As parents, we have the amazing privilege of being our children’s first teachers and setting the foundations for their life. Starting from birth and continuing throughout childhood, there are several things you can do to help kids learn that are easy to weave into your daily activities and can make for lots of family fun!
- Talk to Your Child about Nearly Anything and Everything
Language is the tool that underpins thought, communication, and learning, and sets your children up for a positive experience at school. Talking to your child often early in life helps kids learn to express themselves more easily and gives them a vast world of knowledge to draw on inside and outside of school.
A fascinating nine-year longitudinal study by research psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley showed that the children of professional, working-class, and welfare-recipient parents were exposed to drastically different amounts of speech from birth to three years, and this had a profound impact on their learning at age nine. Help kids learn the language skills that they need with these simple and effective ‘extra talk’ ideas:
- Teach children the names for everything they come across.
- Use adjectives to describe people and objects.
- Use simple phrases to describe what you’re doing.
- Count aloud and emphasize opposites like ‘up,’ ‘down,’ ‘big,’ and ‘small.’
- Use phrases such as ‘Do you remember?’ And ‘I really liked it when…”
It might feel silly to talk so much at first, but you’ll quickly see that it helps children learn language in a whole new way!
Songs, poems, rhymes, and chants are a fundamental part of every culture around the world, and help kids learn by instilling an awareness of sound. Known in education as phonemic awareness, this skill forms the basis for reading and writing and also helps children with articulation difficulties to speak more clearly and be able to be understood. As songs are generally shorter than stories, they also help children learn short sequences of events and stimulate your child’s memory.
Reading books with your child is invaluable for vocabulary development and helps kids learn about our world from a very early age. It’s also perfect for spending a moment of quality time with your child that they are sure to look forward to every day. After reading a book with your child, encourage your child to tell you the story in their own words — “narrating” the story back to you. This form of simple storytelling develops sequential thinking and makes it much easier for children to write stories and essays.
A perennial favorite at children’s parties and after-school clubs, Simon Says is a game that can be used to help children learn in ways that you might not expect. Ellen Galinsky, the author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, recommends transforming this simple game to help kids learn inhibition and quick thinking. Instead of performing the same action as Simon, the children need to “do the opposite.” Aside from the ways this sharpens kids’ thinking, this variation is sure to be lots of fun!
As parents, it’s good and natural to want to praise our kids. And one kind of praise is especially powerful for helping children learn. It’s called “growth mindset” praise — praising your children for the effort that they put in, the number of times that they try, and the way that they use strategies to find a solution. Rather than simply thinking “I’m good at music and bad at math,” children realize that abilities develop over time and become much more willing to learn something new.
Ultimately, there is nothing more powerful that you can do to help kids learn than to find out what their interests are and the learning style that suits them best. For example, a child who loves trucks will begin to love math if he can count the trucks that pass by the house. Similarly, a child who learns by seeing will learn how to build a Lego tower much more easily if she can watch a video or see a demonstration.
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