Holly Hageman loves watching her daughter, 3-year-old Brooklynn, learn new concepts.

Alphabet flashcards, books and shapes and numbers puzzles are a just few of Hageman’s favorite activities to play with Brooklynn at home in Atco, N.J.

“She likes to learn, and I try to make it as fun as possible for her,” says Hageman, a human-relations specialist. “Making learning fun keeps her attention longer.

Many parents take on the role of being their children’s preschool teacher and the responsibility of readying them for kindergarten.

To achieve this goal, it is important for parents to introduce a variety of subjects in a positive and playful manner.

“Learning should not be forced,” says Marion Godwin, who has taught first grade in Moorestown, N.J., for more than 30 years. “It should be taught according to what they know and do best — and that is play. When teaching them, play games and have fun with the subject.”

Godwin says parents should try to create a nurturing learning environment in their homes by filling it with books, puzzles, blocks and other stimulating toys. And parents should always be looking for “teachable moments.”

“You want a child to be a lifelong learner, so you want to show them learning is everywhere,” says Godwin. “If parents take the time to lay a strong educational foundation, their children will keep building on it.”

Introduce children to science with hands-on activities that interest them, such as growing plants from seeds, discussing animals and how to care for pets, and observing the chemical changes that occur during cooking, says Godwin.

Sorting activities, simple patterns and counting games are a great way to teach children the basics of math, and taking them on field trips, singing songs and reciting rhymes also are ways to prepare them for the first day of school, she says.

“I think children are naturals when it comes to computers,” says Godwin. “Let them play educational games on the computer and teach them how to type their first names using the keyboard. When they are more familiar with using the computer, let them find pictures of animals and places on the web.”

Beth Ann Garofola of Marlton, N.J., is a mother of four children, Grace, 6; Ellie, 5; Katie, 2; and 1-year-old Luke. As a part-time independent contractor for the Children’s Literacy Initiative, she knows the importance of reading to her children.

If you read with your children for at least 15 minutes every day it is going to be a huge help for them,” says Garofola. “It will make them become better readers. The kids and I don’t just read the words in a book either. We discuss the title, author and illustrator, where a sentence begins and ends, and make inferences with the pictures while we read.”

Garofola says she tries to help her children understand that every letter makes a sound with fun activities and phonics games.

“When we go to the grocery store every child brings their own list,” she says. “Even Luke has a list with A, B and C on it. I help him find something that begins with each letter and make the sound of the letters.”

As a former elementary school teacher, Garofola knows the importance of preparing her children for school. And another important learning aspect to consider, she says, is socialization.

“I think socialization is one of the most important parts of school,” she says. “Do activities with your child like sitting down and reading, following instructions and other social cues a teacher may give. There also are a lot of free programs like story times at libraries and book stores that can introduce a child to socializing with others.”

Hageman visits the park every weekend so her daughter, Brooklynn, can make friends and play with other children.

“At first she didn’t want to play with other kids,” she says. “But now she likes going to the park and interacting with her friends. She also enjoys playing with my family and friends’ children.”

If you notice a particular subject a child is struggling with, it is important to stay positive, says Godwin.

“Don’t criticize the child,” she says. “You can’t force them to learn something. If they don’t get something right, so what? Smile and be happy and make the experience joyful.

“Parents need to understand that if a child gets something wrong, they may think something is wrong with them. Keep working with them and when they get the right answer make sure you tell them how hard they worked to get the correct answer.”

By Candy Grande, Courier-Post

Source: USA TODAY – http://goo.gl/2S7q9