4 Reasons Kids Learn when they Play

“Play is the work of the child”
—Maria Montessori (Italian Physician & Educator)

children-463563_1920Generation after generation of children have played. This seems to tell us that play is an important part of healthy development.

An area of study called the science of learning is showing that there is more to play than meets the eye. When children play they are engaging in activities which help them to make sense of the world around them, and how to learn how to learn. And learning occurs best when children are mentally active, engaged, socially interactive, and building meaningful connections to their lives.

1. Play is Mentally Active

Children explore their world with their five senses. Rarely do children stop to think about what they are going to touch and then touch it. They launch forward—touching, hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting—and then they think about what they have discovered.

2. Play is Engaging

It would be difficult to find playing children who are bored. Engagement is the very essence of play. Children are naturally curious and excited to learn new things, and play is the way they make sense of their world.

3. Play is Socially Interactive

Play helps children practice their skills for getting along with others and learn how to make friends. Imagination allows children to pretend to be bold superheros or parents, while still feeling safe. When parents remember how to play, they become part of their children’s play space and are then welcome to share their play world.

4. Play Builds Meaningful Connections

Our Literacy Links workshops place the focus on play, making connections in the world of the children and their parents. One little fellow exclaimed that the volcano he made was “erupting.” His dad was surprised at such a big word until the little boy reminded him that it was in the dinosaur book that they read together every night. Another mom commented that she already had everything at home that she needed to play the “Build a Robot” game with her little guy, to help him learn his numbers.

If you are interested in hosting or attending a Literacy Links workshop, check the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information!

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”
—O. Fred Donaldson

 

 

Meaningful Mess

Child PaintingSpring. Get ready for puddles, mud, and messes! Thinking of a nice, clean house getting covered in puddles and grit, and having to start cleaning all over again sends shivers down my spine. And what about the extra time it will take to bathe the kids and clean their clothes and shoes, with all the other errands we need to run. Just remember, it really is worth it!

As adults, we often forget the joys of playing in dirt and mud or just getting messy; of throwing away paint brushes and getting our hands dirty instead; of changing out of our good shoes and clothes and exploring without the concern of staying clean. We forget that the learning that happens during this kind of play outweighs the need to keep things tidy and orderly.

Children are messy by nature. It is critical to children’s development to be allowed to explore, and interact with, their world. Sometimes this means that we, as parents, need to take a deep breath and say “sure, you can play in the mud!” By allowing our children to get messy, we are fostering growth in all areas of their development. Messy play encompasses, but is not limited to:

  • Physical development: hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills
  • Emotional and social development: self-confidence and self-esteem, respect for themselves and others; can be an outlet for feelings, experiences, and thoughts
  • Intellectual development: problem solving, concentration, planning, grouping, matching, prediction, observation, and evaluation

Spring is the perfect time to allow our children to be messy while exploring the outside world. The weather is warming up, snow is melting, and all sorts of new life is happening. Being messy doesn’t mean allowing our children to run wild though. It is important that they are still dressed appropriately for outside weather, and monitored and guided through safe play. Here is a list of activities to do outside the house:

  • Playing in puddles: allow your children to explore puddles in the spring. See how high they can make the water splash as they jump in it. Can they make a boat that floats or float other objects in the puddle?
  • Mud pies: exploring mud is a great way to get creativity going. What can we create with the mud (castles, pies, pretend food)? What objects can we add to the mud (i.e. rocks, twigs, leaves, etc.)? What happens if we add more water? If we add more dirt?
  • Sidewalk chalk paint: take your cornstarch and water mixture outside! Add a few drops of food colouring and you have sidewalk chalk; the best part is no paint in the house!

Messy play isn’t only for outside, and can be done any time of year inside. Below is a list of fun, educational, and most importantly, messy activities to do inside with your children:

  • Shaving cream dough: try hand mixing equal parts of shaving cream and cornstarch together to make dough. Keep mixing, as it can take a while for the cornstarch to mix with the shaving cream
  • Cornstarch and water: see what happens when you mix cornstarch and water. This activity is a great way to explore ratios (how much of each ingredient to mix) and textures, and learn problem solving skills
  • Finger painting: learn all about colours and how to mix and match new ones, develop fine motor skills, language, and thinking skills

Remember that it is important for you to be messy too. Don’t forget to join in the fun and get your hands dirty! We, as adults, might be surprised by how much we can still learn from messy play, and there is nothing better than creating memories with your children.  They will remember the fun you all had long after you forget how messy everything was.

