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Monday, June 22, 2015

ABC's of Homeschooling: E is for Early Learning

I have a passion for early learning - it may have something to do with my mom, who has been in the early childhood education field for over 25 years. I worked as a nanny and taught preschool for a while before my children were born and I also provide free preschool resources on my blog. I believe that it is NEVER too early to start teaching our children. As homeschoolers, we do not follow the public school guidelines for many things - so why would we follow their idea of when a child should start learning?

 If 85% of children's core brain structure is developed by the age of four (Source), then early learning is a crucial aspect of educating our children. Nationally, less than 10% of public investments in education and development are spent on children, ages four and younger (Source). This is yet another area in which homeschooling parents have the opportunity to step outside of the societal norm - and take advantage of this crucial and exciting time in your child's education.

I believe that there are three keys to successful early learning: Sensory, Literature and Play.

For toddlers and young preschoolers, sensory learning is huge. The more hands-on, the better. Many people think of sensory learning simply as a container that you fill with items for a child to play with - but sensory learning is truly about engaging all five senses. 

Sight: Colorful, but simplistic - you want to catch their attention without over-stimulating. Make sure that signs and posters are on their eye level. Show them picture books that allow them to find items, like Seek & Find or Lift-a-flap books. Play "I Spy". Do scavenger hunts (like this!) to search for colors, sizes and shapes. 

Touch: There is a reason that young children want to touch everything. This is a huge part of their learning - long before they are even verbal. Allow children to explore different textures - you can do this easily with items in your home: carpet, leather, wood, plastic, silk, yarn, feathers, dirt, sand, rice - you get the idea! Let children play in water and play with food items (jell-o, pudding, ice). Stacking is another important aspect of touch - duplos, wooden blocks and stacking cups are all great investments. Your children will learn to compare sizes, shapes and put things in order. Sing "head, shoulders, knees & toes" or do the "hokey pokey". The teaching opportunities are endless!

Smell: Do you smell something? What is that smell? Does it have a smell? What does it smell like? Simply asking your child these questions will inspire learning. Use everyday moments to investigate the scents around you. Let them smell the ingredients as you are cooking, sniff flowers and plants on a nature walk, you could even diffuse essential oils (which have many other benefits as well!). 

- Sound: Listen and talk - communication with your child is one of the most important roles you can play in early learning. Play music - I like to play worship music and fun children's songs as we go about our day. I put on soft classical music whenever we are reading. Practice animal sounds and vehicle sounds with them. Just make silly sounds and have them mimic you. Create rhythms by clapping, stomping, and using musical instruments - encourage them to echo you. Sing to your children (they don't care what you sound like!). Practice using quiet voices and loud voices, low voices and high voices, fast voices and slow voices.

- Taste: This one is pretty simple. Encourage your child to taste as many different foods as you can. Read stories about certain foods and then let them try it. Describe different tastes to them - salty, sweet, sour, smooth, hot, cold.  Talk about where foods come from. Play taste-testing games with them and let them help prepare their food - they will be more likely to eat it!

Learning through literature starts long before your child can read, or even recite their alphabet. Children are learning so much more than you can even imagine when you read to them. Start reading them books as early as you can. Read them simple board books. Read them the classics. Read the Bible. Read chapter books. Listen to books on tape, watch movies made from books that you read and most importantly - talk about the books you read. Ask who, what, why, when, where and how questions. Expand upon your reading - have your children draw pictures, do projects and act out the stories. 

I love Literature-based learning. Almost any good book can be stretched and used to cover many subjects. For instance, the book "I Am A Bunny" could be turned into an entire unit study on the seasons and weather (check out how I used the book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" with my {then}18 month old here and here). Your children will better retain the stories if you create learning experiences with them. Be creative and make it fun!

Children need to play. Young children need a lot of time to play. They are learning when they play. They do not need a million toys, but have materials available for them - blocks, art supplies, cars, dolls, dress-up clothes. Give them time to play outside each day - and give them gross-motor opportunities (ridings toys, balls, hula hoops, etc.). If you cannot be outside - let them dance, jump and wrestle on the floor. Children need all kinds of play, here are a few types of play that you should be providing...
- Independent play: Let them play whatever they want, with anything they want (within reason!), however they want. Using that incredible imagination God gave them. 
- Structured play: Set up learning experiences for them. Put out play-dough, paint sets or a game.  
- Group play: Find a mom group, church program or just invite some friends over! Siblings work well for this as well. It is wonderful for them to have time to play with other children practicing leadership, cooperation and problem solving skills.
- Adult play: Play with them. They want and need you to engage. Build a fort, create a sidewalk chalk masterpiece or role play with them. 

Be present with your early learners, communicate and have fun! They are sponges in a world dripping with adventure.

Emily Powers is a redeemed daughter of the King. Wife to Ben; a Pastor & her high school sweetheart and mama to three precious souls; Evelyn, Beckett and Annabel. Emily is a former preschool teacher and a published children's book author. She shares her homeschooling & motherhood journey on her blog Teachable {MOM}ents; where you can find her free Preschool Resources. Most importantly, she wants to help other moms find and cherish the teachable {mom}ents in each day! You can also visit Emily on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

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