Like every parent, you want your child to be healthy, smart, and socially and emotionally well-adjusted. You read books, talk to experts, send your children to the recommended schools, and enroll them in the best sports and liberal arts programs.
Today, many parents try to provide the highest standards of educational opportunities for their sons and daughters. They worry if their children are learning what they need to know, and often have questions such as: Will my child be prepared for the next grade? Is the teacher challenging my daughter to do her best? Will I know if my son is developing at the right pace?
Relax! A child's development should be an enjoyable experience for both parent and child. Furthermore, you may be surprised at the variety of everyday activities that provide valuable, lasting learning experiences.
Structured learning is an important and necessary part of a child's life. In fact, most children will experience at least 12 years of formal education in which they will listen to instruction, write papers, take tests, give reports, and complete assignments. Therefore, take advantage of their early years to get them excited about the process of learning. The attitude children have about learning will ultimately influence their future success much more than the school they attend and the special programs in which they are involved.
While your child is exploring her environment, talk to her about what is happening. As she gets older, ask her questions about why she thinks things happen as they do. Jenna is two years old and loves to climb in and out of the laundry basket. While her mother sorts the laundry, she talks to Jenna about concepts like in and out, top and bottom, under and over. As a result, Jenna has learned to say these words and use them appropriately.
Jenna's mother has used an ordinary and necessary activity to expand Jenna's vocabulary and promote gross motor development. In the meantime, Jenna is having fun being a child. As Jenna gets older, her mother could ask her questions such as "Why does the basket tip over when you lean on one side?" or "How many people do you think could fit in that basket?" These types of questions encourage children to think in terms of solving problems.
Children learn through play. As adults, we separate our work from our play. However, for a child, their work is play. Some of the best learning that occurs in a child's life happens when they are playing independently or with their peers, with no adult interaction.
Just as an adult needs the proper tools and environment to do a job, a child needs the appropriate tools and environment to encourage him to discover and play freely. This doesn't mean they need an elaborate playroom filled with the latest educational toys. It is far more important that they have a play area that is safe, open, and filled with items that they can touch and manipulate.
Busy family schedules can often interfere with a child's valuable playtime. Although learning can still occur in the car, at the grocery store, and waiting in line at the mall, this needs to be balanced with larger blocks of time to engage in creative and imaginary play.
Learning should be fun. Our attitude about learning usually reflects our personal experiences in school. Karen has taught kindergarten for the past 16 years.
"I love working with five- and six-year-olds because they are so excited about learning. They are eager to try new things, they aren't inhibited by what they can't do, and they love the adventure of a new experience. I wish children could keep this enthusiasm for learning, but something happens along the way."
Children who view learning as a positive experience will be more apt to take advantage of educational opportunities. The best way to prolong your child's excitement for learning is to make learning fun. It's a lot more fun for children to learn their letters by playing "Name That Letter" while riding in the car, than reviewing alphabet flash cards for ten minutes every day. As more learning is incorporated into the child's play, the more likely they will view learning as a positive experience.
Here are some practical ideas on how to promote development in everyday activities:
Gross motor development involves improvement of skills utilizing the large muscles. Activities such as running, jumping, throwing, skipping, and riding a bike promote gross motor development. Improved coordination and body control is the focus as a child's body becomes larger and stronger.
- Lay your infant on the floor so they can practice lifting their head and rolling over.
- Put him on his back and let him reach for toys.
- Hold him so he will use his feet to bounce. However, be cautious about devices that allow your infant to bear weight before his bones are ready. If you have questions about what is right for your child, ask your pediatrician or nurse specialist.
- Allow her to walk on the curb as you are walking along the sidewalk.
- Have her throw her dirty clothes in the laundry basket, then praise her when she "makes a basket".
- Give her chalk to draw circles on the sidewalk, then have her jump from circle to circle.
- While waiting in line at the grocery store, count how long your child can balance on one foot.
- Encourage him to gallop, skip, hop, march, and run when walking a long distance.
- Have beanbags readily available for him to practice throwing, tossing, and aiming (at appropriate targets, of course).
- Encourage her to climb fences, trees, and playground equipment when safe.
- Set up an obstacle course using handy items or tape in the driveway or nearby parking lot and allow her to maneuver her bike in and out.
- Find an inconspicuous section in your yard and allow her to dig holes, tunnels, etc.
Fine motor development involves improving skills that use the small muscles. Activities such as grasping, drawing, cutting, gluing, manipulating, and pointing promotes fine motor development. Improved eye-hand coordination becomes more refined as the child gains more control of their small muscles.
- Give him blocks to hold in his hands.
- Let him play with plastic bowls and containers. Be especially careful of small objects that could end up in ears or noses, or inhaled into a child’s lungs.
- Help him use his fingers to point at objects.
- Allow her to put toothpaste on her toothbrush and brush her teeth.
- Give her a fork and spoon to use at mealtime.
- Collect scrap paper in a box and let her practice cutting with safe scissors.
- Teach him how to fasten his clothes.
- Keep a supply of balloons on hand for your child to practice eye-hand coordination by keeping the balloon in the air.
- Cover the kitchen table with large white butcher paper, and then allow him to draw pictures, write words, etc. while he is waiting to eat or when he is finished eating.
- Start a young child's puzzle on the least disruptive corner of the kitchen cabinets.
- Have her work on the puzzle while you are preparing meals.
- Assign the task of setting the table to your child. This challenges their fine motor skills as well as teaches them responsibility.