Are you keen to make early childhood learning fun, but aren’t quite sure where to start? We catch up with one family who’ve done just that and hear how they ensured learning was always fun in the early years.
Maria and Chris have two children, now aged five and seven years old. “I was aware of the importance of early learning, as I studied psychology at university and was well aware of how vital the early years are, especially from 0-5,” explains Maria. “They also fly past and children grow up so quickly, so I wanted to spend as much time as possible with the children when they were young. Luckily, I was able to give up work and we were able to survive okay on just one wage, from my husband’s work.”
Maria primarily looked after the children at home on her own, occasionally getting help from friends or family to share the load. “We aimed to incorporate some degree of learning into every day – not hard work, but fun things that the children would enjoy. We started using flashcards with our first child, when he was still a baby. They were from Mothercare, with a simple picture of an animal or object on, followed by the actual word spelt out underneath. I tried to use them almost every day, showing the card, and repeating the name of the object or animal.
“Over time, I then added extra guessing elements to the game, to see if my son was able to remember which was the dog or which was the horse. In the beginning, he often pointed to the wrong card, but his memory gradually improved. Flashcards are great, as you can make up other games as you go along. For example, we also play a memory game, where all the cards are face down on a table and you have to remember where things and make pairs. Also, if there are tricky words they can’t get to grips with or animals they can never remember the names of, then the individual cards and be stuck to the fridge or on a cupboard door to jog their memory and make them more familiar.”
In addition to using flashcards for words and objects, Maria says she’s also used them for number games too, which helped her children begin to learn the different numbers and how to add them up or subtract them.
Other Learning Adventures
One of the benefits of early learning is that it doesn’t need to exclusively take place at home or indoors. “Children get to learn all kinds of things when you play outside, visit new places and are out and about together,” explains Maria. “I made sure I regularly took the kids out and about in the pushchair. A regular haunt was the local park, where they liked to feed the ducks and play on the swings, but they also came shopping with me, so they could learn about buying food and the need to use money.
“Seeing how money was spent on items helped them in their learning and it was evident in their play activities, for example when playing at being a shop owner or a shopper in the supermarket.”
Another way in which her children learnt, especially from a young age, was by attending various mother and baby groups. “I found out about several mother and baby learning groups in our area and attended regularly with both children. We did Sing and Sign, learning songs and simple baby sign language for communication, sensory play, where they got to play on their own or with other children for half an hour, and went to a storytime group held at the local library, where books were read aloud to groups of children.”
“Although I don’t advocate going to groups non-stop, as babies need some time to play on their own too, it’s definitely good for them to interact with other people and helps their learning on several wavelengths. Our two have both grown up enjoying learning new things and having new adventures. We hope to continue making learning fun and enjoyable, and not a chore, for as long as possible.”