We are so happy to have Penny Lane of Sister Raising Sisters guest posting on the blog today. I’ve had a number of conversations with other moms recently about integrating learning into play. With school out for the summer, this is a great time to try out some of Penny’s ideas!
I’ll let the secret out of the bag right at the start (but don’t stop reading, I promise there’s good stuff in here). You don’t have to spend a fortune on “Learning Toys” for your children for them to learn while they are playing. *GASP* Don’t tell the learning toy companies I told you this. There goes my multi-million dollar sponsorship.
Here’s 5 ideas to get your brain churning about integrating learning into everyday play.
Just a note: I’ve written the examples here for toddler to pre-school age children, but I think from them you’ll get the idea and can apply it to about any age/stage of child.
1. Think of Every Toy as a Learning Tool
You know that disgusting security blanket that you can’t pry from your toddlers arms to even get it into the wash once a week? Did you know that is a learning tool? Sure it is.
You can use that blanket to:
- Learn colors and numbers
- Ask your child questions like: What color is it? What else in the room is that color? How many colors do we see on it?
- Learn textures
- Ask your child questions like: How does it feel? What the opposite of that? (Oooh, vocabulary work thrown in there too!)
- Identify shapes
- Ask your child questions like: What shape is it? How many sides does it have? How many corners? Are any of the sides parallel? There’s another great vocab word! What shape does it become when we fold it in half?
- Calm Separation Anxiety
- Play a game of Peek-a-Boo to teach your littlest one that even when you go away, you always come back. Play a game of hide and find so they know even when you do take their blanket to the wash, it will be coming back, too.
And you just thought that thing was good for getting them to sleep without fussing.
2. Don’t Distinguish Between Learning Time and Play Time
Never sit down and announce, “Now we’re going to work on learning XYZ.” If you want to teach your kids to identify their numbers, build towers with blocks. Here’s how this often goes at our house:
And so on and so on. To your kids, you’re just building really cool towers. And if you let them recklessly knock them down once they are built – you might have a few new bruises, but you’re the coolest parent ever!
Now, a word of warning on this one, anytime you set out to teach them something purposefully, you’re going to be inclined to want to keep them focused on that until you are satisfied they’ve had enough practice on the subject. But that’s where you can lose the “play” quickly. So what do you do if after you say it would be “really cool” to stack the blocks in order, your little angel balks and wants no part in your “really cool” idea? Take a deep breath and drop it. Build a bridge (maybe literally!) and get over it. If you have to force them to play your game, it isn’t playing, and it certainly isn’t learning.
3. Incorporate All Their Senses
You’ve probably been seeing pin after pin of “sensory bins.” Well, they are popular for a reason. Kids love them, and they get their mind, imagination, and creativity all working nearly effortlessly. But honestly, I’ve never used/made one of those things. I’m pretty sure I’ve got lots of things around the house that we interact with during our normal routine that will do the same thing.
- Here’s some examples focused around things you can do while giving you kids their bath:
- Sight: Play a game of Eye Spy in the bathroom. It’s great for teaching them to be observant.
- Sound: Talk about how loud it is when the water is filling the tub, then turn the water off and hear the difference. Do you have to speak as loud to hear each other anymore?
- Touch: Break out the bubble bath. Feel how light and spongy and wet the bubbles feel. Compare that to the feel of the water or the side of the tub.
- Smell: What does your shampoo smell like? What other good smell would be neat to have in a shampoo (lots of creative, imaginative thinking going on here)?
- Taste: I’m sure you’re using non-toxic soap, so go ahead, let them taste it. Talk about how it tastes, how your tongue has taste buds and what they do, and what their favorites tastes are.
You’ve just had a full sensory experience and did it all during the normal time span of a bath. Nice multi-tasking! And you didn’t have to go buy shaving cream, fabric rose petals, or tiny dinosaur trinkets.
Gardening is another awesome activity for full sensory learning. Just think of all the different colors, shapes, textures, and smells. (Did you just smell manure in your mind? Or was that just me? Nevermind.) And the best sensory experience of all when gardening, taste! And when you’re done – it’s bath time again.
4. Practice New Skills in Different Environments
- Sing the ABCs while swinging at the park.
- Count to 20 at stoplights.
- Point out fruit colors at the grocery store.
- Identify letters on road signs.
- Hold hands and look both ways before going up the stairs in your house.
- Say your phone number while doing summer-saults.
If it’s unexpected, it’s usually fun. Getting out the alphabet flash cards for drills isn’t nearly as exciting as standing in a parking lot, yelling out “H… O… M… E… D… E… P… O… T.” And don’t forget to have you child re-tell those fun experiences to your spouse when they see them next. “Daddy, Momma let me yell and spell Home Depot today! Did you know Home Depot starts with an H? Did you know their carts are orange? H says huh huh huh as in horse! H says huh huh huh as in Home Depot! I’m really good at spelling!”
5. PLAY With Your Kids and Relax
The most important thing when you’re integrating learning into everyday play…
Get down on the floor and play. When you’re fully engaged, teaching will come naturally. No amount of expensive learning toys will take the place of one-on-one time with a parent. And when you’re really playing, the learning won’t feel like work, it will just feel like playing.
Penny Lane is a mother of 2 girls and half of a sister-blogging-team at Si
sters Raising Sisters. She is an aerospace engineer and astronaut trainer for NASA whose counter-culture career is now on-hold so she can more fully invest in her family and work to change the culture her girls are destined to encounter. Her home is filled with equal parts rockets and baby dolls. She daily navigates strewn-about racecars and tea sets while teaching her daughters to change diapers, change the oil in the car, change preconceptions, and that it’s okay to maybe someday change their last names. And just like her mother before her, and her big sister, above all, she is teaching her girls to be unashamed, unwavering, unstoppable women of God.