You just celebrated your child’s first birthday and you can’t believe how much he has grown and learned over this one short year. All of your hopes and dreams for your child are on the horizon. Sometimes you just wish you knew what you have to do to help him become the success in life you know is his destiny.
A child’s ability to function well in society and at school is determined in large part during his first three to five years, well before most children ever start their educational career. Later learning, and academic achievement is closely tied to early childhood experiences that help develop the connections in their brains that lead to the ability to read, write, understand mathematical concepts, form close caring relationships, and reason.
There is no secret formula. There is no fancy program, no perfect prep school that will assure these results. There is a way to improve your child’s chances for both academic and life success and it all begins with you.
Give him time to play, time to explore, and time to wonder. Time to ask questions, no matter how repetitive and annoying is vital. Give him a childhood. Teach him that everyday tasks are fun, for him they really are! Teach him to play.
Contrary to what many people think, children are not born knowing how to play. As in all things, your child learns to play from your example. Here are a few ideas for helping your child explore his world through play, and therefore increase the connections in his brain that lead to learning. Play is not “doing nothing”. Play is active and engaged learning.
- Give him time to play freely, and allow non-directed time to entertain himself with his blocks and toys while you attend to your own tasks around the home or yard.. Be there to assist if needed, but let him direct his play. Your job is to provide the materials for him to create his play. These can be as simple as sand, water, and bucket.
- Ask questions, rather than give answers. If she is building a tower with her blocks ask, ” How high can you build it?” or “Who lives in this tower?” Help her to think of alternatives and ideas this way. “How can you keep the tower from falling?” She wants to construct her own answers, solve her own problems. She just needs gentle nudges through questioning, to do so.
- Let him help with household tasks, such as sorting socks. Lead him by asking, “Can you find all of the black socks?” Or, “Which ones are little and which ones are big?” Or, “Do these match?”
- Get messy. Yes, mud puddles are fascinating! The mud washes off of her and her clothes, so have fun with it. Mud can be paint on the patio floor. It can be body paint to make you look like a warrior. Mud can be used to bake cakes and pies in small tins and bowls to serve to the frogs in the garden. Mudpies are especially good when decorated with flowers, stones, and sticks.
- Use big words. Children are very adept at learning vocabulary, and the more words they know the better readers they will become! If you think your child may not know a word you use, explain it. “Leanne had a tonsillectomy yesterday. That’s why she can’t play just now. A tonsillectomy is when the doctor makes her feel better by taking out something in her throat that has been making her sick and hurting her.”
- Use prepositions with your child from the beginning. Understanding words like over, under, through, on, beside and near, helps your child understand their world. Using total physical response (TPR) with these words helps your child understand. For instance, say to your crawling ten-month-old, “Get the ball from under the table.” while pointing under the table. She will quickly begin to understand what ‘under’ means. Kindergarten teachers often report that too many children enter formal schooling with no understanding of these important words.
- Read. Read books at night, during the day, when she comes up to you with one in her hand. Use books that she can touch, feel, and yes, sometimes even chew on! Rotate books so they don’t become boring. And be prepared to read the same book over, and over, and over, again. Even this repetitiveness serves to help your child’s brain grow and develop. Children who have a rich history with books become better readers.
- Provide new experiences. Go to the zoo and name all the animals. Take a walk and name the trees. Make snow angels. Look up a recipe for home-made dough and make your own play-dough together. Each new experience causes more connections to form in the brain. In effect, your child is becoming smarter! As with all things, balance new experiences with other more routine and favorite experiences.
- Spend time outdoors. Let your child become familiar with this beautiful world. Listen for birds together. Point out insects you see scurrying around. Lie in the grass and look at the clouds. Teach your child that it’s okay to just enjoy the world. We don’t have to be busy every second we are awake. This time spent soaking up nature is revitalizing and makes us more creative.
“Children’s work is play.” Maria Montessori summed this up perfectly over a hundred years ago. Today, neuroscientists have proven she was right. Make the most of your child’s early years. Give him the gift of play.