Make the time for pretend play. Let your child be the “director.” This helps him develop his own ideas. It also strengthens his thinking skills as he makes logical connections in his stories: The dog has to go back in his house because it’s raining. You can help him develop his ideas by asking questions: What is the doggy feeling? What is the doggy trying to do? Why? What might happen next?
Offer lots of props that help him act out the stories he’s creating —hats, dress-up clothing, toy dishes, child-sized brooms, pads of paper, blocks, play food and household objects like big cardboard boxes, blankets, pillows, etc.
Don’t answer your child’s questions right away. Ask first what he thinks the answer is. This gets his wheels turning. Listen carefully to and acknowledge his response and then you can offer the correct answer. For example, if he says he thinks it gets dark at night so people can sleep, you might respond: Yes, it is easier to sleep when it’s dark, and then go on to explain as simply as possible about the sun setting and rising each day.
Ask lots of questions during your everyday play and routines. As you go through your day together, ask your child “why” questions. Why do you think the leaves fall from the trees? Why does it snow? This gets your child’s mind working and also lets him know that you are interested in and value his ideas.
Watch your child and see what he is interested in. Ask questions about what you are seeing and experiencing together: What do you think we will find when we dig in the sand? Where do you think the butterfly is flying to? Wonder about things together: I wonder how many legs are on that spider? I wonder how many stairs there are to get up to the front door? I wonder where the rain goes when it lands on the ground? By noticing and building on your child’s natural curiosity, you are nurturing her love of learning.
Offer lots of chances to explore in creative ways. Take nature walks. Play with sand and water. Give your child objects he can take apart and investigate. By working with familiar (and not-so-familiar) objects, children figure out how things work. This type of problem-solving is critical for success in school.
Make connections between past and present. Make the logical connections in your child’s life clear to her: She has to wear mittens because her hands get cold if she doesn’t. She needs to bring a towel to the pool so she can dry herself off.
Use everyday routines to notice patterns. Using language to explain these patterns helps your child become a logical thinker and increases her vocabulary. “Do you notice that every time the dog whines he has to go out to do his business?” “When the buzzer goes off, the clothes are dry.”
Sort and categorize through the day. Do laundry together. Your child can separate colors from whites and make piles of socks, shirts, and pants. He can help set the table and organize the forks, plates and spoons. At clean-up time, have him put the cars on one shelf and books on another.
Help him grasp a sense of time. Use an egg timer to help him put together the concept of time with the experience of time (to help him know what 5 or 10 minutes feels like.) This also gives him some sense of control over knowing when a change will happen. (He can look at the egg timer and see the arrow moving closer to the “0” which is when he has to stop playing and get in the car.)
Talk about feelings. Help your child develop a feelings vocabulary. Put words to what you think she might be feeling. You are so mad that we have to leave the park. You feel sad when Grandma has to leave. This helps your child understand and cope with her feelings.
Talk about what others might be feeling. That little girl is jumping up and down and smiling. Do you think she is happy? When reading books, ask what she thinks the characters might be feeling. Do you think he’s afraid of the dark?
Help your child test out different solutions to problems. When she is stuck, suggest other ways to approach the problem. For example, suggest she try different openings to fit the shapes into. If she needs a wand for pretend play, ask her what household object she might be able to use.
Make up songs. Instead of Rain, Rain Go Away, suggest it can be Snow, Snow Go Away, or, Birthday, Birthday Almost Here. Ask your child what else he wants to make the song about. Change the words to the song to match his ideas. This helps your child learn to think logically and make connections between ideas.