5 Tips to help your baby learn at home

Even when spending the whole day with your child at home, hours seem short and finding the time to help your child learn new things can sometimes be tricky.

The good news is, young children are constantly learning from their environment, whether we facilitate it or not. We don’t consider many of our daily tasks learning experiences, but they are some of the richest in content for your child. The trick, however, is to know when to involve your child, or what types of activities are the ones that will make a difference in your child’s development. If you find that your child is mainly watching you go through your chores all day, it’s time to plan your day a little better.

Here are 5 tips to help your baby learn at home:

1. Re-Organize Your Home

Your home environment should be accessible to your child, so they can do most things independently. For example, they can choose their own clothes and get dressed, help themselves to a drink of water or to a healthy snack, go to the bathroom, wash their hands, and find things to play with and learn from. Organize your fridge and your kitchen cupboards in a way that fosters independence. Open cupboard doors (just make sure you remove anything sharp, dangerous, or poisonous from the shelves and drawers your child has access to). Do the same in their bedroom so they don’t need your help every time they want to do something. As your baby becomes comfortable around the house, teach them to put things back where they belong (this will teach them essential math skills), and encourage them to gradually take more responsibility. This will not happen overnight. You can start by making a few things accessible and teaching your baby how to use them and how to put them away, then gradually increase the number of cupboards and drawers your child can access responsibly.

2. Take Longer at The Grocery Store

Ask any parent if they like going to the grocery store with a young child and they will most likely tell you it is their least favourite things to do. The grocery store, however, is a place of enchantment for children, just as long as they are not hungry, tired or hurried. Set aside plenty of time to go so your child can help you choose fruits and vegetables, weigh them, bag them, and feel included in the process, nor rushed along. Ask your child’s opinion (Should we take apples this week or grapes? Which ones do you think your brother would like best?). Introduce them to new smells, flavours, textures, colours, names and sounds. Compare items, count them together, weigh them with your hands or with a scale if you find one, and discuss what is good to eat and what might not be so good. You don’t have to go through every isle in the same fashion, pick a new one every time. This time visit the fruits, next time look at cereals instead. Your child will most likely ask you for things you don’t necessarily want to buy. Encourage independence and control by giving the responsibility of choosing to your child. You can give your child a small amount of money and ask them to choose one thing to buy for themselves, or simply tell them you have just enough money for one thing that is not already on your list. Little by little, your child will begin forming these concepts and understanding what is essential to buy and what is “extra”. In the meantime, your child will learn an incredible amount of vocabulary. Your child will also learn about health, nutrition, budgeting, social interaction, culture, and even contribution, by simply saying “yes” to the $1 contribution your teller asks for on behalf of Children’s Hospitals, or choosing one item from your bags to add to the food bank.

3. Enlist Your Child’s Help with Laundry

Laundry is an exciting activity for children, and one that is brimmed with learning opportunities in both language and math. Your child will learn so much from sorting (whites and darks, for instance), measuring (how many clothes fit in the washing machine), pairing (your child can pair socks together), talking about the textures and colors of the clothes, and notice the scent, texture and temperature of clothes when they just come out of the washing machine and then the dryer. Talk about everything your child notices, using rich language, math vocabulary and full sentences. Engage in conversations with your child rather than “teaching moments”. Encourage your child to follow suit. Once they have mastered these experiences, it is time to learn to fold, sort by family member and put away the clothes.

4. Invite Your Child to Cook

Cooking is pure science in action. Children love to help wash fruits and vegetables, cut and peel (you can start with a plastic knife), mash, beat, crack, and knead, even at a young age. Measuring, pouring, scooping, mixing, counting, and reading are all valuable learning opportunities, and can all be found in the art of cooking. Help your child feel needed and important in their role in the kitchen and encourage creativity. As your baby matures, teach them how to cook, how to follow recipes, and even how to invent new ones. Your child can gradually be given more responsibilities in the kitchen, and even prepare full meals, starting with breakfast and snacks. One of the things I did with my sons from the age of two, was ask them if they wanted to cook or set the table. They almost always chose cooking, and the rule was: If I help you cook, you help me set the table, and vice-versa. Both boys today love cooking and proudly take part in cooking for the family.

5. Teach Your Child to Have A Sense of Order

The most precious gift your can give your child is a sense of order. This means that they internalize how a space (workspace, play space) should be organized, and are able to put it back together when that order is disrupted. This can be learned by asking your child to help you clean up. For example, if your child had a wonderful time playing with the bath toys and is now ready to do something else, invite them to clean up first, and make it easy to do. For example, if your child is young, have a colorful bucket by the bathtub for the toys to go back to, instead of a small drawer in another room. The easier you make it for your child to clean up, the faster they will be able to understand it and do it alone. Teach your child that when you play with something, you put it away before you take out something else. Model how to do it, and do not let too many different toys pile up; otherwise it becomes too difficult for your child to re-organize. A tidy house teaches your child to respect the order of things, and to restore it when it is out of balance. It also motivates you as a parent to allow your child to play with different things, because you know they will clean it up when they finish.

There are many more chores and activities your child can partake in. This may require more time from you, but is essential learning for you child, and will save you time in the long run. It equips your child with excellent practical skills, math and science skills, the opportunity to learn new vocabulary, and gives them independence and confidence. Look at your daily activities and find ways for your child to participate. You will raise a lifelong learner, and a responsible and giving person in the process.

As published in Urban Baby and Toddler March 2012

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