As a parent, you become immediately aware that you are your child's first teacher. Then it should not be surprising that your child's initial important learning environment is your home. Your home setting can be a comforting, warm cocoon where your child very naturally learns about love and trust while you snuggle together reading a book in bed. Or it can be a stimulating place in which he learns to satisfy his curiosity while sinking toys in the bathtub.
Even if you do not consciously invite your child to be a part of your daily routine at home, you will probably find him right next to you anyway. An activity that may not seem exciting to you may be fascinating to your child. For example, when I sat outside on the deck shucking corn for dinner, my toddler-aged grandchild eagerly joined me. He began to intensely pull down the green husks. He became most intrigued as he discovered the golden surprise inside each ear. And then just as quickly, he made a tickly beard with the cornsilk! His sensory-motor skill development and imagination became alive during this simple, shared project.
You serve as an influential role model for your child as she learns about her world. It is fun for her to imitate you and copy your daily activities while she gains new skills and practices some old ones. In this article, Earlychildhood NEWS shares ways to take familiar areas in your home and create similar miniature learning environments for your child. Some things are interesting to do together, or with a sibling, while other activities foster independent learning.
While you pay your bills, order clothes online from a catalog store, or call your dentist to make an appointment, encourage your child to practice his communication skills, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
Online. Create a pretend computer with a shoebox. Cover the back of the box with clear contact paper so your child can add "words" or "graphics" to the "screen" with a wipe off crayon. Together, you can write letters and numbers on paper taped to the "keyboard" lid. Fine motor and language skills are sharpened as your child types answers to his email.
Phone fun. Poke holes in the bottom of two paper cups or tin cans (tape any sharp edges). Knot and pull the string tightly through the holes for designer phones for two. Hold one cup to an ear to listen while the other person talks in the other cup. Or create a hand held cell phone with a toilet paper roll and magic markers. To help your child make meaningful connections, create a personal phonebook with real or simple phone numbers (1, 2) and pictures of favorite people and places to call.
Box of bills. To help her learn to identify some numbers and letters and to create a print rich environment for your child, save your colorful junk mail. Add some old envelopes, scrap paper, markers and stickers for stamps so she can sit and write out her bills right next to you.
While you grab some precious moments to exercise on your bike or treadmill, you are teaching your child at an early age the importance of keeping physically fit on a regular basis. Create a tiny exercise area for him to move his large muscles, too.
Jazz it up. Roll a towel up tightly and hold it together with rubber bands the long way and on each end. Encourage your child to see how many creative ways he can use this long snake to build his muscles: jump over it, lift it over his head, shake it in the air. Record some jazzy music for him to coordinate his jumps with the rhythm.
Pillow pile up. Pile several pillows on the floor for him to "dive" into or "crawl" around. See how many different ways she can think of to move around the pile. And this provides a great "cooling down" spot for you both to rest and snuggle after your workouts.
Soup-can lifts. If you use weights to tone up, try taping an appropriately weighted can over your child's sock (in case of a skin tape allergy). He can enjoy sitting and lifting his foot or leg while he or both of you count together. For silly fun, try taping on a little teddy bear or a maraca.
Usually you feel rushed as you try to decide what you want to wear for the day. Provide stress-free opportunities for your child to become involved in decision-making, too, as she solves some dress-up problems of her own in a near-by corner.
Zip or rip. Offer your child a wonderful collection of old wallets, purses, and bags. Invite her to explore the cause and effect relationships of various closures while practicing her fine motor skills as her fingers zip zippers, snap snaps, rip open Velcro® fasteners, and button buttons.
Sock sort. Keep a handy basket of all those single socks you never know what to do with. Have your child play a classification game and sort by color, shape, size, texture, pattern, or owner.
Dress for the weather. Ask your child to dress his teddy bear in outgrown baby clothes. Besides gaining practice manipulating sleeves and pant legs over the proper body part, he can make meaningful decisions about weather concepts—a fuzzy hat keeps teddy warm on a snowy day.
While you are working in the kitchen, safety (sharp knives, hot pots) is often an issue. Give your child his own safe working station—a metal tray on the table or a box of pans on the floor near the wall—so he can make inspired scientific and mathematical discoveries.
Spill and fill. For lots of fun with differently-sized measuring containers and spoons, put water or cornmeal in a dishpan. Have him observe which piles of cornmeal are the largest or which containers hold the most water. And to stretch his imagination, your child will also enjoy burying miniature figurines in the deep corn meal. These hands-on experiences help develop emergent mathematical understandings about volume and size.
Dry + Wet = Gush. Prompt your young scientist to add wet water to dry flour and salt in a bowl. Too much water? Gush! Not enough water? Crumbly stuff! Encourage him to slowly keep adding ingredients until he creates a wonderful ball of play dough to use with cookie cutters or bake. This discovery approach promotes an awareness of the characteristics of different properties.
Cook's choice. Cut colorful pictures of food out of magazines and advertisements. Use small pots, pans and a wooden spoon for your little chef to stir up a stew or birthday cake. Supply paper plates for him to dish out a special meal for daddy. You may wish to furnish a non-toxic glue stick so he can create some permanent food collages. Discuss his choice of foods: for example vegetables and healthy snacks.
Susan A. Miller, Ed.D., is professor emeritus at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.