Parents can do a number of activities alongside their kids that facilitate active, engaged learning. For preschool-age kids and younger children, Allyssa McCabe, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who specializes in children’s language development, advises parents to find time throughout the day to read books with their kids. “Reading interactively with (not just at) children is very beneficial for language and literacy instruction,” she wrote to me in an email. “Parents should encourage their children to talk about pictures, predict what will happen next in a story, and what characters feel.” She also recommends taking walks outside (to whatever extent possible) and talking about whatever catches children’s attention, as an exercise in language skills. “Name the object and repeat this several times. Describe the object. Ask the child what [he or she] thinks about the object. You are looking at a butterfly! That is a beautiful butterfly, isn’t it? Do you like the butterfly? That butterfly is yellow. And look, over there, there’s another one—do you know what to call it?”
Parents can also use their newly plentiful time with littler kids to talk about past experiences, perhaps using photos as a visual aid. “Ask, ‘See, here’s a picture of—yes, Grandma. Do you remember what we did last time we visited Grandma?’” McCabe wrote. “Parents should take a while and stay on a topic … getting their child to elaborate on who, what, when, where, how, and why something happened, and how the child felt about it.” The repeated act of “elaborative reminiscing,” she noted, has been shown to benefit autobiographical memory and narrative ability.