The tragedy of traditional education systems around the world is that the needs of an increasing number of kids are not being met. More and more kids are being left behind, and schools are no longer able or willing to foster the holistic development of all kids. However, all is not lost. A recent study suggests that the early learning environment you provide has a significant impact on your kid’s skill development and on later academic success.
The study was conducted by researchers from New York University who examined over 2, 000 families from different backgrounds. Their objective was to determine the extent to which the home environment influences kids’ pre-kindergarten school-related skills and later learning environment. Among the measures observed were general cognitive abilities, reading, math, and vocabulary.
The study came to the conclusion that early learning environments can help kids develop early cognitive and language skills that may later lead to academic success. They identified three key features of positive early learning environments: whether or not kids’ participated in learning activities, whether or not there were learning materials at home, and the quality of parent-child interactions.
Based on the study, the following tips can help you turn your home into a successful early learning center.
1 | Help your kid cultivate a reading culture
In a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington, 241 families were analyzed over a five year period. Each year, parents were asked to complete questionnaires about their kids reading and writing habits. Questions included how their kids’ feeling about reading and writing, the type of activities they engaged in at home, what the parents thought about their kid’s self-regulation skills (how they rated these skills), and whether or not they supported their kid’s learning at home and how. The study found that reading and writing at home had a positive long-term impact on kids ‘abilities to plan, organize, and complete tasks’ and provided kids with tools for lifetime success.
However, not all books are equal. There are things to keep in mind when choosing kids’ books. For instance, good books should captivate kids, teach them something new, and use age-appropriate language.
2 | Become a storyteller
Telling stories or reading stories has multiple benefits for kids. It helps strengthen the child-parent bond and can teach your kid new things. Educational philosophers such as Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that storytelling was a gift. He believed that making up stories helped kids develop their imagination skills. But if you’re not comfortable making up stories, read to your kid.
3 | Not all toys are created equal
Some toys can facilitate expression and learning and help your kid develop her cognitive skills. The right toys can help kids develop problem-solving skills, improve their vocabulary, lead to greater creativity, and increase their ability to notice fine details.
When it comes to kids’ toys, evidence now suggests that quality trumps quality. Taming the toys can help ignite creativity.
4 | Spark learning everywhere
When you engage your kid in learning activities at home, it becomes easier for him to incorporate even the most abstract concepts elsewhere. That said, engaging in learning activities at home doesn’t mean transforming your home into a formal learning center. Engaging your kid in playful interactive activities will help him learn while having fun at the same time. For instance, you can teach your kid about numbers by letting him help you bake (counting the number of eggs needed, weighing the flour) or learn about volume by letting him use different containers to weigh grains. Simply playing games like “I spy” can provide opportunities for your kid to learn.
When we encourage our kids to participate in age-appropriate tasks, we also provide them with important learning opportunities.
5 | Foster high-quality parent-child interactions
Creating high-quality interactions is one of the most important things you can do for your kid. This involves treating her as an individual, letting her know she is safe, and engaging her in meaningful conversations.
A high-quality parent-child interaction is also one in which kids’ are taught about their emotions and how to respond to their cues in appropriate ways. Teaching your kid about emotions using age-appropriate techniques and helping her learn to manage those emotions by herself can help her develop important self-regulation skills that she can use in childhood and beyond.
Developing high-quality parent-child interactions also means finding the time to spend with each of your kids. As with toys, quality trumps quantity. Spending all your free time with your kids is not what makes you a great parent. Remember that even short regular moments spent together go a long way in strengthening the parent-child bond.
An earlier version of this post appeared on the parent.com