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Preparation for preschoolers : Opportunities for learning, Preschoolers and technology

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Opportunities for learning

Preschoolers are like sponges. They soak up everything around them. I’m constantly in awe of how much children develop during the preschool years. The beginnings of early literacy and numeracy take hold and kids have a never-ending thirst for knowledge. As a parent I have the opportunity to encourage and foster this learning. My philosophy has always been to ‘follow the child’ and support their interests.


Building learning into your daily routine

With five children, finding the time to fit in learning opportunities can be tricky. Kids learn in such a dynamic way that I’ve found the easiest way to engage them in learning is to fit it into our daily life. This allows me to stimulate and support our preschooler’s interest in early numeracy and literacy regularly. The best part is that it’s an enjoyable way to interact and spend time with our preschooler.

Learning while walking

Taking a walk with your preschooler is good both for fitness and for the child’s learning. Walking is a lovely, informal way of providing numerous learning opportunities, such as:

the letterbox game. As we walk along we take turns in reading aloud the numbers on the letterboxes of the houses we pass. (Learning opportunity: number recognition.)

‘I went shopping and I bought …’. This is a modified version of the traditional game that I play with the older children. One of us says, ‘I went shopping and I bought four things ’, for example, ‘I bought an apple, a carrot, juice and bread’. The other player has to remember the four items. (Learning opportunities: memory; counting up to four.)

Learning while waiting

When children reach school age, the after-school activities generally begin. With a bit of planning, the time spent attending after-school activities can provide opportunities for short sessions of fun, such as:

‘I Spy’. This is a modified version of the original game. I put three toys in front of us. Each one starts with a different sound — for example, a car, a ball and a snake. I get my preschooler to name all the objects. This clarifies that we have the same name in mind for each object — for example, a ball (not a football). We then discuss the starting sound of each object before starting to play. Then, for example, I say, ‘I spy with my little eye, something starting with c’, always using the phonetic sound of the starting letter. (Learning opportunity: start awareness of phonetic sounds of the alphabet.)

rolling dice. My kids love dice, and this is a game the older children can play with us. We take turns at rolling two dice and then work out which number each one has rolled. We then work out who won by finding the highest or lowest number. For the older kids I add more dice so they can practise their addition or multiplication. (Learning opportunities: start building one-to-one matching numeracy; understanding the relativity of numbers.)

Learning while helping around the house

These activities can be done as part of your daily home duties.

Cooking. Cooking with a preschooler provides many opportunities for them to learn early numeracy skills. Discussing amounts in numerical terms, time values and number recognition on measuring cups or in a recipe all provide a natural setting for familiarisation with numbers. (Learning opportunity: general numeracy awareness.)

Sorting and classifying. There are many opportunities in the daily activities of home life for a preschooler to practise sorting and classifying skills. Tasks such as putting away the cutlery, sorting the dirty washing into whites and colours, and putting waste in the right bin — rubbish, compost and recyclables — make the preschooler think about which items are the same and which are different. (Learning opportunity: introduction to mathematical vocabulary and concepts.)

Learning while shopping

Going shopping isn’t always my preschooler’s favourite activity. However, engaging him in the shopping process results in less conflict and fewer complaints. This involvement also provides learning opportunities, such as:

the gathering game. When we’re at the market or the supermarket, my preschooler is my ‘gatherer’. I tell him how many of each item we need and he gathers the right number and puts them in the trolley. (Learning opportunities: practise counting; one-to-one matching.)

paying for purchases. Allowing our preschooler, where possible, to have a turn at paying for the goods we purchase is by far his favourite activity. We talk about the numbers on the money, how there are dollars and cents and whether or not we will get change, which helps him to start understanding how money works. (Learning opportunity: introduction to currency.)

spotting symbols. I try to point out to my preschooler any symbols around the shops or any we can see from the car. We talk about how a symbol is a short way of explaining something. For example, the picture on exit signs of a man running shows where we can exit a building; the crossed-out ‘P’ symbol on signs in parking areas means you can’t park there because it’s not allowed and you’ll get fined. (Learning opportunity: introduction to symbols.)

Preschoolers and technology

TV became a bit of an issue in our house some years ago when our eldest son was a preschooler. I originally tried restric-ting his viewing to special occasions only. As a consequence, he’d often ask, ‘Is it time to watch some TV now?’ He didn’t know when he would be allowed to watch TV again, so he took the approach of asking frequently whether he could, just in case I said yes.

My husband and I talked through our existing approach and how we could change it. We decided on a time limit of 30 minutes and made the TV session at the end of the day. That way it was clear to him that TV time was late in the day, and he stopped constantly asking me about it. This also gave me time at the end of the day to breastfeed the baby quietly.

Sharing

As we’ve had more children and the age between the eldest and youngest has increased, we’ve had to come up with a roster to ensure everyone has a turn at watching something they like. We developed a roster system to manage the kids’ competing needs. As they grew older we also incorporated time on the computer and playing on the Wii into the roster. They’re treated the same as TV as they’re all sedentary activities and we now refer to this as technology time. The older children have longer technology-time sessions now, as they stay up longer than the younger ones.

The planned TV time has served us very well. The kids have grown accustomed to it and have accepted it. When their show is over, they get up and turn the TV off, and they never go into the lounge room and turn the television on without permission. However, they do get very excited when we hire a new movie as they get to watch a lot more TV than their standard allocation of 30 minutes.

The child whose name (or in this example age) appears next to the day is allowed to choose a technology activity: Wii, computer or TV. If they choose TV, they’re also allowed to choose the program they want to watch (within family guidelines). The other children then agree on how they will share the remaining available technology during that time. Due to the spread of ages, it can sometimes be quite challenging for them to find a middle ground. However, as their time is ticking away, they usually come to some form of compromise! The TV roster changes regularly to take into account after-school activities and the kids’ ages. We also aim to have one night a week that’s technology free.

Table 1 (overleaf) shows a typical example of our kids’ evening routine for technology usage.

Table 1: technology-time roster

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I know a number of families where the kids are not allowed technology time during the week, but they can use technology as much as they want on weekends. I can see how this could work well for some families. Regardless of the routine make-up, it’s the actual routine that’s critically important. A technology routine ensures kids know when they may use technology, and puts limits on the amount of time spent on technology activities.


What to watch on TV

A drawback of the roster system and leaving TV time until later in the day is the limited choice of programs as kids’ shows are generally shown earlier in the day. Technology, however, actually solves that problem. We talked to the kids about the shows they want to watch and we now record them. The added advantage of recording shows is that the kids can fast forward through the advertisements.

There are a number of fantastic kids’ shows on TV that can provide entertainment and education. Some kids’ shows can provide inspiration for activities at home and for investi-gating further learning. For example, the children’s television show Play School has fantastic resources on its website. Each week it details the themes for the upcoming shows. The program notes take you through the songs, stories and activities they will be performing on each show, and give parents ideas for activities they can share with their children.

What to play online

We use a planned and moderated approach for introducing our kids to the online world. Preschoolers quickly learn to navigate the screens and develop the hand–eye coordination skills to be able to play online computer games. Limited, and used in conjunction with other learning tools, the computer can be a fantastic learning tool. However, finding online games that are age-appropriate and of interest to a preschooler is important in the not-so-regulated online environment. While some games can be fun and free, kids can be exposed to non-stop advertising.

When choosing an online game for your preschooler consider the following factors:

Does it contain advertising?

What’s the key message of the game?

Will it help enhance a skill (for example, memory, fine-motor skills, number recognition, colour identification)?

Is the game built so preschoolers can operate it easily themselves?

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