If you would like to learn more about your children’s early learning and how to support literacy development, you might enjoy one of our family literacy programs. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information.

Tips for Keeping Family Game Night Fun!

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Have you ever pictured yourself playing a game with your family just like in a board game advertisement? It looks like so much fun, right? And each game you see on a store shelf would surely provide your home with hours of entertainment! So you carefully pick out the perfect game and bring it home to your children with such high expectations of fun.

As you open up the game, with eager hands reaching for all of the pieces, you hear yourself say, “wait, wait, wait.” You groan as you realize there is assembly required. After you put it all together (if your children are still interested) you say, “wait, let me read the rules!”

Not quite the experience you imagined in the store when you saw the picture on the box. Older children want to follow the rules, or bend them. Younger children make up their own rules and frustrate the older children. Parents wonder what on earth they were thinking when they bought the game, and perhaps the game gets thrown back in the box and put in the closet for another time, when the kids are “older” and “more mature” and have “longer attention spans.” Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Don’t despair, and don’t give up!

Playing games with young children is an excellent way for them to learn literacy and numeracy concepts. And don’t forget the important social skills learned in playing a game: taking turns, playing fair (no cheating), feeling disappointment at losing and excitement at winning.

If you start with the expectation for the experience to be just as advertised, you may be disappointed. Learning how to play a game takes time and small steps. There are often tears of frustration (from both the adults and the children) when things aren’t going as planned. Keep in mind the more often children play a game, the better they will get at it. Not just playing it, but understanding it as well.

Many games can be easily made at home for very little cost. With some paper, markers, scissors, dice, and maybe a homemade spinner, you can easily make your own “board games.” Keep the rules simple, it doesn’t even have to make sense. With younger children, focus on taking turns. It might not be important to focus on where their game piece sits or how they move their piece. Try teaching one concept at a time. If you add silly rules that incorporate large body movements to your game, you may be able to hold their attention for longer. For instance, “each time a player rolls a 4 they have to stand up and do 4 jumping jacks.”

Memory matching games can be made very easily at home using paper, recycled bottle lids, stickers, or even an old deck of cards. With younger children, start out by using only 4 pairs to match. As they get better at the game, increase the difficulty by adding more matching pairs.

Dice and cards are terrific tools for numeracy skills and the games you can play are endless!

The benefits of making your own games include:

  • They cost very little, using materials you may already have at home or things you can buy at a dollar store
  • You can personalize a game to your children’s interests. If they love dinosaurs, you can use dinosaur stickers, or print pictures from the internet to make puzzles or memory games. If they love turtles, you can make a board game in the shape of a turtle shell and have the pieces move slowly around to the finish
  • If a game is not a hit, you can easily discard it and try a different one. Or save it for another time when your children are older and perhaps have more interest
  • You can make a new game each month by just changing it up slightly, maybe changing the characters to one of your children’s favourite books. This keeps it new and exciting for you both
  • Making games at home also becomes a family activity. As your children get older they can assist in the assembly or creation of new games to play. Older children can do some research on games from around the world and pick out favourite concepts to make their own version

At the end of the day, through the trials and tears of teaching children how to enjoy a game and be a good sport, you are also teaching them so much more, and these skills are ones that they will need for a lifetime of success! So bring back the family game night, even if it only lasts 20 minutes to start. Someday you’ll enjoy a games night with much older children, and you will at long last feel all of the work and effort was worth it.

 

 

 

Literacy Links

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Picture this, tables set around the room covered with all kinds of interesting materials, inquisitive preschoolers pulling their parent toward a table to check out all the amazing set ups. You have just entered a “The Scientist in Us All” workshop—just one of the many offered through the Centre for Family Literacy’s Literacy Links program. For the next hour or so the children lead their parents through a series of activities and experiments that amaze, amuse—and sometimes even make them believe in magic!

Children learn through play and explore their world by touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling—in other words by using their senses. They question everything, wanting to know how come? Why does? What if? A workshop like this allows parents to learn the value of following their children’s lead, to explore with them and to answer their questions. The parents may even have some questions of their own! The workshop also helps parents remember how to get into the play space, and why it is so important to connect play with their children’s learning.

