With additional social distancing, self-isolation, school closures and working from home pressures, there will be new stresses for parents and caregivers of young children, and children themselves. This not only relates to health concerns, but also the prospect of establishing new routines and changing dynamics in your household. Our resource Managing Change provides insightful advice, tips and ideas on how to help children cope with changes.
It’s good to know that children are experts at play as one article recently observed. But you can also draw on the early childhood educators, who are experts in how young children learn and develop. They have a wealth of experience in implementing strategies to enhance that learning experience. While parents are a child’s first teacher, many may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of ensuring that their child’s educational, social and emotional needs are being met at home. Achieving a balance between caregiving and educating alongside other priorities and different demands now placed on a household can be difficult. Our article ‘Parenting during a pandemic’ offers some useful tips for how to navigate this difficult time.
By planning for the possibility of being home more than ever, you can extend your children’s learning opportunities and ensure they continue to thrive and build on their early learning service experiences.
Viewing your home as a learning environment, parents can act as a guide, observing but allowing your child to make choices.
The first consideration is the age of your child and their interests. In the coming weeks we will be sharing age specific ideas and activities, drawing on the expertise of some of Australia’s most prominent and experienced educators. Below are our top five tips on how to make your home a learning environment, inspired by Zero to three and Australia’s Raising Children Network:
1. DESIGNATE A LEARNING SPACE: Show that you value your child’s learning by providing them with a dedicated space. This could be a section of a room and doesn’t need to be a large area. A space that is close to the rest of the household will often work best for children aged under five years old, both for supervision, participation and for your child to feel included.
Ensure there are minimal distractions and consider a toy rotation– pick a few toys to leave out for your child to play with and put the rest away out of sight. After a week or so, involve your child in selecting new toys to play and learn with. There is no need to overload young children with lots of toys and resources, a select few will be enough for them to engage with.
Make the space safe for children to explore. View the Parent Guide to Kidsafe Home for advice and a checklist.
2. INVOLVE CHILDREN IN DAILY TASKS: Helping with ‘real work’ is often young children’s favourite type of play. Involve them in daily tasks and chores and while allowing for their age, let each child surprise you by their capacity and competence. For toddlers, ask them to measure items for a recipe or set the table for everyone. Have preschool aged children help with laundry – sorting socks in matching colours, putting items into the basket or placing items into their wardrobe. Turn as many everyday life experiences as possible into learning opportunities. And remember the power of narrating the task —talk with and listen to your child as you work together. Turn a ‘set of instructions’— do this, put it here – into a conversation, a narrative of the tasks for preverbal children or a guessing game: ‘now who belongs to these blue pants? What drawer do you think these yellow socks go in?’ While this can take time, everyone learns about cooperation and it can be fun.
3. PLAY: Play is vital to young children’s development.Play is the work of childhood. Play contributes to cognitive, social, emotional and physical development and can encourage confidence and self-esteem. Consider weaving in different types of play into your day:
- Physical play—This type of play will get a child active and moving around. This might include a lounge room dance party, running races, climbing a tree or playing games in the backyard.
- Discovery (exploring play)—This type of play fosters a child’s curiosity and allows them to learn about the world and how it works. Discovery toys like building blocks can help a child understand the concept of gravity.
- Creative play—Creative play can help children to express themselves and help develop manual skills. This might include painting, singing or writing.
- Pretend play—Also called imaginative play, this type of role-playing helps develop imagination, social skills, and problem-solving skills. Examples of pretend play include pretend cooking, cash registers, using a phone or visiting a doctor. Cardboard boxes and sheets can help to create cubbies and new spaces for imaginative play to occur.
For further ideas on open-ended play spaces that offer endless opportunities for children, check out the book Inspiring Play Spaces.
4. DAILY ROUTINES: Try to keep your usual routines as much as possible during this time at home. This includes the usual wake up times, meal times and bedtimes. Children thrive on predictability and routines can make them feel safe and secure. To read more about creating meaningful and mindful routines, with lots of practical ideas check out Rituals: Making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood or visit the Raising Children Network.
5. LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW CHILDREN LEARN: There is an abundance of online resources and blogs about children’s development. Gaining further understanding of how your child learns can assist with your expectations and delivery of learning opportunities in your home. Explore the Early Childhood Australia shop for quality-assured hard copy resources.
Remind yourself that you have this covered. Remember that children love your attention and interest, they have many things to share with you. During this difficult time, there is a rare opportunity to discover new ways to spend time together and observe your child’s learning.
You can also read this article from The Guardian by Lego Professor at Cambridge University, ‘Don’t turn your home into a school‘.