Children are naturally curious and are wired to explore and learn. When our kids are little many of us do a great job of providing them with a stimulating environment to explore and learn from, but as they get older, it can be harder to know what to provide in the environment. Lives get busier and the focus is often turned to activities outside of the home. And, let’s face it, kids become more skeptical and suspicious of adults trying to get them to learn something. However, I have found leaving some of the materials below around the house has prompted our children to explore and learn. Maybe you can pick a few and try them in your home.
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1. Coffee Table Books
I had a few coffee table books lying on a table in our living room for years. As the boys got older, especially Big Fish, they were drawn to the books and started to study the pictures and read some of the information. So every few months I change out the books that are on that table without telling them. Big Fish usually notices within a couple hours, grabs a book and curls up in a chair. His favorites are animal books. I have picked up additional ones at used book stores or on clearance at book stores, so it does not need to be a large investment.
About a year ago, I stumbled across educational placemats at a homeschool convention. Well, duh! It had not occurred to me to put something stimulating under their plate at dinner each night. So I bought a couple and guess what, they LOVE looking and talking about them during dinner. And, of course, they fight over which ones they get. We have continued to add to our collection, which includes: the presidents and first ladies, human anatomy, rocks and minerals, the US map, the world map, and the periodic table. There are many, many more targeted toward different age groups so see what you can find!
Each year I buy each boy a calendar for their room. I try to pick something that will peak their curiosity. Past years have included national parks or foreign cities or countries. Next, I think I will get a ‘word of the day’ calendar to keep in the kitchen where we eat breakfast.
We keep a basket of art supplies in the living room and a shelf with drawing books above it. We also have found many history based coloring books to work some learning into the coloring. I have actually found a bunch of these at a used book store, for just a $1 or 2. Big Fish finds coloring very calming, which is helpful! There is a good list of art supplies on Art for Kids Hub you can keep on hand. Here is a list of history coloring books.
5. Audio Books
From a fairly early age, we started listening to books on CD on long car trips. As a speech-language pathologist, I have always liked them to help build children’s listening skills and encourage them to visualize the story based upon what they hear. At some point, I realized that they were also the perfect way to keep the boys from fighting on short car trips, too! Oh, hallelujah! So now we almost always have books to listen to in the car. Really any books will do as they will be developing listening and visualization skills, growing their vocabulary and hearing good language formation. We have listened to the Harry Potter series, books set in a variety of time periods, and currently have been listening to books from the “I Survived…” history series. I plan on researching podcasts appropriate for children to work in some other topics for them. Audible also has a FREE TRIAL worth checking out!
We keep a variety of board and other games on hand in the living room. Current favorites are Jenga, No Stress Chess, UNO and Who Is It? These help the boys develop their communication, strategy, and math skills. It also gives them practice in turn taking and being a good winner or loser. There are hundreds of great games in a variety of categories. If you are looking for a game to fulfill a specific need, check out these posts:
7. Activity books
We keep some activity books alongside the games and art supplies that contain word searches, crossword puzzles, crack the code and matching activities as well as several other types of puzzles. Some I have picked up in the $1 section of Target or at arts and craft supply stores and some were purchased based upon a specific area of interest, such as our Monster Jam activity book. One of our favorites has been a Magic Tree House activity book.
Both boys love to build with Legos, but Little Fish takes building to a whole new level. He loves to raid the recycle bin for items to create projects. We also bought him a box of wood flooring and a bunch of PVC pipes and he has built with those for years. Our old wooden train set has been turned into a roller coaster on various occasions and you can often find a shop set up in our living room. And of course, wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Magnetic Tiles and Citi Blocs all have a place in our home. I will admit, it kind of drives me crazy to have all this stuff around the house so I have to practice deep breathing a lot. But these experiences have helped them develop their creativity and their visual motor skills.
Hopefully, this has given you a few new ideas of how you can set up learning situations around your home without your kids realizing what you are up to! I would love for you to comment below with other ways you have found to do this in your home.