Every Day Extraordinary: Incidental Learning for Families
Most children love bath-time. A warm bath is often a precursor to bedtime rituals—starting with the bath, leading to pjs and then a goodnight story. Sometimes bath-time is in the morning on a lazy Saturday . . . but there is really no such thing as a lazy Saturday in busy households, so we will just pretend.
When children take a bath, families usually have two goals in mind: 1) getting the children clean and 2) helping them to relax. And, yes, kids do get clean and most relax while taking a bath—but there is so much other learning for kids that happens during bath-time.
While taking a bath, children discover that wet washcloths sink to the bottom of the tub and that empty shampoo bottles float to the top. They learn that splashing the dog gets them in trouble, you need soap to get a marker line off your skin and that all bubbles eventually will pop and you are left with clear water. Warm water gets cool and your skin is cold when you get out and you will slide on wet floors if you run. Not the point of the bath for parents, but definitely the result for children.
This is incidental learning.
Young children never stop learning like this and opportunities for informal learning are everywhere. See 3 everyday family situations that can lead to incidental learning for your children below:
- Infants: You dress, pack and prepare your baby for a car ride to visit her grandma—that is the point of the trip. Along the way, she notices blinking lights, hears the rumble of traffic and the sound of horns, attends to your voice and sifts it out of the other voices in the car, discovers that her mittens come off of her hands and now they feel cold. She is excited that her sister is next to her and reaches for everything she can touch, which results in giggles or wailing that she didn’t get her way. Music and talking calm her and the motion of the car can make her sleepy. This is all pretty exciting. Her brain is like a sparkler; bright, sharp, in need of a source to keep it lit and always “on fire”. She is learning so much!
- Toddlers: Toddlers are with you to shop for a birthday gift at the Mall – that is the point of the trip. Along the way, they learn that you hold hands in the parking lot because moving cars can be dangerous when you are walking. It is cold outside and warm inside. The Mall is big with many lights, spaces, people, sounds and smells. They are bombarded by colors, motion and sound when they enter a store; this causes an initial alarm response which moves quickly to organizing big/little, soft/hard, people/things, moving/still, bright/dull, toys/clothes, colors, you/others. They may not have the words for all of this, but they have amazing abilities to look and learn. They don’t miss a thing!
- Pre-K: Your preschooler attends his older brother’s basketball game in the school gym with you—that is the point of the trip. But while he is there you talk about dribbling, basketball courts, foul shots, keys, boxing out, shouting, scoring, numbers, coaches, referees, offensive and defense, team names and positions, players, fans, bleachers, scoreboards, gymnasiums, sportsmanship, whistles, time management, friends and uniforms. They learn how to look at a scoreboard and what the numbers and lights mean. They distinguish teams and cheer for their brother and his team. People talk with him, give high-fives when “his team” scores. He participates in plans for the rest of the day and learns responses for winning and losing. All of this is an incredible source of vocabulary, acknowledgement of physical skills and reflections on children’s and adult behaviors.
It’s easy to think it would be easier to run an errand without your baby, navigate the mall without a toddler or not hustle the little ones out of the house to go see their brother’s basketball game. But do it anyway and all the while you’ll be giving them learning opportunities that are amazing—on just another regular Saturday.
Vice President of Education & Staff Development