Mingle about the room and you will hear chatter about exploding volcanoes, dancing spaghetti, magic flowers, and making a rainbow of colours. One dad wonders where his three-year-old learned a word like erupting, until his son points out that it is in his dinosaur book that they read almost every night. A mom is astonished when her little one, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty, plunges wrist deep into a bowl of Goop in search of hidden treasure. A parent is amazed at her little guy as he sits still watching ever so patiently, waiting to see if a piece of spaghetti will make it to the surface before the raisin.

You may hear a facilitator explaining more about the science behind the activities, or modelling to the parents about how to ask their children questions to get more than a yes or no answer (to enhance their language skills). The facilitators will also provide parents with information about where they can find more experiments to do at home—with items they already have around the house.

100_0797.JPG  Lit-Links

The room is rarely silent—there is plenty of laughter, questions, and learning happening. And as the families leave the workshop with their activities booklet in hand, you might hear things like “that was so much fun,” “can we do this again at home?” or even “can we come here again?”

If you would like more information about this workshop or the many others offered through the Literacy Links program, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: www.famlit.ca

Learn Together – Grow Together – Be Active Together

dscn0556-2Learn Together Grow Together is a 10-week program for parents with children  3 to 5 years old. We focus on early learning and literacy, and help the parents to recognize their own importance as first teacher of their children.

An important component of the program is taking the families to the gym (or outside if the weather permits) to play games and to try different activities. From the outside looking in, it may just seem that the time spent in the gym is for the children to burn off some energy. Although there is truth to that, gym time provides learning opportunities for both the parents and the children.

Learning opportunities for parents:

  • Trying new games such as “Tag”, “What Time is it Mr. Wolf”, or “Go, Go, Stop” which don’t require money to buy equipment
  • Opportunities to use different types of equipment that they may not have used before, like scooters or a parachute
  • Exposing their children to new or different action words and vocabulary
  • Interacting with their children in new ways
  • Strengthening the bond they have with their children
  • Socializing with other parents and learning from each other

Learning opportunities for children:

  • Building new coordination and fine motor skills
  • Following directions from the teachers as well as their parents
  • Being exposed to new or different action words and vocabulary
  • Interacting and socializing with others
  • Sharing equipment with others
  • Learning responsibility by cleaning up

These are just a few of the many learning opportunities that both parents and their children may have while playing in the gym together – I’m sure there are many more! So in addition to providing exercise and promoting a healthy lifestyle for your family, kicking a ball around outside or playing tag in a gym together is providing learning opportunities for both of you!

Our first session of Learn Together – Grow Together starts on Thursday November 17, 2016. For more information about the program, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website; to register call Linda at (780) 944-2001 extension 5116. We look forward to learning and growing together with you and your children!

Early Writing Skills

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Learn Together – Grow Together is one of our family literacy programs for parents and caregivers and their children ages 3-5 years old. The program encompasses a variety of activities that range from sharing stories and rhymes, to gym time, free play, crafts and games. Parents learn ways to help their children in the early stages of reading and writing.

During one of our parent-time sessions, we discuss the beginning stages of writing. Children are not born knowing how to hold a pencil or even what to do with it. This is a skill that must be taught and modelled by parents. From an early age, children are eager to use their hands to grab things. Allow your little ones to use crayons or markers, for example, to scribble on a piece of paper. The scribbles may not mean much to you, but they are the beginnings of letter and word formation, as well as fine motor skill practice.

Often I hear from parents that their children don’t want to sit down and work on their writing skills. So at Learn Together – Grow Together, I always have examples of new and fun ways to practice writing. Here are a few:

  • use sidewalk chalk
  • use just your finger and write in the sand or snow
  • cut up numbers and letters made of sandpaper, and use your finger to trace them
  • in the bathtub or outside, write with shaving cream, or write on a big glob of it
  • put acrylic paint in a Ziploc bag and tape the top, then practice writing on the bag with just your finger
  • tape a long piece of ribbon to a pencil or stick and practice making letters in the air by waving your wand
  • paint letters and numbers on large blank sheets of plain paper

Can you think of more fun ideas to add to the list?

It is also important for your children to see you modelling your writing skills. For example, if you are making a grocery list, or printing an address onto a piece of mail, ask your children to take part in the activity. Or let them watch you fill out forms and documents. As you show your children these skills, they will begin to understand that written print has meaning and that it is an important skill to have.

