School Before Age 3

We started “formally” homeschooling a few months before my son hit his third birthday! I heard some criticism about starting him too young. Of course, no one would criticize starting preschool at that age.

If you were to ask when I started teaching the Champ, I would reply “at birth.” Children are always learning. And, while worksheets and textbooks are not necessary at a young age, you can teach your child a lot through play.

So, how do you “School” before the age of three?

Count Everything

When I changed the Champ’s diapers as a newborn, I counted the buttons on his pajama’s. Count everyday objects such as toys, place settings at the dinner table, or ducks at the park. When the Coach would swing the Champ on our porch, he would hold the swing and count “1, 2, 3…” before letting the swing go. The Champ was proudly imitating him within weeks.

Read Everything

It is never too early to read to your child. You can introduce books to your baby from the moment he arrives, and babies love to hear their parent’s voices. As your child gets older, you can point out words on buildings, signs, and brochures.

Sing and Dance

Gross motor skills are important to learn. Dancing is a great way for your child to learn how to control his body. Children’s songs are another way to introduce vocabulary and language skills.

Create a Literature Rich Environment

Make sure there are letters and words everywhere around your child. Have children’s books readily available. Hang up letter activities they created in the hallway or their room. Hang up an alphabet chart, calendar, or number chart next to the dinner table so they can ask questions while you are eating.

Go to Activities

Mommy and me classes are great if you can afford them. Many of these classes work on gross motor skills and social skills. If there are none in your area, or you don’t want to pay for them, start a mom’s group or set up play dates.  Story time at the library is a great opportunity for your child to work on social behaviors and be introduced to new books. Some libraries even offer puppet shows and craft time.

Creative Play

Playing dress up, toy cookware, toy tools, and other pretend toys are great ways for your child to learn about the world around them. Creative art such as drawing, coloring, painting, and playing with play dough is great for working on fine motor development. Sensory boxes can also help your child work on fine motor skills.

Cook and Clean Together

Assist your child as they work on skills such as pouring and mixing when you are working in the kitchen. Let them help you put clothes in the dryer and fold washcloths when you are folding towels. You can also let them think they are helping. Give them a miniature dust pan and broom while you are cleaning or fill the sink with water and let them “wash” a few dishes. They will slow you down, and they will make a mess. But they are learning and will actually be helping you one day.

Create Independence Learning Opportunities

As soon as your child can dump out a box of toys, you can begin to work on independence skills. Chores such as cleaning up toys, taking clothes to the laundry basket, cleaning up water spills with a towel, and taking dishes to the sink can all be introduced to two year olds. Other skills such as getting dressed, washing hands, and taking off shoes can also be introduced. Do not expect these skills to be mastered, but simply allow your child to have the opportunity to work on them.

Advertisements

Bedtime Routines

Studies* have shown that a consistent bedtime routine is associated with better sleeping habits in young children.

We have found it best to create a bedtime routine that we can recreate when we are traveling. It is also important for us to have a routine that we can “modify” when we are running late.

Our typical bedtime routine for the Champ (age 3) is as follows:

  • He takes his clothes to the dirty clothes basket.
  • He goes to the big boy potty.
  • We check the refrigerator for checkmarks and get spankings if we have any (this is our current discipline method).
  • The Champ cleans up his room
  • We give the Champ his daily “allowance” (three coins) to keep or put in a jar to donate
  • The Champ takes his vitamins and brushes his teeth.
  • We read our Bible story.
  • We have “brother time.” (We place the Rookie in the Champ’s bed so they can have a moment to bond).
  • We read a short story out loud and if time allows, the Champ tells the plot of the story to the Coach.
  • We say our prayers.
  • I tell the Champ goodnight and leave the room with the Rookie.
  • The Coach prays over the Champ and tells him goodnight.

On a typical night, this routine takes 20 minutes. When we need a shorter routine we will help the Champ clean his room, do a shorter period of “brother time,” and read a shorter story.

What does your bedtime routine look like?

