This article is dedicated to all the hard-working educators I am honored to work beside. Your love, support, excitement, understanding, towards students and knowledge of the content you teach is forever inspiring, xoxo
In my last article, I presented the “Leave” Electronics and “Fall” into Books challenge. Please join me in this challenge during this season of change to give our children less screen time and more book time. Reading aloud to your children promotes brain development because your children hear letter sounds, expressions, are introduced to extensive vocabulary and sequences of events, and practice listening, comprehension, and visual imagery skills.
It’s hard to incorporate daily story time and family-friendly activities that teach your child the skills needed to learn and grow to their fullest potential while you are busy working outside or inside your home, wiping your children’s snotty noses, cleaning up messes, folding laundry, buying groceries, carting your children around to sporting practices, giving baths, potty training a puppy and a toddler, and brewing more coffee.
However, stick with me and you’ll find how to promote child development in the midst of your cold coffee moments.
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I love child development almost as much as I love my children. One of the greatest experiences of my life was teaching an undergraduate child development course at Penn State University. The teaching assistant job prepared me well for the world of school counseling. You know what it did not prepare me for quite as well? Motherhood. Nothing could prepare me for the exhaustion that each development stage brings to a mother.
When I had my first child, I was over the moon to be his first and most important teacher. I had dreams of calm days filled with developmentally rich and exciting learning activities similar to what I taught at Penn State. The reality is, my daily routine as a full-time, out-of-the-home, working mom of an almost 5 year-old, 3 1/2 year-old, and almost 2 year-old is hectic and draining. I’m too tired to do an in depth learning activity. I face toddler emotional meltdowns- x3- every. single. day.
I had to simplify and focus on teaching my children the motor, language, cognitive skills they needed through our every day frantic, interactions at home. So, those daily routine activities are loaded with questions like:
- “What color do you think Fiona’s poop is going to be?” (It’s always questionable. Here we practice making predictions and color identification).
- “How many wipes do you think it’s going to take to clean Fiona’s butt? Let’s count.” (The answer today was 6. It depends on the color mentioned above).
- “You are in time-out for four minutes.” Set the timer. Tell them to watch the clock. That’s my version of math wall.
- “Can you sort this basket of laundry by size please and thank you?” (I tackled math with every day objects AND manners with this one).
- “I need your help picking out my work clothes today. Look out the window and tell me what the weather is. Rainy? Ok thanks. Hey, speaking of rain, what do you think will happen if we put water in the freezer? Yes, it would turn to ice. What do you think will happen to your toys if they stay outside in the rain? Yes, they will get ruined. Go pick them up.” (Who says you can’t teach PA Learning Standards for Early Childhood 3.3a.4 AND responsible behavior while getting dressed for work?)
All joking aside, it is possible to find time to read and practice brain development skills every day. We take 10 minutes before bed, shut off electronics, and read a book to our children. Also, I pick a book of the week that ties in with the season and/or holiday that is occurring that moment or a topic they are passionate about that week (Sharks, Dinosaurs, Peppa Pig). We will play and do activities while I cook dinner and have coffee on weekend mornings.
Research shows kids learn best when they are interested in the topic and they want to do the activity. I create simple, fun games and activities for my kids that tie in with the book of the week and target motor skills, language skills, and cognitive skills development. It usually takes me about 30 minutes to plan and create the activities we will play with the book. I do not spend more than 10 minutes per day playing the games or activities unless the kids request more time.
This week, the book of the week is Why Do Leaves Change Color? by Betsy Maestro
How to Incorporate Motor, Language, and Cognitive Skills for Different Age Ranges
Brain Development: Ages 18-23 months
Encourage your 18-23 month old to explore the world of books with her own hands. Before you read, give your toddler a book to practice turning the pages without help. While you read, ask your child to point to and name objects in the story. After you read the story, have your child scribble with chalk, crayons, or washable markers.
At this age, children are naming objects and pictures, following simple directions and mimicking what we do. You can increase vocabulary, speaking, and comprehension skills when reading aloud.
During the story, ask your toddler “Where is the squirrel?” “Point to the orange leaf,” and “What is this?” Elaborate on your child’s answer. For instance, if your child points to the squirrel and says, “Squirrel,” you say, “Yes, it is a hungry, gray squirrel.”
