Thursday, April 26, 2012

Teaching without Workbooks - Getting Started

Preschool, and the first several years of school, can be taught without a child ever sitting down during the day and "doing school".

Teaching little ones has become a lost art, once upon a time, children learned to do this watching their parents teach younger brothers and sisters, cousins, neighbors, and nieces and nephews.   It is not hard, and mostly common sense.  But just like washing hands after playing, or eating, or using the bathroom - it just isn't the natural response of most humans.

But I wonder if it has been an art that has been "getting lost" for quite some time.  For the first time in about 25 years, I picked up a Grace Livingston Hill novel.  "The Enchanted Barn"  In the book, there was a 4 year old baby sister, but I was appalled to realize that the child seemed more like 18 months than 4.  Sunshine has far passed her at 2 1/2.  I found this rather shocking as the book was written in the 1900's.  But obviously, she hadn't been around a lot of young children.

However, parents all over the US are rediscovering how to do this and the benefits of doing so.

So as soon as the baby is born, you do a few very easy things.

1.  Keep baby with you as much as possible.  Baby will learn so much watching you and listening to you talk and interact with others.  Wearing the baby is even better, but not all mom's have the posture and muscle structure to do this all the time.  At least have the baby in the same room as you are - TV off - and as close to your activity as possible, whether baby is in a pack n play or a swing or bouncer seat, or a blanket on the floor.

2.  Talk to baby.  It doesn't matter at all what you say.  Talk about their body parts while dressing "Lets put your pretty toes inside your socks.  Look you have 5 toes.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Inside your purple sock they go!"  Include counting, colors, shapes, prepositions, opposites, and anything else you can as you chatter to the baby.  You will very quickly realize that by 6 months, your baby has a personality and understands much of what you are saying.  And MOST babies will have already started to play back and play with and respond to your chatter.

3.  Make games of everything you do - and include baby, especially as they begin walking and trying to imitate you.  In the beginning, this may just be giving baby a bowl and a spoon with a tiny bit of water, and scoot the high chair right up next to where you are mixing and cooking supper.  Sunshine loves to cut soft veggies, like mushrooms, with a kitchen knife.  Ironically, while she will not touch veggies on her plate at meals, she will happily munch down every veggie available while she is helping cut up salad.  Let baby fold washrags, mate socks, help sweep and put away silverware.  Teach to do it the right way, and it will rapidly become just part of the babies store of knowledge.  

4.  Read, read, read.   And talk about the pictures.  Visit the library and rotate books through your house.  Having a favorite book is fine - but add a new book at least once a week.  Don't be shy about reading long classic stories such as The Wind in the Willows, science and history books, and other "deep" topics.  In recent years, a whole host of "picture books" have been written to appeal to younger and younger audiences.  Magic Tree House, Magic School Bus, Dr. Seuss Science books, American Girls, and so much more.  Early readers can be be enjoyed by even very young 1 and 2 year olds.  There are so many Free Kindle books available as well, and Scholar loves to stand at our computer and read the picture books to Sunshine.

5.  Play outside.  Outside time provides so much good for a child.  You get the Vit D from the sunshine that helps build up the immune system, strengthens the blood and bones, and stimulates the brain.  Running and climbing and moving around helps develop the kinetic learning centers of the brain, plus allows for development of both gross and fine motor skills.  The sounds outside will help develop the auditory learning centers of the brain - birds singing, laughter, children's chatter, dogs barking, all of it stimulates the ears and the brain so much better than inside noise - because the brain has to also work out how far away and from which direction the sound is coming.  It also stimulates the visual learning centers of the brain because the eyes are constantly changing the focus length of their eyes to see up a tree, down to the ground, across the street, and the bug crawling across their fingers.

6.  Art and Creativity.  At this age, art is so easy.  Babies can be amused with a spot of canned whipped cream on their high chair trays, a stack of blocks, or gibblets of colored paper, even their supper can be an effort of creativity - although I do not really encourage playing with their food.  But as your child grows, cheap or free craft items are easy to find.  Start with basic school supplies - buy glue when it is 25c a bottle during the back to school sales, a very good pair of scissors, glue sticks, crayons and colored pencils.  I actually avoid markers until my child is 5 or so.  Then watch for recycle crafts.  Actually, just turn your child loose as they get older.  You should see the things seven's children come up with!   Things to save include clean plastic bottles, cereal boxes, scratch paper, bottle lids, odd bits of games and puzzles, strings, buttons, yarn, bits of left over craft projects - like the cut off parts when sewing or scrapbooking.

Anything you say or do can be turned into a learning experience for a child.  Keep your eyes open, don't go overboard (Baby doesn't need a college explanation of a blue sky), and be open to your child's interests and shortcomings.   The goal is to encourage a love of discovery and learning, and a willingness to find out and solve problems.  What they know is far less important as knowing how to learn something new.

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