Give Your Toddler a Head Start – Part 2 of Educating Your Child For Success

Learning Should Be Fun

As promised, here is a continuation of how I home schooled my daughter. These are steps you can easily take with your own child(ren). If you have not already read my hub titled “Give Your Baby A Head Start – It’s Never Too Early To Start Preparing Your Child For Success,” you may want to stop and read it now so that this information will flow more smoothly. My first hub on this subject covered my strategies for helping my baby love learning from birth until about 18 months. This hub picks up where the first hub left off -- from when my daughter was about 18 months. This hub will tell you what my next steps were until about age four.

Before I begin, I want to reiterate how important it is when teaching very young children not to put pressure on them to learn, and not to be tedious in your approach. Learning should be fun, especially for children, and that is a hundred times more important with very young children (under age 5).

When learning is fun for little ones, their brains soak up the information you are teaching them like a sponge. