Teaching Your Kids – Without Them Knowing They’re Learning

 

I have two kids that learn in entirely different ways. My son is our first-born and he lives to learn the ins and outs of anything that strikes him as interesting. His curiosity drives his intelligence. A running joke in my family involves him, at the age of 3, telling my uncle, “YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN THESE THINGS TO ME!”

Then, there’s my daughter. She’s just as smart, but she’s all about theatrics. We’ll sit down to learning time, and she acts like all of the information is bouncing off of her and nothing is learned. Then we’ll overhear her and her brother talking in the other room; she reveals that she knows far more than what she lets on… usually more than I was trying to teach her in the first place. When you try to teach her in the traditional sense, I guess it’s not dramatic enough. She’s something else.

This post is for everyone, especially those in my position with a kiddo that requires an alternative course of action. “Strategery” if you will. I want to have our learning time, but not with her getting her “I dunno” act together beforehand. I’ve found multiple ways to do this.

Regular Activities with Learning Potential

• Cooking: Your kids can greatly benefit from helping you in the kitchen. Almost every measurement involves a fraction and a parts-of-the-whole mentality. If they’re not ready for fractions, it’s still an opportunity for them to enhance their familiarity in general and grasp the idea that numbers come together in many different ways.

The ingredients in your kitchen alone broaden the educational possibilities You can go into the nationality of the different foods you eat on a regular basis. Bring out a cookbook to show them what foods look like if you don’t have them on-hand. If you don’t already, designate separate fruit and vegetable drawers, and ask your child to help you unpack groceries to introduce or practice categorizing.

Things have changed so much since I was little, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a daily sheet – or optimally a dry-erase version – of the food pyramid and have the kids check off what we’ve had after every meal or snack. I’ve never done this, but I think it’d be great for categorization and health consciousness from an early age.

With great care, have ice and water and boiling water close by, and tell your kids that it’s all made from the same thing if they don’t already know.

Sensory Education: Have taste tests. Blindfold your kids and have several samples for them to taste. See if they can tell. Then, switch them up or replace them completely and have them smell or feel samples to see if they can identify the food or drink. My brother and I used to do this, and it was one of the greatest things I remember doing at home when I was little… free, innocent fun.

If you brave the grocery store with your kids, ask them if they’ll fetch things close to your basket while you decide on another nearby item. They’ll have to combine several descriptors to find the right product, and if nothing else, they’ll find it by deductive reasoning… even if it’s you telling them it’s not right until they find it.

• Laundry: I guess categorization is the key element here. Have your kiddos separate dirty laundry into light and dark, or have them separate clean laundry into each family member’s own pile. If you think of any more, tell me. I need as much help as I can get in keeping up with our laundry.

• Let your kids feed or help feed the animal(s), and put it on their chore chart. Responsibility is a huge lesson for every child to learn. We’re planning on getting our son a fish. We will explain to him that the fish will live if he feeds him regularly, but we’re not going to help him. This may sound harsh, but if the fish dies, hopefully it’ll be a lesson learned.

Games and Activities That Teach

I love playing games with the kids. I think they all have some level of education, but there are a few that really stand out.

• Mouse Trap: I love this game. Our daughter got it for her birthday recently, and I was thrilled. This game actually has a lot of educational components. First, you have to assemble the whole contraption by following written and illustrated directions. If you haven’t played the game in twenty years, it even takes an adult a few moments to wrap their minds around the whole thing. The most useful components, to me, are both the lesson of cause and effect, and the introduction of chain reactions. Cause and effect is everywhere, but maybe when you are trying to describe it later when teaching in written form, you can refer back to Mouse Trap. That may be a stretch, but I can see myself using it!

• Battleship: Our son recently started playing this game and it’s great for a youngster. Without them knowing it, the point of this whole article, they are learning how to read a grid. You need that skill your whole life, and in many cases it serves as the foundation of an entire discipline of math. The fact that this game so effortlessly makes the skill accessible to very young children is incredible to me.

• Perfection: This game pushes your kids to recognize shape and spatial orientation. Once they can get all of the shapes into the correct places, then they begin to push themselves to improve their time. Their reaction time. When you see or hear your child saying that they’ve improved their time and are getting faster, it’s easy to assume the basic shape recognition aspect of the game has been mastered.

• For reading children, I think Scattegories is perfection for words: If your child can read and write, it’s never too soon to introduce this game. It’s highly probable that early readers and writers will benefit more from the game without the timer involved. Almost identically to Perfection, Scattegories offers evidence of vocabulary growth and advancements in writing skill when the timer becomes more fun than frustrating to your child.

• Any sport: Let them pick, or if they are indecisive, you pick. Whichever, they need the hand-eye coordination. The forethought that comes with athletic experience is irreplaceable; when you’re able to predict what another player or person will do and it becomes instinctive, a very valuable skill has been acquired. Whether you want to or not, think of how your kids will eventually assume the position behind the wheel of a car… having them conditioned to “keep their heads on a swivel” will come in pretty handy. I know that babies can’t really benefit from a tennis racket right now, but rolling a ball to a toddler or even pre-toddler will benefit their growth tremendously.

• Felt boards, Easels, Chalkboards, Dry-Erase Boards: All of these outlets give an open door to whatever the child’s imagination can muster. When you make or buy a felt board, gather a wide variety of colors in sheets of felt (I think they’re about $0.10 each) and ask your children what they’d like. Go ahead and make numbers and letters and the shapes associated with what you know they’re “into” and let them be the sounding board for subsequent shapes and themes.

My daughter and I just went to the craft store and stocked up on beads. She has made necklaces and bracelets before and loved it. I figure her enthusiasm for the activity serves as a great opportunity to introduce patterns into the (under the radar) curriculum. I mention this to be used as a template. Take into account their favorite activities that wouldn’t normally be seen as educational, then find a way to make them so.

My son is in Kindergarten at a public school and I follow his daily work closely. None of what he brings home is beyond what his little sister is capable of, and it encourages me to push her without her feeling the pressure.

The common factor in all of these activities: you know they’re learning, but they only know that they’re either being involved with your usual activities OR having fun like they do best. There’s no asking, “What is…?” There’s no pushing your child for an answer if they’re not inclined to offer one on their own. My daughter has gotten better about offering answers, but only after I stopped quizzing her for them.

All children are different, but I hope this gives you a little help, an encouraging voice, or just a different perspective.

Do you find these helpful? Can you see these ideas helping in your kids’ learning or retention style?

Sleep, Organization, and Your Child’s Mind

Sleep, Organization, and Your Child's Mind | SimpleKids.net

I was thinking of how to optimize my kiddos’ ability to learn, but I wanted to improve the processes already in place rather than making them learn something to improve the way they learn something. Yeah, the common sense just isn’t there for me.

The two factors that I felt I could work on were ensuring their restfulness and cleanliness.

I will start with the cleanliness.

I know there’s a difference in the way my kids function when the house is messy versus when it’s spotless. I further knew that there had to, somewhere, be scientific evidence to prove it. Well, I found it, and it affects the mind more than I thought.

[Read more…]

The Squeaky Wheel

So it’s been said, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” As an idiom, it means that the one who complains the loudest… well, they get the attention and the fix before the other applicants.

I would much rather not need grease.  I would rather be quietly content.

As parents, we need to be fully aware of the fact that our kids will turn into some derivative of us one day.   I am very similar to my parents in many many ways, but I’m blessed with nothing less than hard-working, joyous, exceptional souls as parents.

I’m not saying I’m all those things, but I am fully confident that the path they’ve shown me – tread by love alone – will direct me toward my goal of being so.

Alright. So what about that squeaky parent in all of us?  The obnoxious plaintiff…  The parent that causes a mid-game cancellation of a five-year-old’s soccer match…  That niche inside of us all that begs to talk at people rather than allow for a rewarding two-way conversation…  Consider what the next generation of that will entail.

I’m not aiming to have this come out as a negative rant.  Instead, I think I’ve figured out the difference between the squeaking and the non-sqeaking:

Squeakers need what they want. Non-squeakers want what they need.

How do you approach a positive attitude shift when you catch yourself squeaking?

1. Make sure your brain-to-mouth filter is fully engaged.

2. Regulate your volume.

3. Zoom out and determine where your demeanor would fall on the ‘brightness’ scale if you were a fly on the wall… or a colleague, teacher, or bank teller.

These may sound cheesy, but it’s in an attempt to make us not sound like [donkeys] for all our kids to hear… and eventually emulate it whether they realize or not.

Ever catch yourself doing the “mom gasp?”  Ever push the brakes of a car… on the passenger floorboard when you’re not driving?  Obviously I have.  But, I can attest to the wonderful truth of my mom not being a squeaker.

So basically, if we’re not pleased with something, let’s try not to pollute the population around us with negative noise.  Pursue your happiness instead pleasantly and peacefully… but only if you want your kids and my kids and those-people-over-there’s kids to do the same.

When do you find it the hardest to keep your cool? What do you do about it?

‘Second nature’ activities

Second Nature: simple ideas for making time outdoors a regular habit | SimpleKids.net

I think the whole purpose of this get-your-kids-outside initiative is to make it effortless. We want our kids to have the joys we did when being in the fresh air was the norm rather than the exception. That said, I think anything you do outside is a step in the right direction. Activities like sidewalk chalk and finger painting are always a hit, and these aren’t things you have to convince your kids to do.

After your kids get tired of all the physical activity in your yard or at the park and they are ready to leave, don’t leave. Let them wind down outside.

Take advantage of what’s around:

• Grab some twigs and, if your kids are at the appropriate age, form them into letters and shapes. Take advantage of them actually being too tired to run and make learning fun. If your kids are a little older, tell them to make something. I’m pretty sure this is where the idea for Legos and Tinkertoys originated; skip the middle man.

• Lie under a tree and look up – find shapes in the sunlight that’s peeking through the network of branches. Or cloud watch and find shapes that way.

• Look for 4-leaf clovers.

• Have a board game close at hand to bring out for these occasions.

• Make flower bracelets or tear a branch into strips and make a crown.

• Look under big rocks and count how many different bugs are under there.

• Be still and just listen. Talk about how many different sounds you hear. Test your kid’s sense of direction and see if they can distinguish which way the sound is coming/going.

• Have paper airplane competitions. To be nice to nature, bring some used computer paper that you’d throw away/recycle otherwise then pick it up when you’re done.

• Kick or throw a ball. The extent of this activity will depend on the age of your kids but the worst that can happen is them gaining more coordination regardless of their level.

• Find a tree. Climb it. Then tell your kids to while you spot them.

• Roll down a hill – a hill that doesn’t have any boulders or cacti.

• Play “I spy…”

These are just suggestions and if you think they’re not going to entertain your kids, I hope they’ll at least act as a springboard for your brainstorming of better ones. However, I’m definitely not the only one with ideas. Remember that Louv guy? He’s got his own huge list of pretty great ideas.

I haven’t gotten into this with my kids, but we’ve learned a lot about geocaching from family members and they’re crazy about the activity. All you need is a GPS. From what I’ve seen, this activity has quality time built-in.

I just want my kids to know that “that tree over there can serve as its own corner of creativity and fun. I don’t want them to grow up and assume that all knowledge is gained by STARING AT PAPER or coloring inside the lines.

These pre-sets that our kids get now from our culture—they’re all things that man created. Some of these are very great contributions to the world – yes, but I bet the men who created those wonderful things had a better relationship with nature than the majority of kids now do.

