To some extent, our kids will learn despite us. They are constantly observing, experimenting, and generally soaking up information about the world around them. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to be purposeful about encouraging their learning.
Beginning when my kids are old enough to interact and play, I help them learn the words to describe the world around them—the names of their toys and of household objects, ways of describing items (comparatively, numerically, or by attributes like color or shape). It’s not that I strap my kids into a booster and show them flashcards until they’ve got their facts memorized; to some extent, it’s not even conscious teaching, but rather a natural way of interacting with little ones.
As they get older, my role has become a bit more active, more purposeful. As my kids grow, I find myself intentionally helping them to develop in three areas: knowledge, skills, and values.
I want my kids to love learning. To that end, I try to encourage their curiosity and build on their interests. When I noticed my kids counting the pictures on our kitchen wall, I labeled each picture with a number to help them recognize numerals. When they ask a question, I answer as honestly and thoroughly as possible (while taking their age into account); if I don’t know the answer, I tell them so and take time to look it up. I search online for books that will help them expand knowledge of a current obsession (trains or how plumbing works, for example) and then check to see if my local library system has any of the likely candidates I’ve found. Most of the things I do cost no money, but they encourage my kids natural acquisition of knowledge and show them that I value their questions and interests.
I also want my kids to develop certain skills. At a most basic level, I want them to be independent—to learn how to dress themselves and use the bathroom alone, how to pour a drink and use the tools they’ll encounter in daily living. Some of those things are taught directly, through helping them get dressed (“Remember to pull the pants over your rear end or they’ll get stuck!”) and letting them cook with me. Some of this is taught indirectly, through toys and activities that help them develop coordination and motor skills.
But parenting isn’t just about helping your kids learn their colors or encouraging them to use a fork, it’s also about passing on your values, things like respecting people and property, being considerate and helpful. Those things are both harder and easier to teach. In large part, kids learn values by watching those around them; you know, “Actions speak louder than words.” The purposeful part here comes in considering how to model your values for your kids and ensuring that you do so regularly. Every family will have its own set of core values and ways of demonstrating those values.
As part of my personal goal-setting (see my previous post), I’m in the process of making myself a list of weekly parenting goals beginning in September, after my Summer of Insanity is over. I hope to increase my sense of fulfillment and encourage my kids’ learning through more purposeful parenting.