A paper plate, a handful of popcorn, colored markers and tape — taken separately they all are ordinary objects, the flotsam of every household.
Combined, they form a powerful teaching tool for preschoolers to learn colors, shapes and sounds.
Parents in a new early-education program sat with their children in the Crabbe Elementary School library Thursday evening, folding the plates into clamshell-shaped receptacles, pouring in the popcorn and sealing them with tape. The children decorated the plates with markers and soon the rustling sound of shaking popcorn filled the air like a room full of maracas.
The session was the first of six in the Toyota bornlearning Academy, where parents learn three important things: they are the most important teachers in their children’s lives, learning goes on all the time and everyday objects and activities are better than textbooks and flashcards for teaching preschoolers.
The focus on preschoolers is important because research has shown most Kentucky children start kindergarten unprepared for it, said Ashland family resource center coordinator Geri Willis.
But parents can change that, and they can do it at meals, in the car, out in the yard or walking around the neighborhood.
“It boils down to doing easy things with your kids,” said Shannon Hankins, an instructional coach at Crabbe.
Count the steps as you walk up, she suggested. Count the marshmallows in the hot chocolate. Name the colors you see and talk about the shapes of everyday things. Make a drum from a coffee can or pour breakfast cereal into a water bottle to make a shaker.
Crucial to the success of these activities is the affection and interaction of a healthy relationship between parent and child, she said. Children learn best when they feel safe and loved.
Parents on Thursday learned children are born learning and learn best by doing and using all their senses, which is why counting Cheerios often works better than showing numbers on a flash card. They learned physical and brain development are interconnected, and learning doesn’t have to be a bore. “Make sure it’s fun. If it’s fun for you it will be fun for them,” Hankins said.
“We do a lot of these things at home, so it’s good to know we’re on the right track,” said Heather France. She and her husband, John, brought their 4-year-old daughter, Kaylee, and their 22-month-old twins, Ella and Abby, to the session. With three little girls, one favorite activity is counting shoes at pickup time, she said.
“It’s good to know our daily activities have an effect on their learning and how they grow.”
If nothing else, parents should understand that building close, loving relationships with children and using everyday moments for teaching opportunities is the key to successful early learning, Willis said. “So turn off the tube and turn on the lap.”
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.