March 9 — 12:00 am, 2006

Many ways for parents to create rich experiences for children

Children are born learning. From the moment they open their eyes at birth, they are bombarded by colors, shapes and sounds that they respond to and absorb as they start to make sense of the world around them.

The early learning years are a time when children are being wired for success. Research from across the country confirms that brain development at this stage of life affects the rate of physical, social, and mental growth in multiple ways. To build a strong foundation for future success, children need a nurturing, rich environment that encourages their growth and development.

Since learning begins at birth, appropriate educational experiences must also begin at birth – both in the home and in other settings where children spend their early years. Children who have not had loving grown-ups talking, singing, playing and reading to them, are at a severe disadvantage. Nearly one-third of children entering kindergarten each year in Philadelphia are already behind and many stay behind.

While providing quality education and care is vital to a child’s success, the parent’s role as a child’s first teacher and most important influence is a lifelong relationship that significantly shapes a child’s school experience. A child’s sense of well-being and ability to face new situations are encouraged by parents who spend time having fun with their child.

Parents need not act as formal teachers for their child. What makes a real difference is having a parent or caregiver engaging and encouraging their child through conversations, involving them in home activities, reading or telling them stories, or singing together.

Children learn through play. Play allows children to explore and express themselves, learn on their own, control their environment, connect with others, and develop their creativity and intellect. It is a great way for parents to bond with their child.

Many parents use television as a way to get some free time and keep their children amused. While it is a tempting option for a parent needing a break, too many shows that children are watching contain violence, sexual content, and language not appropriate for children.

Sitting with a child and watching educational programs (Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Dora the Explorer) can be an activity that actively encourages conversation and builds language skills. But television time should be limited – finding ways to keep children engaged in interactive play is the best way to nourish their curious, ever-growing minds.

Toward this end, parents can provide puzzles, building blocks, non-toxic crayons and markers, a dress-up corner, tapes and CDs that will keep children busy and provide some opportunity for independent play.

Preschoolers especially enjoy playing “school.” Research shows that setting up a school space with a desk, blackboard, and school supplies like magnetic letters and numbers is an effective way for children to begin to feel comfortable with the school setting and to build their confidence for starting kindergarten.

There are so many opportunities to include a child in the family’s everyday activities. When the parent is preparing dinner, their young “helper” can be included by asking the child to count the pieces of carrot to be added to the salad or by counting out the napkins, forks and spoons for the meal.

When parents are riding the bus with their child, they can talk about things on the bus that are green, or round, or very small. They can ask the child to name three things they see on their walk to school and then have the child be the “teacher” and ask the questions.

All of these activities use play and parent-child involvement to make learning fun. You can make that happen for your child if you, “Show. Tell. Read. Sing. Play. Do a little. Every day.”

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