Those toddling tots pulling on your leg and trying your patience while getting you to smile are like sponges, absorbing everything they see, touch, hear and taste. Take advantage of their growing mind and use this time to begin their education.
"In my opinion, if a toddler shows an interest in learning basic knowledge, then I tell parents to GO FOR IT," said Amy, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two children ages 18 and 21.
"Toddlers never stop learning," agreed Evan, a preschool teacher and gymnastics coach. "Play with them, children at this age learn through experience and the best experience for them is play."
Teaching them can be as simple as going for a walk and discussing the sizes, shapes and colors of what you see. "You can count the number of signs you see and practice your counting skills. Parents can get involved by having a contest to see who can find the bigger tree or the most number of flowers," said Evan.
Stack blocks together to build a tower, counting the blocks, talking about the colors while you play. Ask your child to hand you the red block. You'll be amazed at how quickly your little one picks up on some basic educational skills.
"You can also expand this to three, four and five year olds by encouraging patterning, sorting, etc.," said Evan while pointing out how these simple games and activities can help a child who will be entering elementary school in a few short years.
"With advancements in education and technology, the basics are being taught earlier and earlier in the educational system," said Evan. "ABC's and 123's are being taught in 4K rather than 5K and first grade compared to 10-15 years ago. Children are being taught to read by the end of 5K, and without the basics this will be more challenging for the child."
But regardless of your intentions, remember that learning for toddlers should be casual and fun.
"I think it is important that kids should be encouraged to be kids. At any age, play and enjoyment with friends is a big asset in the child developing good play skills, appropriate socialization, etc.," said Amy. "If children appear to want to learn things, the learning should be done through games, songs, and only as long, in terms of duration, as the child wants."
So what are some other ways to playfully engage your child’s brain? Amy suggested simple matching games and board games (like Candy Land). "This is a good way to encourage fun structured play and taking turns. Let the child lead the way, especially in younger children," said Amy.
Reading to your child and asking what they think a person or animal is feeling at a particular point in a story is another way to encourage learning and understanding, just do not force the issue, or else both you and the toddler will be frustrated.
"Learning will always take place on their terms," said Amy. "You can stand on your head until you’re blue in the face and if their brains are not ready to learn those skills, they are not going to learn them."
Amy continued, "It is important for parents and teachers to introduce lots of different ways to learn things as no one child learns the same. In schools today, as in the ‘real world,’ it is a competitive market so the more kids know coming in, the more they will learn and the easier it will be for them to transfer that knowledge to something newly introduced. I am a firm believer that all children develop the skills on their time and that teachers and parents must understand what it means to be developmentally appropriate."
Easy Ways to Teach Toddlers
-Make your own play dough – there are edible kinds too – and discuss colors and textures while letting your little one help pour and mix the ingredients and then use the dough to build their finger and hand muscles (which will be used later in writing)
-Play "I spy" and have your child find something that "flies" or something that is "red," then let your child give you a clue
-Walk your neighborhood and count the number of white doors you see
-When in the car count how many blue (or white, or black, etc.) cars you can find
-Practice stacking blocks and ask your child to hand you the "purple" block
-Sing the ABC’s together any time of the day
-Discuss which pot is bigger when you are making dinner
The ideas are endless, use your imagination and have fun together. Before you know it, that toddler will be a teen!