Every new parent wants to do what they can to assure that they give their child the best start in life. This means providing for both physical and mental development. As a new mom and an avid reader, there was no question in my mind that I would read aloud to my little ones long before actually learning how to read was on the horizon. I loved it as a way to bond with them, a quiet way to snuggle close, and instill a love for books. What I didn’t know at the time was that reading and talking to my babies from the very start is one of the best ways to help build their vocabularies.
However, beyond reading to my firstborn, I was at a bit of a loss on the best way to create a stimulating learning opportunities. I read books that told me how important the first few years were for mental development. Research shows that 90% of brain growth occurs by age 5! Also, by age 3 children should know approximately 1000 words. This doesn’t happen on its own though. Years of working in a corporate environment left me uninformed on practical steps my husband, sitter and I needed to take to help our baby’s mental development. Getting specific ideas of little things we could do each day was catch as catch can. Fortunately it doesn’t have to be that way, First 5 California offers an array of online resources where parents can keep track of their baby’s development and find ideas for an array of activities and learning resources designed to stimulate a child’s mind and promote mental development.
A Walk Around the Block Can Be a Learning Adventure
It all starts with talking, reading, and singing to your child. As much as you might be tempted to put in some earbuds when you go for a walk, taking a walk with your child is an ideal talk, read, sing moment for a child of almost any age. For newborns, simply narrating what you see in the world around you helps them build their vocabulary and make valuable connections about the world. You can discuss what the day’s weather is, notice the color of the sky, if birds are signing, what kinds of vehicles are in the road.
As you walk, ask your child questions; First 5 California recommends fostering brain development with at least 20 questions a day. These will be easy for the very littlest kids but even they love to engage with you as they point to the sun, the sky, the flowers and the trees. As your child gets older you can ask them to name the colors of the flowers or find five different green things they can see or in the three things they can see in the sky turns a simple neighborhood walk into an adventure walk. As they get older, work on number recognition by asking your kids to read the numbers in a neighbor’s street address.
You can work on counting by counting aloud as you climb the stairs. Ask your child to figure out how many red cars are parked on the street. Our youngest learned to read the word ‘cat’ after we pointed out the word ‘cat’ on all the Caterpillar construction vehicles we’d see during months of roadwork on our street. Even a stop sign can become multifaceted learning tool! Use it work on colors, shape recognition, reading, and spelling!
Learning Opportunities Around the House
Learning opportunities don’t have to be discrete events. Yes, multitasking can work! If you narrate while you prepare dinner you can note the colors of ingredients or have your kids help you count out the number of ingredients. Toddlers and preschoolers can help you measure and mix ingredients. Further on, measuring can turn into a lesson about fractions. Normal household items can be co-opted into the fun too. In the First 5 California Activity Center, you can find details about a fun game they call Basket Full of Run that uses a laundry basket. Pillows and boxes can become an obstacle course for baby or even a new way to play hide and seek.
Talk. Read. Sing. More resources!
Reading, talking, signing and pointing out the world around you can be low-cost and. For even more ideas and great, free resources check out what First 5 California has to offer. Visit their online Activity Center to find free games, crafts and activities geared towards different age ranges. The Learning Center has fantastic ideas geared towards helping your child develop language skills, reading, fine and gross motor skills. There are also extensive age-appropriate reading lists. I always love a new book recommendation! First 5 California also has a great Download Center. There you can find downloadable videos and PDF’s that range from connect the dots, to free Potter the Otter downloadable books, to cut out and coloring crafts. If you are feeling uninspired or like you need some extra info, First 5 California offers great ideas on free ways to engage with your little one so you can help them become lifelong learners.