Are you the parent of a young child? If so, you play an incredibly important role in many areas of their life, and not just in feeding them, protecting them, clothing them, and putting a roof over their head. You also are a vital component in their education.
A Parent Is a Child’s First Teacher
It’s easy to get caught up in this idea we have in society that a teacher is a professional instructor, somebody who works in a school system, who earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree in their chosen field, and who stands in front of dozens of children each day providing instruction.
However, every person is a potential teacher, especially if they have regular interaction with young minds eager to learn. That’s why a parent is their son’s or daughter’s first teacher, almost always.
Parenting skills and behaviors, even the things a mother or father — or both — do whenever the child is present and observant is influencing that young mind in ways most of us can barely fathom and in sometimes imperceptible ways.
Parents Start Teaching Right Away
In fact, according to research, babies in the womb are already learning, connecting to their mother’s voice, and forming a bond that few parents fully appreciate. William Fifer, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, who co-authored a paper about this very topic, said, “Within 10 to 20 minutes, the babies learned to adjust their sucking rate on the pacifier to turn on their mother’s voice. This not only points out that a newborn’s innate love for his mother’s voice but also a baby’s unique ability to learn quickly.”
When a baby is born, the bonding period already started, but continuing to bond is also one of the most enjoyable and pleasurable acts a mother and father can take part in. Bonding involves spending time with the baby, talking to the newborn, singing her to sleep, breastfeeding, looking at him, smiling at her, and so much more.
Cradling your baby and gently rocking her or stroking him offers comfort. It lets her know she’s safe and secure. Frequent skin to skin contact with an infant also helps to establish a stronger bond and relationship.
The more both parents take part in this, the quicker the infant will get to know the unique yet subtle differences between the touch of both mother and father.
The importance of direct eye contact.
When adults speak to one another, eye contact is often considered a vital component of communication. A lot can be discerned about a person and their behaviors through eye contact, or a lack of it.
Though it’s important in adulthood, it’s also important in childhood. Looking into a young infant’s eyes offers wonderful and meaningful communication. While the baby’s eyesight does not fully develop right away, they can see clearly within about 18 to 20 inches away.
This happens to be about the average distance between the mother’s breasts and her eyes. Maintaining eye contact is a soothing component for newborns and even young children. It establishes a level of respect and helps instill self-esteem and confidence in young children because they realize they are important enough in that moment to have the full and undivided attention of their mother or father.
When your baby cries or coos or makes other sounds, a great way to help him or her begin developing vocabulary skills is to repeat those sounds but also start incorporating actual words they may be able to understand in time.
Talk to your baby often and repeatedly. Not only will she love the sound of your voice, but she will also begin to discern the structure of language, even long before she understands words and meaning.
The more you read to your young infant and toddler, the stronger his or her vocabulary will become. But keep in mind you don’t just have to read to them for this to happen; talking to them clearly and with easy to understand words that are enunciated make a significant difference.
As Your Child Grows
Even if you place your child in preschool at 12 weeks of age to return to your job, you continue to be his or her primary teacher. Though a child may only be three or four, they are old enough to take part in certain household activities, even some chores, with guidance, instruction, mentoring, and plenty of patience.
Encourage your child to participate in these activities, even to put their toys away properly, take their plate from the dinner table to the kitchen sink, and begin trying to make their bed consistently each morning.
Young children are learning just about everything for the first time. They will struggle and they will face numerous problems to overcome. It’s easy to want to step in and solve those problems for them, but it’s best to encourage them to solve things on their own.
When there are problems the child cannot solve after some effort, then you, as their parent and first teacher, do need to step in and offer guidance. This may include instruction, advice, or correction.
It becomes too easy to want to do things for our children when they struggle, but it’s that struggle that makes a world of difference in not only their learning capabilities but also their confidence and self-esteem.
As your child’s first teacher, one powerful and effective way for children to learn is through playing games. Shape sorting, simple puzzles, and matching games all require concentration, focus, and some level of problem-solving development.
As your child grows, his or her interest in certain games will change. What was once captivating as a two-year-old may no longer challenge them or interest them like a five-year-old. Just because they may not be interested in those early matching games doesn’t mean playing games is no longer important.
Older children, teenagers, and even adults have the opportunity to learn through playing games; it’s just a matter of changing the type of games to be more age and intellectually appropriate.
Make Meal Time Sacred
With so many distractions in the world, it’s easy to throw food on a plate, plop down on the couch in front of the TV, and eat while watching a program, but whenever you have the opportunity, eat meals with your children.
This should include a distraction-free environment: free from TV, free from tablets, and free from smartphones (for you and them). Speak to them, ask about their day, and give your child the attention he or she craves.
Never Forget Your Role as a Teacher to Your Child
When children love, trust, and respect their parents or primary guardians, they will learn many invaluable lessons they can carry with them for the rest of their life. When the learning experience is fun in these supportive environments, children learn best.
Never underestimate the influence you will have on your young child. Preschool and early education offer a wonderful foundation, but education always begins first and foremost at home, with you, your child’s very first teacher.