*For further reading: Mindell JA, Li AM, Sadeh A, Kwon R, Goh DY. Bedtime routines for young children: a dose-dependent association with sleep outcomes. SLEEP 2015;38(5):717–722.

Rainy Day T.V. Alternatives

It is a rainy day and you just don’t feel like leaving the house. You don’t want to put on ANOTHER television episode and you keep hearing choruses of “Mommy! Play with me! I’m Bored!”

Here is a list of eleven types of activities to entertain your toddler (and most are so minimal effort on your part that you can do them when you are sick, tired, or pregnant)!

Sensory Boxes

I admit that I have minimized the use of sensory boxes with the Champ because he loves to make a mess, but these are great for indoor learning. Add a “base” such as rice, pasta, oats, flour, beans, sand, or cotton. Then add small toys and objects to match your box “theme” (ex. Toy animals for a farm theme, toy bugs for a bug theme, shells for a beach theme , toy dinosaurs and rocks for an archaeologist theme). Spoons, small shovels, small measuring cups, and tongs are great for kids to use to play with the box.

Busy Bags

Busy bags are activities that are stored in a bag for ready to go learning and fun. They are more portable than sensory boxes, and are usually less messy. Most of the Free Printables that I offer on Tuesdays are perfect to put in a Ziploc bag and offer as a busy bag. You can also search “Busy Bag Ideas” on Pinterest.

Board Games

Kids love playing games with their parents. Some of our favorite games for young kids are Don’t Spill the Beans, Cootie, Zingo, and Candy Land.

Arts and Crafts

Painting, coloring, playing with play dough, stringing beads, or tearing up paper and gluing it into shapes are all great free form art activities. Craft projects are also great for rainy days.

Flashcard Relay

Grab any set of flashcards and create your own active game. For word cards, I will ask the Champ to identify the object on the flashcard. If he gets it right, he can race a lap around the room. For our color concept cards, he has to find something in the room that matches the color on the card. With number concept cards, I will ask him to clap or hop the number of times shown on the card.

Indoor Bowling

Grab a ball and any set of objects that can serve as bowling pins. You can use blocks, pvc pipes, toy animals, etc. Or buy a plastic indoor bowling set. I love this game because I can sit in one spot with the Rookie while the Champ sets up the pins. The Rookie can even “bowl” with his big brother.

Blocks and Other Creative Toys

Mega Blocks, Duplo Blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, or Kindergarten blocks are all great for building. You can also play with other creative toys, such as toy tool sets, kitchen sets, trains, or dress up sets.

Books

Rainy days are a great time to cuddle up on the couch with a great book. To make reading even more fun for your child, build a fort out of sheets and read in your secret hide away.

The Number Game

We love playing the Number Game to get our wiggles out. I call out a number and an action (e.g. Flap your arms 8 times). The Champ then performs the task. Other action examples include: run a lap around the room, hop like a frog, spin around, pat your back, give mom a kiss/hug, clap, pat your head, touch your toes, etc.

Create a Story

Make up your own story. We take turns saying a sentence until we are giggling over our silly creation. Bonus points if you dress up and act out a play.

Dance Party

When all else fails, turn on some tunes and have a dance party!

Distracted Parenting

If you have been to the playground, you know “that kid.” He is the one running around wild and crazy while his parent is on the cell phone or talking to the mommy group completely oblivious. Or, perhaps at times, you have been “that parent.”

I know there have been times that I get lost in conversation with a friend, only to find out that my son decided stick fighting with a baby would be a good idea. Even at home, I hear shouts of “play with me” or “look at me, Mommy.”

Unintentional childhood injuries are up 10% from 2007 to 2012 according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Most likely, this increase is due to the increased disengagement of parents due to cell phone usage.

However, distracted parenting has been around long before the days of media. We can get engrossed in even seemingly good things, such as reading books, crocheting a blanket, talking to a friend, filling out paperwork at the doctor’s office, or playing with another child.

It is important to note that we cannot always give our children our full attention. But, we do need to be intentional with our time with our kids. Here are a few strategies to employ with your use of media.

