Being stuck at home for whatever reason doesn’t mean that learning has to stop — we’ve just got to think about it a bit differently.
We can find a lot of ways to learn those same lessons as those worked on in a child care around the house. For the little ones, just about every daily task can be a learning experience, or help develop cognitive and motor skills. The trick is recognizing those learning opportunities and helping the little ones access them.
One of the most important benefits of learning at home is the bond that develops between parents and children. Learning at home also helps children learn practical self-management skills like staying organised, planning ahead, and developing concentration. Here are some ways that we can turn everyday tasks into learning moments for the little ones.
Learning lesson 1: Rhythm and self-discipline in daily life
Why it’s important Self-discipline forms the basis of a child’s ability to complete tasks. As they grow up, the ability to integrate delayed gratification is a vital skill.
How to do it Children learn self-discipline early through rhythms. Parents can help this process along by introducing more daily patterns and consistent habits for children to identify. Good examples of this could be setting the table and clearing dishes at mealtimes, or putting away toys before moving to another activity. These habits might just seem like a banal routine to us grown-ups, but introducing them to children forms the basis for good self-regulation later on.
Why it’s important Maths doesn’t need to be strictly academic. We use it all the time at home, whether we know it or not — and introducing maths in the context of real-life activities can make it more relevant and meaningful to children. Counting, measuring, multiplying and recognising patterns are all fundamental parts of maths, and we can highlight all of them in our daily tasks.
How to do it Baking is probably the most rewarding maths activity there is. Have your older children calculate the correct amount of ingredients if you were to increase the recipe’s serving size, or decrease it. Have your younger children do all of the counting — measure the cups/spoons of sugar, flour, the number of eggs and the baking powder. What could make maths more rewarding than a fresh loaf of bread, or a warm pan of brownies?
Learning lesson 3: Improving hand-eye-coordination and fine motor skills
Why it’s important For younger children, ages 0-3 years, developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination helps them perform practical tasks like dressing themselves and eating. Fine motor skills develop independence in children, as they become empowered to help themselves.
How to do it There are so many simple household activities that encourage fine motor skill development, alongside hand-eye-coordination. Encourage toddlers to eat with proper eating utensils (without any pressure to get it right). Toddlers can try to start dressing themselves for a mixture of fine motor skill development and gross motor skills development, as they fumble with buttons and wriggle into their jumper. Safely helping children to stir a pot in the kitchen is also a fun way to build on their fine motor skills, and it also gives them a sense of ownership over the daily tasks. You can also encourage fine motor skills development with older children by asking them to hang laundry and peg each item of clothing.
Why it’s important Concentration is another crucial skill children will use their whole life. It’s handy in school, it’s great for listening to and empathising with others, or diving into their favourite activities.
How to do it Schools don’t exactly teach concentration skills directly — it’s expected that children develop it along the way. For little ones, sequencing and sorting activities can be a great way to build concentration. You could do this by sorting through the washed laundry to find matching socks, or placing utensils in their proper place in the cutlery drawer. Sorting toys from smallest to largest is another great way to build this skill — any time you notice patterns or organisation in your daily life, there’s concentration skills to be built.
Why it’s important Planning skills makes it easier to stay organised.
How to do it Look for the ways you plan your day, and invite children to help. A great place to start is when you’re making your shopping lists. Children can check in the kitchen which items are still well-stocked, and which items need to go on the list to be topped up. Plus, they’ll get a say in what snacks to buy!
Why it’s important Independence is a skill, but it’s also a feeling — and an important part of helping children see themselves as capable and confident. It shows them that adults have faith in their abilities and that it’s okay to make a mistake and try again.
How you do it There is an age-appropriate level of independence for each stage of a child’s development. For toddlers, independence might mean learning how to choose an outfit and how to put it on. For children reaching ages 5 or 6, you can start to introduce another stage to this — have them check the weather forecast to plan their outfit. This simple exercise teaches children how to base their next move on research they have done. Make it fun and don’t add too much pressure. This is also a wonderful opportunity to talk about the different seasons.
Learning lesson 7: Learn numbers and STEM with LEGO
Why it’s important LEGO is tremendously fun and it brings an element of engineering and planning into a child’s play activity. When you combine the fun of building LEGO blocks with a LEGO mat, you have an activity that gives children a hands-on method for familiarising themselves with numerals.
How you do it These LEGO math mats turn the age-old favourite activity (LEGO building) into an engaging and fun learning activity. Start by talking about numbers and how each numeral has a corresponding numeral to represent it. Sit with the child and trace over each numeral on the LEGO mat before you start building with the LEGO blocks. Once they have created the numeral, they can count out the appropriate number of blocks into the spaces below the numeral symbol on the mat. Count out the blocks with the child out loud, it helps the brain to remember what the numeral they just built, represents.
Learning lesson 8: Exercise Cooperation and teamwork skills
Why it’s important Working together is useful in every stage of life. Being able to share, collaborate on ideas, and resolve conflicts are all critical skills for young children, and we can find ways to build these abilities all over our daily routines at home.
How to do it Board games are the easiest and most engaging activities you can introduce to improve children’s teamwork abilities. Tidying up together as a family is another great learning opportunity — each person is assigned a task, and everyone is only finished when all of the tasks are completed. Or, have your toddler pass you clothing pegs while you hang laundry on the line. Washing in the bath, brushing teeth (if young children still need help), baking together, and even weeding in the garden all promote the development of teamwork abilities. Again, what’s important is that you talk through these lessons with your children — take the time to have a conversation about why it’s better to work together.
Learning lesson 9: Developing spatial awareness and fine muscle control
Why it’s important Spatial awareness is about how well a child understands the space around their body and how it impacts things around them. For example, if a ball is coming towards a child, the child should recognise at which point the ball will make contact with their body. This helps in everyday play, being confident and safe in physical activity, and sharing space with others.
How to do it If you’re looking to build spatial awareness, start in the garden. . Weeding is an easy, simple task that children can handle (with supervision – they tend to start weeding too enthusiastically). Pulling weeds and planting flowers are great sensory tasks for young children. You could teach a child to look at the plant’s root size to estimate how deep a hole needs to be dug to fit the roots in. Outdoor play, like ball games or obstacle courses, will also encourage spatial awareness to develop. Allowing young children to pack, unpack and repack containers like baskets to explore the way in which space can change, and how they interact within it.
Learning lesson 10: Roleplaying and social awareness integration with doll-playing
Why it’s important Roleplaying is an excellent way to build social awareness — but when they’re having so much fun, you might overlook all the learning that’s going on. Roleplaying is another word for practising. Children are learning social skills, teamwork, and problem-solving. They are practising at being adults one day and developing vital soft skills. This is still true if a child is playing alone, as they take on the roles of each member of the game in their minds.
How to do it When you see children fully immersed in a game, it might look as though they are completely caught up in a reverie. It’s tempting to ask about the game or offer a snack but the most valuable contribution a parent can make is to leave children immersed, undisturbed. Provide ample playtime, as far as possible, encourage it. Provide any tools they might need, like feeding bowls for dolls. A parent’s role in this activity is to be a support figure and trust in the natural learning process that is taking place. These games are a real-life practice of the roles they might have one day as adults. Support the learning elements of doll-playing by being on-hand to help with conflict resolution when necessary.
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