Dennis Shirley, a professor at Boston College, shares tips on teaching at home. “Involve your children in drawing up colorful schedules that are posted prominently in the home. Set the schedule and stick to it. Avoid negotiating about what comes next.”
Fenya Galev and Chelsea Contreras, teachers at Aronoff Preschool at Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine, assure parents that play is learning and learning is often play.
Playing strengthens core muscles and develops gross motor skills. These skills make it easier to hold pencils, use scissors and write letters and numbers. “Normal play activities can look basic, but are actually fundamental tools that lead to letter recognition and later, to reading and writing.”
Make a Mess
There is something about making a mess that is exciting and captivating! Messy play provides children with exciting tactile, learning and sensory experiences that inspire curiosity, learning and creativity. Children learn through experimentation and discovery and messy play encourages children to explore new textures and manipulate different materials through touch.
Every household has a treasure trove of messy ingredients. Just a few ideas include:
• Shaving cream with drops of food coloring
• Outdoor discovery with mud, dirt and sand
• Pantry items like flour, oatmeal and couscous
• Bowls of different colored rice (not cooked, or maybe cooked?!) make great fun
• Pasta – again, cooked or not
We often color spaghetti with food coloring, if it gets dry just mix more water with the strands
• Water and ice. Think about freezing items in ice cubes
As you prepare messy fun, count together as you measure and pour materials. Did it take one bottle or two for the reaction to occur? How many scoops of rice does it take to fill the pan? When you use a smaller cup, does it take the same number of scoops or a different number?
Our sidewalks, backyard decks and driveways are canvases for learning. With chalk, wash-away paint or blue tape, write letters on a sidewalk. Start with the letters in your child’s name and invite your child to trace over your writing, copy underneath the letters or color over them. Once they are finished, remove the tape, and invite them to trace inside the letter.
Likewise, you can use Sidewalk Fun to practice math skills, using chalk or tape to write numbers. Expanding on the exercise, invite your child to use any items of their choice to visually represent the corresponding numbers. For example, four leaves or four rocks decorate the number 4 that they drew in chalk.
Household items you have stashed in your desk or junk drawer can be learning tools in disguise. Scissors, tape, tweezers, hand mirrors, magnets, eye droppers, Post-it notes and cotton balls make for fun and develop fine motor skills.
Who knew something as simple as cotton balls can be learning tools as well? Grab two bowls and put a handful of cotton balls in one. Ask your child to split the cotton balls in half using the tweezers to transfer the cotton balls from one bowl to the next. Using the tweezers will not only make it fun for your child but will also help to strengthen hand muscles and hand-eye coordination and works towards creating an efficient grip for later writing.
Many young children can use Play-Doh for hours of imaginative fun. On top of the usual Play-Doh tools, use plastic letters and let your child explore and discover the name of the letters.
Cutting shapes from paper, magazines or junk mail takes your child to the next level on their fine motor journey. Start with easy circles and triangles and slowly move forward to more complex shapes.
As your days develop, don’t forget to take time to “Shake your Sillies Out.” Children’s singer Raffi was right. Throughout a busy day of learning, be sure to include periodic breaks and play time so children can move and release the energy they generate so naturally.