By Jill Johnson, Communications Specialist for Family Resources at Community-Minded Enterprises Success by 6 Board Member
They say kids don't come with an instruction manual, yet parents, especially new parents are bombarded with all kinds of advice from friends and family. There are books and websites offering endless lists, tips and tricks for parenting. Not to mention the countless videos, electronic toys and classes that parents are pressured to purchase. It's hard to know what's best. Maybe you've given up, thrown up your hands in frustration, or simply worried you're not doing it right. Here is some good news; you don't need a lot of that so-called advice. And chances are you're doing things everyday that will insure your little one is ready for kindergarten and beyond.
Kids are born learners. Gina Lebedeva, Ph.D. with the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington was the keynote speaker at the 2011 Our Kids: Our Business luncheon and she likes to remind people that Einstein didn't play with flash cards. Her point, paraphrasing an amazing lecture in April, is that young children respond and learn from everyday encounters not some formalized learning session. You don't need tools, per say, to teach your child, or a teacher for that matter. You really CAN be your child's first and best teacher.
So, by now you're probably saying "I'm not a teacher" or "Here we go again." But it's really as simple as finding little moments in the day to connect with your child.
Here are few examples.
Make sorting clothes for laundry a game. Separate the dark colors from the light colors. Count how many pairs of pants you have. When laundry is done have your child help fold the towels, folding in half or thirds teaches fractions.
The same idea works when grocery shopping or riding in the car. See if your child can spot a red truck. At the store, have them point out something yellow or ask them to count the number of apples in a bag. And once you're home you can have them help you unpack. Can they sort the canned goods from the fresh fruits and vegetables? Or count how many eggs are in the carton before you put them away.
And don't forget to include your kids in cooking. This point has an added benefit beyond just learning. It is very clear that kids that are exposed to fresh fruits and vegetables at a young age are more likely to eat better as they grow into teen and adulthood. The key is having them take part in preparing their food. Simple activities like washing fruits and vegetables, cracking an egg or even shelling a peanut connect kids to the food they eat. Community and backyard gardens offer the full experience when it comes to better eating and really understanding that vegetables don't come from a can. With childhood obesity at frightening levels, it's never too early to model good eating habits.
In the end, it doesn't matter that much what the activity is, so long as you are spending time with your child. Thrive by Five Washington, the state's nonprofit public-private partnership for early learning boiled it down, when it launched the Love. Talk. Play. Campaign in early 2011. If you are doing those three things you're going to guarantee your child has the head start he or she needs to succeed in life.
What to learn more? Here are some helpful links: