Even though it's been years since I taught in a classroom, the teacher in me still comes out from time to time! As I work with the two and three-year-olds in the church nursery, I find myself talking to them about colors, numbers, and letters. It takes me back to the days when our daughters were that age and they learned new concepts just by our playing together.
Here are a few informal ideas I used then - and that still come out occasionally!
- Colors. As you play together with a toy, talk about what color it is. Gather similarly colored toys, show how they're all the same color, and say the name of that color together. See if your child can find something else in the room that's the same color. Mention the color of their clothes. Books about colors are easy to find and, as you read, you and your child can think of other items that match the color of the items on the page.
- Fine Motor Skills. Play with blocks by stacking them one on top of the other or use large interlocking blocks for building. Color with large crayons or use big pieces of sidewalk chalk outside. Give your child a large wooden spoon and bowl and let them practice stirring. Pull out measuring cups, fill them with water, and let your child pour water into various-sized containers. Have her sort small items like cereal pieces or dried beans into piles or drop them into jars. (Just make sure nothing goes into the mouth that's not supposed to!)
- Numbers. Count everything! From how many fish-shaped cheese crackers or round cereal pieces at snack time to how many socks are in the laundry, count anything under the number ten. Again, use books that showcase numbers and counting. Look for numbers when you're out shopping or doing errands and see if your child can recognize them.
- Letters. Just as with numbers, talk about letters whenever you see them. Make a big deal about the letter that begins their name; use sticky notes to highlight other items around the house that begin with the same letter. Play hide-and-seek with homemade letter flashcards; hide them around the room and see if your child can tell you the name of each letter as he finds it. Use chocolate pudding and let them finger paint letters onto waxed paper (one of my all-time favorite projects!) As always, books are helpful; find those with stories that are centered around letters.
- Putting things in order. Make a game out of arranging toys, blocks, plastic kitchen utensils, etc., from smallest to largest. Collect a group of mismatched items and sort them by size, color, and function. Make simple picture cards of tasks you do every day - eating breakfast, brushing teeth, reading books, taking a nap - and let your child put them in order. (If your drawing abilities, like mine, are lacking, you can cut the pictures out of old magazines and glue them onto 4x6 cards.)
- Following Directions. This is also a fun concept to introduce as a game. Start by having them follow one simple direction, like "Set this block on the table" or "Go to your bedroom and bring me one shoe." Slowly add one or more other directions, and intermingle silly ones, like "Put this book in the refrigerator." You could even take turns and let your child give you directions to follow!
Learning new concepts becomes an exciting experience when it's fun for the "student." Now that our oldest is being introduced to geometry and chemistry, I may need a whole different set of strategies!!
I'd love to hear ideas you use to teach your children some of these basic skills.