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By Rachel Kutcher
Five Santa Fe early childhood programs share ideas for playtime, stories, and exploration that will support your child's healthy development.
With early childhood education and care providers closed or providing limited care for the past few months, many parents, grandparents and caregivers are wondering how to best support their young children’s learning. Great news! Children learn all the time through play and stories, and there are myriad ways to support kids’ learning throughout your day, at home and outdoors. Local early childhood educators and advocates share a few ideas.
Painting is a sensory activity that allows children to explore spatial awareness and promote their cognitive abilities. Often children are not introduced to painting until they are toddlers, due to safety concerns and dietary restrictions. However, by adding food coloring or boiled remnants from fruits and vegetables to baby cereal or yogurt, parents can create a medium for infants to explore without worrying that their child will consume harmful ingredients.
Once the infant begins to paint, the focus of the activity can be directed to the process, instead of the completed product. Infants will naturally receive sensory benefits, and early exposure to painting as well as other sensory activities will enhance brain development and build on skills they need to navigate their environment.
Introduce a range of experiences by using flashlights as a new material to create light, reflect light and change light and colors. There are endless possibilities, and no right or wrong way to experience and discover. For example, you can reflect light off a CD with a flashlight or take it outside and show your baby how it reflects sunlight. After showing your baby how the light reflects and passes through different objects, let them play with the flashlight themselves. This encourages them to make predictions and new discoveries.
Make your own puffy paint by mixing equal parts shaving cream and white liquid school glue, plus a few drops of food coloring and essential oil, if desired. It is quite messy, but stimulating. After it dries on the paper, it is fun to touch — soft and squishy, but no longer a sticky surface.
Make colorful popping ice cubes using everyday ingredients found in the pantry. Mix some baking soda and food coloring into water, pour it into an ice cube tray or plastic container, and place it in the freezer. Once frozen, place the cubes in a container and encourage your child to add vinegar using a dropper (for a DIY dropper, try a Ziploc bag with a hole poked in it). Watch for your child’s delight as she views the bubbly reaction. Enhance the experience by introducing new vocabulary such as: bubbling, popping, sizzling, etc.
Playing outside with your children isn't just about encouraging physical activity, it’s about encouraging emotional health, observation and love of the outdoors. Parents and caregivers can make everyday experiences a time for learning. When adults model curiosity, it encourages children to explore, think and reflect on all they’re seeing and doing.
Adults can ask exploratory questions, such as:
Here are some fun activities to do outside with your preschooler:
Reading aloud is one of the most important activities supporting children’s language skills and future school success. It’s never too early to start: Birth to age 3 are critical developmental years. Experts recommend 15-20 minutes of daily read-aloud time. This makes an enormous difference in the vocabulary children are exposed to and in their grasp of rhythm, fluency and sequencing.
Reading may seem as simple as sitting down and opening a book. Complex processes are at work, however, as infants, older babies and toddlers absorb cognitive, social and emotional benefits of early exposure to books and language.
Specific strategies will enhance young children’s reading experiences — and get them hooked as lifelong readers and learners:
Reading is bonding time, in addition to foundational learning. Turn off the TV — even background television can impair child development — and fully engage with your child. Focusing on each other while engaging with books makes reading more fun, which is the most important thing! Literacy includes reading plus writing, speaking, listening and understanding. Start with reading aloud and interacting with books to best support critical development from birth to 3 — and years beyond. This list of Read-Aloud Tips, compiled by Lauren Whitehurst at Mother Tongue Project, goes into much more depth on reading with little ones.
While we all look forward to a time when our children can once again gather together with friends and early childhood educators, we also hope these ideas support the excellent home education you provide for your children every day. For additional activity ideas, check out the UNM Family Development Program’s Everyday JUNK Recipes -- 72 activities using everyday objects found at home, specifically written to support the home learning of children from birth to age 5.