Children come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. Some love to learn and others—not so much. I have three children and two of them love to learn new things while the third one can take it or leave it. However, I found when I made learning fun, my kids, as well as my students, didn’t even realize they were learning. In fact, sometimes my students would go home at the end of the day and when asked by mom or dad, “What did you do today?” their response would be, “Oh, nothing. We just played.” In actuality, we were meeting the curriculum goals in a fun and enticing way and the students didn’t even realize it.
Make Learning Fun
As your child’s first teacher, you have the ability to encourage their learning through quality family time together. Here are just a few ideas for laughing, loving and learning with your children:
- Picture recipes. Create picture recipes by providing magazine pictures or drawings that accompany the written measurements and ingredients in a favorite recipe. Your kids will learn to associate the pictures with the written numerals and words. The skills they will learn include sequencing, measurement, solids vs. liquids and following directions. The end product will be a treat that the family can enjoy at snack or meal time. As you develop more recipes, you can laminate them and place them in a three-ring binder for your child’s own picture recipe book.
- “Drawing” on a cookie sheet. Learning letters, numbers, sight words (the most common words used in the English language) or spelling words are sometimes difficult for children. An inexpensive and fun way to learn these concepts are by putting a blob of non-menthol shaving cream (menthol burns little eyes) or prepared pudding (great for younger children who still put their fingers in their mouths) on a cookie sheet. Allow your child to form letters, numbers, spelling words or sight words with their fingers in the shaving cream or pudding. Messy fun, easy clean-up.
- Stampers from laundry detergent lids. Save the lids from your laundry detergent and glue sponge letters or numbers on the lids. Kids can stamp numbers, letters, spelling words, their name, etc. using washable paint onto paper. Allowing children time to create builds independence and self-esteem.
- Salt dough for language arts. Using Playdoh or a simple salt dough recipe, allow your children to make play dough “snakes” by rolling a ball of dough on the table or a cookie sheet. He/she can then form letters, numbers or symbols. When children have a chance to physically form new concepts it adds the new information to their existing background knowledge.
Make your own salt dough with 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup salt and 1 cup lukewarm water. Mix flour and salt, gradually adding water until it is doughy. Knead for five minutes to soften. Stays fresh for several days if stored in an air-tight container. Add a few drops of food coloring to create different colors of dough, or a few drops of extract (such as vanilla, lemon or almond) to make scented dough.
- Story sticks. Attach a self-adhesive Velcro strip down the length of an unused paint stirring stick (found at your local hardware store). Draw or find pictures depicting different characters or scenes in a children’s book. Laminate the pictures and place a self-sticking Velcro dot on the back of the picture. As you read the book, your child can place the characters in order as they are unveiled in the story. This encourages story order, comprehension and helps your child focus on your reading by providing a task for him/her to attend to as you read. After you finish the story, take a look at the story stick together and encourage your child to retell the story in his/her own words using the pictures as prompts.
- Poker chips/milk jug lids for math. When children are learning math skills it helps to have manipulatives to assist them in developing one-to-one correspondence as they commit math facts to memory or as they learn new concepts. Poker chips or milk jug lids are an easy way to provide manipulatives for your children as they solve problems. For example, if your child is solving “4 + 3,” have him place four poker chips on the table, then another three poker chips next to them and add the two sets together to find the sum.
- Language experience dictations. Children need to understand that the written word can also be a spoken word. Have your child dictate a story to you (vacation, in town errand, birthday party or another event) and you write it down. Add pictures or other artifacts from the event to embellish the story, and then read it back to your child pointing to each word. She will soon realize what you wrote down was what she said! Eventually, your child will be able to do her own writing. Don’t focus so much on correct spelling at first. Instead, provide opportunities for free writing. Developing your child’s confidence when it comes to writing needs to take priority. As your child’s ability progresses, go over words that she misspelled and correct them together. You can keep these stories to highlight important events in the life of your child.
- Grocery shopping math. While making your grocery list, have your child look for the items in the weekly grocery store ad and find coupons that match items on your grocery list. Then, encourage him/her to write the price of the item next to each item on the list, or the value of the coupon to show how much will be saved. Add the costs or the savings and talk about the value of money and the cost of groceries. While shopping, have your child take out the coupon that matches an item. Show him/her the receipt when you get home to indicate how much the family saved thanks to his/her efforts! This activity encourages writing, math, budgeting, and newspaper skills.
- www.tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/educational-games.htm—Get the whole family involved in making and playing games that challenge their minds, teach valuable lessons in art, math, logic and having a good time.
- www.kidsknowit.com—Free, high quality educational activities, movies, music, worksheets and more.
- www.makinglearningfun.com—An early childhood education website filled with free printables specifically designed for pre-K through first grade.
- www.readingrockets.org—Reading resources to help parents and other educators assist young children in learning to read or read better by building fluency, vocabulary and comprehension skills.
- www.metrofamilymagazine.com/field-guides—Free guides to turn local venues into educational fun.
Kristen Hoyt, Assistant Professor and Director of Field Experience in the School of Teacher Education at MACU (Mid-American Christian University in OKC), is an avid advocate for quality education in Oklahoma.