and bodily functions, and the development of the five senses.

Children’s physical growth is monitored by pediatricians with regular physical exams beginning at birth. Children are asked to perform tasks at the doctor’s office, which inform the pediatrician of the normal range of the child’s growth. They will progress from asking if they know who Mommy is, can say Mommy, can write a letter to writing their name, to tying their shoes, brushing their teeth, etc. All these are general indicators of proper development. When your child enters formal schooling the tests become more specific, and screenings determine where the child stands against an average.

Indicators of a child’s progress through the range of skill for 2-7 year olds:

• Walks up and down steps with alternating feet

• Tumbles

• Hops, skips

• Runs with increasing control


• Climbs up or down equipment without falling

• Jumps over and from objects

without falling

• Uses large muscles for balance (beam, tip-toe, stand on one foot)

• Catches and throws a ball with aim

• Pedals and steers a tricycle

• Pumps on a swing

• Handedness (left or right)

• Grips (fists or fingers)

• Coordinates eye hand movement (puzzles, uses object with control)

• Cuts with scissors

• Self-help skills, buttons, zips, ties

• Uses writing/drawing tools with increasing intention

• Prints letter/numbers

The Five Senses

• Able to discriminate sounds (cow, bell, wind)

• Able to discriminate visual cues (red is red, green is green)

• Able to discriminate taste and smell (sweet, sour)

• Able to discriminate the difference in texture (rough, smooth)

All children to use their bodies every day in some form of activity, which enhances their ability to retain information and knowledge. Exercise stimulates brain growth, boosts attention, and helps young children to improve their gross motor skills.


This is the area of learning that refers to healthy emotional and social development and is the heart of a child’s ability to learn. When a child feels emotionally secure, a child is receptive to learning. As adults, we know it is difficult to concentrate in a state of stress if there has been a fight with a significant other or a job loss. If there is something bothering us, it can be difficult to make it through the day. Children are affected in the same way, even if it may be just hearing their parents fighting.

A social connection is a child’s ability to get along with others and to make friends, to find her own identity, and to understand practice what is right from wrong.

An emotional connection is a child’s ability to experience positive feelings of competency and self-esteem about himself, and to express emotions (love, hate, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.) in positive and socially acceptable way.

Indicators of a child’s progress and progression through social/emotional connections:


• Is able to separate from parent

• Shows trust in other adults (allows

another adult to feed them)

• Can adapt to new situations (stays with relative or babysitter)

• Recognizes own feelings (asks for a hug)

• Recognizes feelings in others

• Feels confident in growing abilities (I did it myself)

• Asserts self (stands up for rights)

• Seeks help when needed (needs help cutting out a picture)

• Shows self-direction and independence

• Assumes responsibility for self (puts of her own jacket)


• Identifies self as a member of a family or culture

• Shows pride in heritage or background

• Seeks out other children and adults

• Shares toys and materials with others

• Respects the property and rights of others

• Follows routines

• Respects rules by following them

• Plays and works well with other


• Thinks through and negotiates conflict with others

Emotional maturity is developed by experiencing different social settings and interacting with other children beyond the limited time to socialize in a classroom. Children need to develop connections with other children through outside sports or club activities or playing with friends in a neighborhood. By navigating friendships and different personalities, they learn proper boundaries and relationships.