Home learning counts - How simple household tasks can boost a child’s brainpower

Home learning counts - How simple household tasks can boost a child’s brainpower

Home learning counts - How simple household tasks can boost a child’s brainpower

Discover the seven everyday activities parents can do at home to improve their child’s literacy and numeracy.

Home learning counts

How simple household tasks can boost a child’s brainpower.

These days parents will do, or spend, just about anything to make their kids smarter. As teachers we’re sure you’ve seen it all. From expensive apps and educational toys to the somewhat inane early childhood tutoring, parents are looking to give their kids an ‘edge’.

However, research shows that the ‘edge’ they may be looking for lies a lot closer to home. In fact, it may be within the home to be more exact.

"Children learn how the world works by watching and copying the people around them, and this puts a bit more power into the hands of parents. They don't have to become victims of modern marketing and commercial products," says lead researcher and lecturer Dr Yeshe Colliver.

There are many reasons why parents are likely to be the most important teachers to their children. They look up to parents, want to be like them and are most likely to adopt their parents’ values and dispositions. Dr Colliver asked parents to demonstrate everyday problem-solving activities involving literacy and numeracy skills, such as writing a letter, in the presence of their children. Educators did the same activity for only two weeks, and this appeared to reinforce the value of literacy and numeracy. The researchers then assessed the children against a control group.

Over four weeks, the children who were exposed to adult problem-solving started to play more with activities involving literacy and numeracy, such as writing letters or sorting objects into patterns. What was even more striking was that this play appeared to result in improved numeracy and significantly better reading ability, just after a month.

It is important that a young child’s education not be structured and formal. Simply inviting children into our adult world by vocalising our thoughts during daily tasks enables us to influence children’s interests.

Here are six things parents can do at home with their child to improve their literacy and numeracy:

Traditional writing – with a pen and paper!

Write a letter to a friend or relative overseas. This demonstrates the importance of literacy and written communication in daily life by physically showing the processes involved. Colliver’s research involved parental pairs discussing the problems they solved. For example, one parent might talk about why it would make more sense to spell ‘to’ as T – U .

There are never too many chefs, right?

The amount of food cooked is proportional to the number of people eating. These simple calculations may seem difficult for your child, but Colliver’s research showed that adults valuing and discussing these calculations with each other was what inspired children to become interested in making similar calculations when playing.

And when you’re done eating, stack the dishwasher together

This simple act can help children categorise and count items. You need to vocalise how you group different items together – where all the flat plates are put, and then collect all the round bowls and put them somewhere else. Comparing quantities is a great way to show the value of calculating difference. Use words like 'more than’ or ‘half as much as’ to show the value of simple mathematics to your daily life. And there’s nothing wrong with making a mistake – that’s a great opportunity for another adult to talk about why it’s wrong. This will vocalise the processes clearly for children.

Learning their times tables (well, not really)

Let the child count numbers while setting the table. ‘So, how many people are eating? And then how many plates or knives and forks are needed?’ Simple questions that can be a solid foundation for comprehending numeracy. There are also patterns in the way we set tables (fork, plate, knife, fork, plate, knife …), which offer great opportunities for talking about sequence, order and repetition. These simple patterns have been shown to improve multiplication and division skills later at school.

Who said shopping wasn’t educational?

Let your child help with the shopping list. Comparing your list to labels on supermarket shelves is a good opportunity to talk about letter identification and spelling. Thinking about what food needs to be bought and in what quantities can also involve mathematical talk. The important thing is vocalising all those processes to pique your child’s interest.

Contemporary writing – get out your laptop for this one!

If you’re sitting down to check and write emails, don’t be afraid to talk out loud about what you’re doing or writing, and even sound out the words as you spell them. Colliver’s research showed that we don’t have to tell children to do these things – the important thing is that you show how valuable it is in your life and children will become naturally interested!

Dr Colliver is a lecturer at Macquarie University. His research examines incidental learning (play-based learning, language acquisition, cultural values) and how it can be harnessed better in education. A paper explaining the first iteration of his study can be found in the Mathematics Education Research Journal.

Content owner: Department of Educational Studies Last updated: 05 Jun 2019 10:05am

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