by Carolyn Forte
31st Annual CHEA Convention Speaker

children playing gamesYoung children love to mimic whatever those around them are doing. My two-year-old learned to wash the dishes alongside me because she wanted to do whatever I was doing. The same trait can be used to teach your young child to count (or recite the ABCs or a Bible verse). I counted every time I could think of an excuse to do so and soon my daughter was doing it too. Of course, she made lots of mistakes and took offense if I corrected her, but I found that if I just kept doing it correctly in her hearing, she soon corrected herself because she really wanted to do it like Mommy.

Counting, however, does not necessarily indicate that your child understands what the numbers recited mean. That will come little by little as you count things at appropriate times throughout the day. For instance, you can count dishes as you put them in the dishwasher, count books you are taking back to the library, count carrot pieces as you put them on his plate, count dots on the dice as you play a game, etc. Talking with your child as you move about the house teaches him language in a way that the TV or an iPad cannot. Remember too that children learn much, much more when they are a part of the conversation and have some role in the activity.

Preschool children need lots of movement and sensory stimulation like running, jumping, climbing, swinging, touching, tasting, and smelling different things. They need to hear and identify sounds and talk about what they notice. All of these make connections in their growing brains. Look for ways your child can participate in the things you do every day. When you are cleaning your preschooler’s room, have a little bag or basket handy and see how many toys can be picked up and put in it. Help count them and get excited about it. Enthusiasm enhances everything including learning. You can make a game of picking up, by hiding a sticker or Post-it on one of the items to be picked up before you start. Give a little reward according to how many items are in the basket when the sticker is found.

Music, poetry and rhythm provide important mental stimuli. If you don’t know any musical games, the Wee Sing series has several CD & book sets of songs with games, movement and finger plays. All these help your child’s brain grow neural pathways in a variety of ways that will enhance learning. Rhythmic movement develops balance, coordination, spatial awareness, visual (distance and depth) perception, and much more. All of these are important precursors to reading and writing.

Playing catch with a ball or other soft objects helps develop hand-eye coordination and visual (figure-ground, near-far & depth) perception, both of which are vital for reading and writing. Tossing a bean bag at a target, throwing a basketball at a bucket or lowered hoop, playing “horseshoes” or bowling with a child’s set are all good ways to develop academic readiness with play.

All children are unique and develop their senses and cognitive skills at different speeds.  Some do simple addition at four while others are still struggling with single digit addition at seven. This is still within a normal window. In the not so distant past, teachers did not worry about a child who had difficulty with simple arithmetic or reading until age seven or eight. By then, nearly all children were reading and calculating. Now, we hear shrill cries of dyslexia before a child turns six.

Games and activities help children learn for a number of reasons, chief of which is that they provide concrete models for children to see, hear about, touch and move. Rigidly scripted lessons can also provide this but the enjoyment and excitement of a game adds additional memory capacity to the mix. Brain research has shown that the memory and emotion centers of the brain are closely connected. We remember what we are excited about. I still remember vividly the card game my mother used to teach me the numbers and their numerical values. Playing games with your children provides so much more than just family fun; it is a wonderful bonding and learning experience.

Carolyn is presenting “Teaching Preschoolers with Games” at the 31st Annual CHEA Home Educators Convention, May 27-29.

Copyright 2014. Used by permission of author.

Carolyn Forte is Principal of EIE Academy and owner, with her husband Martin, of Excellence In Education Resource Center in Monrovia, California. She earned a BA in music history from Whittier College. From 1982-1994, she directed elementary Sunday school music at the Crystal Cathedral. For five of those years, she was also co-director of the elementary Sunday school. She holds a life teaching credential for California and has taught grades K, 1, 2 and 6 in public and private day schools. For 14 years, she homeschooled her two daughters, now age 33 and 35. Over the last 20 years, she has spoken at numerous conventions and homeschool groups throughout California.