Education and learning are a big focus for many parents – because, of course, everyone wants their children to be smart and competent and successful. As we learn more about early education and begin to understand how learning develops in young children, it’s become clear that play-based, age-appropriate learning is the absolute best for little ones.
Little children learn by doing, discovering, exploring, and observing. Parents often place an emphasis on formal early childhood education and schooling, and while that is justified (great, developmentally-appropriate programs really do make a difference!), the truth is that young children constantly learn from everything around them.
While schooling definitely has a major impact on a child’s education, the fact remains that you, as parents, are your child’s first and best teacher and biggest influence on their education and learning. Kiddie Academy, a nationally recognized provider of comprehensive educational child care programs, believes that opportunities to teach and expand young minds present themselves every day and everywhere.
We wholeheartedly agree.
What you do at home not only reinforces what they’re learning in the classroom but helps to promote the idea of life-long learning – you have the ability to instill confidence and a thirst for knowledge in your little learner.
Here are six ways to do just that.
You probably hear this all the time, but it’s a big one. Reading to your child is widely accepted among early education experts as the single most important researched activity leading to language development, early literacy skills, and the foundation for life-long learning. Reading helps little ones learn letter and sound recognition, understand how written and verbal language works as a means of communication, and increases vocabulary and knowledge of the outside world.
Reading begins to set the ground for further education by increasing curiosity, building motivation and memory, teach empathy and coping skills, and opens a child’s mind to places they haven’t been. Despite all of the research surrounding reading, studies show that only 50 percent of parents read to their children every day, so make it a point to work this into your daily routines.
Reading to your child is also a great way to bond with your kids on a daily basis, in addition to all of the educational benefits. Education and nurturing are both equally as important when it comes to child-rearing, Richard Peterson, Vice President of Education at Kiddie Academy tells us.
2. Ask a lot of questions
Asking your children questions as they process life will allow them to build their critical thinking and reasoning skills. Questions like, “What do you think happens next?” “How do you think she’s feeling?” “What do you think you should do right now?” “What might happen if you do this?” “Why do you think that’s not such a good idea?” stretch their thinking and understanding the meanings behind their feelings and actions. As they get older, this can translate to increased self-control and a higher understanding of cause, effect, and process.
Along with that, asking curious questions about your child’s day in school. Try to make your inquiries specific, like “Can you tell me one thing you learned?” “What was the best part of today?” or “What was your art project today?” These conversations cement the learning experience by reinforcing concepts and showing your children that you care about their learning.
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to show your children that learning is not finite, it doesn’t ever end. Don’t be afraid to not know all the answers. It’s not your job to teach them everything they need to know – it’s your job to show them how to find answers for themselves, too.
3. Change the way you praise them
Of course, praise and positive reinforcement are necessary to develop confidence and pride in young children. But, as parents, we don’t always know the language to use when encouraging them. “Good job!” and “Great effort!” tends to come rolling out of our mouths because, really, what do you say about the 80th block tower or 100th scribble drawing your child has shown you that day. But, what we say to our children in terms of praise and reinforcement can do a lot to build their confidence in the learning process.
The latest research shows that instead of praising the outcomes of our kids’ activities (“Nice tower!” “Good goal!” “Awesome painting!”), we should offer specific feedback on the effort, process, and strategy that they took during the course of their work. For instance, “Wow, you tried so hard and you finally climbed to the top,” “You were stuck, but you kept trying and figured it out,” or “I can see you thought really carefully about what colors to use and I love what you created.”
Encouraging their process can go a long way in helping children understand that learning takes time, effort, and patience.
4. Encourage mistakes
Mistakes are how you learn. What children need to know is that mistakes are OK. If your child is afraid of messing up, what this does is create a cycle of self-imposed limits and learned helplessness. Ultimately, it prohibits growth and learning.
Kids need to know that everybody makes mistakes (even grown-ups!) and every single one teaches us something. What is important about mistakes is how we respond in the face of them. Do we keep trying? Do we give up? Do we recognize the lesson? Do we try to be more aware next time a similar issue comes around?
If your child feels secure in making mistakes around you, you’ll be given a huge gift – the opportunity to teach through their errors in order to build awareness, acceptance, and the ability to take risks.
5. Allow creativity
Children are so quirky and have the strangest infatuations, but that’s one of the best things about them. They are who they are in a beautiful, unapologetic way. Letting them take the reins when it comes to what they learn about will help you teach what you want to teach – the same academic readiness and social skills can be taught across a wide array of subjects, be it cars, dinosaurs, superheroes, bugs, or princesses.
Creativity is the root of critical thinking and problem-solving. All children need the freedom to commit themselves fully to their own self-expression. Creative experiences can help children express and cope with their feelings. A child’s creative activity can help teachers and parents to learn more about what the child may be thinking or feeling. Creativity also fosters mental growth in children by providing opportunities for trying out new ideas, and new ways of thinking and problem-solving.
Try replicating school art projects at home with your kids or venture into new projects that reinforce the skills they are learning in school – involving yourself in their learning process through creativity will let you into a world of theirs that otherwise may be hidden.
6. Apply academic readiness skills to the outside world
Trying to teach your child letters, numbers, reading, science, or anything can get a little dull – when you start applying these lessons to kids’ lives in a way that’s applicable to them, the information is likely to stick more. Children can count their fruit, read grocery lists, identify traffic light colors, grow their own gardens, make slime or playdoh, categorize toys by color, shape, or size, and so much more. Living in their world lets us, as parents, understand where these skills we try to impart are actually functional.
This post was in partnership with Kiddie Academy, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board.