Your child’s preschool years are a time of wonder, imagination, curiosity, experimentation, relationships, challenges, and most importantly, joy – both in your life and in your child’s.
Today’s families however, are often stressed and super busy balancing a myriad of demands. These demands on our time mean that there has been a decline in children’s play and families playing together. This decline is a concern, because it is through play that children learn a range of important school-readiness skills.
When children are engaged in play that is meaningful, joyful and socially interactive, they are learning a range of academic skills, physical skills, social skills (such as communication and conflict resolution), emotional skills (like empathy and self-confidence) and creativity.
The great news is that there are some simple ways to turn every day moments into learning adventures.
Everyday Adventures with Words
Strong language skills help children to understand the world around them and express what they know, which is important for school achievement, but also critical for managing their emotions and building relationships.
Start by encouraging your child, regardless of their age, to look at all of the things and actions in their environment and name them. This can include simple things when getting dressed (‘shirt’, ‘zipper’, ‘button’, elastic’); taking a bath (‘hot water’, ‘cold water’, ‘bubbles’, ‘soap’, ‘face washer’); cooking (‘mixing bowl’, ‘chop’, ‘peel’, ‘measuring cups’, labelling ingredients), and laundry (sort clothes by colour, size or types of clothes).
Point out various objects and label them. For example, when you’re out walking or riding in your car with your child, indicate familiar things in your neighbourhood: trees, birds, flowers, dogs, bicycles, buses, trains, trucks, the school, the supermarket, or things your child sees frequently. Also ask questions like ‘What colour is the bus?’, ‘I see two birds. How many do you see?’
Everyday Adventures with Numbers
Supporting early maths skills can be as easy as involving children in everyday ‘maths moments’ such as measuring ingredients for a recipe, setting the table for a family dinner, or choosing the biggest watermelon for a large family gathering.
Discussing maths at home also need not be intimidating or anxiety provoking. You can find plenty of places and situations around the home where mathematics skills can be introduced, such as:
In the kitchen: Give everyone at the table a few pieces of food, such as crackers or carrots. Ask each child to count the items in their pile. Ask ‘Did everyone get an equal, or the same amount? If not, how many pieces do you need to add to each pile to make them all the same?’
In the bathroom: Use different sizes and shapes of plastic cups and measuring cups to play with in the bath and to compare amounts. With younger children, simply explore the concepts of ‘full’ and ‘empty’ by filling up the cups and pouring them out together.
Challenge older children to predict which cup will hold the most water, and which one will hold the least.
In the bedroom: As kids lie in bed, play ‘I Spy’ together, using spatial relational words like ‘under’, ‘over’, ‘next to’, and ‘behind’. Clue each other in as to what you spy by describing where an object is. For example, you might say ‘I spy something under the clock’, or ‘I spy something next to the bookshelf.’
Everyday Adventures with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths
When your child is at play, notice how they figure out how things work and investigate the world around them. They are an engineer when building a garage for a toy car; a mathematician when measuring the width and height of the toy garage; a technician when using tools to build a ramp to get the cars in and out of the garage; and a scientist when noticing the different cars go down the ramp at different speeds! Through the lens of science, children build their understanding of the world.
Here are some simple ways to foster your child’s interest in scientific discovery and investigation
– When you’re outside with your child, encourage him or her to look closely at living things, such as birds, ants, leaves or flowers. Together, check out and count how many different types of birds you see or how many shapes of leaves you see on the trees. For birds, observe how they fly and where they fly to. Do you see a nest? If you see leaves on the ground, try to identify which tree they dropped from.
– A wonderful way to introduce young children to weather is to talk about the fascinating aspects of wind, especially in reference to the senses. For example, we can see the wind as it creates ripples across the water. We can hear the wind in the rustling of the leaves through the trees. We can feel the wind when a soft breeze caresses our cheeks. When talking to your child about the wind, ask them to come up with ways they can see, hear, touch, smell – and even taste the wind, and see what they come up with!
Even meltdowns can be learning moments
How parents react to stress has a big impact on little ones. Model calmness by using self-talk and feeling words – “Oh no, I burned the pizza! I feel so frustrated…I could really use a hug.”— in front of your child. Seeing self-regulating strategies in action at home will help them learn to manage their own feelings in school and beyond.
When it comes to your child, and playful learning, remember these three core principles:
Parents are essential to school readiness – you know your child best, and that makes you uniquely equipped to nurture in your child a lifelong love of learning and curiosity about the world.
Opportunities for learning are everywhere – at the kitchen table, on the bus, or in the supermarket, children develop skills and build their understanding of the world through everyday moments and daily routines.
Learning through play is critically important – with the right support and encouragement, all parents can engage in playful activities to help their children get ready for school and for a happy, healthy and successful life!