Early childhood is a time of wonder and imagination. During their early years, children are like little sponges soaking up everything around them. They learn so much, without even realizing it. I have always worked with my kids at home. I felt like it was part of my job as a stay at home mom to be their first teacher. As they have grown, we have continued to make learning a regular part of family life.

As infants, we spent lots of time cuddling and talking. The more words they hear the more words they learn. The first year or so was mostly me narrating our lives. We would be in the grocery store, and I would say things like “Oh look, we need apples. Let’s count the red apples. 1..2..3..4..5. We have 5 red apples in the bag!” Most of the time they just watched me and chewed on a toy, but they were absorbing what I was saying. They were increasing their vocabulary and learning the names of the fruits and vegetables that we ate. We splashed the water during bath time, listened to music while dancing around the kitchen, read books while cuddling on the couch and played on the floor. We took stroller walks in the park and in the neighborhood, we even went to the zoo. Those were the days!

So much research suggests that young children learn the most through play. We didn’t sit and do a ton of worksheets. That would come way later. The toddler years are such a fun time for sensory play and art. They are naturally inquisitive and full of energy and excitement. Painting and coloring, play dough, building with blocks and helping you make lunch are all ways they learn. When we paint and color we learn about not only the actual colors and what happens when we mix them, but we learn to unleash or creativity while learning about different textures. Play dough is fantastic for young children. They are building and strengthening their little hand muscles, which in turn helps them develop their fine motor skills and stamina later. Blocks are a super fun way to learn cause and effect. It looks like they are playing, but really they are learning so many useful skills. Don’t be afraid to get messy. It’s fun to play in the mud or get covered in finger paint. This is why we have bathtubs. Nothing is more fun than splashing in muddy rain puddles, then coming in to take a nice bubble bath!

As my children got older and closer to preschool age, we did more crafts and things like that. We matched shapes and colors, talked about what was the same and different. I would write their names on a piece of paper and they would color and draw on it. They learn to recognize their name. We sing the ABCs and sometimes go on “Letter Hunts” aka Mom wrote letters on sticky notes and put them on random walls and toys. We practice letters by tracing them, drawing them with sidewalk chalk on the driveway or making them out of play dough.

As they get closer to kindergarten, or when they show interest, we do about 10-20 min per day of worksheets and stuff like that. I have learned that different brands, are sort of different levels. Some are easier than others, even in the same grade level. This is especially true with the preschool workbooks. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I take their lead. If you keep it positive they will be positive about it too. Sometimes we skip it, and do something else. Learning games are a great way to teach them new skills. My daughter is learning her sight words, I love the preschool prep DVDs. She has been watching them for a while, so we draw bubbles on the driveway and write the sight words. We jump from word to word. We use rainbow colors to write the words, we practice recognizing them while reading books etc.

We went on adventures to places where we can learn while we have fun, like the science center or zoo. We love days spent at the zoo learning about all the different animals. We pack a lunch and make a day out of it. When we go to the zoo, we talk about the animals we see. We talk about their habitat, what they eat in the wild, where they come from. Don’t worry if you aren’t a zoologist, they usually have a sign next to the animals that tell you all of that. We compare different animals and their enclosures. I ask questions like “Oh look, the otters are swimming, what other animals did we see today that like to swim?” They encourage children to ask questions and learn about their environment. My children are 5 & 8 so we have been doing this for a long time. We go to keeper talks and feeding times. I encourage the kids to ask the zookeepers and docents about the different animals. This helps them be brave and learn to talk to different people and wait their turn. I have learned a lot on these adventures too.

My daughter’s favorite animal is a cheetah. We read books about cheetahs, watch shows that have cheetahs, etc. She even sleeps with a life size stuffed cheetah. Her favorite show is Secrets of the Zoo, which is a show about the animals and zookeepers at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. We don’t have cheetah’s at our local zoo, although I heard a rumor that they were going to get them soon! On vacation we went to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. They have cheetahs. My daughter was thrilled to meet a cheetah in person! We will definitely be back, even though it is 8 hours away. They have so many animals, with great enclosures and plenty of enrichment for them. We did our best to plan our trip through the zoo so we hit at least a few keeper talks. It’s awesome to see the questions they ask, compared to the questions they asked a few years ago. We saw a keeper by the cheetah exhibit. My spunky, cheetah loving 4 year old confidently told the keeper that she is a Cheetah master and she is going to be a wild life veterinarian or a zookeeper when she grows up. The keeper asked if she had any questions about the cheetahs. She smiled up at the zookeeper and said “Well, I know in the wild, they would eat gazelles and stuff, but the gazelles are all the way over there and I don’t think they are allowed to eat those. What do cheetahs eat in captivity?” She was 4 1/2 at the time. The keeper was shocked to say the least. We learned that most cheetahs in captivity eat a mix of horse, deer, chicken and rabbit. I never even thought to ask about that.

With the COVID-19 Pandemic in full swing, the schools are closed. My daughter’s preschool has done a great job giving parents ideas for fun learning activities to do at home. We have also been working more on writing our letters and getting ready for kindergarten in the fall. My son is in 2nd grade and has been doing well with virtual learning. I think part of what has been helping our family is that the kids are used to me teaching them at home. Mom as teacher isn’t a new concept for them. I think that has helped a ton! I have been supplementing what my son is getting from school. He is ahead a bit, so I try to keep him as challenged as I can. He loves to learn. He is usually done with his required school work in less than 3 hours. He is an excellent reader, and is a mental math start. He adds and subtracts in his head way faster than I will ever be able to. My brain doesn’t think as fast as his. We are working on writing because that is an area he could use some extra help in. I also started introducing multiplication, because he wants to learn how to multiply and divide. I take their lead and guide them along. My son had an art project that involved making a tin foil sculpture. I hadn’t really thought to do something like that. My daughter joined in and a few hours and a roll of tin foil later, they put on a puppet show for us with their tin foil puppets. It kept them busy most of the day. They loved it!