This is my favorite time because I get to focus 100% on the conversation with my youngest child. I pay close attention to her facial expressions and sounds. I respond with a lot of smiles and elaborating on our conversation to build her enjoyment of reading.
After the story, flip back through the pages and introduce new words and their meaning. We are blessed to have the Appalachian Mountains in our backyard, literally. We step into the woods and talk to Fiona about trees and leaves.
Brain Development: 3-Year-Olds
At this age, your toddler continues to learn by exploring her world with her hands. Before you read, ask your toddler to point to the front and back of book. While you read, ask your toddler to turn individual pages. After you read, your toddler should practice hand and finger control by drawing with crayons, chalk, or washable markers or making leaves with play-doh.
At age 3, children are working on lengthening their attention spans, using longer sentences, asking questions, moving fingers under print in books, and recognizing a few letters.
Before you read, conduct a picture walk with your toddler. Preview the pictures in the book and predict what the story will be about. For instance, you may say, “Let’s look at the front cover. What do you think this story will be about? Turn the page. What do you see? What do you think is happening? We are almost at the end. How do you think the story will end?”
While you read, ask your child to point to the letter that starts with her name. On this page, Scarlett went on an “S” hunt with the squirrel. We practiced making “s” sounds. Scarlett wore “the s-s-special crown” and waved the magic wand every time she heard the “s” sound in the book.
After you read, practice phonological awareness skills by playing with the words and letter sounds. Identify words in the book that rhyme. Identify the key words and think of rhyming words. Also, clap, tap, jump, bang, or stomp the syllables in a word from the book or in the words of a sentence in the book. For instance, first I say the words slowly by separating longer words into parts and then saying the parts quickly, as in aut – umn = autumn.
This particular activity focuses on letter identification through multisensory learning (learning that involves two or more of the senses within the same activity).
I am a huge fan of multisensory learning because it is natural for children. As babies, they learn about the world by observing, listening, touching, and putting everything in their mouths.
Show your child what Aa looks like and say, “This is the letter Aa” (Visual). Say, “The letter Aa makes the /ă/ sound.” (Auditory). Show and name a picture of an /ă/ /ă/ apple (Visual and Auditory). Form the shape of the letter Aa in the air (Kinesthetic/Body Movements). Trace the shape of the letter Aa (Tactile/Touch) with this letter tracing worksheet.
Brain Development: 4-Year-Olds
At this age, your preschooler should show better hand and finger control, evolving right or left-handedness, draw some recognizable shapes, recognizably copy letter in his name, and write some letters of name from memory.
Tucker can write most letters of his name from memory (usually only forgets the “e”) thanks to the hard work of his preschool teacher! Tucker’s letter of the week is Aa. I whipped up a Letter Identification sheet to practice identifying the letter Aa. Tucker had to find and color the acorns with A and a. This boy LOVES hunting for “Aa” acorns!
Your preschooler is recognizing that words rhyme, recognizes his name, point to and name several letters, begin learning letter sounds, claps syllables in word, and can retell sequence of a story.
Before you read, identifying beginning or ending sounds in words of the title. For instance, “Leaves begins with the sound l, l, l.”
While you read, ask your preschooler to recognize a few familiar words in the story. You can also use feeling words and ask your child to make faces showing that emotion. For instance, “The boy feels happy raking leaves. Show me your happy face.”
After you read, ask your preschooler to retell you the plot of the story by describing what happened the beginning, middle, and end. Repeat what your preschooler said and elaborate using action and descriptive words.
After you read Why Do Leaves Change Color? by Betsy Maestro, take your child on a nature walk.
Tucker’s letter of the week is Aa, so I asked Tucker to find objects that began with the /ă/ sound. Tucker found an ant under a rock! Then, I sent him on a scavenger hunt scavenger hunt for stick in shape of a letter Aa. Finally, he practiced writing the letter Aa in the dirt with a stick.
Childhood is not just about milestones. Its about the memories.
We are a competitive culture, so it’s easy to get carried away shoving learning activities at your children to push their growth and development. Childhood is not a competitive race. Remember, childhood & parenthood are not just about the milestones. They are about the memories. Above all, smile and love on your children during these activities.
What other ages would you like tips and activities for? Send me a comment. I’ll whip something up for you!
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