Start Early – Give Your Child a Learning Edge

While you might think of pre-school or kindergarten as the “beginning” of your child’s life as a student, the early years at home are rich with opportunities to develop knowledge, perceptions and attitudes that can have a lifelong impact on learning and achievement as well. Here are some tips for giving your child a vibrant head start before he or she heads off to school:

Create a reading tradition. You’ve heard this again and again, but it’s nearly impossible to over-emphasize the importance of reading from a very early age. You can – and should – start reading to your children when they are infants. As noted by Teaching Our Youngest, a pre-school guide for teachers and families published by the U.S. Department of Education, your child can begin developing an awareness of printed letters and words at the age of two or three.

There are many other important practices that bear repeating as well. Read aloud with your children at regular times of the day and consider starting and ending the day with a good book. Use alphabet books to emphasize letters, and books written in verse to emphasize phonological awareness. You can help your children learn as you read by making your own observations about what you’re reading – noting how the lines of some books rhyme, for example, or asking your child to identify the letters in certain words. Pointing out pictures and discussing their relevance to a story can help your child associate words with objects. As well, sharing a book with your child will build a foundation for a love of reading and will reward both of you with special time together.

Play by the numbers. Children who enter preschool with some knowledge of numbers and counting have a good foundation for lessons throughout their first year. You can build this knowledge on a daily basis by pointing out and counting familiar objects around your home. Examples might include counting the stairs as you walk down them, counting the plates and glasses on your dinner table and counting the pictures on your walls. Children also like to count with their fingers and toes.

You should do everything possible to make learning to count active and fun. Play counting games with actions such as jumping rope and clapping your hands. When your child is drawing, encourage the use of numbers and counting by asking questions such as “how many trees are you going to put in the picture?” and “what is the street number for the house?” and “how many clouds are in the sky?” Playing and singing songs that include counting in the lyrics, such as “This Old Man”, can also introduce numbers in a fun and active way.

You should also look for opportunities to connect numbers with real life. When you’re mixing up the ingredients for a cake, discuss with your child what the first, second and third ingredients will be. When you point out the canisters on your kitchen cabinet, discuss which is taller than, or smaller than the other. Your child can also build spatial awareness by using a ruler to measure various objects around the house.

Set aside a creative play-space. From pretending to be an astronaut, to building a house or imagining what it would be like to hunt for buried treasure, role-playing can be a fun and effective way to stimulate your child’s natural curiosity and imagination. Having durable “dress-up” clothes and costumes readily available can help children envision the nexus between their natural interests and future vocation.

Drawing, painting and storytelling can likewise foster creative energy. Having plenty of pencils, crayons, paints and different kinds of paper readily available will enable your child to act whenever the inspiration strikes. Large plastic or paper letters, alphabet blocks and materials for making letters – such as pipe cleaners and play dough – can help your child learn to recognize the alphabet and spell easy words such as their own names.

A space like this obviously works best in a basement or other area where furniture and fabrics won’t be damaged. If you have a smaller home, you can keep the costumes and tools packed in a portable storage bin or suitcase and bring them out for play at home, in the backyard or at a nearby park when the weather is nice.

Make your home a gateway to different places. Even if you’re not taking your family on worldwide adventures, posters, story and picture books that introduce different countries and cultures can be a wonderful way to foster your child’s interest in diversity. Books with engaging stories that take place in the past or future can spark an appreciation for history and stimulate your child’s imagination. If you’re handy in the kitchen, introducing your child to exotic foods that are associated with interesting places can be a pleasing way to spark interest in those places.

Celebrate your child’s learning progress. Posting drawings and photographs throughout kid-oriented places in your home will reinforce the value you place in your child’s learning experiences – creating a tradition that can be continued for many years to come.

Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for 29 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, call 1 800 CAN LEARN. Dr. Huntington thanks the U.S. Department of Education for “Teaching Our Youngest”, a resource available at the agency’s Web site at

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