One of the tip sheets available for free download on the Centre for Family Literacy website is titled “Signs of Reading and Writing Development in Young Children.” It is on side 2 of the “Tips for Sharing Books” pdf. Here is the link to the webpage.

www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_p.shtml

If you are interested in the fall session of Learn Together – Grow Together in Edmonton, please give us a call at 780-421-7323 for more information. Have fun learning and growing together with your children!

6 Benefits of Hands-on Learning

Hands-onA statement that you will hear again and again at the Centre for Family Literacy programs is, “Literacy develops in families first.” Parents are their children’s first, and best, teachers. Yes, that’s right, the best. Who knows your children better than you? Who loves your children better than you? Who has more patience, more desire to see success, more invested in your children’s future, than you.

Literacy skills are learned together. Whether it is through teaching your children the basic building blocks of communication, or learning how to be better skilled at teaching your children, you are all a part of the learning process. Siblings can learn from each other, and as we grow as parents we learn as much from our children as they do from us. Our parents and grandparents have much to offer as well. Experiencing life with a hands-on approach is more than just beneficial for the children—it is fun for everyone and creates long-lasting memories; it strengthens bonds that will benefit the family for many years to come.

Hands-on learning is gained by actually doing something rather than learning about it from books or demonstrations, etc.

The following are some of the benefits of hands-on learning as a family:

1.  Fun

Children love being hands-on with everything, and a lot of parents do too! Hands-on activities increase our motivation to “discover.” Your children will be more enthusiastic and pay more attention to their activities. Learning becomes a by-product of discovery. Hands-on learning works because it involves each of the learning styles: visual (see it), auditory (hear it), or kinesthetic (do it). Young children typically do not have a preference and benefit from using methods from each style.

2.  Creativity

Working on a project is the perfect opportunity to highlight your children’s creative skills. Offer some guidance and a lot of raw materials, and let your children be free to create an original product that reflects their own ideas of the theme or concept being explored.

Warning to parents: be careful not to diminish the creative aspect of hands-on learning by over planning, over managing, or by unrealistic expectations. The finished product needs to be your children’s and not your own. For example, if they want, let them use their own drawings instead of the lovely colour images you printed from the Internet. The learning is in the process of creativity; do not place importance on the final product.

One key element of discovering one’s creativity is boredom. Some of the most brilliant ideas have come from people who had the time to experience boredom, which led to discovering their own creativity. Allowing children to be “bored” and not having to direct them to be creative will have larger benefits in the long run!

3.  Retention

It has been proven through educational research that students will have a vivid and lasting understanding of what they DO much more than what they only hear or see. Make sure that your project/activity can tie into the idea/book/concept you are presenting. As you are creating, use rich language to remind your children WHY you are doing this activity. The project gives them a concrete, visible foundation for learning the abstract concepts you want them to learn. (Which again reminds us why the process is more important than the final product.)

4.  Accomplishment

Persevering through a project and seeing it to completion gives your children a great sense of accomplishment. Seeing your children’s pride in a job well done is worth the trouble of organizing and cleaning up a hands-on project.

5. Review

This one is wonderfully tied to the sense of accomplishment. Your children will love to look at their hands-on projects again and again. By doing so, they are reviewing what they learned! When a relative or friend comes to visit and your son pulls out his model ship, he again reviews what he learned. This review fosters memory retention!

6.  Family Literacy

Your children can work together on a hands-on project, but if you have only one child you can work together. This cooperation, this working together, is what being a family is. Doing hands-on projects, whether you’re making puzzles, building games or forts, or creating a craft, creates family memories and strong relationships; it creates your own family language of shared experiences and discovery.

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

If you would like information on our family literacy programs, please visit our website at www.famlit.ca

 

 

Sharing Stories vs. Reading Stories

Fam_Lit044Here at the Centre for Family Literacy we like to talk about sharing books with children as opposed to just reading books to them.

When you are sharing a book, as opposed to reading it, it becomes interactive. It becomes much more than just reading the words on the page. Two ways to do this are:

  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What are they doing in this picture?” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” This encourages children to stop and think about what is on the page, to make connections to real life, and to really step inside the story.
  • Find ways to extend the story.

What does it mean to extend a story?

To extend a story is to build on it—to add activities that are related to the subject of the story. But why should we extend stories?

Children learn best by doing—by being active. When they’re being active they are using all five senses to learn, and these multi-sensory experiences build neural connections in the brain. If they are having fun, they will want to do it again and again, and this repetition makes the connections even stronger. This is how children gain the confidence needed to learn new things.

