Parent/Child Shared Activities
By Richard Kieninger
Some ways to make learning a part of life in your home...
Think out loud (unless the child is engaged in another activity.) For example, model how you organize scheduling all of the day’s activities so the child can hear you and even help plan. Even when you are driving in the car, think through plans of action so your child will acquire these organizational strategies.
Label the world; describe how things work. “Wow, look at that cattle truck. The holes in the truck keep the cows cool and give them fresh air.” “Look at the ‘cherry-picker’ truck. The man is fixing the wires. He has special tools for working around those electrical wires.” “Look at the men washing the windows on that high-rise building. Gee, imagine how dirty the windows would get if no one washed them!” “Look at that pretty duck, Let’s look it up in our book at home.” Pose questions: “I wonder why...”
Talk math. Your child can think math if you talk math. Count how many steps to the car measure the distance from the bathtub to the bed and count how many seconds it takes to get there. Cook meals and measure ingredients with your child, count how many people will be eating dinner and how many plates you will need on the table. Puzzles are also a great way to enhance mathematical and spatial thinking.
Pay attention to “sensitive periods.” A concept described by Maria Montessori, a sensitive period is a time when the child is ready to learn a specific skill such as self-dressing, drinking from a glass or potty training. There are also sensitive periods for interest in numbers, writing and other skills. Pay attention to the subtle clues displayed as your child’s feelings of self-reliance emerge. A sense of personal achievement is gained by your child from learning important skills.
Use auditory story tapes. They encourage your child to gain valuable listening skills and stimulate visualization and imagination.
Give your child the raw materials” to create play scenarios rather than ready-made toys. Large and small boxes, old sheets, strips of fabric, and old clothes make great toys. They can become the backdrop for hours of imaginative play.
The single most important activity that you can provide for your child to enhance intellectual ability is lots of opportunity to move, move, move. From day one this is the case. Children love it, they need it, parents need them to have it and it benefits many developmental areas. If you have time for only one shared activity each day—make it movement.
From birth to walking: Ensure lots of opportunity every day for your infant to be on a smooth, firm, clean surface, belly down (prone), wearing clothing on the torso only. No shoes, no socks, no walkers, no johnny jump-ups, no playpens. Keep the environment safe and free of encumbrances.
From walking to running: Provide lots of opportunity to walk, walk, walk. Wear shoes only outside and they should be very flexible. Start on smooth, flat surfaces and progress to uneven surfaces (yard), up and down hills.
Everyday: Go to the playground, go for a walk, climb a hill. On rainy days, go to an indoor playground or make an obstacle course inside your house. Climb over, crawl through, hop, jump, balance, creep, step, tippy-toe, make a silly little song to accompany to make it extra fun. (Small children are very non-critical of spontaneous lyrics and simple tunes!) When your child is 3 & 4, they love to go on imaginary adventures in your obstacle course, and they will want to do it over and over. Love of movement comes in early childhood by helping the child develop basic skills and confidence.
The best toys are balls, books, blocks and “bits.” What you can do with balls is endless and they interest every age level. Invest in balls of all shapes, sizes and weights even from babyhood. Need a good physical activity? Kick a ball around the back yard (soccer). It is great for endurance, kicking, developing deeper respiration, and establishing “footed-ness.” Children love those short fat bats and soft balls, which you can even play indoors, even as young as 18 months. Teach your child how to throw and catch.
Blocks teach many spatial skills and foster imagination and visualization. If you are investing in toys, varieties of blocks can offer valuable play for years! This is a good activity for children to do independently or with friends.
Books open the world to your child, If you only have time for one sedentary activity, this is it. I am sure many of you already do this as part of your daily routine. Sometimes parents want to know if they should read the same books over and over or if books should be new. My answer is to do both - have some old favorites and some new. Research indicates that children benefit from the repetition of hearing the same old story told over and over. It is also valuable to have books that have rhythm and rhyming words. Be sure to include fiction as well as non-fiction. With so many beautiful nature books and magazines for young children like Big Backyard, Ranger Rick and National Geographic World, children’s interest in natural science can be stimulated. It is something fun to do with a parent or alone.
“Bits” is a term coined by The Better Baby Institute given to picture cards with a single picture or bit of information. It is probably how The Better Baby Program is popularly known and recognized. Some people think of them as flash cards and assume they mean you are pressuring the child to learn by using them. (The Better Baby Program never promoted pressuring the children in any way.)
“Bits” are a great way to present children with a world of information in a quick, easy and enjoyable format. I have always found it to be an excellent learning tool for children of all ages as well as adults. It is amazing how many topics can be introduced to your child. Of course, the best “bit” is the real thing. Anything they can experience with all of their senses is by far the most effective way to learn. But, in the absence of the real thing or in conjunction with the real thing, “bits” can’t be beat.
“Bits” take literally seconds to show. A great time to use bits is at mealtime when the child is sitting. Teachers at the school often do bits during snack time. The children love them. Only show 1, 2 maybe 3 sets at one sitting and only show ten cards from each set.
The benefit I have seen in children who have had “bits” is a broad range of interests. They seem to think everything is interesting. It also seems to have the effect of building learning pathways. Learning is easy and they seem to need fewer and fewer exposures to information to “get it.” It also creates familiarity with a subject and thus, a comfort level.
With children under 2 years, just label what the picture is; when they are over 2 they generally also want to know something interesting about what they are seeing. With a regular program of “bits,” by age 3 or so, they generally like to relate previously shown sets - like matching the flags of the states with the state flower and the shape of the state. This becomes a fun game. Adults learn a lot, too. Our parent resource library has literally thousands of bits that can be borrowed. They should only be shown a few times.
Key points to remember when showing “bits”... go quickly
· mix the order (otherwise they will know what is coming next) always add something new
· don’t beg your child to look; let them beg you (they will)
· don’t test
· stop before they are ready for you to stop
· if they are not interested, do a different topic or put it away
Children Learn Through Sensory Input and Motor Opportunity
The process of learning is essentially two-fold. Sensory input goes into the back of the brain. The senses are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. That is the only way we take in information. However, sensory input needs to be organized; not chaotic. Children might get stimulated in mayhem, but they will not be enriched. If anything, it confuses the brain. The only way to develop competency or proficiency is through motor opportunities. It connects the input with the output in the brain. It is easy to get information in but more difficult to get responses out.
The response mechanisms take years and years of many little opportunities here and opportunities there. Things do not happen by sitting down and saying, “We are now going to learn how to write.” Writing happens by having many, many opportunities as a baby to reach out and grasp an object; many opportunities to gain control of the arms and hands and fingers by building with blocks, pouring sand, stringing beads, manipulating play-dough, dressing dolls, taking a magnetic skunk through a plastic maze, and experience holding and using different kinds of writing tools. This is play to young children, and it is learning.
We make our home and our child’s life a learning environment by the little things we do and say and respond. Value and interest is sparked in the child by making the environment rich in many things to learn. And, some of the best, most enduring enrichment comes just by being together.