When we feel like something is a routine we follow without effort, we say, “It’s second nature to me.” Kids today are growing up with a lot of things that rank second in importance… I bet you anything it’s not nature for most.

Where do you and your family spend most of your time outdoors?

Walk the Walk… Really.

According to Louv and the interdisciplinary field of ecopsychology, being outside has a track record of improving a person’s physical and mental ailments. According to this month’s issue of Fitness Magazine, the supplement provided by the outdoors that allows for improvements in health is the vitamin D gained from simply being in the sunlight. The article, “Super Vitamin to the Rescue,” by Richard Laliberte, reveals that “… 5 to 30 minutes of unprotected exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week will give you most of the D you need.”

And if you need more provocation to get out, Popular Mechanics has an amazing article on how vitamin D can help treat osteoporosis. So, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but going out into the sun today will help you get out of bed tomorrow morning.

The Great American Backyard Campout: June 27, 2009

The National Wildlife Federation deserves some major kudos here. I’ve thought about letting my kids camp in our backyard many times, but I quickly came to the realization that it’d be almost cruel considering the mosquito population here in Houston. This campout idea involves you, and as many neighbors as you can recruit, camping in your backyard.

It’s not just a “Hey, go camping in your backyard” thing, though. Everyone that signs up across the nation will be participating on the same night. Sign up and either find a host campsite in your neighborhood or host a group in your area yourself. The National Wildlife Federation has provoked people all over to participate in this event in June in order to gain a larger feeling of solidarity in the sense that we need a little more nature in our lives.

Leave No Child Inside, another Louv-inspired organization, offers a great ideas & how-to on raising monarch butterflies. At first, I was thinking, “Yeah, okay… this is impossible,” but it’s actually very simple. The caterpillar does all the work, but it’s an amazing natural occurrence that you can witness with – and explain to – your children.

Just Open the Door

Take a walk and collect leaves and flowers. When you get home (no rush, really) get out a nature guide or encyclopedia and try to identify the plants or trees from which you pulled your samples.

No awesome nature book? Google it. However, if you go the Google route, try to be as specific as possible regarding your region and what kind of plant you’re trying to identify. Otherwise, you’ll end up searching for “tree” or something just as generic and not-at-all helpful. If you want to go a few steps further, get an empty hard bound book or a composition notebook and use it as a field guide.

Take your camera, take notes, take your kids and take your time. You can even start a field guide blog if you prefer to keep your photos digital. Once you and your kids are familiar with the nature around, try a family scavenger hunt. Pick a list of items you know you have identified (maybe with a small picture) and see which team can return home with the correct collection.

Turn off the TV. Turn off the lights. Look up.

A clear night is the perfect chance to get your kids out. Our telescope is a member of the family, but the light pollution here in Houston is overwhelming. It causes quite the glare, but the kids thoroughly enjoy looking at the craters of the moon.

Star charts are a great tool whether or not you have a telescope.

Even on a rainy day, you can explore nature. We recently got a microscope for the kids, and its possibilities are endless. You can collect pretty much any small item (hair, seed, fingernail, leaf, etc.) and reveal the intricacies of even the smallest element of the outdoor world around them.

That rainy day also provides an opportunity for you to research the elements in the atmosphere causing the rain. That way, when they get back outside, they’ll be able to look up and distinguish clouds, wind direction and how likely precipitation will be for the day.

I’m in love with meteorology, and I don’t think I could ever learn enough.

Get your kids curious. Make them ask questions; that’s a telltale sign of their gears turning. As long as they’re turning, it’s hard for them to get rusty. Think of your encouragement and involvement as WD-40 for their inquisitiveness.

“Never lay across the tracks of your kids’ train of thought.” -my dad

If you know of any other fantastic events like the Great American Backyard Campout, please share them! Please sign up: it would be quite the joy to be able to discuss our experiences together after the event in June.