Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

Author and Educator

LEARNING TOYS NOT REQUIRED: EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER

Elizabeth Redhead Kriston, MS/CCC-SLP

Why don’t we give ourselves more credit in the role we play in teaching our children all they know? So many of us have been convinced by the relentless advertising of toy companies that market their products as “learning toys” that we are not equipped to teach our kids the skills they need to succeed.

Trust me when I say that your child or student is not really learning her colors and numbers from a talking robot toy or an electronic book. How could they? The concept of “blue,” for example, goes so far beyond that singular representation of the toy that says “blue” when the blue button is pushed.

“Blue” takes on many shapes and shades. One cannot truly understand “blue” until they touch it, taste it, see it, smell it and even hear it. We need our five senses to accurately learn concepts. We need to use all our experiences to know “blue” it all its forms. A blue sky is different from a blueberry which is different from a bluebird and so on. So why do we buy into the notion that a light up blue button or the one dimensional photographs of things that are blue can teach the concept of that very diverse color?

Take Back Control and You Be the Teacher!

Advertisers have done a brilliant job of capitalizing on our society’s need to make sure our kids are prepared for school. They make toys for infants through preschool that claim to teach our kids what they need to be school ready. They have made us believe that we need them. They have helped us forget that by just being with, talking to and reading to our children we are the ones that are actually teaching these concepts. Life is the teacher not the toys.

So, I say we need to take back our power and give ourselves the credit we deserve. We are our children’s first and best teachers. With a little attention and time we can teach our kids anything. By using all five senses in our daily lives we learn new concepts and words efficiently and easily. Simply by talking to children about the things they see and do, we help them put meaning to what they are experiencing. This gets stored away in the brain. Then, the more they encounter same or similar things the more easily they can access or remember the concepts. Viola, they learned! It is not hard it just takes practice and sometimes a little creative thinking. It is free and no batteries are required.

Simple and Free Ways to Teach Concepts

1.      Talk, talk, talk. Talk to the child in your life all day about the things she sees and does. Use real words. Be specific. You do not have to simplify your words. Little brains can and will learn “big” words.

2.      Move your body. Active little toddlers can learn while they move. Add words to your actions to teach verbs. Play Follow the Leader, dance or just go for a walk.

3.      Play with your child. We assume that if we hand a kid a toy he will know what to do with it. This can be true in some cases, but most kids need models. Get on the floor and let your inner child out. Use words to describe your play and show your child how to be creative with toys.

4.      Work. Include your child in your household chores. Cooking, laundry and dusting are great times to teach all types of vocabulary and concepts. Think of all the senses that are involved with cooking. You can teach colors, textures, tastes, smells and sounds. Descriptive words will dominate your vocabulary in these tasks.

5.      Choices. Giving a young child a choice of what to wear or eat is a fantastic opportunity for teaching words and concepts. If you choose your child’s outfit they miss out on lots of learning opportunities. Instead, ask him if he wants to wear the red shirt or the blue sweater. Show him his choices as you ask. Now you have taught him four concepts in one easy task (sweater, shirt, blue and red!)

6.      Interactive reading. Take story time beyond the quiet captivating experience it tends to be and make it active. Add toys or movement to reading time. Ask non-threatening “wh” questions to encourage critical thinking and vocabulary recall. Talk about the pictures, go beyond the text. Use pictures, toys or flashcards to expand and extend the story. Believe it or not, books can be made even better.

There are so many ways to engage and teach children. Resist the solitary fabricated experience battery operated toys offer. Realize that you are your child’s best teacher and that you, whether your try to or not, actually teach your child those “school ready” skills. Even better, you do not require batteries

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