Be a Role Model

Kids learn from us. Model the media behavior that you would like to see in your child. Choose high-quality content and set limits on your use of media. By having these boundaries in place, you will be more engaged with your child and both of you will have less “screen time.”

Use Media Together

Engage in media usage with your kids. Pick out a good family film and discuss the central themes and characters afterwards. Play a game with your child and discuss the strategy behind it. Check out the “Families can talk about…” section on Common Sense Media for conversation ideas.

Put Down the Phone

Play with your kids without a screen! Go outside and kick or throw a ball around. Throw on some music and have a dance party. Pull out a board game. Read a book to your child. The most important thing you can do for your kids is to spend some quality time with them every day.

Let Them Talk and LISTEN

Give each of your children a few special minutes each day to talk one-on-one with you. This can be over breakfast, before bedtime, or any other moment during the day. I like to lay with the Champ on the floor and talk about his day while looking up at the ceiling. Most of the time, our talks are about “nothing much,” but they are important to his self-confidence.

Screen Time and the Young Child

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids take in an average of SEVEN hours of media time a day!

At the same time, the AAP advises that children and teens should only engage in one to two hours of “high-quality content” entertainment media per day. Furthermore, children under two should not engage in television or other forms of entertainment media at all because of their rapidly developing brain.

These guidelines come from scientific research, showing that “excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.”

We are living in a world where young children are getting their own smartphones, restaurants are placing gaming devices on tables, and daycare centers and schools use television as a part of routine instructional time. Avoiding entertainment media is impossible, and also not recommended. Instead, parents should establish clear boundaries on screen time for their children.

Setting time limits on media usage is a great place to start; however, quality is just as critical as quantity when it comes to screen time.  So, what is “high-quality?” A “high-quality” form of entertainment media emulates real-world social interactions, introduces educational concepts, and/or requires active participation on the part of the viewer.

Beware of some so-called educational games that are not considered “high-quality” because they are passive in nature and do not involve any engagement on your child’s part.  Some “non-educational” games, such as role playing games, encourage creativity and may be preferable to mindless entertainment such as Candy Crush. Facetime with Grandma can be considered quality media time because it emulates a real world social interaction.

This is not to say that the occasional mind numbing game should not be allowed. Just as you should try to get your child to choose healthier food options, you should try to get your child to choose higher quality entertainment when possible.

When it comes to choosing appropriate media, I ADORE Common Sense Media reviews. Their movie reviews analyze content based on positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs & smoking. They review app content based on ease of play, violence & scariness, sexy stuff, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs, & smoking. Each category is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 and includes an in depth analysis of each category. There is even a section called “Families can talk about…” for each review that allows parents to make the most of media time.

When engaging in media with your child, make sure to have a dialogue with them about the media. Talk about central themes, characters, and scenarios from movies and television shows. Discuss strategies and educational content from apps and games. By taking an active part in your child’s media usage, you are extending the educational value of their screen time.

The Defiant Child

My three year old son, the Champ, is wild. Every morning he gets up around six thirty and he does not stop talking until eight o’clock in the evening. His brother is only three months old, so I am his only playmate. It is exhausting.

Over the last several months, he has become incredibly defiant. We have tried time-outs, rewards for good behavior, taking away toys, and spanking. Nothing seems to work.

One night, I decided to try something totally different. Before the Champ went to bed, I sent the rest of the family elsewhere and I got down on the floor with him and started to ask him about his day. We chatted for less than five minutes and when we were done I scooped him up, looked him directly in the eyes, and I told him that he was special to me.

After he went to sleep that night, I realized that I rarely take the time to listen to him. I talk to him all day long but I assume that because of his age, he does not have anything important to say.

Listening to my little boy talk about the “ice cream breathing dragons” in his room may have been a tad bit boring for my grown up mind, but it made him feel as if what he had to say was important.  It made a huge difference in his behavior the next day.

I won’t say that he was perfect, but it was a start.

How do you take the time to show your child that he is a valued part of the family?