I’m a firm believer that young children learn best when they play. Since my children were born, they have been surrounded by books and a variety of toys. While some toys are just for fun, most of what I buy has an educational purpose. Even those just fun toys can be used in an educational way. Superheroes have taught my son much about socializing and imaginative play. They also give him an opportunity to practice his speech as a shy child.
I strive to incorporate learning into our daily activities. How many goldfish are in your bowl? Can you hand me the red blocks? Which cup is taller? Do you want the circle or square plate? Providing an enriched environment full of learning activities and opportunities to practice their budding skills is very important to me as a stay-at-home-mom. It’s true that they really don’t need much guidance to learn at times. They’ll start playing with this toy or that and before I know it they can spout out information that I wasn’t even sure they could grasp yet.
We try to sing our ABC’s often and count to ten. We read mountains of books and we get outside so nature can teach us all about the world. This type of learning is our favorite. As my oldest child approaches four, we are starting our own little version of preschool at home to get him ready for the real thing next fall. We’ve done this on a smaller scale before with posters and structured time almost daily to do shapes, colors, and flash cards with a variety of subjects. We keep the lessons short and try to make them fun. Now that my oldest can sit still for longer periods of time and focus his attention on a task, we’re starting to move into preschool workbooks.
To make the learning fun for my son, I let him pick out some of his supplies. You really don’t need to spend a lot of money to start formal lessons at home. Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Wal-Mart all offer learning tools at affordable prices. Craft stores like Michael’s also offer many great, inexpensive learning tools. And of course, there are many free lessons to be found online.
To build my son’s preschool kit, we started with a simple plastic container so he would have a centralized place to house most of his learning tools. We picked out a couple of workbooks, some lined paper for when he really starts to practice writing, and pencils. He was very excited to pick out pencils and a sharpener all his own. We also added simple educational games and we’ll make use of flash cards, lacing cards, puzzles, art supplies, and matching games we already have. Our lessons take place at the kitchen table and I am going to let him help me create a large, interactive calendar as well as other decorations for our classroom. For me, it is important to create an environment that really feels like school to help get him used to the idea. Of course, little brother wants in on all the action so coloring books and other age appropriate activities are on hand for him as well.
If you choose to do formal lessons at home, follow your child’s queues. Some children learn best under a looser structure while some enjoy having a schedule. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can do sit down time for workbooks and still incorporate learning into daily play. In fact, I think that daily play is one of the most important things you can do from a learning perspective. Children want to learn – giving them the tools and opportunity is all they need.