It doesn’t take long for a couple to be transformed into parents. The moment they learn that a baby is on the way, they begin shopping for cribs, appraising rocking chairs, and debating the associations of favorite names. They buy mobiles to entice and stimulate his unfocused eyes, play music boxes to watch him smile, and place soft toys and rattles in close range, anxious for his first reaching out to learn about his world.
But the minute baby starts to crawl or walk, these same parents sometimes become over-anxious about his safety, frustrated by his mobility and harassed by his investigative curiosity. They lock doors, install him in a highchair, take him reluctantly from his crib, and isolate him and his toys in his room. Many mothers spend the years from one to six just coping, trying to isolate, restrict, and confine.
In contrast, one mother and father with several children, anxious to give them learning experiences, but with limited space, approached the problem of providing a stimulating environment creatively. They moved the girls into one room, the boys into another, reserved another room for themselves, and set up a learning center in a fourth.
The learning center was built a little at a time, as the financial means became available. Eventually, it included a long desk with chairs and good lighting for coloring or homework. Another corner had a small model kitchen; another was equipped with blocks and other toys. The cabinets and closets were filled with glue, crayons, scrap paper, glitter, an appropriately stocked bookcase, old magazines for cutting up, scissors, rulers, pencils, and pens. The children love that room, help each other, and are stimulated by each other; there is something to satisfy all ages and stages. If anyone needs privacy or some quiet time, he or she can retreat to another room in the house.
But the project did not end there. The mother visited the community preschools and was reassured to discover that most of them seemed to focus on how to help the child master his environment. The most elite nursery schools, she discovered, went to great lengths to reproduce the environment and atmosphere of a home.
She came home excited. She had the equipment. All she needed was the structure. Cleaning out the lower drawers in her kitchen, she filled them with measuring cups, spoons, and canisters full of beans, macaroni, and rice to be used to strengthen the small muscles, build eye and hand coordination, and refine visual discrimination. Her small children could pour substances from one container to another, spoon them from one to another, and sort beans from macaroni. She added several boxes full of items such as magnets and paper clips. A paper clip on a paper fish and a magnet on a small fishing pole made a magical activity. So did sorting metallic from nonmetallic items.
Everyday chores became learning activities when she enlisted her children’s help in cutting up vegetables for stew or salads, rolling their own little pan of biscuits or rolls, setting the table, or folding napkins. She prepared a list of fun, thought-provoking questions and taped it inside a cupboard door for quick and easy reference while they worked together:
“Can you pronounce all of the short vowel sounds before I count to 20?”
“Name five fruits.”
“Give me three reasons why you like daddy.”
“Name ten things you could do for Grandma.”
“Name four things Connie does for you.”
“Name six prophets in the Old Testament.”
Underneath their plates at mealtimes she occasionally placed discussion topics: “What was your most exciting experience this month?” “What do you like best about school? or home? or summer?”
A storage closet became a theater supply room with a box of old clothing for dressups, homemade musical instruments for a marching band, long scarves and sticks with streamers to swirl in time to music, and items for relay races, blindfold games, and round games.
The family room became a center of activity. Breakables went into storage. In one corner were placed blankets and bean bags to snuggle into for an evening story. Hanging plants and an aquarium added life and beauty. A bookcase placed as a divider between the door and a window created a corner reading nook. They filled it with books appealing to all age levels. A rocking chair, big enough for an adult and child, was close by. On the wall next to the bookcase, the mother made a huge square with brightly colored borders containing a large calendar and seasonal decorations.
Both parents discovered that their home was stimulating to them as well as to the children. More time became available for those books they’d always meant to read, to update the children’s scrapbooks, and to write letters. Teasing and bickering dropped off. People spoke more quietly to each other. Bedtime was less of a struggle. Chores didn’t seem quite as routine.
As family interaction increased, so did family friendships. And the mother quietly cherished the involuntary compliment paid by the child of some wealthy friends. As they entered the learning center, the child’s eyes opened wide. The young son tugged on his mother’s arm and whispered, “Mommy. They must be rich, huh?”
Yes, this family was rich—rich in having a home that promoted growth, development, and progression. Their home had become not only a place of refuge, but a center of learning that helped them all deal more effectively with their world.
Let’s Talk about It
After reading “Making Home a Learning Center,” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions and ideas:
1. List (a) some of the items you would need that are easily obtainable; and (b) some items you could work toward getting, to make home a more exciting and enriching learning center.
2. If good books, games, and other activities are needed for the family, where could you go for information and supplies?
3. What kind of containers, storage space, and room arrangements would you need to do what you want to do?
4. Where in your home can your children go to read, draw, or have a quiet visit with friends?
5. What “ground rules” would you need in your home for the consideration of all the family?
Ronald and Sherri Zirker, parents of five children, teach the family relations Sunday School class in their Mesa, Arizona, ward. Brother Zirker is a psychologist for the Mesa school district.