23 Jun 2015 Everyday learning opportunities
by Brittany Gilbert
When our oldest son was barely more than 1 year old, I remember overhearing another mom talking about how her son was counting to 10 in two languages, could recite the alphabet — along with some other impressive skills — all by the time he was 2 years old. Quickly, the guilt set in. What in the world was I doing with my son? He could sometimes count to three, but that was only whenever we were blasting off with Buzz Lightyear or something similar. Had we played too much and not learned enough? Simply put, no. We were doing exactly what we needed to be doing for a 1-year-old. Playing.
While it is impressive for a 2-year-old to have such knowledge at an early age, it is just that, early. Now my son is 3, and he can count, and we’re working on the alphabet, but it is happening in a very organic way. I decided that I wanted to encourage a love of learning instead of trying to force my son into a classroom-type setting at such an early age. I wanted him to see that learning takes place in the things that he enjoys every day.
Here are just a few examples, but there really are so many ways to facilitate learning with your kids.
Most children’s shows now-a-days have an educational component. Even Jake the Pirate asks for you to count the “gold doubloons” with him. Most parents need a TV time segment in the day, and because there are so many more options for quality kids shows, there’s no reason to feel guilty for turning on the TV so mom or dad can have some down time. PBS and Nick Jr have educational shows like “Sid the Science Guy” or “Little Einsteins.”
There are so many opportunities to have conversations with your child and encourage learning and curiosity. Take advantage of even the smallest moments. Most small children have trouble sitting and focusing on something for very long so it can be frustrating to expect them to sit and learn in a classroom style setting. However, they will sit still for a meal and have to remain seated while in the car, so these are perfect opportunities to talk to them. While driving, you can ask about the colors they see, what the lights at the intersection mean or practice singing the alphabet. The possibilities are endless, and you have their attention.
So much learning can take place when it is facilitated. My oldest son learned colors, when we were playing with blocks. We made piles for different colors and I would ask him to give me a certain color to add to whatever we were building.
Reading books with your children is one of the easiest ways to help them learn. Watch their vocabulary and cognitive skills take off when you expose them to books.
Don’t underestimate the value of physical play, either. Jumping and running are large motor skills your child learns from playing outside. You can take it further by enrolling your preschooler or older toddler in gymnastics. These classes help your child learn how to move properly and develop those large motor skills, not to mention social skills, when playing and learning with other kids their age.
The saying is true that kids are like sponges. I’ve been amazed to watch my 3-year-old say things that I don’t recall teaching him but I know he learned through activities, conversation or (gasp) television. There is a time (soon) when we will need to begin a pre-K and kindergarten education, which will require curriculum and homework, but until then, we will take advantage of teachable moments in everyday life.
Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have two sons and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at [email protected].