Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of First Things First, talks to Sonoran Living about turning everyday moments into learning moments.

As parents, we want to do everything possible to help our kids get a smart start on their education. For some, it means finding our infants, toddlers and preschoolers the best early education opportunities possible. For others, it means purchasing educational toys and exposing our kids to learning experiences, such as visiting museums. But, First Things First (FTF) reminds us that everyday moments offer us the chance to help or kids grow and learn, too.

“Starting at birth, kids are learning – through everything they see and experience, especially interactions with the adults in their lives,” FTF Chief Executive Officer Rhian Evans Allvin said. “As parents and caregivers, one of the best things we can do is use their natural curiosity and turn our home environments into learning opportunities.”

Research shows that 80 to 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by the time he or she is five years old, and the experiences a child has in the early years lay the foundation for success in kindergarten and beyond. But, what can kids learn from helping with routine tasks, like laundry, grocery shopping and cooking?
Helping to sort laundry helps kids learn about shapes and colors. Cooking is a chance to learn about numbers and textures. And, grocery shopping gives an opportunity to spot letters and numbers, while building vocabulary.

Play time also offers a chance to learn while having fun. The best choices for toys are those that require interaction between adults and children. They include:

  • Infants (under 1 year old) –  toys where the child’s touch creates sounds, flashing lights or other action; toys they can safely chew on;  toys with mirrors, where they can observe facial expressions.
  • Toddlers (1-3 years old) – toys they can ride on or climb on; balls to roll, catch, etc.; blocks or building-type toys; toys that encourage matching and sorting shapes, colors, or objects; and materials for playing with sand, water and other textures.
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years old)  – anything that encourages imaginative play, such as dress-up clothes or toys that mimic household items or tools; puzzles and simple games; art supplies including plain white paper, markers, crayons, finger paints, molding clay or dough, etc.

The best way to help your child prepare for school? Reading every day – 15 minutes per day for infants, up to 30 minutes a day for toddlers and preschoolers.

“Helping kids understand that everything has a name and a symbol (either word or a number) associated with it is called early literacy, and it is, simply, the foundation all future learning is built on,” Allvin said. “Reading every day is a way to help our kids build a solid foundation so they start school prepared to succeed.”
Any activities to avoid? Almost anything that involves a screen.

In a recent policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents keep kids under 2 as “screen free” as possible, including television, movies and video games. For older children, limited screen time is recommended.

“Screens can’t replace people, and while the action can be entertaining, there is little children are learning from them,” Allvin said. “Instead, look for chances to read, talk, sing and play together – these will mean the most to a young child’s learning and build skills that last a lifetime.”

For more information about the importance of early childhood and how you can help young children succeed, please visit ReadyAZKids.com. And, find information and resources about Arizona education and building a high expectations culture in our state here at ExpectMoreArizona.org.