Here are a few activities that parents can do with their children that do not cost a lot of money:
- Talk!Â Begin talking to your child in the womb. New research conducted by the Bezos Family Foundation suggests that babies begin to absorb language in the womb. When children are born, speak directly to them, and do not use baby talk. Instead, talk as if you were chatting with a friend. The child, though too young to talk back, will hang on to your every word and learn the rhythm of language.
- Read!Â Start to read to your child early, and while picture books are great, you can also find words all around. You can point to, read, and show words while walking down the street, grocery shopping, and riding in a car, train, or bus.
- Explore!Â Search museum schedules and seek special family days; many offer these opportunities at no cost. In addition, take your child for walks in a local park. Look for insects, listen for animal sounds, and discuss habitats and seasons.
- Play!Â According to the Urban Child Institute, playing with young children is more than just fun–as synapses pop to life in a child’s expanding brain, young children are doing as much learning as laughing when they play.
- Teach! Â There’s no doubt that preschool is helpful, but learning starts at home right at the kitchen table. Make sure they learn the alphabet, colors, shapes, and basic math skills such as addition and subtraction before entering kindergarten.
- Find!Â Seek local preschool programs at a church or community center in your neighborhood, and make sure your child is the first to arrive. The local library may also provide free programs for children.
- Bring!Â Always carry in your purse pencils, crayons, and a small notebook to provide your child an opportunity for continuing to learn in those moments when you are occupied. Your child can draw, write the alphabet, and exercise his creativity. Ask, could you draw the clouds, an elephant, or a rocket ship? Make sure to acknowledge the artwork and even display it around the house.
These small interactions may seem meaningless, but they add up to give your child a good start for her education.
Do these tips make up for poorly performing public schools that produce students who are not prepared for higher learning? Absolutely not. We all know there needs to be a major change in public education focused on narrowing the achievement gap, but we cannot sit back and wait for the needed shift to occur.
The youngsters for whom we must ensure a solid early start are our future workforce–and tomorrow’s instruments for global competitiveness. We all have a stake in making sure they succeed. However, we all can take charge in our homes–where we set the policy! Let’s begin by being your children’s first teacher and providing that early start that can propel them to success.
Yvette Donado is senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey.