5 Ways Kids Learn about Life
Disclaimer: The following is parenting advice from Dads just getting by. Always consult with a medical professional. financial expert, licensed contractor or repair person before taking anyone else’s advice, especially ours.
One of the most frightening realizations I’ve had as a new parent is that I’m responsible for teaching a brand new human EVERYTHING about LIFE. It’s an amazing and exciting responsibility but it can also be overwhelming. There’s a lot to cover and most of us don’t have “teaching experience”.
If you’re like me, you want to prepare your child for life, but you have no idea where to begin. I have some helpful information to share. Once you understand how kids learn, the idea of teaching is much less intimidating. Here are 5 ways kids learn about life.
You may have heard the old adage ‘kids are like sponges’, they soak up everything. Believe me, nothing prepares you for how quickly and easily a child will mimic your words and actions. Are you the neat and tidy type? Your child might begin to sort toys in their play area. Swear like a sailor? Your kid might be the next Richard Pryor. Exclusively play on PlayStation? Your kid might grow up overpaying for exclusives.
For better or worse, kids are always watching and listening. This is actually excellent news for anyone doubting their teaching capabilities. Kids pick up an amazing amount from just observing what you do. If a kid sees you wash your hands, whenever they’re within arms reach of a faucet they’ll twist the knobs, maybe reach for the soap, and start to rub their hands together.
I hope it takes some of the pressure off of you to know that when kids watch you go about your daily routine you’re teaching them plenty. Without realizing you’re demonstrating and instructing them all the time. Try giving your child a view of the action when you do exciting things like cook and clean. The bad news is of course that they might pick up on some of your bad habits. It turns out kids are a great motivator for working on yourself.
Keep in mind that even though babies can’t speak for 1-2 years they begin to understand what you’re saying super early on. I’ll leave the debate on speaking ‘goo-goo-gaa-gaa’ aka ‘baby talk’ versus speaking in full adult sentences to young children for another time. I make a conscious effort to try to speak normally to our baby in hopes that it will help expand her vocabulary.
Try narrating what you’re doing and explaining why you’re doing it. Speaking out loud like this can be very awkward at first but it’s clearly very helpful for inquisitive young minds. At first I would constantly wonder ‘does she even understand any of what I’m saying?’, ‘Am I speaking too fast?’, ‘Should I try to use smaller simpler words?’ Put those doubts out of your mind and practice and it will get easier. Eventually you’ll feel more natural at giving verbal instruction and you’ll see that it actually works.
About 100 times a day my 16 month old daughter will see something, point to it, and make the high pitched ‘huh!?’ sound, indicating that she wants an explanation. She’s eager to learn so she gestures to me as if to say ‘What is that?’, ‘How does this work?’, ‘What does this thing do, and why?’
It’s right about this moment I realize how ignorant I am about the world in general. Half the time I don’t have a clue how to explain in words what the sky is, how a magnet works, or what a microwave does. “Oh ok honey…that’s a microwave…it…makes food hot…with…the little light that’s inside…I think…OR NO WAIT it has something to do with the waves….the microwaves….they hit the food and…yeah… here’s some candy!’
Keep in mind that your explanation will stick with them. Alarmingly, kids actually believe what you say for the first few years of your life. With great power comes great responsibility so wield this with care. Don’t be like my grandmother who told my father that girls farts don’t stink because ‘their booty is sewn up tight’.
3. The Internet
Sadly, kids probably learn the most from the internet. Back in the day we had cable TV and movies to teach us about the ‘birds and the bees’ but YouTube and Netflix are the modern equivalent. Try giving a 9 month old baby an iPad and marvel as they open, close, and switch apps with ease. There’s a world wide web full of information and content just a click away and parents have to make their own decisions about how much screen time and internet access to allow.
This is a double edged sword. On the one hand, there’s lots of great child focused programming. Sesame Street is still a thing! Elmo has helped teach our daughter about everything from the letter C to the importance of treating everyone with kindness. Aside from the classics there are many other paid and free options online that make learning engaging and fun.
On the other hand, adults are hooked on screens and kids are no different. Children crave personal attention and IRL playtime but most will happily watch cartoons or the latest Pixar movie on loop for hours. We fought hard in the beginning to not have the TV ‘become the babysitter’ but as time goes on the screen time has increased. It’s just too easy to let it do the heavy lifting when you’re out of energy and just need a break.
Take advantage of the internet and use it as a teaching tool as much or as little as you’d like.
4. Songs & Games
If you pay close attention to the format of children’s programming you’ll notice that they rely heavily on music and games. Kids love music, find your child’s favorite song and it may get to a point that you play it on a loop so often that you hear it in your sleep. An ‘Itsy bitsy spider’ has been fueling my nightmares for the last three months.
Repetition helps humans learn more and retain information for longer. Educational songs that teach life lessons and simple skills are incredibly popular because they are incredibly effective.Just look at the alphabet song, there’s no better tried and true method to learning your letters. Our daughter mimics the hand motions and dance moves of her favorites and through the magic of music has learned to point to her head, arms, legs, mouth, and eyes.
Games are another way that help make learning fun and of course are repetitive in nature, you don’t play Candy Land just once after all. Without realizing it kids are picking up on their colors and numbers and developing their motor function all at the same time when you tell them ‘Move two green spaces’.
Try making up your own songs and games from scratch if you’re trying to get your kid onboard with new tasks. We make a game and song when we began to show our daughter how to brush her teeth. It’s called ‘The Brush Your Teeth’ game and the lyrics are ‘Brush! Brush! Brush your teeth!’… that’s it. Really it doesn’t take much effort to entertain a child sometimes. You just have to put some energy into making learning fun. Above all else, remember to try to have fun yourself.
5. Your Mistakes
We want the best for our kids and teaching them about life is a big responsibility. The truth is though you have to come to terms with the fact that you won’t get everything right. You will mess up, give them bad info at times or inadvertently have your kids pick up on bad habits. When I look back on my own childhood I realize that I actually learned a lot about what NOT to do as a parent reflecting on where my parents clearly made their mistakes.
One day your child will evolve to the point where they will look at what you have said and done and do the exact opposite, and that can be a good thing. Do your best, it will all work out in the end…right? I’m new at this I don’t know, I guess I’m just hoping myself.
Stay tuned to www.megadads.org for more parenting tips from a gamer dad perspective. I enjoy writing this ‘Parenting Strategy Guide’ series and I hope you like it to. If these articles has helped you at all please share and consider supporting Mega Dads on Patreon. For just $1 per month you can become a Mega Dads Plus member and enjoy some cool perks. We appreciate you and your support. Thank you!