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All parents want to be sure that their kids have the best chance possible for a great education, and building that foundation starts early. We’re not talking about formal instruction for toddlers, which has been shown again and again to be inappropriate, rather we’re talking about creating a play environment that’s not only rich but also diverse. In that spirit, it’s important for parents to provide toddlers with toys that offer good cognitive stimulation while also allowing them to explore play.
Here are some early learning musts for your growing toddler that will lay the foundation for later learning while still being age appropriate.
The goal of reading a play for toddlers isn’t about their learning to sound out words or to read books independently, the important piece here is that toddlers are exposed to text and to language. The essential part of this equation is parental interaction. Young children need to be read simple stories that help them to recognize that letters are associated with words.
Simple books that have one or two words per page are important, and parents should point to the words. Your child will pick up on their own that letters have to mean and that words written on the page are more than other pictures that they might see, and the process is truly magical to see!
Another great thing to do with your toddler is to sit down with the letter and spell words for them in play. Let them make up their own nonsense words and delight in the experience with them. Play with letters like you would other toys, and allow your little one to transform them with their imagination. The essential piece here is to go with the flow and to allow your child to explore letters however they want to! Familiarity with the shapes will help them tremendously when they do get ready to start reading in a couple of years.
As with reading, the important part of early exposure to math is that toddlers have the freedom to explore on their own. Don’t hold them to some specific set of ideas that you have, but rather allow them to lead the way in that they feel comfortable with.
Shapes are a big part of math. Allow your toddler to explore shapes organically. Again we find that the best place to do this is through interaction with YOU. Play shape games, read books about shapes, and find shapes in the world around you. That last one is a great idea to do wherever you are!
Foundational to understanding numbers is basic counting. Count objects all around you and you’ll soon find that your toddler is counting away too! Praise every effort, even when they’re counting incorrectly. Never scold or harshly correct your toddler, rather pause and just count again yourself. Your little one will take an absolute joy in counting bubbles and cars, teacups and blocks. And you as a parent will be super proud too! You can also play number games together to encourage counting skills, which is great family bonding time besides being educational.
More than anything, what’s important is that your toddler feels confident in their learning skills. Kids who struggle in school later often do so because they lack the confidence to try, not because they lack the ability. Rewards don’t have to be complex – a huge and a smile and a few words of praise are really what your little one is after!
The educational foundation that you’re teaching your toddler has much more to do with their self-esteem than it does their ability to complete a task. So engage with them in these early learning musts and you’ll be giving them the best future that you possibly can!