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Boost Learning at Home With Tips From Early Learning Matters

The Office of Children, Youth and Families, Military Community and Family Policy, will launch a new, research-informed early care and education curriculum this fall. Purdue University developed the Early Learning Matters curriculum, or ELM, for use in Department of Defense child development centers. It provides children with a strong foundation by promoting skills linked to school readiness, well-being and life success.

The office recognizes the stress and challenges the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on military families, and is providing tips now that families can use to promote children’s learning at home. These readiness starts early tips stem from the ELM curriculum and can fit into daily activities you can do at home with your child. The tips focus on preschool children’s growth and development in social-emotional development, self-regulation, cognitive development, language and literacy, and math and science. We hope you will find them useful.

Social-emotional activities

Knowing how to share a toy is part of getting along with others.

  • Use a small set of blocks (or similar play item) to talk with your child about different ways to share something with someone else.
    • Divide the blocks in half so each person has some.
    • Play with the blocks together to build something.
    • Let each person take a turn in playing with the blocks.

Identifying possible solution to a problem is a key part of problem-solving skills.

  • Pretend two stuffed animals are fighting over a toy. Invite your child to think of several different solutions. Encourage your child to play the part of one of the stuffed toys, and offer a solution to the other stuffed toy.

Self-regulation activities

  • Children follow rules better when they understand the reason for a rule. Discuss with your child the reasons for some of your family rules. For example, buckling up helps people stay safe in a vehicle, specific sleeping times help our bodies rest so we have lots of energy and stay strong. You could also explain to your child why staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and washing your hands frequently helps keep everyone from getting sick.
  • Waiting patiently is a self-control skill used throughout life. Help your child think of ways to wait patiently. Options include humming, singing a song quietly, playing with a toy or looking at a book. Provide items and supports for your child to practice patience.

Social studies activities

  • Understanding that each person is unique can help children respect others. Look into a large mirror with your child. Talk about physical characteristics that are similar and different. Compare characteristics with other members of your family.
  • Understanding how your families are the same and different helps children learn how each family is unique. Talk with your child about family members who live with you, or live far away. Make a photograph book together of family members. The book can be your child’s own special book about his/her family. And since everyone is staying at home because of COVID-19, if you don’t have access to photographs, you might use digital files to create a photo album on your computer. Some software enables you to set up slideshows you could use as computer screensavers.

Language and literacy activities

  • Identifying different sounds can strengthen children’s listening skills. Play a sound guessing game with your child. Invite your child to close his/her eyes and then you make a sound using your hands (such as snapping fingers, clapping or knocking on a hard surface) or with a material from your home (such as crumpling paper, playing a musical instrument, using a zipper).
  • Identifying rhyming words is a valuable early literacy skill. Encourage your child to listen for and say rhyming words in nursery rhymes, such as “twinkle, twinkle little star” (star/are, high/sky). Read books together that include rhyming words.

Mathematics activities

  • Strengthen your child’s knowledge of shapes by describing a basic shape for your child to identify. Draw the outline of basic shapes on the same or separate sheets of paper: circle, square, rectangle, triangle. Describe a shape. Ask your child to point to and say the name of the shape you describe. Reverse the roles by encouraging your child to describe a shape that you point to and name. You might also try searching for these shapes around the house.
  • Counting objects helps children understand numbers. Have your child practice counting things around the house. For instance, ask how many people are sharing a meal and have your child point to each person as they count. Count other objects around the house such as buttons on a coat or shirt, fingers, feet, hands.

Science activities

Exploring is an important first step in learning about something

  • Provide a magnet your child can use to explore what types of small items attract and do not attract to the magnet. Invite your child to group them by type.
  • Exploring where and how animals live in their natural settings can enhance your child’s awareness of nature. Talk about animals in the region where you live or another habitat of interest to your child. Where do different types of animals live? What do they eat? Are they awake during the day or at night? How do they breathe (gills or lungs)?

Creative expression activities

Encouraging children to express their own ideas in art activities fosters their creativity.

  • Provide plenty of opportunities for your child to use colored pencils, crayons, paints, markers or play dough to create special art. Remind your child that special art is something he/she creates. It is not a copy of what someone else has done.

Physical health activities

  • Keeping hands clean and covering sneezes is a great way to stay healthy and prevent germs from spreading to others. Staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for children to practice effective hand washing, and learning to “catch” a sneeze in a tissue or in the inside part of the elbow.
  • Moving our bodies is another important way to stay healthy. Moving in different ways can help children focus on their leg, arm and muscle movements. Invite your child to walk, and then march. You may wish to walk and march alongside your child. Encourage your child to pay attention to how his/her body moves when walking compared to marching.

The Department of Defense plans to roll out the complete Early Learning Matters curriculum this fall at installation child development centers across the world. But staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic is a great opportunity to get a head start on your child’s early learning.

Understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly changing. For updates and information specific to your location, visit your installation’s official website. You can also follow your installation’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram platforms. For Department of Defense updates for the military community, visit, follow Military OneSource’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms, and continue to check the Coronavirus Information for Our Military Community page for updates.

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