One of the questions I have been asked the most—especially from non-homeschoolers—is about what to do with young children. You can find all kinds of opinions on what kind of “school” you should be doing with your young child, but I prefer to follow the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, who said that, “for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” So what are some simple ways to play with your kids to help them be ready for more formal academics later on?
- Games: Games are a great way for kids to learn! If you’ve raised a child up to the age of five yet, you know that taking turns and waiting patiently are some of the most important—and most difficult—skills for kids to learn. Games also provide an opportunity to be a good loser and a good winner in a low-stress environment. Most games also give experience with some academic skills, too, whether it’s counting, reading, or color recognition.
- Fine Motor Practice: Things like holding a pencil correctly or cutting neatly along a line take time to learn. Give your child lots of opportunities to work on fine motor skills with things like lacing cards or beads, or putting golf tees into holes. Give them old magazines and safety scissors and let them practice cutting or let them pull stickers off a sheet and place them in certain spots on a paper. Playdoh is another great way to get those little fingers working!
- Music: For many people, learning through music helps them retain information. (How many of us have hummed the ABC song as we’re flipping through the dictionary?) A quick search on the internet will bring up all kinds of educational songs, but one of our favorites has been Hap Palmer. When my daughter was younger we kept his YouTube channel up on the computer pretty much all the time. She was working on following along with actions and developing her gross motor skills and having the time of her life while she did it!
- Sensory Experiences: Sensory bins can be great for your child to practice different skills such as sorting, pouring, or visual discrimination. When I pull one out I know that even my older child will be entertained for a while as he sorts through to see what’s included. If you don’t want to take the time to put together something around a theme, let them play with different textures. When my son was three, one of his favorite things to do was to drop marbles into a pan of flour over and over and over again and see what kinds of dents they made. Water tables are cheap and will entertain your kids for hours. Remember that messes can be cleaned up—which can be another great learning experience!
- Real Life Experiences: Show your children how you use academic skills in your everyday life. Count how many steps lead up to your front porch or how you follow the picture directions on the mac and cheese box. Let them put the bag of apples on the scale at the grocery store or hammer some nails into a board. Experience is one of the best teachers!
- Read: Read, read, and read some more. As you read aloud, follow the text with your finger so your child begins to see that those letters and words have meaning and we read from top to bottom, left to right. As they begin to learn their letters and words, have them point out ones they recognize. Even if your child can’t read yet, you’ll be amazed at all the content they will absorb when you read to them!
There will be plenty of time for formal academics as your child gets older. Enjoy the fun times while they’re young!