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Daily activities teach kids excellent lessons

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Every day can be a day full of learning opportunities for children if parents and caregivers seize opportunities in the routine to teach lessons.

Micki Smith, area child and family development agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said homes are filled with wonderful learning opportunities for children.

"Everyday routines such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, eating, cleaning, sorting laundry and making beds can be rich learning experiences for kids," Smith said.

Bathing, brushing teeth and washing hands help children develop lifelong health and personal hygiene habits. They also teach the difference between clean and dirty.

Helping prepare meals by stirring, pouring and mixing teach a variety of lessons.

"Children often take food for granted," Smith said. "They may have no idea how it is prepared or where it comes from other than the supermarket. By helping you make a meal, children can learn vocabulary words, learn about ingredients and simple measurements, practice counting and learn the importance of following directions."

Learning to dress without help is a lesson in independence and personal accomplishment. Steps such as putting one leg at a time into pants and fastening buttons and zippers are unconscious activities for adults, but mastering them is a major milestone for children.

A 2-year-old can be given two choices of clothing to wear. Making choices helps children create a sense of independence. At 2, a child can sort laundry into piles of colors or whites. They can put towels into a clothes hamper, and even help fold. Smith said these chores have an educational benefit beyond their usefulness as a shared family duty.

"When your child learns to sort clothing by color or size, he is learning pre-math and pre-science skills," Smith said.

Dusting, sweeping and washing dishes build the small muscles in hands and can be vocabulary-builders as the child learns the names of furniture and dishes. A child can practice counting, color, and the concepts of left and right while setting the table.

Louise Davis, Extension professor of child and family development, said setting a table teaches other lessons as well.

"Placing the correct utensils on the table teaches one-to-one correspondence," Davis said. "Gradually as the child gets older, they can be given more difficult tasks to accomplish."

Putting toys away teaches children to take care of their belongings and respect things that belong to others. Labeling shelves to indicate where toys belong also teaches vocabulary words.

"The ideas for teaching your children though everyday routines are endless," Smith said. "Look for those teachable moments each day."

Davis said lessons abound outdoors. Age-appropriate yard work teaches responsibility and teamwork, and chores such as raking leaves or working in the garden help strengthen the large muscles in the legs and arms. Yard chores also give children the opportunity to learn about the changing seasons.

"Buy child-sized yard tools and allow them to work beside you in the yard or garden," Davis said. "Young children love to plant seeds and watch them grow. They also can be given the job of watering the plants."

Davis said children often learn best in unstructured settings.

"Giving children responsibilities that are age-appropriate helps create self-discipline within the child," Davis said. "Also, there is an ownership of being a responsible family member."

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Released: May 12, 2005
Contact: Dr. Louise Davis, (662) 325-3083

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