It’s official! The first day of summer has ushered in long days, warm nights and, if you’re a parent, the feeling that your kids are ready for summer activities. Pinterest wins again as moms, dads and caregivers everywhere are pinning the latest craze–Summer Bucket Lists.
Just scrolling through my Facebook feed showed that many of my friends were jumping on the bandwagon. What an awesome idea!, the parent half of my brain thought, Let’s map out all the great things we can do before summer slips right past us. The Children’s Librarian in me chimed in too–Let’s make it a Summer Early Learning Bucket List! By practicing the five early learning activities–reading, talking, singing, playing and writing, we would develop early literacy skills and prepare for future reading and school success.
I set about listing activities that would allow my three-year-old, Ellie, to play and explore the world around her. We’d set a reading goal and earn prizes with the Library’s Summer Reading Program. We’d pick strawberries at a local farm, and draw a picture of it to send to Grandma. A trip to the beach would provide hours and hours of talking later. A visit to Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to see the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood exhibit would provide ample opportunities to play. Summertime reading, writing, talking, singing and playing quickly filled a poster board we’d hang in the kitchen.
And then I thought about Nolan. Ah, Nolan–my eight-month-old smiling bundle of wonderfulness. His list…was not so easy. Sure, he’d come along for all of Ellie’s adventures. But would he be able to learn from all the trips and activities that his big sister would dive into?
Well…yes. Research shows that babies begin collecting experiences at birth that shape their brain development and help them with the continuous process of language and literacy development. The first few years of life are crucial in building infrastructure in the brain for learning. Zero to Three, a non-profit that works to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life, explains the research that guides early childhood experts. “Early literacy skills develop in real life settings through positive interactions with literacy materials and other people.” Simply said, everyday experiences and interactions with family and friends allow babies and young children to develop early literacy skills.
So, while Nolan might not chat back to me when we’d talk about the beach, he would soak up every word I said as I described the grainy, warm sand I was dipping his toes into. And he might not be fully interacting with the Daniel Tiger exhibit, but he would learn cause and effect as his sister turned clock gears. At the strawberry farm, he’d squish a strawberry in his hand and listen as his dad told him how a strawberry bush grows. When we read a board book about gardening, synapses in his brain would grow stronger and make more connections, creating pathways for future learning.
In the end, Nolan’s baby bucket list might not be as flashy as Ellie’s, but it’s full of rich language, diverse and new experiences, and lots of baby-parent bonding time–things that don’t have to be relegated to summer.
Looking for more inspiration for your own Summer Early Learning Bucket List for Baby? Try out these activities, big and small:
- Sign baby up for the Library’s Summer Reading Program.
- Challenge yourself to read all 10 books on this year’s Best Books for Babies booklist.
- Sign baby up for a library card and unlock a lifetime of reading.
- Model the importance of reading for your child and participate in Adult Summer Reading.
- Take a nature walk and be a tour guide for baby. Narrate all the wonderful things you see, hear, touch and smell together.
- Describe all the new and exciting things baby can see and experience at some of these big family-friendly events and destinations in Pittsburgh
- Learn some sign language to talk with baby at the Library’s Sign Time: Baby Talk programs. Sign language allows babies to talk with their hands, often before they can speak.
- Attend a storytime near you! Baby and Me and Baby and Toddler Snugglebug storytimes are specifically designed for little ones, and are filled with songs, rhymes and books.
- Learn an interactive song for baby and sing it in the park, at the pool or on a picnic blanket in the yard. Soak up some rays as you serenade.
- Check out a music CD for baby and play it as you take some great summer road trips.
- Stop by the Library’s Little Learners: Playtime events and introduce baby to some new toys and friends.
- Visit your neighborhood library for playtime anytime. Developmentally appropriate toys, games, puzzles and more await!
- Find a shady spot and blow some bubbles for baby. Popping bubbles will teach cause and effect. Reaching for bubbles will develop gross motor skills and strengthen baby’s muscles.
- Get out the chunky chalk and let baby make marks on the driveway or sidewalk. Develop fine motor skills that will allow baby to hold a pencil later in life.
- Visit a sandbox or fingerpaint outside! Trace baby’s initial or name. Afterwards, leave the mess behind.
Erin Z. is the Early Learning Lead Librarian for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She’s also the mother of an opinionated three-year-old (what three-year-old isn’t opinionated?!) and a very smiley baby. This means that Erin eats, sleeps (not often) and breathes little kids—and she always has spit up on her sweaters.