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As a deaf mom to three deaf and hard of hearing kids, I was always looking for innovative ways to incorporate learning into our day by teaching through play. My oldest child was always on “Hurricane Cycle” and it was a real challenge to pin him down for more than five minutes. My middle child loved books and could read for hours. My youngest kid wouldn’t touch a book with a five-foot-pole. As a mom, I quickly learned to create teachable moments through play. The kids were so engrossed in play that they often didn’t realize they were learning new things with every minute.
My kids loved to bake and they absolutely loved Ghiradelli Brownies. From the time they were toddlers, we played math games around the brownies and they had no idea I was teaching them through play. The kids learned to count eggs. In fact, we counted every food item we could get our hands on. M & Ms, Cheerios, chocolate chips–you name it. I was a junk-food mom back then. Today, I would have had them counting banana chips instead. I added a piece of colorful tape to the measuring cup to show them how far to pour the liquids. They each took turns stirring the mix ten times each. During another time, I set a timer for a minute and had them count how many times they could stir until the time ran out. (Chef note: this will result in tough brownies, pancakes, and cookies if you have an overly-ambitious child). As they became older, I would “accidently” mis-measure or miscount. The kids would take great delight in correcting Mommy’s mistakes. This was actually an important tactic for me because I could judge their learning ability as well as see if they were paying attention and understanding. There are lots of ways to get creative around the house and get chores done as well. How many bath towels do you have to fold to measure one foot? One yard?
I taught my kids to read in the bathtub. My favorite “toy” was actually one of the best educational props: a set of foam letters and numbers. I started off by teaching them two letters at a time. For a fun occasion, we’d play “Hunt for the Letters” under the bubbles. When it was my turn to hunt for a letter, I would sometimes come up with the wrong letter and the kids would correct me. Spelling lessons ended up on the walls of the tub as we created words and then I would challenge them to change the letters to create new words. All three kids were able to read by the time they were three. We read everything and everywhere throughout the day– from the stop signs on the road to the mail that we picked up daily–I used whatever I could find and turned it into an opportunity for the kids to read. As soon as a kid would master a book, we’d read it again with different eyes and different questions. Does the mouse in Goodnight Moon have a name? If the Very Hungry Caterpillar could eat one more thing, what would it be?
Take a look at your kid’s toys and figure out ways to repurpose them to incorporate learning and teaching through play. If you drop a doll vs. a Power Ranger, which one will hit the floor first? What about a big ball vs. a little ball? Which one will roll down an incline faster? What can you make when you mix Legos with Knex? What common things around the house can you take to the beach to build a sand castle with? And speaking of those dolls and Power Rangers–you can sneak in tons of lessons with imaginary conversations between you and your child while playacting with toys.
The beauty of creating those teachable moments is that the kids think it’s all play!