The following is a guest post from Rachel Speal. Rachel is an educational therapist who has over 20 years experience working with kids and adults of all ages. Her specialty is disabilities on the autistic spectrum, and language delays. You can find more hands on learning games at her site Teaching the Future.
It’s not always easy to find time to create great learning experiences with your child. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things don’t go as planned.
As a mom to 7 children, 3 of whom have learning disabilities, I’m always looking for ways to enrich my children’s everday experiences. Last year I used litter to teach colors during our afternoon walks. Right now we’re using those same walks to practice hearing the syllables in words. A trip to the park is an opportunity to practice activities that strengthen gross motor skills, attention span, and hand-eye coordination. We do all of that just by using the playground equipment and a prop or two.
In fact, I’ve learned over the years that the best learning doesn’t always take place by a table. Often the learning that has the most impact on children occurs doing things that we do every day.
Understanding that any time can be a great time to foster your child’s learning will help you make the most out of routine activities. Use the tips below to learn how you can take an everyday activity like going to the grocery store, and use it to boost your child’s development:
Improve your child’s categorization skills in the produce department.
Next time you go to the store, instead of simply letting your child put the produce in the bag, ask your child to help you “choose an orange vegetable to put in the bag.” As your child searches among the produce for something that is both orange and a vegetable, she’ll be sorting, learning the names of all of the vegetables, and practicing her problem-solving skills.
Other examples are “find me 3 fruits that are round,” “find me 2 things are juicy and sweet,” or “show me all the fruits that have seeds in them.”
Exercise your child’s matching skills in the dairy aisle.
Ask your child to close his eyes. Then choose an item, and walk a bit away from the place where it was found. Tell your child to open his eyes. Handing him the item, ask him if he can put it back where it belongs.
This is an activity that not only boosts his visual discrimination skills, but his visual figure-ground skills as well. Visual figure-ground in particular, is an important skill that isn’t practiced very often. It’s important, though, since it will help your child keep his place when reading, and organize his written work on paper.
Strengthen your child’s visual memory in the canned goods aisle.
Next time you enter the canned goods section, challenge your child to use his visual memory. Ask him to find a particular product – for example Chef Boyardee Spaghetti O’s- and give him a time limit in which to find it. If he finds it before time runs out, choose another item, and ask him to try and beat his best time.
You can also have your child look at one specific section carefully. Give him up to 10 seconds to look at all the items on the shelf carefully, and then ask him to close his eyes (or turn away) and name all the items he remembers seeing on the shelves. He can name brands, types of products, or even prices.
Sharpen your child’s auditory memory in the frozen foods section.
In this activity, your child exercises his memory muscles by collecting a variety of items. You simply name anywhere from 3-5 items to start with, and ask your child to find them. The catch: your child has to find everything in the order it was given, and he can’t use a written or picture list.
TIP: You can make this game easier by asking for general items: a gallon of ice cream, a pack of frozen green beans, etc. You can make it harder by adding more details- the more details you add, the harder it gets. So you could ask your child to pick up Rocky Road ice cream from Baskin-Robbins, 2 packs of Green Giant sweet corn, and 1 Sicillian pizza.
Practice everything at once with an X-treme shopping spree.
This is an activity kids absolutely love. It makes them feel like they’ve just won a million dollar shopping spree in their favorite supermarket.
How to play: Give your child a written or picture list of items. You’ll write the list almost as if it’s a quiz show; “Put 3 green vegetables in the cart. Next go to the dairy aisle and pick up the yogurt with a goat on it.” The key to doing this right is choosing activities similar to the ones above.
In order to stretch your child’s new skills, you’ll give your child a time limit to finish shopping. You can have an older sibling go along with them, while you wait for them at the checkout counter. If they finish in time, they get to choose a favorite treat or dessert at the end.
The only disadvantage to this game: your child will want to do it every day. So to keep things reasonable, explain you can only play once a month.
Enjoy shopping — and learning — with your children!
Top photo by NYCArthur.