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Learning All Day Long

By Andrea Rennick

Providing a rich learning environment for your baby or toddler isn’t as complicated as you might think. Creating a great environment for learning simply means doing the things that you would normally do with them anyway but in a conscientious manner.

Read to your child. Reading to them helps them learn how to read on their own. It shows them that information can be found in a book and not just by asking mommy "Why?" for the zillionth time. Or you could do double-duty and get an older child to read to your younger child -- great for them both!

· Have materials readily available. I don't really mean have everything within an arm's reach at all times; sheesh, you'd be doing nothing but clean-up time all day! Rather, things like art supplies and materials should have a special spot that is easy to get to (after asking Mommy), and you should provide a nice space to use them in. Paper (even used on one side), crayons, markers, paints, safety scissors, glue sticks and anything else you can get your hands on are a good start. The kids will think up the rest. Maybe out of those books you read to them!

Talk to your child. I admit, I felt pretty stupid alone in the house with kid #1, with me talking away. I mean, it's not like he talked back. Not yet. But eventually, he giggled and gurgled and realized this was a new way to communicate with Mommy. I talked about what I was doing, what he was doing, the clothes I was putting on him and the things around him. Don’t just talk; ask your child questions, too. What do they see out the bus window as you ride downtown? Can they see a car? A tree? How about when you are doing chores? Can they show you a big sock in the laundry basket? How about a small sock? Over dishes, can they pick out the blue plate from the sink and give it to mommy? This is learning and reinforcing concepts in everyday life.

Let your child ask questions. And then answer them. Sure, I got pretty tired of the endless why’s, but I did find a way to turn it around. "Why, what?" I would ask, encouraging my kids to expand on what they wanted to ask, to express themselves. Pretty soon they were asking more particular questions: "Why is that bug carrying that leaf?", so I'd answer briefly (“He's taking it home for food.”). As the questions got more involved or moved beyond quick, one-sentence answers, I went with my child to look it up in a book, showing him how to find the information and reading it out loud. Sometimes I had to clarify or condense what was in the book. I remember a day when one child asked me what was hard inside her arm. We looked up bones and the skeletal system and explained how it helped hold up her body.

Be active with your child. When the big kids were little, everything was a song and dance. When we talked about toes and knees and shoulders and heads, we sang a song. We sing silly songs. We sing hand-clapping songs and laugh. We sing jumping songs (on the bed, of course). This includes playing games, and even games you think your child might be too young for. For example, Emma (two years old) has recently learned how to play "Red Light, Green Light," even though she doesn't really understand most of it. Just try something you remember from your own childhood.

Be pro-active in your TV watching. I'm not going to say TV is bad for kids, especially when my own is on all day, every day. What I am going to suggest is watching TV and participating in what is on the screen, instead of staring slack-jawed and glossy-eyed. If the fuzzy puppets on the screen sing a song and dance, join them. If someone counts, count with them. If someone shows a happy face, be happy. Pull a sad face when they frown. In other words, watch the show with your child. Talk about it. Act on it. You can also encourage the child to tell others about what they saw.

Show and tell. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand big words. If your child likes her toy car, she may also like big cars, car shows, motorized little cars, transforming cars, going for a car drive, car books, car diagrams and -- well, you get the idea.

Keep it simple. They're kids, not little adults. You want to have fun while they are still young enough to feel that learning is fun. Most preschoolers are quite happy with learning colors, shapes/sizes, opposites, various animals and sounds, body parts and names, numbers and letters (although I would prefer to teach them the sounds of the letters first if I could) and various names of all kinds of objects. If your child is really interested in something specific, just make sure they have access to more information, including books from the library, videotapes and maybe a related art project. They'll do the rest and let you know when their brain is full.

In short, providing a rich learning environment for your baby or toddler doesn’t mean you need any sort of fancy curriculum -- or any at all. It depends on your specific needs, your child's needs and how much you can afford.


Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June R. Oberlander
I actually bought this one, since I heard so much about it. It has weekly activities from birth through five years of age. I tend to skip around and pick and choose rather than follow it religiously.
How to Multiply Your Baby's Intelligence by Glenn Doman and Janet Doman
Sounds odd, but this was a real eye-opener for me. I check it out of my local library every few months for a re-read since I get more out of it each time. They have a web site, too.
What to Do When There's Nothing to Do from Dell Publishing Co
Out of print, but you can get it used
Teaching Montessori in the Home by Elizabeth G. Hainstock
I don't really use this method, but it has great practical things to make and do so your preschooler will learn the basics from all learning styles.
Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo, Susan Goodwyn and Douglas Abrams
I didn't read the actually book for this, but I did read a lot about it online and looked up a few signs for our baby. A great idea.

© Andrea Rennick

Andrea Rennick has been a homeschooling mom of four children for 10 years. You can read all about her adventures as they happen at Atypical Life weblog.


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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
-- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe columnist

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