How Kids Learn: the m & m’s of Learning

How Kids Learn ~ The m&m's of Learning (Multiple and Meaningful Exposure) | This Reading Mama

How Kids Learn: Through MULTIPLE and MEANINGFUL exposure

The longer I teach, the more I learn about how kids learn. While I have much more to learn about this, I am certain, I am convinced of one thing: that learning takes place through multiple and meaningful exposures.  I call it the m & m’s of learning.  Multiple basically means repeated over and over (there’s more to it than this), but meaningful isn’t so black and white. What’s meaningful to one child may not be to another. And sometimes meaningful means explicit instruction with one child whereas another may totally “get it” without explicit instruction.

Multiple Exposure

The first part, multiple exposure, might seem easy. Just wash, rinse and repeat…right? But let’s break it down a little further. Multiple exposure does not mean we always repeat it in the same way (example: Write your words ten times each).

  • Kids need us to use multi-sensory techniques as we expose them to concepts multiple times.
  • Kids need concrete examples, especially as they begin with a concept.
  • They need us to model strategies to them so they can see how it works.
  • And most importantly, most kids need TIME. Time to take what they have seen. Time to absorb it. Time to make it their own. Time to APPLY it in their own situations. The amount of time it takes for a child to do this varies from one child to another…and even from one subject area to the next (within the same child).

Meaningful Exposure

If you thought multiple exposure was complicated, making it meaningful can be even more so, but it is doable. And when you know a child well (for example, your own child), you are empowered because you know their likes and dislikes. You are better equipped to know what would be meaningful to the child. My own definition of meaningful exposure has evolved over my years as a classroom teacher, but especially as a homeschooling mom. {And please note what I am not saying. Our job is not to entertain our kids, but to educate them. Our job is not to cater to their every wish and desire, but to care enough to make our teaching meaningful and purposeful.}

  • Kids need to see the purpose in what they are being asked to learn. With some subjects, this is easy. But with others, it can be most difficult. It helps tremendously if we can show them a real-life application. How can they (now) and how will they (in the future) apply this knowledge?
  • Create an audience. If we ask kids to do something that has a built-in audience at the end, it can add more meaning to the activity. For example, if we ask a child to write a report about a book we just read, we want to create an audience for the child (for example, someone or a group of people who have never read the book) to read his report to when it is finished. Kids tend to care more if they know someone else will learn from them or take an interest in their work. On the other hand, if the book report just remains in their folder and is never shared with anyone, the meaning of the activity can be lost.
  • Play. Take the concept and play with it. Maybe it can be made into a board game. Can you integrate dice into it somehow? Find a way to integrate a favorite toy to make the learning come alive. Playing games such as these is a great way to sneak in learning because it doesn’t feel like learning to most children; it just feels like play.
  • Keep it natural. Instead of grilling your child over the chapter she just read, sit down and have a natural conversation about it. Dialogue like you would with a friend. If your preschooler is resistant to learning, integrate vocabulary and concepts into natural conversations with him instead of making it seem like “school”. Are there concepts that you can naturally integrate into your day? If your child likes cooking in the kitchen, can you expose him to fractions or liquid volume as you cook together? Absolutely! {Most learning does not happen in a workbook any way.}
  • Find what interests the child. And here is the where that educate vs. entertain line can get a little fuzzy. While I do like to follow the lead of the child when kids are younger, I also know that life will not always be fun. Sometimes learning a concept or working on something will be “boring.” This is where we have to pause and work on some heart issues {character} with the child. Frankly put: life is simply not about her {the sooner your child can learn this, the better}. But when I can, I like to watch what kinds of activities my child naturally gravitates towards and integrate those.
  • Integrate technology. While I do not believe in sitting children in front of a screen for hours each day, I do believe that screen time, if use appropriately, can be an effective tool to make learning meaningful. Take for example our Google Earth app. We have used this app in so many ways as we have studied land forms, geography, or building structures in different countries. Youtube and other learning sites can be a rich source of information that kids would not experience the same way in any other venue. DVDs and other learning apps can be integrated at times to reinforce or teach a learning concept. {Disclaimer: It is always a good idea to supervise time on the web, no matter the age of your child. Keeping the computer your child is on in a central location is also a good idea.}


Multiple and meaningful exposure. How about you?  What’s your “trick”?  How do you take the m & m’s of learning and apply it to your teaching? I want to hear from you!


If you enjoyed these tips, activities and printables, I would encourage you to follow along in one or more of these ways so you don’t miss a thing!


  1. Hi! I am new to your blog and LOVE it! I too am a former elementary teacher who LOVES teaching reading. So much of what you blog about here resonates with me. I now have three blessings at home who I am currently teaching preschool at home too. I will be back here more often. Thanks for the awesome ideas and tips!
    PS-I am visiting from I can teach my child

  2. I love that. It is hard to figure out what the meaningful part is for each child, and I’ve never heard it put as M&M’s but I love this idea. { And I love M&Ms, too. 😉 }

    • And, what’s even harder is what’s meaningful to a child one day may not be as meaningful the next. Constantly changing. I say it keeps our mama brains sharp! :)

  3. You’ve been featured on Saturday Show & Tell @ Cheerios and Lattes this week!

  4. Tammie Ulrich says:

    I can’t say enough about how much your site has helped me. I tutor multiple ages and teach my own boys, and you always have the guidance and printables I need! THANK YOU!


  1. […] The M&M’s of Learning- Becky @ This Reading […]

  2. […] Your child can change from month to month and year to year. What was meaningful and worked one day may not the next. Again, flexibility is important. My daughter {currently 34 […]

  3. […] kids who may have it down-pat the very first time you introduce it, generally speaking people need multiple and meaningful exposures with a concept before the light bulb comes on.  They need to be able to take that knowledge and […]

  4. […] After homeschooling for a couple of years, I began really thinking about how learning happens in the first place. I mean, how did my second son learn his ABC’s by age two? I never once sat down with him and asked him to fill out a worksheet. My conclusion became multiple and meaningful exposure. […]

  5. […] writing thank you notes is also a sneaky way to make writing meaningful because it has a built-in audience. It can be especially fun when you write them at random […]

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