Is your toddler learning everything they need? Are you teaching them all of the concepts and skills you should be? Are you preparing them for a successful start in school? Many parents feel stressed about these questions.
They see other children counting to a higher number, speaking with a larger vocabulary, understanding concepts that theirs haven’t even started. They feel pressure to have their child’s development at the top of the curve or raise the next Einstein.
If you relate to any of that then just know you’re not alone in feeling this way. Everyone wants the best for their child and it can be a bit of a daunting responsibility for any parent. Here are some simple ways that you can help your toddler learn and feel more confident that they are on the right track.
Give yourself (and your child) a break.
Wow, right off the bat I’m telling you to take it easy on yourself. Don’t get used to this kind of treatment on here as you should know I’ll always serve you the “straight goods” (hence the name of the blog)! But it is true. I wanted to make sure I had your attention with that intro but now we can all take a deep breath and get through the post.
Firstly, stop comparing. Just stop. Stop comparing your kid to others. And stop comparing your parenting to other parents. Children all develop at their own pace and learn concepts at different times and in different ways. Some kids absorb information one way and some kids another way.
Toddlers are constantly learning from their day to day activities. So not EVERYTHING is on your shoulders as their parent. At such a young age, everything is new. Their incredible brains are continuously taking in new bits of information and their synapses are firing away at a truly remarkable rate (if only we had toddler brain activity!).
Everything they do throughout the day is teaching them new skills and concepts, even when we don’t strive for it to happen. So take it easy on yourself and on them, they are learning.
It’s up to you!
Ok, recess is over. It is up to you… well, in many ways. Sure, they’re taking in information from their environment. But as they grow, the responsibility is in our hands as their guardians to provide them with the tools for their cognitive development and the healthy habits to enjoy learning. At this age, they don’t need structured “class” time at home. They don’t need assignments or tests. But rather, in my opinion, the type of education they benefit from requires a shift in our mindset.
Make the intentional effort to include valuable information and guidance in your everyday vocabulary with your tot. Engage with them and speak to them as if they understand everything you’re saying. Use adjectives and prepositions to explain simple activities. Make it become a natural habit and your toddler will absorb what you’re teaching (even when you don’t realize you’re “teaching”). Read on and you’ll see exactly what I mean by this.
Most people, not just kids, learn and retain information through repetition. If we hear the same concept over and over or do the same process frequently then, eventually, it will settle nicely into our brain for us to recall at a later date.
Words and concepts that you repeat become understood and skills that your child practises repeatedly become easier. We can incorporate this technique of repetition all throughout the daily activities with our kids.
While playing, while out, while dressing, while eating, we can repeat songs, signs, processes, colours, numbers, letters, shapes, and names of things. I could go on and on but then the list would become… repetitious.
Free playtime for toddler learning.
Kids love to play. Did you know that free play is actually very educational? Toddlers are taking in and practising so many skills through play. Give them time to just be kids. Wherever you are, you can find a game that teaches them valuable lessons that build the foundation for further learning through fun.
If you want to kick it up a notch, here are some simple ways you can boost learning while playing:
- Search for shapes in different objects of the room you’re in.
- Count objects such as cars, dolls, or crayons.
- Discuss the different textures in your surroundings.
- Sort toys by fun categories or colours.
- Put a hat on a cat beside the baseball bat and teach them about rhyming words!
Kids will have a blast while learning, we just have to encourage the subject matter. If you’re looking for new activities, try this list of 25 Home Activities for Toddlers.
Let them try & let them explore.
Give your little one space to let their curiosity take over. Be patient and allow plenty of time for them to problem-solve. Let them get a little messy. Sensory bins and nature are great ways for toddlers’ senses to take over and do the teaching. Not only are they exploring new places or new experiences, but new ideas as well.
Empower your munchkin to change up the rules of the game or way of doing an art project. Why not? So many of their activities are structured with predefined rules of how we think it should be done. This will encourage them to form new ideas for themselves which will also boost confidence as they see you value their input and imaginations. Their brain is taking the lead and, as Albert Einstein once said,
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world.”
Find their interest.
If you have their interest then you likely have their attention. If you try to control every bit of how and what your toddler is learning, there’s a good chance it’ll go in one ear and out the next. Grab hold of whatever they enjoy at the moment and make those extra special teaching moments.
Here are some examples based on their interest:
- Arts and crafts – Premake some paint cards and offer instructions to paint X shape with Y colour. Teach them to draw simple shapes or letters. Count images. Make or colour animals and discuss what they eat or how their babies are born. Paint a galaxy to teach them about outer space.
- Cars – What colours are the cars? How many people are in the car? Teach them about traffic or materials used in cars (metal exterior, glass windows, rubber tires). What shapes do they see?
- Outdoors – Find different colours in nature. How many legs does a spider have? Teach them about animal classes or weather systems.
- Songs – Singing songs is a wonderful way to share topics and feelings. My daughter and I basically live in our own little musical so we love singing about anything and making songs up wherever we go (even if we sound dreadful). She really has a brain for lyric retention so she loves learning this way.
Limit and be selective with their screen time.
Trust me, I’m not trying to act like I’m one of “those moms” who does not allow screens to enter their house. By the way, fantastic if you are and tell me your secret! But realistically, my daughter does get the occasional screen time. Sometimes daily, sometimes not, sometimes more than I’d like to admit (we all have those days). I’m not here to judge.
Sure, it’s okay for some shows to be watched solely for entertainment purposes but there are many great educational programs and even apps teaching scholastic fundamentals, social skills and behaviours, or almost anything imaginable.
Kids often copy what they see so choose the shows you want them to mirror. There have been many times we’ve seen behaviours of my eldest directly reflecting what shows she’s been watching. It really makes me happy when she’s sounding out letters or repeating kind phrases she has heard to her little sister. But then there are those other times when she shovels food into her mouth and says she’s a wild animal… It’s all about balance and encouraging positive entertainment.
Read, read, read!
Read what you love, read what they love. Make sure you carve out some time every day to read with your kids. This not only helps them develop literacy and language skills early on but also nourishes their imagination and creativity. It’s also just a really sweet way to get some calm time together.
Recount daily events/learnings before bed.
This goes hand-in-hand with repetition but it’s a lovely moment to wind down and process many things that went on in their world. You can ask them questions about the day, discuss what was fun or tell them what nice behaviours they showed. It is also an opportunity to prepare them on the events scheduled for the following day after they get lots of rest –and let’s hope you get some too!
Keep it fun, encourage, and praise!
If they don’t enjoy it, they will be less inclined to respond or try. If you notice that you’re trying to teach something and your child is not in the mood or just wanting to have some solo playtime, try again later that day or the following day. If you push, many toddlers will push back. Give them a little control by offering several choices of what activity to do so they’re more interested.
Ensuring your child is developing in all the ways they should is a great responsibility. Try to implement some of the suggestions in this post to boost their learning. But also know that they are naturally taking in all of their surroundings, including your love and encouragement.
Sometimes I can’t find the words to explain my own feelings on such a significant role. I want them to do well, but I also want them to want to do well. I want them to learn and I want them to always love learning. When it comes to my babies’ education, my greatest responsibility is simple and best summed up in the words in fellow-Canadian Alanis Morissette’s song dedicated to her children, Ablaze (yes, I am this cheesy and no, not sponsored):
“My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze”.