Parents as a Child’s First Teacher: Nurturing Development from Home

April 12, 2024

Before a child even steps into a classroom or child care center, their first lessons in life occur within the walls of their home. During their formative years, from birth to age five, children undergo significant cognitive, motor, and behavioral development. As their primary guides and first teachers, parents and guardians play a pivotal role in fostering these crucial aspects of growth.

Delving into each domain of development, let’s explore effective strategies and activities that parents can integrate into their daily routines to support their child’s holistic growth.

Cognitive Development: Building the Foundation of Learning

Cognitive development lays the groundwork for a child’s ability to learn, think, reason, and solve problems. Engaging children in stimulating activities encourages curiosity and develops a strong foundation for future academic and communicative success. Here are some ways to foster positive cognitive development:

Reading Together: One of the most powerful tools for cognitive development is reading. It introduces children to language, expands their vocabulary, and sparks imagination. Make reading a daily ritual by choosing age-appropriate books that capture their interest.

Some classic children’s book options include:

  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

In celebration and education of Arab American Heritage Month, you can also read these books by Arab American authors:

  • Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine by Hannah Moushabeck and Reem Madooh
  • The Book That Almost Rhymed by Omar Abed and Hatem Aly
  • Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi
  • Tomatoes in My Lunchbox by Constania Manoli and Agdalena Mora 

Play Together: Play is a child’s entry to the physical, social, and affective worlds. It is a critical and necessary tool in the positive cognitive development of young children and directly linked to long-term academic success. Here are ways you can play together at home:

  • Provide toys and activities that encourage exploration and problem-solving, such as building blocks, puzzles, and shape sorters.
  • Allow children to manipulate objects, such as creating art or dropping balls into pails, to foster their understanding of cause and effect.
  • Dance and sing together. These types of activities help young children develop spacial awareness and leads to improved communication skills. As an added bonus, it’s also helpful for improving gross motor skills.
  • Invite your child to help you in the kitchen. Not only is it a fun activity to do together, but cooking helps establish a basic understanding of math and life-long healthy eating practices.

Encourage Questions: As children find their voice, they also find their curiosity for the world around them. Foster that curious mindset by encouraging your child to ask questions. Answer their inquiries patiently, and if you don’t know the answer, explore together through books or online resources.

Motor Development: Mastering Movement Skills

It’s time to get moving! Motor development involves the refinement of both gross and fine motor skills, which are essential for physical coordination and independence. In these formative years, your little one will learn to walk, learn how to grab and hold items, begin building their muscle strength, and more. Here are some ways to facilitate positive motor development at home:

Tummy Time: Starting from infancy, incorporate daily tummy time sessions to strengthen neck and upper body muscles, promoting eventual crawling and walking. You can elevate the tummy time experience by:

  • Giving children lots of open-ended toys to explore like nesting bowls, a pail and shovel, building blocks, wooden animals, and people figures.
  • Hanging artwork on the wall that appeals to infants, including bold colors, clear designs, and art from various cultures.
  • Providing mobiles that children can move safely and observe shapes and colors.

Outdoor Play: Provide opportunities for outdoor play, whether it’s at a park, playground, or in your backyard. Activities such as running, jumping, climbing, and swinging enhance gross motor skills while allowing children to connect with nature. Also try gardening together! Not only does gardening promote motor skill development, but it offers many other benefits for young children including stress management, cognitive and emotional development, sensory development, and increased interests in math, sciences, and healthy eating. Follow the Council on our social platforms @cdacouncil for our segment, Council Sprouts, where we provide tips and ideas for gardening with your little one.

Fine Motor Activities: Fine motor skills relate to movement of the hands and upper body, as well as vision. Activities that encourage hand-eye coordination and fine motor skill development include:

  • Drawing and coloring
  • Doing puzzles, with size and piece amounts dependent on the age of the child
  • Dropping items or threading age-appropriate beads on strings
  • Stacking toys
  • Shaking maracas
  • Using age-appropriate, blunt scissors
  • Playing with puppets or playdough

Behavioral Development: Nurturing Social and Emotional Skills

Behavioral development encompasses the social and emotional aspects of a child’s growth, including self-regulation, empathy, and interpersonal skills.

Social and emotional development begins in the first few weeks of a child’s life. Young infants begin to build a sense of self-confidence and security in an environment where they can trust that an adult will lovingly care for their needs. As they age and become toddlers and preschoolers, they begin to establish their sense of self, explore feelings of independence, and experience conflicting feelings and ideas for the first time, all while learning how to socialize, communicate, and interact with others. Here are ways you can support your child’s behavioral development as they navigate their exploration of self and interpersonal interactive development:

Model Positive Behavior: Children learn by example, so model positive behaviors and attitudes in your interactions with others. Show empathy, kindness, and patience to the people you encounter, and emphasize acceptance of others. Seeing your behaviors in action will provide a beneficial blueprint for healthy social interactions.

Emotion Recognition: Young children are experiencing so many things for the first time. It can be both exciting and scary, resulting in big feelings and reactions from your little ones. Help your child identify and express their emotions by labeling feelings and discussing appropriate ways to manage them. Some ways to explore emotions in a safe and supportive environment include:

  • Use books as a tool for identifying and managing emotions
  • Role-play to help young children experience different scenarios and outcomes
  • Share your own experience in an unbiased way to showcase your life-knowledge

Play Dates and Socialization: Arrange play dates or attend parent-child classes to provide opportunities for social interaction and collaboration with peers. Through play, communication, and time with others, young children can learn how to share, take turns, and resolve conflicts peacefully.

In nurturing a child’s development from home, parents and families lay a strong foundation for future learning and success. Through each triumph and challenge, embrace the journey with patience, love, and a commitment to fostering your child’s holistic development. As their first teacher, you’re empowering the next generation to thrive throughout their childhood and into adulthood.



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