RACHEL PERRY,  AUGUST 23 2018 – United Way Blog

As we head into a new school year, many parents of younger children are thinking about what they need to be doing to get their kids ready for kindergarten.

Here’s what the experts advise: play, sing, read, and talk with your child about what’s going on around them.
Seriously. It’s not about work sheets, digital learning games or flash cards.

Kids are born learning. From the beginning, they’re absorbing the things that will help them develop in all the important ways (language and literacy, social and emotional, physical and cognitive development).

It’s the simple things that make a difference, like making your grocery trip into a treasure hunt for colors and shapes. Or turning bath time into a silly song about body parts. Even dinner can become a learning opportunity, as your toddler builds math skills by counting green pepper slices.

Pediatricians and brain scientists alike agree that everyday activities present easy, fun opportunities for parents to encourage learning. Here are expert-vetted tips for parents, grandparents and family or friends who may care for the child during the day:
• Follow The Leader – Exploring is learning, so follow your child’s lead. When your child stops to look at a bug, talk together about its colors, shape and activities. Look up the bug online. At the library, choose a bug book. Encourage questions, curiosity and creativity – and have fun!
• Read Everything (Out Loud) – Reading is more than bedtime stories. Read street signs and grocery store labels. Read your favorite blog to your infant!
• Narrate Your Life – Explain what you’re doing. Even making a peanut butter & jelly sandwich explains sequencing and nutrition. Think of yourself as a “play-by-play” announcer, helping your child understand the world.
• Ask The Question – Ask questions to encourage thinking, not one-word answers. Instead of “did you have fun at the park?” ask “What did you like about the park? Why?”
• Gamify It – Make a game of everyday activities. Count spoons while setting the table. Make a blue pile of laundry while sorting clothes. Put groceries away together – making up games about colors and shapes and numbers as you go.
• Build Confidence – Label your child’s feelings, while explaining what behaviors are acceptable. This helps children learn to manage emotions and make choices, while knowing he or she is loved.

In many communities, United Way is driving or supporting early learning, school readiness or parent education efforts. And volunteers are playing an important role. One way that’s happening in Northwest Louisiana is though Born Learning Trails, a series of fun, outdoor learning activities that engages entire families.

United Way of Northwest Louisiana has engaged community and corporate volunteers to erect two Born Learning Trails at community parks. The first was constructed by Shreve Land Constructors LLC at A.B. Palmer Park in Shreveport. The most recent Trail welcomed in north Louisiana is at Ross Williams Park in Natchitoches.
At each Trail, outdoor signs are printed with playful, engaging activities (expert-approved) that support early learning. Families can follow the Trail together, while having fun – playing hopscotch, comparing flowers and trees and more.

Whether you have a Born Learning Trail in your community or not, get outside with your children and turn a neighborhood walk into a learning game!