Teaching your toddler may involve books, colorful crayons and magnetic letters on the fridge, but not always! There is another teaching process that automatically takes place with or without any educational props: As you live and work and play together, your toddler collects new information and stores it. Later, drawing on these experiences is what make sense of what is taught in the classroom. So how do you teach your toddler?
Cuddle and play –
Touch is a stimulant that is extremely important to children. As we feed, rock, change and cuddle our toddlers, our touch should be a loving reassurance that we are there for them. Sadly, studies show that when newborns and young children are fed and changed but never touched or cuddled, they fail to thrive.
Cuddle and play with your toddler as you go through the day. Stoop to your child’s eye level and open your arms wide. Once you have hugged your little one, take a few moment to play a finger or toe game while you count and making silly rhymes. Hold your child’s hand while you pray before meals. No matter how busy your daily routine, take time to cuddle and play.
Listen and learn –
Indoors and out, there are so many things to listen to and learn about. Indoors, acknowledge the interesting sounds in your day and name them… the radio, the timer that dings, the doorbell, the clickety-clack rhythm of a toy running its wheels across square tiles. Smile and ask your child, “Did you hear that?” Then repeat the action.
Outdoors, point things out that make other sounds – – a bird chirping in the tree, a train whistle in the distance, the school bus passing by, a neighbor’s dog barking. Briefly explain the sound and say something like, “Listen. Do you hear the doggie barking?”
Read it again –
Storybooks never seem to grow dull for children! If your toddler reaches for Little Engine that Could every time you sit down, read it again as if you’d never read it before. To you, it may seem like a mind-numbing repetition. To your toddler, it’s a learning experience. Pictures are being memorized. The sound of your voice rising and falling teaches pitch and tone and expression in conversation. The words that describe the pictures you point out are building your child’s vocabulary. You aren’t just reading a story – you’re teaching!
Focus on the familiar –
As adults, we use things around the house without a second thought of how they were made, how long we’ve had them, what they feel like and what sounds they make. In other words, they are so familiar we don’t notice them anymore. But that’s not how it happens with children. They notice just about everything!
That big spatula you stir with looks like a grand plaything! The fuzzy towel you’re drying your baby with becomes a cozy tug-of-war towel. And what about the cereal box you’re pouring from? Talk about intriguing! Point to shapes and colors on the box. Notice the shape and texture of fish crackers when you hand them over. What is familiar to you is a brand new experience for a toddler.
Expand your horizons –
While indoors is a wonderful place, there’s a lot more living to do outdoors! Go for walks with your toddler in the stroller. Or, you may prefer to pull your little pumpkin in a wagon or take a long ride in the car. Whatever you choose, there is new information available everywhere you look another direction. What are ducks. What is a pond? What do you call that sound they’re making? Why are people throwing crackers in the water? Interpret what your child is seeing in a simple way. Don’t overwhelm your toddler with too much information all at once.
Remember, every visit you make to the grocery store, library, shopping mall or church teaches your toddler. She is soaking up new experiences, new sounds, new faces and new voices. She is observing light, colors, shapes and shadows. She learns how the bricks on the wall feel rough while a tablet op feels smooth. By expanding your child’s horizons, you give her ample opportunity to grow and learn.
Mingle with others –
Make friends with others in your neighborhood, a club or your church. It doesn’t matter their ages at this point – you simply want to give your toddler the experience of mingling with interacting with others. By doing so, you further expand her horizons to include new people, new voices, new mannerisms and new experiences.
You are teaching your child how to interact with others, how to politely ask for a drink, how to take part in a conversation and later, how to excuse yourself and thank your host or hostess for a good time. Is your toddler really learning all this? Yes, even though it can’t be imitated at this point. Just remember you are laying the groundwork for future training in interacting with others and using good manners.
Help, please –
As your child sees you working or helping others, he is learning how to do the same. Set up a scheduled time for family chores and let everyone pitch in. If and when your 2-year old wants to help, find a task he can do on his own. A damp paper towel makes the table look shiny clean and can be used to wipe down a high chair try or booster seat. Pull a chair up to the sink and let your toddler help by rinsing dishes. A lot of water splashing will take place, but if you’re willing to accept “help,” you teach your child the joy of helping others.
There are many more ways to teach your toddler at home – counting cans as you put them away, dusting furniture, learning colors and drawing ABC. These are what most people expect parents to teach. But that is not the only thing your child needs to know. It is the daily living that lays the foundation for other learning. The information and experience toddlers take in daily is what prepares them for formal learning later on. You really can teach your toddler at home!