Brain Booster!

There are many creative ways to encourage your toddler's interests and natural abilities while also improving his or her reading and writing skills. Learning shouldn't be a chore for you or your toddler. Learning can be a natural part of our daily lives if we take the time to be mindful of all the opportunities around us. Here's how parents like you turn everyday events into learning opportunities:

Two-year-old Kevin pronounces simple words and forms whole sentences. To encourage his verbal ability, Kevin's parents play Word Hunt with him. The game is similar to hide and seek. Mom and Dad hide objects around a room, then tell Kevin to look for a particular object. His parents repeat the word several times and show Kevin a picture of the word. "Kevin I want you to find the ball. Say ball. It looks like this picture," says Dad. (Kevin repeats the word) "Good! Now, let's find the ball!" The whole family takes turns joining in the hunt with Kevin, looking for other objects throughout the day.

Five-year-old Elisa hops into the family car when Mom picks her up from kindergarten. As Mom is strapping Elisa into the booster seat, she asks, "What did you learn in school today?" The bright little girl quickly replies, "Nothing." This is when Mom tries to improve Elisa's talking and listening skills. Mom begins a new conversation by telling Elisa how her own day went. This models conversation skills to Elisa. Mom also uses a storyboard approach by asking Elisa about her day using open-ended and follow-up questions. "Tell me three fun things you did on the playground today before we get to the next stoplight," Mom says. (Elisa shares fun stories.) "When your teacher said it was time to stop playing, what did you do?" (Elisa replies). "What made it hard to stop playing?"

Jackson is a rambunctious preschooler who loves the outdoors, handling objects and interacting with nature. Dad decides to encourage his son's enthusiasm for learning by creating a garden box for Jackson in the backyard. Dad helps Jackson learn how things grow from season to season. Dad tells Jackson that the garden is his responsibility and he will need to be attentive, follow instructions and learn the tasks of a gardener. "Jackson, the things you grow in the garden will someday be served at family dinner. Mom and I will be so proud cooking your vegetables!"

Tasha is 3 and has difficulty remembering things, especially recent events or instructions just given. Tasha's dad, in an attempt to improve her short-term memory, uses a homemade "Memory Puppet" to be a visual focus for Tasha. Fun and interactive, the Puppet is used to break down instructions to help Tasha listen to, repeat and retain bits of short-term information. Tasha's dad puts the Puppet on her hand and says, "Memory Puppet says, 'repeat after me. Pick up your shoes.'" (Tasha repeats the phrase, using Puppet to mouth the words, then she does the action.) Dad then says, "Memory Puppet says, 'hop to your room.'" (Tasha repeats the instruction, then hops to her room.) Finally, Dad says, "Memory Puppet says, 'put the shoes in the closet, then clap three times.'" (Tasha repeats the instruction and does the action.) Dad applauds and gives Tasha a big hug. "Good job! You remembered everything I said!" Later, as Tasha's short-term memory improves, Dad gives her two and three different instructions at the same time.

These are just a few of many brain busters you can try with your children. For more stimulating ideas, try the Interactive Book About Me Series from the Boys Town Press.