Q: My sister has a bright 3-year-old son. She is determined to nurture and develop his mind and brain to the best of her ability. How can she expand his horizons? — Via e-mail

A: At 3, a child is curious about everything and brimming over with questions: “Why, why, why?”

Valuing children’s curiosity encourages their drive to explore, investigate and understand.

But parents needn’t have all the answers or respond right away: “That’s an interesting question. Can you remember it so we can talk about it tonight at supper when I have more time?”

For children to learn, they must develop their ability to be patient; pay attention; persist even when they fear they may not overcome a challenge; face their mistakes; and focus even when frustrated.

Thus children take the measure of their abilities and potential. This self-confidence, along with a sense of optimism, helps children see problems as opportunities to find solutions.

Patience, focus and tenacity may not be the first skills that come to mind when considering how to expand a child’s horizons. Instead, we think of teaching him about colors; numbers; the alphabet; names of animals, trees and flowers; and the world’s countries.

A child who develops the character of a learner can take on these challenges and many more, and he will always seek new horizons on his own.

Of course it helps to expose an eager child to the world’s sights and sounds — music, or a second or third language.

But watch for his signals about how he learns — with his eyes, his ears, when he is in motion, or all of these.

Also look for clues to when he has had enough. If you overload a child, pressure him or present him with tasks he can’t yet handle, you may make him feel unsure of himself as a learner, or worse, like a failure. The risk of too much teaching is to turn him off learning. Challenges should be just a small step beyond — and within his reach.

One sure way to expand a child’s horizons is to talk together, ask questions and listen — about everything, even life’s small details.

This helps extend a child’s language skills, which are critical for learning.

Children’s strongest motivation comes from the adults who care about them. For example, children will want to read if they see adults reading.

It inspires children when they interact with adults who are excited to learn and who encourage them to do likewise, without pressure or judgment.

 

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to:

nytsyn-families@nytimes.com

 

— The New York Times