You are Your Child’s First Teacher (page 2)
You have probably heard this many times, but what does it really mean? Does it mean you have to sit for hours teaching your baby phonics and playing classical music? Does it mean you have to buy expensive educational materials? It is not necessary to spend lots of money, or to become an expert reading teacher. It simply means that you should do the things that parents have done for centuries that feel so right, like singing to your child, talking in that high-pitched exaggerated language, sharing books and pictures, and simply spending time doing the things you like to do. If you like to fish, take your child along with you, no matter how young she is. If you like to walk, put your baby in the stroller and go for a walk together, pointing out the buildings and the birds, the trees and the people.
Even routine tasks can be learning opportunities for young children. A trip to the grocery store can be educational, and may even be enjoyable if you spend a little time showing your baby or toddler the colors of the packages and labels on the cans, and telling him the names of fruits and vegetables. For a slightly older child, a trip to the grocery store can be a lesson in classification (all soups are shelved together, all cold foods are in the same place), or an early reading lesson (can you find the cereal that starts with K?).
One of the best times for children to learn their colors is when they get dressed. Ask her to choose the red sweater or the green one. She can choose the pink pants or the blue ones. She will learn colors very quickly this way. She will also learn some independence skills as you give her some limited choices.
Giving your toddler small tasks to do can help him to learn many things. Ask him to bring two apples, one for himself and one for you. He is learning a math skill by doing this, i.e. that two people need an apple each. Ask him to bring a ball for daddy and a ball for himself. He will figure out eventually that he needs to bring two. He will glow with pride when he brings you the things you have asked for. Ask him to put away the yellow truck in the brown basket. He is learning colors as well as learning where things belong, another skill important for both math and reading. Expect and accept mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes, and he will get it right eventually. Don’t expect serious help from your child at this time; however, toddlers will learn to bring things and put things away. Of course, they will probably dump them out as soon as they are put away, since that is what toddlers do. You will need to distract him with another task if you want the toys to stay away.
Read to your child as often as you can. It’s good to set aside 20-30 minutes each day to read, but if you only have five minutes to spare, it is still valuable to share a short story, showing your little one that you value reading, no matter how busy you are. Being a good role model plays an important part in your child’s success with reading, so read things out loud wherever you are- in the car, in the kitchen, walking in the neighborhood, or even working at the computer. She will learn that reading is a useful skill and will be motivated to learn to read.
Remember that you teach your child social skills too, and that these skills are also important for school success. Your child learns by watching and imitating you to be kind and compassionate, to take his turn, to value other people and their needs, to greet people with a friendly, “Good morning!” Children watch and take note of everything we do. This does not mean that we have to be perfect, just aware that we are indeed our children’s first teachers.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Parent Involvement. © 1999, Tampa, Florida.
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