There is no magical age at which children are suddenly ready to learn; they’re born ready! We teach our children all kinds of lessons about life from the first moment we hold them in our arms. And they soak it up like sponges. Early childhood education is considered to cover the years from birth to age eight, or through third grade. Parents of children in this range can implement a few simple activities to allow their child’s God given gifts to grow.
Preschool age children need opportunities to explore their interests and they benefit from exposure to learning centers. Learning centers are designated areas where a particular kind of learning is fostered. Generally they include: Art, Blocks, Reading, Math, Science, Dramatic Play (a fancy term that encompasses dress-up and house!), Manipulatives (jargon for puzzles and fine motor activities), Music, Writing, and a perennial favorite—with the kids—Sand and Water play. The list may seem overwhelming, but the key is to offer a few of these activities at a time, not the whole kit and caboodle all at once.
Reading is always an easy option to offer children. The youngest can use audiobooks and older children can be enlisted to read to younger siblings. Art can be an activity done with a wide range of ages a couple times a week. Younger children love to paint and it helps them develop pre-writing skills. Offer water colors with a small brush, painting on an easel (or tape or clothespin paper to flat surface, even a fence outside) with a big brush, and of course, finger painting. Art and Science can be combined by squirting shaving cream on a plastic tablecloth, adding food coloring to create new colors, and letting the children play in it. They can practice writing numbers and letters and their name. If you have a Formica topped table, it will also do a great job of cleaning the surface!
Math for younger children consists of sorting and classification. A puzzle race works on fine motor skills as well as problem solving. Dump several different puzzles into a pile and allow several children to race to get theirs put back together. Encouraging children to sort buttons or other too-large-to-swallow items into an empty ice cube tray using plastic tweezers helps develop the pincher grip necessary to hold a pencil. Writing and reading skills also come into play when children use mazes and dot-to-dots.
Sand and water play is a great calming activity for children. Now that the warmer weather is on its way, this is a wonderful outside learning center. Small plastic tubs with water or sand or beans or rice or even pea gravel, can occupy children for a long period of time. They’ll need funnels, measuring cups, spoons and sifters, and squirt bottles for water if it’s warm and you’re adventuresome! They can even take regular paintbrushes and “paint” the house with water and a bucket. In the fall, use birdseed as the medium. After a few weeks of playing in it, recycle for a science activity. Collect pinecones, smear them with peanut butter, roll them in the birdseed, and hang on a tree.
It may seem unnecessary to offer children so many choices, but if they never pick up a homemade musical instrument, or collect bugs or rocks or leaves, or create their own art, how will their giftedness emerge? God gives us all areas of interest and ability, and where they intersect is a big clue as to how we are to serve God in this world. There is only one Way to Heaven, but there are many expressions of sainthood.