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home : opinions : columns April 30, 2016

7/29/2014 10:43:00 AM
Guest column: Play with your kids - it builds more than character
Cynthia Pardo
First Things First

What do painting, building blocks and baking have in common? They build science and math skills in young kids.

About 90 percent of a child's critical brain development occurs before they enter kindergarten, meaning the early years represent an ideal time to introduce math and science to kids.

Toddlers and preschoolers learn naturally by exploring and experimenting. What appears to adults as play is really forming and testing theories, and trying out different variables.

In the U.S., students rank in the lower third among developed countries when it comes to science and math literacy, meaning our kids may not be able to compete for the jobs of the future. Economic development and educational efforts often focus on building Science, Engineering, Technology and Math (STEM) skills in the K-12 school years.

But according to the Center for Early Education in STEM, simple childhood games can promote significant STEM skills much earlier than that. The ages before kindergarten, are a critical period to help develop these skills through fun activities that get their hands and minds working.

Before your child has a chance to say, "Mom, I'm bored!" you can be ready with this list of ideas to keep your child busy and to build those early skills for STEM:

• Building structures - knocking them down, testing them with weight, etc. - engages kids in reasoning about physics.

• Cooking engages children in science, math, and literacy through measuring ingredients, seeing how foods combine and change, and reading recipes.

• Singing and dancing convey counting concepts, and making musical instruments with everyday objects helps kids learn how to control aspects of sound like pitch, loudness, timbre and duration.

• Through water activities, kids experiment with movement and volume, filling cups or pails, then watching how holes in objects affect water flow.

• In playing card and board games, children use math, oral language, reading and writing, reason about strategies and learn to take turns, take another person's perspective and negotiate.

Families can help kids develop critical thinking and reasoning skills by asking questions like:

What do you think will happen? Why do you think it ended that way? How do you think things will be different if we change something?

In addition, parents can share their knowledge early on. Things that may seem obvious to us - like weather changes, traffic patterns and the change in an egg when it's cracked, then cooked - are fascinating new concepts for children that give them a foundation from which to build future knowledge.

By encouraging the development of STEM skills in the early years, we help kids learn by experimenting with their environments and give them skills that will help them be successful in school and in life. In addition these STEM building activities help to instill a love of learning and imagination. So, most importantly remember to have fun and use everyday moments as learning moments.

More tips for summer fun and learning are available at www.ReadyAZKids.com.

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