Thursday, October 01, 2015

Make Learning a Basic Family Value

Children will generally follow any regular pattern set by their parents.

They won’t crave sweets if their diet doesn’t contain them. Kids will be active if they see their parent exercise regularly. They’ll love books if you read lots of good books with them, drawing/writing if parents draw/write with them daily, and doing math if you regularly count, add, and solve simple story problems with them.

It’s up to parents of young children to decide which values they wish to pass on, which rules and activities will support those values, and how best to habituate those family rules and activities.

My strong recommendation is to establish learning as a basic family value.

An excellent way to do this is to strengthen reading, writing, and arithmetic skills by instituting, from a very early age, special times to engage in fun math games, drawing/writing activities (and later keyboarding), and of course reading great books with your young children. Organized activities involving science can even become a fun part of the daily routine.

The younger the child, the shorter the attention span, and the more important it is to keep kids interested and happily engaged. Keep sessions quite short, especially at first (five minutes max), and measure success by how much fun you and your child have during that time, not by “how well” or “how quickly” the child is catching on. Keep the atmosphere light and easy, slowly introducing reading, writing, and math as neat things to do with Mom or Dad, presenting new skills as games to play and activities to enjoy together, with plenty of happy silliness and loads of lighthearted fun.

A regular schedule works best in habituating learning times; same time each day is ideal. These early “lessons” are all play, and should be tailored to the personality and preferences of each child. Although you may have a list of teaching goals to loosely follow, this isn’t about checking off boxes, it’s about fun! Model enthusiasm for the activities. Follow your child's lead, respect your child’s attention span, and watch for signs of waning interest. Less is more; quit early, and leave them wanting an encore. Daily regularity and having fun matter far more than length of sessions.

Start as young as your child can enjoy math, writing, and reading-related activities. As soon as he or she can sit up on the floor, you can hold your child in your lap while you read a story book, do some fun scribbling together, and practice saying numbers and counting to three or higher, always with a big smile and lots of giggles, hugs, and high-fives! Just a minute or two at a time is plenty, to begin with. Later, you’ll be able to spend 5-10 minutes per day per child on each key area: reading, writing, and math.

This kind of special daily parent-child bonding time deepens relationships and cements learning as a basic family value. “In our family, we enjoy learning together.” Essentially, you’re taking time to play with your child very day; you just happen to be doing things that are at least loosely academic at the same time.

If possible, it's wise to set up a dedicated "Family Learning Area" with a bookcase, table, chairs, and necessary learning materials. It's important to stay well organized. Invest in plastic tubs and containers to provide homes for all the various items, and teach your children that putting things away is an essential part of playtime.

Your child will soon associate positive, close, familial feelings with the activities. Over the long term, these feelings will expand to include learning and studying in general, which is the ultimate goal.

At that point, you’ve done your job as your child's first teacher. Your children love to learn.

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