You are your children’s first teacher and your home is your children’s first school. You spend a good amount of time every day setting the tone for your children’s behaviors, encouraging first steps, and pouncing on those teachable moments to mould them into the happy and successful people you want them to be.
But are you missing opportunities to support your children’s learning? Kids will thrive in a home that makes learning a priority and creates the proper balance between direct teaching and ‘give it a go on your own’ kind of involvement. Every child needs a different blend of the two - some children need direct instruction before they’re willing to try something new, and others are rarin’ to go without a lot of introduction.
Here are some guidelines for making your home a comfortable place to work, play, and learn - a place where efforts are valued over a finished product and where it’s fine to try and fail along the road to success:
Model a lifestyle of learning
My father was an avid fisherman and fishing was a family sport. My family often hit the water before the sun was up and fished (and ate) all day. I learned early on that fishing equipment was next to sacred and I could impress my dad with my fishing skills.
It’s like that with any sort of learning. If your kids know you think reading or playing music or playing chess at a high level is cool, they’ll think so, too. It isn’t the subject matter that’s important, it’s the fact that children will believe learning new things is important, if you show that you believe it is.
Read books, do some home-improvement projects, learn to grow flowers, or learn a new language. Your kids will notice both the effort and expertise, but more importantly, they’ll know that you value learning.
Children need to do hands-on exploration as they learn. They enjoy moulding clay, they love cutting and pasting. When outdoors, they enjoy gathering materials and building forts. You don’t need to join in your children’s creativity, but you can help the process by providing your kids with the materials. Make it a habit to have a good supply of paper, pencils, markers, glue, and all the other stuff of artistic endeavors. Allow your kids to use simple tools (with appropriate safety precautions) and marvel at their creations.
You might keep a supply of old clothing and props for the dramatic sessions that will take place after reading a particularly good story. Encourage kids to act out their favorite fairy tales or encourage them to write a book about their latest interest. Use their love for heroes to encourage creative extensions such as performing a play, writing a poem, or singing a new song.
Expect a bit of a mess along the way. Creative processes are worth a few spills and piles of rubble.
Follow their lead
My youngest grandson is enamored with dinosaurs and volcanoes. He talks about them, knows dinosaur names, understands that volcanoes erupt, and learned that one of the theories about dinosaur demise was a large volcanic eruption. When he came for a visit (pre-pandemic), I made sure to have dinosaur and volcano books ready for him to read and enjoy.
He spent a lot of time creating caves out of playdough for plastic dinosaur figures and re-enacting dinosaur adventures. Together, we read books about volcanoes and learned how to identify the cutaway parts of a volcano.
What are your children excited about right now? Do they love to plant seeds in the Spring and watch them grow? Do they want to learn how to speak French or Spanish or how to cook a pizza? It pays to notice the things your kids are interested in and support their learning in those specific areas.
Find programs, classes, and other local learning challenges
Don’t overlook the free activities available through school or church projects, local youth programs, and your local library. Let your kids try a variety of activities and then if they take off in drama or music, the cost of classes is well worth the price.
Be their cheerleader
Whatever your children enjoy doing, it is your privilege to be their cheerleader. If a child loves art, make their next birthday gift an array of art materials. If a child loves to write, provide the paper and pencils or a keyboard. If a child loves to play chess, learn a few moves and play along. It’s easy to root on the sidelines of a soccer game but might require a bit of inspiration to cheer on a quieter child who enjoys reading biographies or studying insects. Find a way. It matters.
Remember, you’ll always be your children’s number one teacher. Make the most of that role and create an environment in which learning is as natural as breathing.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and reading specialist who writes about education, parenting, and family life. Find her at janpierce.net.
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