Sunday, July 14, 2013

Turning Everyday Chores Into Big Learning Opportunities

     My kids (3 and almost 2) love to learn. If circumstances allow us I hope to be able to homeschool them. There's a lot of emphasis on going to daycare/preschool/kindergarten for toddlers to pre-elementary kiddos these days. Whether you work at home or out, stay home part time or full time, use a sitter, or send them to an in-home or typical brick-and-mortar daycare one of the top priorities you probably have is giving your kids opportunities to learn. Not just to learn mundanely but to experience new things, discover their world, and to thrive while they do it!

   I know all sorts of parents. Single parents, married parents, military parents. SAHM, SAHD, WAHD, WAHM, WOHM, WOHD (do you know what all these mean??). There are parents who travel a lot for work. There are parents that have an in-home office. Some parents have flexible schedules and some have strict itineraries. I know that every single one of them wants this same thing for their babes: the best.

    This constant want for our kids is what drives us crazy, makes us feel guilty, and leaves us wondering if we did the right thing or did enough. It's why we've become obsessed with structured learning, book-work, and the-next-best-thing in education. There are some very easy, simple ways to incorporate learning into the every day. We just have to take advantage of these little opportunities.

#1. Just talk. Talk to your kids. No subject is too small or too big. Want them to learn a language? Talk to them. Want them to learn to read? Read with them. Talk to them about reading the books. I know when I take the opportunities to really communicate with my kids, hear their words, and use words they've yet to hear their little minds are blossoming. Suddenly, a week later they are bringing up some random conversation about how the traffic lights mean stop on red and go on green. They start to understand. That means they can start to share with me in turn their own ideas about all these things in the universe. They start to form questions.

#2. Kids are naturally curious, inquisitive little sponges just sitting there waiting to soak up every morsel available. You know all the things you just know because you do? There's a lint trap in the dryer. Our money is printed and/or minted and has inherent set value. Candles and crayons are both made of wax. Gravity makes us fall and keeps us from floating away. Light bulbs were invented by ________. Yeah, we've all ready learned. We know the answers. Kids have no idea. It's why they are so busy. It's why they test things. It's why they pick at, poke, and bang on things. They are little scientists making observations! They are so eager to know what we know and they will go about making discoveries in their own special ways.

#3. Watch them. Observe them for a while. See what makes them tick. What brings that sparkle to their eye and the light into their face?

    Take these things: communication, their natural sponge-likeness, and your observations and go with it. There are some things nearly every parent, no matter their situation, can do to incorporate opportunities for learning into the blah, every day, normal activities. These opportunities are easy to miss. I get so involved in just getting things done around the house sometimes that rather than involving the kids I just do my best not to trip over them. If they are kept involved while I'm doing a chore then they 1) are doing something productive by learning how to clean, 2) are getting quality time with me and 3) aren't somewhere else making another mess or meddling.

Before I go further let me just say: I get 100% that sometimes we just need to get things done without being slowed by sweet little helpers. ;) Sometimes we need quiet, we just need space, or we need them to PLAY ALONE in their rooms without mama or daddy or the TV entertaining them. Sometimes we do want the TV to entertain them for a half-second so for that precious half-second we can feel like we're ahead a bit. No doubt. But, that's not always the case.

Like I was saying, it's simple to turn every day things into grand opportunities to learn. Here are my favorite ways to do this with my kids with every day chores:

- You're vacuuming. In whatever words, explain how it works. Talk about pushing and pulling. Talk about how to get around and under furniture. With hardly any effort you've incorporated a great lesson on spatial concepts. This also works well as you teach them to clean up their room by looking behind the bed for toys, putting the books vertically on the shelf, and picking the blocks up and in the right bin.

- You're switching out the loads of laundry. This is another easy one for spatial concepts (in and out of the washer and dryer) but it's also great for sorting, searching, and counting. Dump that bottomless hamper of laundry on the floor and give your toddler or preschooler a task: find all the socks, find all the white (or whichever color) clothes, find all the clothes that belong to ____ (whichever person). This gets you a variety of lessons in recognition. Depending on their age(s) they can learn new item words and what those words go with (towels, shirts, pants, or socks). They can learn how to hone in their observation skills and assess a group of items for differences and similarities. They can learn colors in a way that gives them an idea of a range of shades and hues rather than just one basic bold color. (I just made sorting laundry with your kids sound fancy.)

- Take it a step further with that laundry. Have them count out 2, 3, 4 items at a time to bring to you to put in the washer. Have them help you switch the load over to the dryer counting all the way through the load whether it's 10 towels or 20 random pieces of clothing. Another thing you might try is talking about the color of every item. Make it a game of eye-spy. "Bring me something . . . green!" You're kids will be counting and learning about colors in a tangible way. 

- How about implementing some opposites while you do the dishes? Fill the cup. Empty it. Scrub the plate on the top and the bottom. This bowl fits inside the other: one is big and one is small. Turn the water on hot then on cold. Turn the water pressure up high or low. Dry the plate really fast or dry the plate really slow. Maybe some of your dishes are smooth and some have some sort of texture (rough, bumpy, etc). One that's a bit more advanced: some are opaque and some are transparent.

- You're sweeping. Instead of sweeping with the normal hurry-get-that-clean method try making shapes. We have one big broom and a slightly smaller broom (and we did have one that was actually from the toy section but it got broken . . . note to self: get another one) so the kids can "help" me. This might be something more for the older kids when it goes beyond a large circle but you can have them "draw" shapes on the floor with the broom. Make a copy-cat game of it. If you happen to have large tile trace the squares.

- OR, If you have a large enough space you could turn all this into a red-light/green-light style game. (Again, this may be more apt for the older ones.) Start at one end of the room and assign each kid a "spot" near the other end to sweep as much junk into as they can (you could even mark the spot with painter's tape). "Sweep!" and "Freeze!" If they don't freeze in time then back to the beginning. If they leave a large dust bunny or a trail of cheerios behind it's back to the starting line. All of this is a combined exercise in observation, coordination, and self-control. There are some other ways you could go about doing this. For younger ones, choose a general corner area and/or make a line with that tape. Encourage them to look under and around any furniture for trash to clean up. Show them how to manipulate the broom and make small strokes.

Bonus: your kids are learning to CLEAN. There are way too many people in the modern world who have no clue where to start when it comes to cleaning or picking up after themselves. Starting really early and making it fun is an easy way to make a habit of it. One day even if they choose to be slobs (like me) at least you know you've done your due diligence making sure they have the skills necessary to finish a load of laundry, hand wash dishes, or to tell the difference between dish soap and detergent. ;)

     You may all ready be doing these sorts of things and not even realize it. Keep it up. If you have other ideas like these I'd love to hear them!

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