Simple summertime story extender

one dog canoeA great book to share in the summer is one of our favourites, One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova.

In One-Dog Canoe, a girl and her dog set out on a canoe trip, just the two of them, when one by one they are approached by other creatures like Loon, Wolf and Moose, who want to join in on the fun.

I set off one morning in my little red canoe.
My dog wagged his tail.
“Can I come, too??
“You bet, I said.
“A trip for two – just me and you?”

It doesn’t take long before this canoe trip becomes a little more crowded!

“I swished past ferns,
where dragonflies flew.
Loon stretched her wings, “Can I come too?”

What you’ll need:

  • The book One-Dog Canoe
  • Stuffed animals or toys to match the characters: Beaver, Loon, Wolf, Bear, Moose, Frog, Dog, and Girl
  • A “canoe” made with construction paper or bark

(You can always improvise using what you have on hand.)

Give each child a character to hold on to (or multiple characters), and as each character comes up in the story, the child holding that character places it in the canoe. At the end of the story, there are too many animals in the canoe and it tips over, so act this out too by dumping out your canoe!

After the story we like to pair it with a song. Rhymes and songs are critical for developing oral language, and oral language is at the root of all future learning.

Try singing “Row Your Boat”

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Row, row, row your boat,
Down a jungle stream.
If you see a crocodile,
Don’t forget to scream.
Ahh!

Row, row, row your boat,
Underneath a stream,
Ha, ha, fooled you,
I’m a submarine!
Bing!

Other ideas:

  • Act out the story using a big box, couch, or outdoor picnic table for the canoe
  • Bring a make-belief canoe into the bathtub
    • Experiment with what floats and what sinks
    • Ask “how many items will fit in your canoe before it tips over?”

Have fun sharing stories! For more ideas on how to make the most of your books, check out Flit, our family literacy app on the iTunes App store here!

 

Letting Your Child Lead

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At Learn Together Grow Together, we have been talking about learning through play. It is amazing to observe any child as they play! Everything is new and exciting and they want to soak up every experience they can. A lot of skills are being developed as your child plays: physical, fine motor, cognitive, language, and social skills.

As a parent, it is important that you take the time to play and interact with your child, to help them develop these skills. As your child continues to grow, you will find they develop their own likes and dislikes. Recognizing the interests of your child can be of great benefit to you both.

For example, you may notice that your child would rather pick the dandelions in the grass than kick a ball around. Or maybe your child wants to just play with their blocks, while you are trying to do a craft with them. Perhaps your child would rather read a cartoon strip in the newspaper than read a storybook.

In any of these situations, there is an opportunity to learn something new. As a parent, it may not be what you would like to do, but it is important to follow your child’s lead and recognize what they are interested in doing.

As a parent you know that you have your own likes and dislikes; there are activities you enjoy more than others. So guaranteed it will be the same for your child! Take the time to observe what your child’s interests are and engage with them in those activities. Have fun with them! By doing so, you will be creating positive learning experiences for your child. We all learn more when we are interested; build on the strengths you see in your child everyday and I’m sure their love of learning will continue for years to come.

Check the Centre for Family Literacy website for more about Learn Together – Grow Together

 

Bathtub Fun on the C.O.W. Bus!

Waves in the Bathtub

A popular read on the Edmonton C.O.W. Bus is Waves in the Bathtub by Eugenie Fernandes. In this story, Kady takes her regular bath at night and sings the bathtub song about all of the ocean creatures she pretends are in the tub with her. From pelicans to large whales, Kady imagines many different creatures.

To extend this story and involve the children on another level, we have stuffed toys of all the creatures she pretends are in the bath with her. We use an inexpensive blue shower curtain as the ocean. This way each child can grab hold of the ocean by the edges and help make the waves in the bathtub for Kady.

As we progress through the story, each creature is eventually put into the ocean to swim in the waves with her. Both the children and the adults pick up the tune fairly quickly as it is catchy and repetitive.

A parent can have their own conversation with their children about what creatures they would like to pretend to swim with in the the ocean. Maybe the children are huge fans of the Ogopogo or sea horses. The song and story can be created entirely by children using their own imaginations and the props they may already have at home.

And with the mom in the book hopping into the bath at the end of the story and singing the same song, parents can create their personal version too!

Get the tune for the song from the following video, and see how we use it on the bus.

 

Why not join us for some fun on the Edmonton C.O.W. bus! Here’s our schedule