I love learning – most people do! It’s fun to learn new things; have new experiences and have a real sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Our children are exactly the same! Personally, I take every opportunity to learn something new and try not to spend too much time just going through the motions. Actively seeking out learning opportunities for myself and my children is not easy – especially over the summer break when they are with us 24/7.
The first five years of a child’s life lay down the foundations of knowledge, skills and self-love that they will inevitably need to tackle the challenges that life will throw their way! Throughout the wonderful pre-school years, where they are learning, exploring and developing boundaries; we need to take advantage of these opportunities to teach them and prepare them when they arise – the lessons learned during that time will be incredibly powerful.
But what are these learning opportunities?
They can be anything – from behaviour related; boundary setting; learning numbers; expressing and dealing with feelings and developing new vocabulary to express those feelings. As part of the Early Years Framework, children need to experience and develop in the following areas:
- Communication and Language
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development
- Physical Development
- Understanding the World
- Expressive Arts and Design
The opportunities for learning are endless and can easily be incorporated into our everyday family lives. Below I’ve outlined some practical examples of where you may find opportunities to develop these skills in everyday life.
Communication and Language - No use crying over spilt milk
If you come home after a day out, your child has been at nursery, and you are going up to their room to do bedtime and you see that a glass of milk was knocked over that morning. Deciding to reprimand them right now, probably isn’t the wisest idea. They may not remember knocking over the glass of milk, it might have been an accident and telling a child off right before bed might not be conducive to a good nighttime sleep. In this instance, it is ok to feel annoyed, but you might find it more useful to take it as an opportunity to impart some wisdom.
You might ask – “What do you think will happen if daddy leaves this spilt milk on the carpet?” You are aiming for: it might leave a stain, it might start to smell etc. You can guide them down this line of reasoning. You might ask “Is it fair that daddy – who didn’t spill the milk should have to clean it by himself?” Obviously hoping for a “no”. Then ask, “Who do you think should help?” Hoping to receive a “me”.
You may, however, have a child that seems quite unreasonable, or have a child that is over-tired and less reasonable than they normally would be. This will not work in every situation, but your aim is to use the learning opportunities as and when they arise.
Alternatively, you might have been there when the milk was spilt, allowing for a different conversation. You might ask: “How did this happen?”, “What were you doing that you shouldn’t have done?” Do you think it is sensible to drink your milk in your carpeted room?” What will you do differently next time?” All questions focused on them thinking about and reflecting on their actions – and hopefully choosing not to drink their milk over the nice carpet next time.
Encouraging the child to discuss the situation and modelling dialogue will give them the opportunity to form their own line of reasoning and encourage them to think, reflect, be responsible and helpful.
Emotional Development & Physical Development – Let’s learn to Pour our own milk
In the same situation as above, it may be that your child had attempted to pour their own cup of milk and failed miserably. This can potentially lead to feelings of sadness, frustration and anger. So how can we help them manage these emotions and develop a positive sense of self? By setting simple goals with them, such as “Let’s learn to pour a cup of milk”, or “Let’s learn to clear up the spilt milk” – the child is encouraged to take ownership and will develop confidence in their own abilities.
Whilst doing so, the child is developing their gross and fine motor skills – they are learning to control their own body with precision and hand-eye-co-ordination, which is later linked to early literacy, puzzles, arts and crafts and problem-solving. Spilt milk should never be a problem… in fact, it is a fantastic learning opportunity in so many ways, although frustrating if you now can’t make that cup of tea you’ve been longing for.
Personal Social and Emotional Development – Sharing is Caring
In another instance, your child might come over and take 2 of their sibling’s toys without asking, causing feelings of upset and anger. There is a learning opportunity here for both children. Your first aim is to empathise with the child who is upset, letting her know that her feelings are valid and that it is ok to be upset.
