We all want our children to have a love for learning. In order to accomplish this, learning should not end once they leave the classroom. As their caregivers, we are responsible to help them to not only succeed academically but also enjoy the learning process. How can we accomplish this? How can we work with our children at home to promote a love of learning?
First, we need to make learning fun rather than a chore. Children learn best by playing. Play is the way children explore their surroundings. By planning enjoyable play experiences, we can facilitate their exploration to reinforce or extend their learning. One easy way to do this is to incorporate purposeful play into daily routines and activities. This simply means being mindful of learning opportunities that occur throughout the day and using them effectively. Children love to play, and when we teach by playing, they will learn without even realizing they are learning. Purposeful play also includes games, creating, and experimenting. Some ideas for fun educational games, projects, and experiments are included later in this article.
Second, when we are playing these educational games with them, we should be 100% engaged. We should not be distracted by our phones, TVs, chores, etc. Children love having their caregivers’ undivided attention. If they have our full attention, they will associate learning with receiving positive attention, which will contribute to their developing a love of learning.
Third, we must choose developmentally-appropriate learning activities and manipulatives for our children. They will quickly tire of something that is too easy, and it will not be much benefit to them. Something that is too difficult can cause frustration and maybe even meltdowns. Both breed disinterest, which is counterproductive to our goal to engage them in meaningful play. How can we choose activities and manipulatives that are both challenging and attainable? First, we should be aware of our children’s developmental stage and offer the appropriate activities and manipulatives. Second, we should follow their lead on what they want to play with and do. We should not push them because learning cannot be forced. It is their choice whether they want to learn or not, so our job as caregivers is to help them choose to learn by making learning fun and accessible.
Learning Activities by Subject and Age
Hands-on experiments are the best way to learn science. Students can learn physics on the playground, using swings as pendulums, learning about centripetal and centrifugal forces from saddle spinners and merry go rounds, experiencing gravity, friction, inertia, and energy (kinetic and potential) on a slide, and so much more. Here are a couple of useful articles: Slide Science and Physics on the Playground
What better way to learn chemistry than in your very own kitchen? This past Monday, September 27, 2021, Carrollton Early Childhood PTA (http://cecpta.org/) hosted a Kitchen Chemistry playdate. We made slime, playdough, and ice cream! Here is the printout with the recipes: Kitchen Chemistry Recipes
Many more exciting ways to explore science with common household materials can be found on these sites:
The best way to improve reading skills is to read, read, read (or be read to)!!! I recommend a weekly visit to your local library to stock up on a pile of interesting books. Recommending good reads is great, but be sure to allow everyone to choose books that suit them. I remember that as a child, I would finish my stack before it was time for next week’s visit! Please note that even after children can read, we should continue to read to them. We do not want to negatively reward them for mastering reading on their own! Reading to our children is comforting and sweet, strengthening the bond between caregiver and child.
Here are some fun reading games for budding readers: 23 Fun Reading Games
Here are some reading lists to introduce some excellent books:
History is best learned using storytelling rather than textbooks. One of my favorite history teachers would tell us riveting stories while we copied notes from an overhead projector (Yes, I am that old.) Copying the notes by itself would have been mind-numbingly dull, but his vibrant tales brought them to life.
I recommend Mary Pope Osbourne’s award-winning series, The Magic Tree House, which allows children to ‘travel throughout history without leaving the comfort of home.” Magic Tree House Series
A couple of good reference sites on history are:
Last, but not least, comes math. I put it last because as a math teacher and tutor, I have a lot to say about it.
At a basic level, what is math? Math is not only counting and knowing the names of shapes but also measuring, building, sorting, noticing patterns, making comparisons, and describing the environment.
It is never too early or too late to learn math, but the earlier, the better. The best time to introduce math to children is during their first five years while their brain is rapidly developing. Young children are naturally curious and want to explore everything around them. We can encourage their curiosity and exploration while helping them develop critical thinking and reasoning skills through meaningful conversations and purposeful play. Here is an article about Engaging Preschoolers in STEM.
First, we should incorporate math into our everyday conversations. Engaging our children in this way is easy. We can use number or quantity words to talk about everyday things. Some examples include: How many blueberries do you have? Do you have more or less than I do? Which is bigger, the cherry or the apple? I cut the orange in half, so now how many pieces are there? We can count steps or body parts, order shoes or toys by size, and compare shapes and amounts.
Second, we should engage our children in purposeful play, which advances their learning through problem solving, reasoning, and recall. Opportunities for mathematical thinking and understanding emerge naturally when playing: How many blocks are in your tower? What can you do to make it taller? Now how many blocks are in your tower? Is the number of blocks more or less than before? Can you make a pattern with the red and blue cars? What if you add the yellow cars to your pattern?
Third, we can incorporate math into everyday tasks. It will take longer than quickly doing it on our own, but it is time well spent on demonstrating practical applications of math, encouraging our children to help around the house, and spending quality time with them. When doing laundry, we can ask our children to help sort the clothes by color, type, or owner: Can you put all the socks here and the shirts there? Can you put all the Daddy-sized clothes here and the baby-sized clothes there? When cooking or baking, we can ask them to help measure and compare amounts of ingredients: We used 3 cups of flour and 1 cup of sugar. Do our cookies have more flour or more sugar? We are missing the one-cup measuring scoop. How many half-cup measuring scoops do we need to get one cup? When doing yard work, we can ask them to describe what they see: What kind of plants do we weed out? How can you tell them apart from the plants we want to keep? Which pile of leaves is bigger?
Intermediate to Advanced
At a higher level, math includes operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), measurement, estimation, place value, grouping, graphing, fractions, decimals, ratios, proportions, percents, probability, geometry, and more. We have already begun exploring some of these topics in the section above, but as they grow older and reach more developmental milestones, children are ready to begin thinking a little more abstractly. They are also able to play more sophisticated games. Here are a couple of websites that hold lots of hands-on learning activities and fun math games (Note: Both have ads, but the content is worth the nuisance):
Math Games for Kids has links to multiple fun math sites for all ages.
https://frugalfun4boys.com/bubble-pop-math-games/ lists ideas for learning math using a pop fidget toy. This site also has many more fun math activities, many of them involving LEGOS.
Finally, I can’t emphasize the importance of play enough. Playing is a human need, and it is crucial to the development and growth of intellectual, physical, and social-emotional abilities. Play is the way children test new information and theories, reinforce their understanding, and express themselves. Play also enables children to learn to problem-solve, improvise, and negotiate with peers. In order to foster a love of learning in our children, we must teach through play. If we play with our children now, they will reap the benefits later, becoming lifelong learners who pass their love of learning on to the next generation.
About Author: Faith Webb
Faith was born in New Hampshire and raised in Arlington, Texas. She is a certified math teacher in Texas for grades 7-12 and taught 9th and 10th grade math for a year before becoming a “stay-at-home” mom who does anything but stay at home. She has a son in the purple playgroup and a daughter in both the red and the green playgroups. She enjoys spending time with her husband and kids, reading (both alone and to her kids), playing board games, practicing her ninja-skills, and being outdoors.