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Once a teacher, always a teacher. I used to teach fourth grade, and although it’s unknown whether or not I will go back to having my own classroom, I will always love teaching and learning. Young children love to learn too. They’re naturally curious about the fascinating world around them. My daughter is two and will be starting two-year-old preschool in the fall —  I can’t believe we’re about to embark on the preschool phase already! Here are some simple ways you can help encourage your 2 to 4-year-old’s  innate love of learning.

Puzzles

Puzzles offer little ones an opportunity to work on their spatial awareness and motor skills. I’m loving the Pre-School Numbers Puzzle Pairs I just bought for my daughter. It teaches number sense — the understanding that numbers represent an amount of real objects. So you match the numeral 1 to the picture of one sun, the numeral 3 to three frogs, etc. It’s also color-coded and includes the spelling of each number, so you can work on literacy skills as well. I would recommend this puzzle for children ages 2 up through 7 (or older if the child is still struggling with number sense). As a fourth grade teacher I still had students who didn’t understand what numbers were, so your child’s elementary teachers will love you if you’re already working on this with them by the time they enter kindergarten or first grade. My daughter is two and it is a bit advanced for her, but she can match the colors and we work on counting the objects together.

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Gardening: Learn where food comes from

Planting a small garden can be a fun science activity for you and your preschooler to do together. You could plant them from seeds and watch them grow into plants, or just plant seedlings. If you and your child are really into this activity you could even create a little scientific journal documenting your observations (Far too advanced for my two-year-old, but I can dream). You can do this even if you don’t have a yard. We live in an apartment, so all we have is a tiny concrete deck, but my parents recently gave us this little planter box herb garden. We’re growing two kinds of basil, oregano, thyme and lavender. I’m hoping to experiment with some lavender-infused desserts later this summer. Even if you have an apartment with no deck, you can grow small plants in your windowsill. Having easy access to fresh herbs can also improve the quality of your cooking!

Our first garden! Yay for fresh basil.

Our first garden! Hurray for fresh basil.

Reading

I can’t say enough about how much fun it is to read to my daughter. Not only is it a time for us to bond, it also teaches her vocabulary words and encourages her to develop a life-long love of reading. Reading is also a way to learn about the outside world. A couple of books we’ve been enjoying lately are Good Night Oregon by Dan McCarthy and Eric Carle’s Have You Seen My Cat? Good Night Oregon talks about some of our favorite Oregon locations like the Oregon Zoo, the beach and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Reading Have You Seen My Cat? with my daughter has given us the chance to talk about different types of cats — lions, tigers, panthers and more.

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What are some educational activities that you and your child enjoy together?

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Two weeks ago I went to hear Ursula K. Le Guin speak at the University of Oregon, and I bought an autographed copy of her classic book The Lathe of Heaven. I figured since we share the same first name, it’s time I familiarized myself with her work.

Today I finished reading The Lathe of Heaven. It was a quick and entertaining read. It’s a sci-fi book about George Orr, a man who has the ability to change reality retroactively through his dreams. He is afraid of this ability, called “effective dreaming,” and has been taking drugs to prevent himself from going into REM sleep. When he’s ordered into therapy to treat his drug use, the therapist, Dr. Haber, quickly discovers George’s ability. Dr. Haber begins using George to change the world by suggesting dream topics to him under hypnosis. Unfortunately, George’s unconscious is not entirely predictable. When Dr. Haber asks him to solve the overpopulation problem, George dreams about a plague that kills 6 billion people. When Haber asks George to end racism, he dreams of a world where everyone has the same grey skin tone.

According to Merriam-Webster, a lathe is “a machine tool that performs turning operations in which unwanted material is removed from a workpiece rotated against a cutting tool.” In this book, Haber is essentially using George as a lathe. He is using George’s dreams as a tool to shape the world according to his desires.

The strongest theme that stood out to me was that humans should not attempt to play the role of God. Sometimes scientists can create technology that allows them to intervene in things that they should not be intervening in. In the book, Dr. Haber is perfecting a machine that will allow anyone to have effective dreams — and the consequences are disastrous. There is an order to the natural world, and it can be dangerous to meddle in that. Just because a scientist has the ability to create a technology does not necessarily mean that they should do so. Today we have GMOs in our food supply. We have nuclear weapons. We have the ability to detect whether a woman is pregnant with a Down’s syndrome baby and then terminate that pregnancy. Who knows what kind of technology we may have 20 or 30 years from now?

Still, I wouldn’t recommend this book if it didn’t end up being hopeful. In spite of all the difficulties of this world, we are resilient, and through it all — there is love.