Posted on January 16, 2020

How Can I Boost My Little One’s Learning?

10 Tips From a Child Development Expert.

Imagine you want to help your preschooler learn important math and reading skills to get ready for school. What’s next?

A.  Download a popular alphabet or numbers app

B.  Buy some colorful flashcards.

C.  Practice the alphabet and counting to 10

D.  None of the above


Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist, best selling author, and mother/grandmother to her own incredible children, says the right answer is D, none of the above.

“Let’s look at flashcards seriously, or the digital apps that are flashcard-y,” she says. “What they do is they build parrots.”

After you return the flashcards, what should you do?

Dr. Hirsh-Pasek thinks parents and children should play together in fun, simple, low-budget ways that teach math, reading, and more — without encouraging kids to memorize and repeat things like parrots!

Play “is not frivolity,” she says: it’s how children learn. And, while kids can play on their own, play becomes a more powerful learning tool when parents are involved.

“Playing on your own is kind of fun, but it’s not as rich as playing with someone else,” she explains. “Parents are the ones who can best make play work. We create the balance, the energy, and add the layers that not only make play fun, but make play enriching.”

Dr. Hirsh-Pasek suggests 10 ways families can play to build their child’s brain power:

1. Play imagination games: Play make believe and dress up to imagine the world from others’ perspectives. Try “treasure hunts,” hiding things under chairs and cushions for your little one to find. “It helps kids learn to see beyond what’s right in front of their eyes — to imagine what’s coming.”

2. Play with cause and effect: A simple game of hide and seek can turn kids’ minds “on.” “That’s play, but it’s also teaching them that you’re going to reappear,” explains Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. Also try rolling, throwing, and kicking balls together. Where do they go? Why? Build a tower and knock it over. These games help your child learn intro math skills and how the world works.

3. Play with rhythm and rhyming: When you play clapping games or make up silly rhymes, your child is learning the foundations of patterns, which are important in math and reading.

4. Play waiting games: like Musical Chairs and Simon Says. These help kids learn to listen and wait. Impulse control is an important social-emotional skill that helps children thrive in school and life.d reading.

5. Read and tell stories together:“When you are playing with stories, and jumping into the storyline, you’re learning about the importance of a narrative, about character, about having conflict and resolving that conflict,” Dr. Hirsh-Pasek explains. “That’s the foundation for literacy and reading.”

6. Build Together: “When you’re playing with blocks, you’re using words like over, under, around, in, and through — spatial words that will help be the foundation for later mathematical skills and other STEM skills,” Dr. Hirsh-Pasek says.

7. Explore everyday materials: When you draw or paint together, your child is honing his or her observation and sensory skills — and boosting vocabulary. When your child bangs on surfaces, he learns the properties of new materials. Which makes a loud sound: a metal bowl or a squishy pillow?

8. Play outside: Explore your backyard, a local park, or a nearby playground to develop curiosity and problem-solving skills. Dr. Hirsh-Pasek says: “Did you ever notice that when you drop water on the sidewalk on a summer day, the water disappears? What’s that about? What’s it about when we see our shadow on a sunny day? What’s it like when we make snow angels? When we have to build that snowman, we position one piece on top of the other, so it doesn’t fall over. That’s physics!”

9. Make your home into a “playscape”: Leave drawing materials, puzzles, dress-up supplies, or games around your home where your child can find them. Museums and parks can design their spaces to encourage “playful learning,” and so can you.

10. Allow yourself to (re)discover the world with your child: Dr. Hirsh-Pasek says: “If you can throw away the constraints of being an adult for a while and see the world through your child’s eyes, you will discover a whole new world. Why does a door handle open a door? What makes the water come out of a spigot? Where’s that water come from anyway? Is it coming from the ocean? Is it the same water that goes in the bathtub? Why does my ducky float? See the world from their point of view, and you will see there are adventures absolutely everywhere.”

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