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Texas Parenting News
Turn off the TV: Get a hand on learning

Let’s forget for a moment the violence and sex in TV programs. Here’s another reason for turning off the tube: hands-on learning.
Preschool children need to be using their hands—building with blocks, scribbling on paper, rolling a ball, for example. The physical activity strengthens the fingers and enhances coordination, forming the foundation for writing, drawing, typing at a computer keyboard, and many other skills.
But it’s more than that. The hand and arm form a deep learning pathway to the brain, and the pathway gets laid down in early childhood. It begins in infancy, as babies grasp, drop, and bang objects. It continues in the preschool years as children work puzzles, pound pegs with wooden hammers, shape clay, and match nuts and bolts.
By manipulating objects, children develop thinking skills. Children learn that objects have shape, color, weight, and texture, for example. Gradually children learn to classify objects by these traits. They begin to recognize patterns—red-blue, red-blue, red-blue, for example. They learn how to match similar objects and put them in sequence—smallest to largest, for example. Eventually, these concepts lead to math skills—counting, adding, subtracting—and to science skills—observing, predicting, testing.
So it’s important that children get plenty of hands-on learning opportunities at home. And they don’t need store-bought educational materials. Ordinary activities—setting the table, sorting socks, and folding laundry, for example—are a good way to start.
You can also make learning games from household objects and recyclables. See below for examples, and then make up your own.
Caution: Make sure all materials are safe. Don’t use glass or sharp pointed objects. Small objects, like buttons and beads, pose a choking hazard for children 3 and younger.

Nesting cups
Provide a set of four plastic measuring cups. You can also use plastic storage containers with lids. Allow your child to explore the cups with hands and mouth. Then ask the child to fit them one inside the other. Talk about what is happening. Use words like big and little, in and out.

Classify and sort
Provide an assortment of plastic forks, knives, and spoons. Name the different items and allow your child to handle each one. Then invite the child to pick out the forks. Try this with tableware of different colors.
Gather other items that children can classify by size, shape, or color: plastic lids, plant pots, cereal boxes, ball caps. Make a big pile of different items and invite your child to put together things that are alike. Talk about the results. Mix up the items and ask the child to find a different way that things are alike.
Start collecting things—rocks, shells, leaves, unshelled nuts, twigs, fabric scraps, floor tiles. Invite your child to sort each type by color or size or texture (smooth, rough). Have your child sort them from largest to smallest or lightest to darkest.

Straw necklaces
Cut different colored drinking straws into four equal lengths. Place the sections on a tray and arrange a few in a pattern—red-white-blue, red-white-blue, for example. Ask your child to make the same pattern with the remaining sections. Continue making patterns and have your child copy them. Or have your child make a pattern and you copy it.
Cut straws into 1-inch pieces. Cut yarn into 12-inch lengths, and wrap tape around one end to make it stiff. Show your child how to string the straw on the yarn to make a necklace. Encourage your child to make necklaces of different patterns.

Save envelopes from junk mail. After collecting several, have your child deliver “mail” to each person in the family. Say “One envelope to every person, one person to every envelope.” Do the same with different items such as muffins, combs, and keys.
Provide an ice cube tray and two each of an assortment of small items, such as bolts, chip clips, clothespins, thread spools, milk jug caps, caps from markers, large buttons, erasers. Ask your child to place one item in each hole of the tray, with the same items side by side. Talk about the results.

Learning numbers 1-5
Gather five index cards and 15 milk jug caps. Write the numeral 1 on the first card and draw an outline around a milk jug cap. Write the numeral 2 on the next card and draw two outlines. Continue until you have a card for each number, one through five.
Show your child how to place a milk jug cap on an outline. Say the name of each number as the child places caps on the outlines on each card. Once the child can match caps to outlines, mix up the cards and let your child try again. Then remove the cards, and ask your child to set out one cap, then two, and so on. Encourage your child to count other items in the house—two lamps, five apples, three pencils.
When your child understands five as a quantity, proceed to six and higher.

Felt shapes
Cut four shapes—square, circle, triangle, and rectangle—roughly 2 inches across out of felt, denim, or another heavy fabric. Cut out successively larger sizes of each shape. For example, cut circles with diameters of 3, 4, and 5 inches.
Name each shape and let your child handle it. Mix up the shapes and see if your child can pick out the shape you name. Ask your child to pick out all the triangles. Have your child arrange each shape by size, from largest to smallest.
Suggest laying out the shapes in a design or picture. One of you makes the design, and the other copies it. Challenge your child to guess or predict what you’re going to make. Take turns.

Empty handed
Place four small objects, like buttons or pennies, in your hand and close it into a fist. Open your hand and ask: “How many are there?” Close your fist, remove one object, open your fist, and again ask how many. Continue until you have none. Explain that none is represented by the numeral 0, which is called “zero.”
Repeat this game with more and different objects. Think of examples of zero in your home. “How many submarines do we have? Zero.” Look for the numeral zero on food package labels: “How many grams of fat? Zero.”

Encourage family activity
As children get older, play board games like checkers and card games like Go Fish. These games not only help the family have fun together but also teach children how to pay attention, follow rules, take turns, learn number concepts, and think logically.