My 3.5-year-old loves to ask questions. He wants to know the names of all the bones in his leg, he wonders why he can see lightning in the sky but not thunder, and he notices the sounds that letters make and thinks it is too funny when two words sound alike.
I love listening to his questions, thinking about how his brain is growing and developing, and supporting him. I also try hard not to push him in any particular direction by teaching him about the world in a formal way. Instead, I try to incorporate learning opportunities in our day-to-day activities to create a relaxed, brain-friendly atmosphere that is full of fun. Here are some examples of ways you can create learning opportunities right in your own home:
Build Math and Literacy Skills in the Kitchen
When you are planning meals or making a shopping list, include your child. Invite them to write the list and practice their writing skills. Younger kids can make a grocery list by drawing pictures and/or writing the first letter in a word. When you go to the store, ask your child to identify the items on the list and check them off as you put them in the cart. This will provide reading practice, teach your child ordering skills, and help them with sequencing activities.
Later, encourage your child to join you as you cook a meal. Ask them questions about what you might need to do first and model how to follow step-by-step instructions by reading a recipe. Younger children can help measure out ingredients and mix with support. Older children can be in charge of reading the recipe, getting out the correct measuring bowls/spoons, and completing the steps with minimal guidance.
Support Creativity Through Open-Ended Play
Provide open-ended materials—such as blocks, animals, recycled items like boxes, and art supplies—regularly for daily use. Make a space in your home for these materials and have them available for exploration. When your child says that they have “nothing to do” or are “bored,” direct them to the materials and allow them the freedom to develop their own activities using self-directed play. Sometimes a child needs to feel “bored” or under-entertained in order to hone their self-motivation skills. A state of boredom can actually encourage them to notice the world around them and interact with objects or others in a new way. As your child becomes more comfortable with open-ended play, their ability to self-motivate, problem-solve, think critically, and use their imagination will grow exponentially.
Use Outings as a Learning Opportunity
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to think about designing learning opportunities for your child. The good news? You don’t have to create anything special. In fact, think about the everyday activities you already participate in and consider them with a new lens. If you are going someplace new—such as a museum, science center, aquarium, or zoo—model how to engage in research before arriving. Show your child how to identify exhibits, use a map, and make a plan before they visit. When you arrive, encourage them to be in charge of the map or decide where to go first. For places that you frequently visit—such as the grocery store, local library, post office, or bank—give your child ownership over the grocery list, talking to clerks, or counting out change. While out, ask questions to support their critical thinking skills, such as:
- “How can we figure out what ______ does?”
- “What do you notice about ______?”
- “What do you see?”
Children are always learning. As a parent, our job is to support our children to ask questions, notice connections, and encourage their creativity.
By Jasmine Gibson, an educational consultant with expertise in early elementary education, supporting teachers, and designing curriculum.