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Child learning

Aware Parenting Principles of Learning

by Aletha Solter, Ph.D.

These principles of learning are based on research in education and child development.

This list is excerpted from Helping Young Children Flourish Workbook (Copyright © 1992 by Aletha Solter, updated in 2016).


1. All children are born with the desire and the ability to learn.

2. Children learn best when the learning is self initiated, arising from their own curiosity and interests, rather than imposed on them. Children who resist unbidden teaching usually benefit from a more indirect, playful approach, which builds on their interests and allows choices, freedom, and self direction.

3. Concept formation and abstract thinking arise naturally out of concrete experiences. Children learn best through hands-on experiences rather than direct verbal instruction.

4. Play is the primary mode of learning during the first eight to ten years. It has three major functions.

orange ball Play helps children acquire physical, social, and intellectual skills.
orange ball Play helps children understand and assimilate information.
orange ball Play helps children work through traumatic experiences.

5. Appropriate stimulation is important. A rich environment with a variety of manipulative materials facilitates children's learning. Children also benefit by being exposed to stories, books, people, animals, places, natural environments, ideas, music, games, and real-life activities.

6. The best toys are ones that inspire children to imagine, build, create, and think.

7. Earlier is not necessarily better. Each child develops at his or her own rate. It's normal for children to lag behind in some skills while busy mastering others.

8. Children have preferred learning styles based on their individual forms of intelligence. These forms include logical-mathematical, verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, kinesthetic (good motor skills and coordination), musical, inter-personal (social awareness), and intra-personal (self-awareness). Traditional schools usually emphasize the first two (logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic), both in teaching methods and curriculum content. Children who do not learn well in traditional schools may be especially gifted in one or more of the other forms of intelligence.

9. Too much television and video games (screen time) can interfere with the learning process by stifling the imagination, promoting passivity, and using up valuable play time. Chiildren under the age of eight years benefit more from real, hands-on play than from digital educational activities.

10. Children are better learners when their lives are stress free. Distressing experiences can interfere with the learning process by causing confusion, anxiety, anger, agitation, lack of self-confidence, fear of failure, and an inability to concentrate. The learning process is enhanced when children are allowed to release painful feelings through play, laughter, crying, and raging.

11. Effective learning takes place in the context of a healthy, supportive relationship with parents and teachers. Intellectual competence is enhanced when parents and teachers:

orange ball Show acceptance and love while giving children good quality attention.
orange ball Use encouragement rather than praise, rewards, or criticism.
orange ball Have realistic expectations (neither too high nor too low).
orange ball Use a non-punitive approach to discipline.
orange ball Encourage children to ask questions and be independent thinkers.
orange ball Allow autonomy and help only when needed.


Aletha Solter, PhD, is a developmental psychologist, international speaker, consultant, and founder of the Aware Parenting Institute ( Her books have been translated into many languages, and she is recognized internationally as an expert on attachment, trauma, and non-punitive discipline. The titles of her books are The Aware Baby, Cooperative and Connected (a revised edition of Helping Young Children Flourish), Tears and Tantrums, Raising Drug-Free Kids, and Attachment Play.

Aware Parenting is a philosophy of child-rearing that has the potential to change the world. Based on cutting-edge research and insights in child development, Aware Parenting questions most traditional assumptions about raising children, and proposes a new approach that can significantly improve relationships within a family. Parents who follow this approach raise children who are bright, compassionate, competent, nonviolent, and drug free.

For more information about how children learn and how to help them heal from painful emotions that can block the learning process, see Aletha Solter's books, Cooperative and Connected, Tears and Tantrums, and Attachment Play.

Cooperative and Connected Tears and Tantrums Attachment Play

This page was last updated on February 16, 2018. Copyright © 1992 to 2018 by Aletha Solter. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical (including copying to other web sites, and including translations), without written permission from Aletha Solter. Photo credit: via photopin (license)