Believe it or not, you are your child’s best teacher, as she learns from everything you do, right from day one…
Good morning children, today we're going to learn a little bit about environmental science, work on your numeracy, spatial awareness and physics and to round off the day, we’ll finish with literacy.
But first, it's time to change your nappy! Erm, excuse me? Is this hothousing gone crazy? No, far from it, we’re not talking lessons, we’re talking life.
Your newborn baby has millions of little ‘wires’ in her brain just waiting to be connected, and whether these connections are made with the help of a specially designed educational rattle, or the contents of her breakfast tray, they’ll connect just as long as she’s given the opportunity to experiment and explore.
Watch her fascination with a piece of toast. How does it feel? Is it smooth, slippery or sticky? When she puts it in her mouth, does it taste good? Out it comes again to examine it, shake it maybe. A rattle will make a noise while a piece of toast may fall apart – either way it’s a lesson in cause and effect. Across the table big brother spills his juice, jam drops off his knife. Unlike the jam, the juice spreads all over the table and turns the cloth yellow. Fascinating stuff. All those lessons and it’s only 8am!
A walk can be a lesson in environmental science for your child, and although lots of things will be absorbed subconsciously, you can help by pointing things out and describing what you see. A child’s sense of wonder may even make you stop and think!
As the seasons pass, point out the differences in the trees – some have lost their leaves, others have kept them, and look at the colours. Show her the tiny buds that unfurl as the flowers come out. You can even talk about the weather – it’s a sunny day so it’s warm or maybe there are lots of dark clouds. A tiny baby in a pram will be aware of her surroundings and enjoy watching the moving clouds, or the patterns created by sunlight; talking about it will gradually help her make sense of her world.
Here's a nice, easy test of your toddler's skill in spatial awareness, size and shape. Cut a piece of her favourite cake into two pieces, one larger than the other. Offer her a slice. Which does she take? The biggest? Your child has mastered an early lesson in maths, with not a textbook in sight! You cut her toast into ‘small’ pieces. Daddy cuts his piece of toast in half so he has two pieces. Big sis likes toast triangles. Get the picture? It’s easy this teaching lark, isn’t it?
Grocery shopping: boring trudge or massive learning experience? Talk to your child about what you need to buy. What are her favourite foods? Even if she’s not yet old enough to talk, she’ll be taking it all in and responding in her own way. Point out the familiar, and the unfamiliar, on the shelves and discuss what you're seeing and buying. Show her a coconut or other more exotic fruits as well as apples and oranges. ‘Why aren’t bananas called yellows, Mummy?' Good question. If your child is old enough, let her hunt for some of the things on your list. It’ll take longer to do the shopping and you may find some strange things in your trolley, but at least you’ll have more fun. If you have time let her help you unpack so she can see for herself that a tin of beans is heavy but a big bag of marshmallows is light.
All children love cardboard boxes – the bigger the better – and they love making things, so why not make a house for teddy? Show them how the flaps open at the top to make a roof shape. ‘Glue the roof together, Mummy.’ You try but they soon see that Sellotape is a better option.
‘How does Teddy get in, Mummy?’ You suggest they draw a door. It’s too small so you cut a bigger hole and in Teddy goes.
‘But it’s dark, we can’t see him.’ You help them make windows to let in more light.
‘Can we paint it, Mummy?’ They choose red, and enthusiastically they help you to mix it. It’s a bit too watery and runs down the walls, so you show them how to add more paint to make it thicker. With great enthusiasm they add green and then blue and eventually end up with a dirty brown. They play happily with their tiny house until eventually it collapses. A satisfying afternoon of play, not to mention a few lessons.
According to developmental psychologist Dr Nadja Reissland, the most important thing parents can do for their children is to talk, listen and respond appropriately, right from birth. The more you communicate with them, the greater chance they'll have of reaching their full potential in life.
Amazing isn’t it, that from the moment their eyes open in the morning until they finally close them at night, they’re absorbing information like little sponges in water just by watching, thinking and making connections. And we have the cheek to ask ourselves why they get overtired!
A famous Greek chap called Archimedes discovered a very important mathematical principle while in the bath. It had something to do with the displacement of water – and that's just about all I know about that. But it proves bath time is a great place for learning! Just give your kids a few different containers, a sieve and a sponge and let them get on with it. They’ll love making their own showers using a sieve, and as for sponges that can magically hold water – wow!
You’re not just telling a story, you’re laying down the foundations of literacy and developing essential pre-reading skills! Even a young baby will follow your finger as it moves across the page to point to words or an illustration. As your child gets older she'll realise that the written word goes from left to right and from the top down. Word recognition develops surprisingly early – if you make a point of writing her name on her pictures, or pointing it out, she’ll soon be able to ‘read’ it. Whether she sees it as letters or a squiggle, she’ll understand that it means something.
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