Learning at Home: When Your Child Is Not in Preschool Yet
Kids everywhere are settled into the school year, but what if your child isn't in school? There are still plenty of ways to teach your child at home and get him ready for school when the time comes.
According to Lee Scott, Chair of The Goddard School Educational Advisory Board, early childhood research describes social-emotional development and 21st century skills (executive function, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking) as important indicators of school readiness. Social-emotional development is about interacting with others, self-control, motivation, and trying new things. Children who can play with others, begin to follow simple directions, and communicate are happier and more secure in their surroundings and thus will be ready to learn.
There are many simple things parents can do to help nurture their children’s development at home. Remember, learning occurs everywhere, not just in a formal preschool setting so don't buy into the myth that you can't teach your child as much at home or fail to make learning a part of every day with your child.
Here are a few tips from Scott to help your children develop essential language, social-emotional, and 21st century skills that will help prepare them for success in school and in life:
See what you can do around your community.
Children’s and science museums are great not just for the exhibits, but also for the fact that children can observe each other, interact, play, and explore new activities. Find out what your local museums have for little learners. You don’t have to stay all day. It is better to go for short visits and go back frequently so your children become familiar with the environment.
Set realistic expectations.
Before you visit a new place with your children, explain what will happen and how long you will be there. Setting the expectations can be very comforting for a young child. Talk about the rules, such as why we can’t scream in the grocery store or jump off the swing when other children are around. Ask your children what might happen if we didn’t follow a safety rule. This will help get them ready for following directions and simple rules at preschool or kindergarten and help them learn the social skills taught in preschool. Look for moments to praise your children when you see them following rules.
Take them shopping.
Grocery stores are great learning places. You can count items in the cart, point out the differences in the types of food, see what people do in their jobs, and so much more. Before you go, ask your children to help you plan what you will need to buy. Planning and organizing are part of essential 21st century skills.
Get outside every day.
Go outside as much as you can with your children, even it is just for a few minutes. Talk about what you see. Remember the fun game of describing what clouds look like from when you were a child? This is great for language development and piquing a child’s imagination. Taking a walk and describing what you see can become a simple science lesson.
Play games and complete puzzles.
Board games and puzzles help children in many ways, such as learning to take turns, think critically, and follow directions. Classics like Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land are still relevant for today’s children.
Attend story time at the public library.
This special time will not only give your children the experience of listening and early reading skills, but will also allow them to interact with other children. Encourage your children to pick out favorite books to read again at home. This will help them learn how to make decisions.
Read aloud to your children.
Select a few books where the characters must solve problems and learn the consequences of their behavior. Books such as Me First by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger, Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee and Harry Bliss, and Curious George’s First Day of School by Margaret and H.A. Rey. The narratives and characters in the stories help children learn how to cope with the world around them. You can read the same book over and over again, and your child will soon be able to tell you the story. They will also start recognizing letters as you point them out and eventually recognize a few words.
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Learning Toys and Games:
GeoSafari Jr. Talking Globe: Your toddler may not yet have ventured to school (or even far beyond your neighborhood playground) but that doesn't mean she isn't ready to start learning about the world around her. This globe teaches about the animals in our oceans and on land with a smart pen and can then expand into learning about landmarks, capitals, distance between places, and more as she grows and her thirst for knowledge along with it.
My First Design and Drill Workbench: Kids learn through play and they love imitating grown-up activities as part of playtime. That's why areas to play at grown-up activities are so prevalent in preschools. At home, toys like this design and drill bench allow kids to play at grown-up activities like hammering and drilling while designing their own patterns or pictures or following the included guide.
Play-Doh: Preschool aged kids often need to work on fine motor skills, whether or not they are in school. Play-Doh is a favorite choice of preschool teachers because kids love it and just doing what comes naturally with the sculpting dough builds essential muscles in developing hands.
Letters: Learn the ABCs at home with My First ABC Clutching Puzzle. Preschool is synonymous with learning the ABCs. Rote memorization doesn't always work, but fun ways of teaching letters, like age-appropriate puzzles, can get kids off to the right start. Puzzle pieces can also be used to teach matching and colors. Write-On, Wipe Off, Let's Write Letters are a great way for kids to practice copying and tracing letters.
Lego Duplos: Duplos, the bigger LEGOs made for little kids, are staples in preschool classrooms for good reason. Sets like this Cargo Train are great to keep on-hand to help preschoolers learn the basics of building, engineering, and creative thinking. Once built, kids can stretch their imaginations to create all kinds of transportation-related scenarios. Then, they can take the set apart and start over.
Jooki: Storytime is essential in preschool, but when your preschooler is at home you may not always have time. Jooki can be used to “read” fairytales and books to kids when a caregiver isn't available to do so. Jooki can also play music and is simple enough for kids to use themselves since it can be activated by different colored figures.
Waterfall Train and Activity Table: Preschoolers need a place of their own to explore! This KidKraft table is perfect since it's sturdy, has built-in storage, and – importantly – has a reversible top with one side designed to encourage imaginative play with a road and lakes and a plain side for art projects, Duplo building, and free play. Add a Lorena Canals washable rug to create a perfectly kid-friendly area to learn and explore – while keeping the messes involved contained.
Themed Stamps: Preschoolers thrive on completing tasks independently but it's not always easy to find projects that fit the bill – especially ones that don't result in a huge mess. Construction site ink stamps like these from Moulin Roty provide preschoolers the opportunity to stamp (in different shapes and sizes) to their heart's content.
Learning in Special Activities: The holidays provide a great opportunity for learning at home. A Playmobil Advent Calendar is a great way to teach children about numbers and math while waiting for Christmas. Or, around Halloween, challenge kids to count and then divide candy by the number of people in their household.
Beaker Creatures: Preschools often introduce young children to basic STEM concepts, but you don't need a lab or a science degree to get kids interested in experimentation. For many kids, it comes naturally to want to know more about how the world around them acts (and reacts) and this mini science kit with experiment cards is the perfect home study for the toddler set.
Read, read, read!: Experts and parents agree that reading is the most important thing you can do to help your child learn. Books like Rot, The Cutest in the World!, The Big Umbrella, I'm an Immigrant Too!, and Chomp Goes the Alligator! are all great choices to help keep kids interested and engaged.
You don't need your to be in school to learn as much as preschool peers! What kinds of things do you do at home to encourage learning if your toddler isn't in school?