From the day children are born until they graduate from high school, they spend just 15 percent of their waking hours in school. The other 85 percent is spent outside school—and most of that time is spent at home.
That means that parents are their children’s most influential teachers. Fortunately, children are naturally curious and love to learn. Here are some of the best ideas parents can use at home to make the most of the important educational influence they have.
Experts say that encouraging children to read may be the most important thing parents can do to insure children’s school success.
- Get the whole family involved in reading books (or favorite parts of books) aloud to each other.
- Be a reading role model—make sure children see you reading. Have lots of reading materials around (newspapers, magazines, books, catalogs).
- Go to the library often. It’s free and it has a better selection than any bookstore.
- Read in unusual places—under a tree, on the floor, in the park, in a tent, upstairs, downstairs.
When it’s fun and interesting and everybody’s doing it, parents can make reading exciting and important for children.
Play Learning Games
Family fun time is a great time for learning. Try these activities with your kids:
Introduce the thesaurus game. Choose a page at random in the thesaurus. Announce a word. See who can list the most synonyms. Or, take turns, with each family member adding a synonym that no one has mentioned.
Send kids on a scavenger hunt. List things that are easy to find around the house (something round, something that comes from another country).
Look at a picture together—one with lots of objects in it (a catalog page is good). Then put it away. See who can make the longest list of what was in the picture.
Cut out newspaper stories and cut off the headlines. Then try to match them with the right stories again. Try writing your own headlines. Try underlining facts in blue ink, opinions in red.
Show Children That You Care
Children need to know that they are loved, that you are proud of them and pleased by their accomplishments. Parents can:
- Find ways to say “I love you” everyday—no matter what your child’s age.
- Make time to talk with your children and really listen to what they say. Being listened to builds children’s self-esteem and helps them learn.
- Monitor your children’s school work. Talk about their progress and make sure they know that you are proud of their accomplishments.
Make the Community Your Child’s Classroom
Parents can make even routine family activities into learning times for children:
At the grocery store. Take a calculator along. Choose two or three items from your basket. Have your kids add (or estimate) the prices in their head. Then use the calculator to check their answers.
When putting groceries away. Use a package of cookies to teach your child the skill of estimating. Get two jars that are the same size. Fill one with something small (like beans). Fill the other with something large (like cookies). Have your child estimate how many are in each jar. Count to check—and then enjoy the cookies!
At the mall. On a day when there’s nothing to do, take your kids to the mall—and pretend you are reporters stalking the feature story for your local newspaper. Take note pads, pens, an instant camera...and your imagination. First, have a “story conference” to decide what to write about. What do the new fashions look like? What’s the latest in hair design? What do security guards do all day? What happens when a child is lost?
Once you’ve chosen your topic, make notes, record facts, and take pictures (or make drawings). Then hurry home to write and publish your story. You’ll teach your child more about your community and improve writing skills at the same time.
The Possibilities Are Endless
Once we understand that children love learning, and that they are learning all the time, whether we plan it or not, the possibilities for learning at home are endless. We don’t have to be trained teachers to make a difference. With a positive attitude about the fun of learning, and a little imagination, we can make the most of the important time we spend with our children.
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