Learning — and teaching — through imitation

One of the best ways for children to learn is observing others and then trying to do the same thing. From birth through adulthood, humans frequently pattern learning on the behavior of others. Adults and older children are powerful influences who can foster learning every day.

Copying Behavior

Young children naturally follow behavior patterns they observe in other people. One of the earliest signs of this is when babies learn to respond to others with a smile. This comes after days and days of watching someone smile at them.

Speech patterns develop as babies hear the sounds of language over and over again. That is why it is so important that parents talk, sing, and read to their little ones frequently during the day with correct language rather than baby talk at every stage of development.

Adults can echo the sounds babies make and later they will try to echo your sounds. Little children learn to point, clap and play with toys as we show them what to do. When adults respond with enthusiasm, little ones try to mimic the movements or sounds we show them.

As babies become toddlers, they become big observers of adult behavior. This is an important time for patterning eating and bathroom habits. Kids this age enjoy games like peek-a boo and start to mimic the speech and actions of adults in pretend play.

Preschoolers have fun with motion games like “Simon Says,” “Can You Do What I Do?” and “Follow the Leader” where they follow directions to do what the “caller” shows or tells them to do. Hokey Pokey, a singing game where everyone does the same motions, is another game. Children watch and learn as we show them hand movements to nursery rhymes and finger plays.

Imitative behavior continues to be an important skill as children join sports, dance, learn to play musical instruments, and act civilly with others.

Preschoolers love to be the “leader” and have others mimic their motions in games and songs. It is fun to imitate animal movements and sounds together.

Observation Teaches

While personal discovery is an important way to learn, imitating others is a quicker way to build many skills. Imitation takes observation, attention, and concentration. Adults need to recognize the power of imitation and be on guard to provide positive models.

Of particular concern to many people is the influence of watching violence and aggression, either in real life or on TV and video games. Studies have shown that children mimic negative attitudes, hitting, speech, and behavior, as well as the positive behavior. According to psychologists, the old saying “doing as I do” is true because the kids are watching and imitating us every minute.

For more ideas to help young children develop, see grandparentsteachtoo.blogspot.com; wnmufm.org/Learning Through the Seasons; Pinterest, and Facebook.

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Grandparents Teach, Too is written by a group of teachers and former teachers who contribute ideas and resources to help educate children and grandchildren. For more GTT articles and resources, visit them online at ­http://grandparentsteachtoo.blogspot.com.