Learning through play every day

Learning through play every day
Children who play and interact with the people around them (parents, friends, educators, etc.), stimulate every aspect of their development

Children who play and interact with the people around them (parents, friends, educators, etc.), stimulate every aspect of their development (motor, emotional, social, intellectual, language). This overall development of the child is what will prepare him for kindergarten and, eventually, for school.

“When we realize that, before age five, children learn through play and are not developmentally ready to process complex and abstract mental operations without exploring and manipulating, we understand that they aren’t ready to sit down with a workbook. On the other hand, if we feed and capture their curiosity and interest through play, they can acquire the skills they need to be ready for school,” explains Caroline Bouchard.

When you shake a rattle over your baby’s head, you’re already introducing him to several concepts: sound, space, movement, colour. The major areas of your baby’s development are activated from the very first day.

The importance of doing things as a family is increasingly being recognized as a way to foster a child’s overall development in preparation for school. “A mother who tidies up her child’s room with him teaches him to organize objects by category. A father who bakes a cake with his child teaches him notions of quantity. There are myriad daily opportunities to teach your child a variety of concepts,” says Gilles Cantin, a professor at Université du Québec à Montréal in the Department of Education and Pedagogy.

In the same way, grocery shopping can be another valuable learning opportunity for your child, as long as you let him participate. “If you put a gaming device in his hands so that he stays quiet at the supermarket, he’ll have less opportunity to learn than if you go through your grocery list with him, get him involved in choosing food from various categories (sweet and salty, fruits and vegetables), talk about prices (more expensive, less expensive), and ask him to put the items into the cart, etc. If he’s staring at a screen the whole time, he won’t be sharing or interacting at all,” explains Cantin.

Surprising findings from recent studies in fact reveal that five-year-olds today have a harder time applying various important learning skills (staying focused on a task, work memory, cognitive flexibility) than prior generations. “According to American researcher Deborah Leong, this may be because children have fewer opportunities for shared activities, especially with adults,” says Cantin.

10 games to introduce your child to numbers and letters

Around age 2
  • When you read a book together, follow each word with your finger. This simple movement will teach your child several things at the same time: the story is written (it’s not invented!), each letter has a sound, and we read from left to right.
  • Have fun drawing Xs and Os with a crayon.
  • Have fun counting and measuring body parts: toes, fingers, forearms, the circumference of your child’s head and waist, and then comparing them with your own.
Around age 3
  • Play with Russian nesting dolls or a measuring cup set to explain different sizes: from biggest to smallest.
  • Have your child explore the letters of his first name and take advantage of any opportunity to notice them (on the road, in newspapers, etc.).
Around age 4
  • Place several glasses on the table and fill a pitcher of water to explain addition, division, halves, etc. “All these glasses of water make up this pitcher, but we can also divide it in two, in three, in four.”
  • While eating breakfast cereals, your child can learn the concepts of addition and subtraction. “I have 5 pieces of cereal. If I eat one, I’m left with… 4!” And so on.
  • Give him a wooden puzzle with letters (sold at dollar stores, among others) or a plastic letter stencil, with which he can trace out the letters.
Around age 5
  • Have fun rolling a die to try to get the “6.” Take turns, and as soon as someone gets the 6, draw a little line on a sheet of paper. At the end of the game, count the little lines.
  • Teach him to say and write the letters of his name.

“As long as they’re exposed to a variety of quality experiences, children’s overall development occurs simply by following daily routines and playing games,” says Caroline Bouchard, education professor at Université Laval and child development psychologist.