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3 Essential Ingredients for Early Learning

Essential Ingredients for Early Learning

All of us are homeschoolers for at least the first few years of our children’s lives (and I certainly concur with those who maintain parents are always their children’s primary teachers no matter how they are formally educated). So what is really important during these early learning years, especially as it pertains to getting our kids ready for formal learning? There are a few essentials we can summarize from the research:

The soil matters – take two identical plants and plant one in depleted, dry soil and the other in rich, moist soil. Would you expect any differences? You bet. The same goes for kids. If you want to grow tomatoes, you need soil enriched with the nutrients tomatoes crave. If you want to grow a brain, then kids need to be planted in an environment that’s filled with the food a growing brain feasts on. What are those nutrients? Well here’s my food pyramid for cognitive growth:


That’s the big 3.

Language means “live” speech, especially interactive speech – not the television buzzing in the background.

Why language?

Because preschoolers need language in order to “think” about the experiences they are having. Try capturing and storing an event in your memory where you do not have words to describe what you are seeing. Near impossible, right? That’s why human brains work so much better than animals’ – we have the words to capture those memories and pass them on to the next generation. Language is how we encode our experiences so we can learn from them.

30 million word gap.

Do you think a difference that big might matter? That’s the difference in the amount of spoken language heard by preschoolers from middle  class homes by age 3 and those born into poverty, a number of studies have repeatedly found.

Is it the money making the difference? Not really. It’s the amount of interaction between these preschoolers and their parents and the quality of language the more privileged kids are hearing. The vocabulary is more extensive, the interactions are longer, and the range of topics broader. I know a lot of my readers may not consider themselves middle class. Actually plenty of us chose homeschooling because the cost of a quality education seemed out-of-reach. Well, it doesn’t take money, fortunately, to ensure our young children get plenty of nutrients to help their brains develop fully. Rather, we just need to mimic the actions of these middle class parents.

Talk to your kids about everything, even things you don’t know a lot about. During the early learning years, especially, let them hear you thinking aloud and pondering the mysteries of the world around you. Ask them questions to help them use the words they do have and acquire new ones. Beyond that, read aloud. This is the richest vein of nutrients you can tap to open up new worlds and give them words to think and learn.


Debra Bell is the best-selling author of the award-winning Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling,  Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling TeensDebraBellImage and the Ultimate Planners for moms, teens and students

Debra has just release her new writing curriculum and a new reading curriculum, Writers in Residence. Published by Apologia, Writers in Residence is geared toward grades 4 through 8. You may view a 100+ page sample and enjoy a free e-Book full of helpful homeschool resources and information by clicking here

Readers in Residence is a reading comprehension, literature, and vocabulary program. It is available from Apologia Educational Ministries and may be used alone or along with the writing series. The first volume, Sleuth, is designed for fourth through sixth graders, those lagging behind in reading, as well as some special needs students.

She has taught composition and literature to students of all ages for over thirty years and AP English to high schoolers for over a decade. Debra holds a B.S. in communications education,  an M.A. in English, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Temple University.
Debra Bell describes the 3 essential ingredients for early learning.
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