Every Moment is a Teachable Moment!

In the case of young children, parents are often the people who spend the most time with their child.  Although your child may participate in classes, attend childcare programs, or take part in playgroups, it is likely that your child spends a large portion of his day or week with you.  What this means is that you are your child’s most important teacher!

Given this, consider what would happen if parents and nannies learned to think like teachers!  What if you were able to multiply your child’s learning opportunities every day?  What if every moment became a teachable moment?  Imagine the possibilities!

To be clear, we are not suggesting that you sit your young child at a desk and drill him or her with flashcards (that is simply not good teaching anyway)!  We are also not suggesting that you do not allow your child down time, or time to simply be a child!  And finally, we are not suggesting that you, as a parent, never take a break!  What we are suggesting is that we work to maximize the teachable moments within our daily lives!  We do not need to add more to our days—we just need to make more of what is already happening!  Simple activities or unexpected events are often some of the best times to foster your child’s learning.  Think about the things you and your child do every day, and then brainstorm how you can turn those into effective teaching moments (without adding too much stress or hassle to your already busy day!)

Here are some ideas to get you started…

Each day, we all engage in activities that lend themselves to child development—we just have to learn to view them that way!  One example is bath time – an event that is built into most of our days.  For many of us, this is a routine we rush through in order to move on to the next event.  But, if we take a moment to view bath time differently, we can see that it lends itself to a wealth of learning opportunities!  Bath time is an excellent time to teach your child to identify body parts (e.g. “put the soap on your tummy”), to follow simple instructions (e.g. “pour the water!”), to understand prepositions (e.g. “put fishy in the bucket”), or even pronouns (e.g. “put the sponge on your nose” vs. “put the sponge on my nose”).  If we simply rush through bath time, scrubbing our children down, then getting ready for the next thing, we may be missing out on some great teaching moments!  This is true of many of our daily activities—take a few moments to think about your other routines!

In addition to activities, we also can begin to look at toys and materials differently.  Rather than viewing toys at face value, we can look at toys and begin to ask ourselves: what can this help me teach my child?  Often we make the mistake of viewing toys as serving only one purpose.  For example, most of us see Legos as items that are meant to teach building skills.  While this is certainly one skill Legos may address, there are countless others!  When building with our children, we can be teaching colors (e.g. “can you find the red one?”), sizes (e.g. “where’s the small block?”, “which one is bigger?”), prepositions (e.g. “put it on/under/next to”), following directions (e.g. “give the block to ___”), counting (e.g. “how many do you have?”, “pass me 3 blocks”), and imitation skills (e.g. “try what I’m doing!”)…just to name a few!

The point here is not that you should build a formal classroom in your home or should focus every moment of your day on being a teacher.  The point is that we can try to recognize that every environment is a classroom!  All activities are lessons!  All toys are teaching materials!   We can exponentially increase your child’s learning opportunities just by changing our perspectives.  We do not need to add extra work or activities to our days—we just need to maximize what we are already doing!  When we learn to make every day moments teachable, our children are provided with endless opportunities to expand their skills and minds!

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Nurturing Nature: Gaining Perspective

Language acquisition is a dynamic, complex, and natural process that our children go through to learn how to communicate with others and build meaningful relationships.  Like many other things in life, it’s not something that we question until something atypical occurs that raises concern.  As parents and caregivers, we want to make sure that we optimize our interactions with our children in such a way that we help them bloom into their full potential.  While this at times can seem as a subjective and daunting task, there are a few things that we can keep in mind to maximize our relationships and engagements to give us peace of mind.

While there are many different theories and beliefs about how children specifically acquire language, we all know for sure that there is an interaction of “nature” and “nurture.”  Most children are naturally inclined to extract sounds, words, grammar, and eventually conversational language that allows them to manipulate and control the world around them.  However, it’s our responsibility to nurture their natural inclinations to language acquisition with educated and careful techniques.

It’s important to remember that children have only been experiencing life and the world for a short period of time.  As adults, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we’ve been here for a long time and that we have a lot to teach to the following generation.  Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine placing yourself on a different planet, where you don’t speak the language, and where your environment is completely different than anything you’ve ever experienced before.  This is what our children are going through.  And they are sponges… for knowledge, information, communication.

Children explore their environment through play.  It’s meaningful.  It’s fun.  It’s interactive.  Through this natural and pleasant medium, we can teach children language and how to build relationships with others.  However, it’s important to put yourself in your child’s shoes and to see through their eyes, and provide them with language that’s developmentally appropriate in order for them to learn how to pair symbolic language with concrete things that are occurring in their environment.

While we’re engaging in play with our children, it’s important to be mindful of what their attention is focused on.  It’s very common that we have our own idea of what the direction and dialogue of the play should be; however, it’s meaningless if it isn’t in line with what our children have in mind.  For example, if we’re playing with a train set, and the child is focused on pushing “Thomas the Train” back and forth but we’re talking about how “Percy the Small Engine” is happy because he gets to play and is going “up” and “down” and “around” the tracks – we’re missing the point.  If our child’s attention is on pushing Thomas back and forth, our language is essentially meaningless if we’re talking about anything other than that.

In this particular situation, we can model nouns (i.e. Thomas, train, wheel), verbs (i.e. spinning, go, stop), and adjectives (i.e. fast, slow) – and make it meaningful by assuring that whatever words we’re producing are directly correlated with what’s happening.  In a way, we’re just narrating for our children.  And as long as their intentions and observations of their environment are aligned with the language that we’re providing them with – they will learn it.  And eventually, we help them progress by expanding on their play and the language models we provide them.  We show them that the “Thomas the Train” can go “under the bridge” and “over the bridge”, and can say “hello” to “Percy the Small Engine,” and request “help” when Thomas is “stuck” because the “tracks are broken” and “need to be fixed.”  However, we need to make sure that our children’s attention is also focused on and interested in our expansion of their play in order for the language to be meaningful and learnable. 

All in all, it’s important to know where our children are developmentally (i.e. single words versus three-word utterances versus conversational speech), and to dedicate some time each day to engage in play using language that is directly correlated with where they are developmentally, and to push the bar using language that’s just above their current threshold.  This is how we can teach and challenge our children to learn language and interact with us in a meaningful and fun way.

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