Teaching Toddlers
Teaching Toddlers

If your toddlers are anything like mine were, you’re currently struggling to maintain a semblance of sanity while running a household that does not yet have the capability to appreciate your selflessness. I remember a season spent sneaking around my kitchen, scared at every turn that my toddler would come up from behind me and bite my rear end if I let my guard down, all while I attempted to make a nutritious meal that didn’t break the bank.

IS THIS WHERE YOU ARE? BEEN THERE, MAYBE?

Toddlers are trying at times. Some parents just get through this period, waiting for the moment they can send their little sweeties off to school. In Oklahoma, that would be Pre-K. That means we only have four years to have a full-time influence on our children. What we do with these four short years will have an impact we cannot fully comprehend. The first few years of life are monumental in a child’s development. A parent’s role cannot be underestimated. Feeding their curiosity Toddlers need to satisfy their natural curiosity — safely, that is.

This innate sense of adventure can be both helpful and potentially dangerous as they grow and learn. For toddlers, everything is a learning experience. They are constantly growing, changing and challenging themselves. This is why I do not — I repeat, do not — recommend anything that forces learning, or makes learning a chore.

Learning is a natural process and should never be forced. In other words, learning should be fun! How can parents keep learning a natural and fun experience? Here are some ideas from home educator and missionary Kim Staten at “Life Over C’s” (www.lifeovercs.com), peppered with my own preferences, of course.

READING AREA

You don’t need a teaching degree to provide an adequate education for your child in the early years. You simply need to provide access to sufficient materials and let your toddlers graze, providing guidance and insight when needed. They will learn. I promise. When my children were toddlers, I had a library full of books of all reading levels and topics. At any given time, I kept about 100 books, everything from touch-and-feel to chapter books. It may sound like a lot, but they fit on a sturdy 3x5 bookshelf. Most of my books are garage-sale or book-sale treasures. They’re loved and a little worn.

Two things are important to remember when introducing your children to the world of reading. First, you should let them choose what they read (within your own home collection you have carefully chosen to align with your values).

I will, however, read them a book of my choosing for family devotions and at bedtime. Secondly, there must be a culture of reading in your home from the day you bring them home from the hospital. You. Must. Read. Yes, I said it. More specifically, your children must see you read.

This is the most important thing you can do to promote literacy in your home. And, sorry, reading on your phone doesn’t count. Children tend to see that as you ignoring them.

That’s the consensus in my home, anyway. And, if you must read, you might as well be reading to them, right? A study from Ohio State University found that young children whose parents read them five books a day began kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids whose parents did not read to them.

Exposure to a variety of words sets the foundation for a child to have a large verbal vocabulary. It also lends itself to an easy transition into reading for themselves. After hearing words over and over, they sink in. I usually don’t explain new words, unless my children ask. I just let the words saturate their minds. And, don’t shy away from difficult books. Children need to hear these as well.

CREATIVE AREA

This can consist of Legos, wooden building blocks, trains that interlock, pulleys, wheels, puzzles, Play-Doh, latching and lacing activities, etc. This area will be helpful in developing logic and problem-solving. Children will come back time after time. As they get older, they may begin working with other children to solve a problem or create something new.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a description of thinking skills for children (and adults). From lowest to highest, a child needs to learn to remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

At home, parents should encourage children to aim for the top few tiers whenever possible. The creative area will challenge your child in this way. You can also place books which support higher thinking skills in this area. They may browse them and ask you to read them aloud. Curious minds grow.

CRAFTING AREA

Last, but certainly not least, is a crafting area. Parents of babies and toddlers should keep this area off-limits unless supervised. As children get older, they begin learning new skills, such as coloring, cutting and gluing with the help of a parent. Crafts can be exciting for children because they create something new and personal.

They made it themselves. Personally, I hate crafts. But, my daughter likes them. I see them as a waste of materials, so I try to facilitate the crafting of things made from natural or recycled items. If possible, they are practical, like a bookmark or a card for grandma.

You can teach empathy by leading them to make a card for someone sick. I recommend changing things up in this area frequently. Activity bins can be put out with a specific craft to do. I like to collect and display nature items, like leaves and pinecones from our walks.

Children can draw the nature items or just touch them and describe their color, shape, texture and smell. They can do a leaf rubbing with a crayon or make a forest creature from the pinecone and stems. Whatever it is, let the child guide the learning. Just like having a choice in reading, children will also take ownership of an activity if they believe it was their idea.

Let them come up with fun things to do and support them when needed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

These are just some ideas for teaching your toddler at home. This is similar to Montessori-style learning, which emphasizes nature, creativity and hands-on learning with teacher guidance.

Children will gravitate to what interests them. They will satisfy a natural curiosity and learn independently. At this age (0-4), children should not be pushed to learn. Yes, there are all kinds of songs out there to teach the alphabet, shapes, colors and numbers.

These are good so long as they are fun for the child. Flashcards are usually a no-no. They are boring and often frustrating for toddlers.

So, let’s keep learning enjoyable. An inspiring blog to gain more tips at is www.raisinglifelonglearners.com. Now, go organize your child’s learning shelves. I know I probably will after writing this!

Contact Cheyenne Belew at thechronicle@hillcom.net.