The Basics

The Basics are five fun, simple, and powerful ways to give every child a great start in life! The Basics (PDF) 80% of brain growth happens during the first three years of life. With this in mind, The Children’ Museum has been working to bring these five easy practices to families in a variety of…

Published on March 20, 2020


The Basics are five fun, simple, and powerful ways to give every child a great start in life!

The Basics (PDF)

80% of brain growth happens during the first three years of life.

With this in mind, The Children’ Museum has been working to bring these five easy practices to families in a variety of ways.

They are the anchor to our newest downtown exhibit, Little Farm, where we have intentionally designed the space to encourage and support The Basics for our youngest guests and their caregivers. (insert picture of little farm here) Every so often, we will be updating the tip sheets posted in Little Farm to keep the ideas fresh and give you new ways to engage in the space and at home. Since you can’t visit Little Farm right now, I have included the tips we have posted at the end of this post.

Our Family Engagement Manager, Jess Caggiano, is using The Basics as the core of her outreach and Family Time programming. She has simple activities using free or inexpensive materials that families can try at home (link to her activity pages here).

For the past year, The Children’s Museum has been meeting with other museums and libraries to share ideas and strategies for bringing The Basics to the families we serve. The goal is to make these basics a common language that families hear in many of the places they visit with their children. It is our hope that families with children 0-3 will embrace these basics and purposefully engage with their little ones to build strong foundations for lifelong learning.

Working with Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond, we have hosted a family photo shoot in Little Farm that will soon showcase local families on the new RVAbasics website.

We recently shot a video spot with VPM-Virginia’s Home for Public Media highlighting The Basics. Look for several videos to be popping up soon!

While we are all sticking close to home to practice social-distancing, this is a great time to dig in, learn more about The Basics and start practicing them with your child. Here are some starters to get your creative ideas flowing. Below are the tips currently up in Little Farm to get you started (but remember, just be present with your child, notice what interests them and take it from there). You can’t go wrong with more talking, more counting, more loving, more reading, more playing…

Maximize Love, Manage Stress

  • SET BASIC LIMITS Focus on safety-related rules like not hitting people. Put “No” in front of the thing you don’t want your child to do, then distract them with another activity. Use the same rules consistently so your child learns them. Do your best to stay calm.
  • RESPOND TO THEM Watch and respond to your child’s words, feelings, and behaviors when they are upset as well as when they are happy. 
  • HAVE A ROUTINE Have consistent times and ways of doing activities like feeding, bathing, reading, and bedtime. Your child will have an easier time with activity transitions when they know what to expect. Another part of a routine is having rules that you use consistently. 
  • ENCOURAGE THEM Toddlers feel satisfaction and build confidence as they master new tasks. Help your child try new things. Follow their lead when they seem interested in something. Be supportive and encouraging as they take chances. Reassure them as they try to figure things out.

Count, Group, and Compare

  • LOOK FOR SHAPES Point out shapes and describe them to your child. See if they can find shapes. “The clock is a circle. Do you see any other circles?” This is a great way to explore in the museum and also to make running errands more fun. 
  • ADD AND SUBTRACT Explore what happens when you add or take away items from a group. “You have three berries. How many will you have if you drop one in the hole?”
  • COUNT Count with your toddler. Move to bigger numbers as they get the hang of it. Young children learn through all of their senses, so have them point to and touch the objects you count.
  • COMPARE Provide opportunities for your child to touch and explore things that are the same and different. For example, let your baby shake things that make different sounds, or touch the different textures in the exhibit. Talk about how they are similar or different.

Talk, Sing, and Point

  • BE SPECIFIC The more specific you can be with words, the more your child will learn. For example, instead of saying “Let’s go,” you could say, “Let’s go To Little Farm and see the cow.”
  • ADD IDEAS Help grow your child’s vocabulary by expanding on what he says. For example, if he says “quack-quack,” you can respond with, “Yes, that is a duck. That duck is white and says quack.” 
  • ASK QUESTIONS Get your toddler thinking. Have them explain what they are doing or what they think is going to happen. You may get some funny answers! 
  • USE ANY LANGUAGE It doesn’t matter what language you speak with your infant. All languages are equally beneficial.

Explore Through Movement and Play

  • FOLLOW THEM Toddlers learn a lot by experimenting on their own. If your child looks like they are concentrating on something, like climbing the ladder or stacking the hay bales, stand back for a moment and let them problem-solve for themselves. This is exercise for their brain! 
  • ROLL A BALL Roll a ball back and forth to develop coordination and teach about cause and effect. Try rolling it down the slide.
  • USE POSITION WORDS In all of types of active play, use words like: over, under, near, far, through, and around.
  • LET THEM MOVE AROUND Let your child explore their surroundings by reaching, rolling, scooting, and crawling. This is good for coordination. It also strengthens their “mind’s eye” as they see things from new angles and sense where they are in space. Just make sure they are safe!

Read and Discuss Stories

  • WARM UP Before you open the book, check out the cover. Read the title. Look at the picture. Ask your child what she thinks the book might be about. 
  • HELP THEM FOLLOW ALONG Point to the words and pictures. This helps your toddler understand how reading works. For example, we read from left to right on the page. 
  • ENJOY THE PICTURES Talk about what is happening in the pictures. You can talk about the colors and shapes you see or what the characters are doing. 
  • ACTIVELY INVOLVE THEM As your baby develops coordination, involve them more in the reading experience. Let them hold the book or turn the pages.