Did you ever notice that your child is a sponge for new words and ideas -- even when you thought she was not listening? Take advantage of these formative years to give your youngster a head’s start (pun intended) on a lifetime of learning. Before the age of 5, her brain structure has already formed by 85 percent, so turn off the TV and engage your child in educational games and activities.
Playing with Puzzles
As an age-old pastime, puzzles are not just for rainy days on vacation. The process of searching, identifying and fitting together multiple pieces sparks growth in problem-solving and memory skills. For toddlers, look for simple wooden puzzles with shapes that lift out with a knob and fit back together. If you are brave, add another of the senses with a noise-making puzzle such as a talking animal farm that rewards him with noise when he inserts the right piece. For preschoolers, find simple foam puzzles or cardboard puzzle pictures with 24 to 36 pieces so they can still find a sense of accomplishment in completing their task. Train your preschooler in spatial development skills by helping him look for the edge pieces first before filling in the picture.
Help your child develop fine motor skills and pattern recognition through stringing a necklace. Set out small bowls of different colors of fat beads or dyed pasta – big enough for her little fingers to easily grasp and manipulate. Show her how to make a pattern through colors or shapes. Toddlers will find it easiest to complete this project with chenille wire or a piece of yarn secured at one end with tape, while a preschooler might be advanced enough to try thick fishing wire as the jewelry base. Add another valuable training tool by showing your child how to put on the beads from left to right. The repetitive motion will begin to train her eyes to follow the way she will eventually learn to read.
Even if your tot’s voice tends to hover around the same five notes, he will still learn from the process of singing, clapping and marching. Gather a few musical or rhythmic instruments such as a tambourine, morocco, hand-held drums and bells. While marching around your living room in a parade, you are training your child about beat and rhythm, which will someday help him to be a more fluent reader. Use other singing games like “Hokey Pokey” or “Here we go Looby Loo” to teach your toddler about left and right.
Stacking and Sorting Shapes
Instill rudimentary math skills into your child as she manipulates groups of shapes and objects. Whether you have a set of wooden blocks or a bin of mismatched Tupperware containers, you can show your child how to sort objects according to size and shape. If she is a toddler, help her learn to find the circles and squares to put in a basket, or teach her how to stack the squares from biggest to smallest. For preschoolers, vary the activity by asking them to find and line up all of one kind of shape. Help her count the shapes up to 10 and then compare to see which group is smaller or larger.