Questions such as, “How are you feeling?” are a good place to start… followed by, “Why do you think your sister took the dolls?” It could have been that she was playing with her sister’s two favourite dolls without permission and she was taking them back. You could ask “Did you ask your sister for permission before taking her dolls?” If the answer was no, you could respond with – “How do you think that made her feel?” or “What do you think you could do differently next time?”.
A hard thing to grasp here is to determine who is in the wrong. “Who do you think needs to apologise?”. In reality, this doesn’t really matter – it is our job to get them to see from the other child’s perspective. We are building their empathy skills and encouraging them to tackle difficult situations and take responsibility for their actions. Just remember based on the age of these children, that their brain is still developing, and these learning opportunities are there to help it on its way – it won’t always be successful believe me, but consistency, fairness and repetition are key.
If the child is slightly older, they may be able to write a journal or draw an image of their feelings – allowing them to not only express themself verbally to you and their sibling, but to have somewhere they can state their feelings and how they were overcome. This will also serve as a reference for self-reflection, as well as being a proven method for dealing with stress and anxiety and helping to promote good mental health.
Literacy – Sing a Song
A strong foundation in literacy is crucial for your child’s development and the first 5 years are where they develop their language, acquire their vocabulary and are exposed to a range of words they have never heard before. Their brains are sponges, so the more you speak to them, read to them and sing to them, the better chances they have.
I LOVE singing and it is proven that children learn best through song! The rhymes, the range of vocabulary, and the actions that go with the songs all contribute to positive language acquisition and outcomes in later life.
So sing as much as possible… when getting ready to go out for the day… “we’re putting on our socks, we’re putting on our socks, la la la la, we’re putting on our socks,”… “now we’re putting on our shoes, we’re putting on our shoes, la la la la, we’re putting on our shoes!” The child automatically responds positively; they are more willing to get ready and they are learning as they do so. Win-win!
There are so many Literacy related activities you can do at home or when out and about with your child – consider playing eye spy with letter sounds; finding things around you starting with certain letter sounds; making up stories together about things you see and of course as much reading as possible!
Mathematics - Numeracy in Daily Life
Imagine, you’re walking in a park and your child is picking up sticks / stones… Why not start introducing them to the idea of counting them – “How many do you have in your hands?” “Daddy has picked up 3 more – how many do we have all together?”… “Let’s give one to your sister… we’ve taken one away – how many do we have now?”
This can work with pretty much anything… your child has 5 toy cars, and her sister wants to play with two of them. You can ask, “If your sister plays with two of your cars, how many do you have left?” You can then go on to ask “Who has more? How many more do you have than your sister?” Obviously, in this example, we are using their current limited ability to perform sums and at the same time encourage them to share with their sibling.
Understanding the World & Expressive Arts – Accepting and Creating
Living in London we have so many wonderful opportunities to learn about a range of languages, cultures, religions and different places around the world. A simple walk down the street, a visit to the library, a trip on a bus, to the museum, or to a religious monument or place of worship will expand their knowledge of the world.
Using every opportunity to talk about differences, how wonderfully diverse we all are and how these differences make us all truly unique and amazing in our own ways.
Whilst out and about point out interesting landmarks, discuss the different languages you hear on the bus and the array of different cultural dress you see. With all this wonderful cultural capital, why not then get creative and start documenting what you see? This can be in the form of images, collages, wordles, journals, costume design, drama etc. The possibilities here are endless and so beneficial for them.
Why do we care about all of this?
At the Water Filled Wellies Playhouse, we care so much about what our children learn, how they learn it and how we can incorporate challenge, development and exploration into a fun and unique curriculum. Through our carefully planned curriculum, we want our children to be inquisitive, to question and to WANT to know more.
There are learning opportunities that happen all the time and at the Playhouse we look out for and nurture these opportunities as and when they arise. After all “children develop quickly in the early years and a child’s experiences between birth and age five have a major impact on their future life chances.” It is our duty as their parents and carers to help them on their way.
Working in partnership with parents and guardians to engage our little ones in fun, exploration and learning inside the Playhouse and at home is so important to their development.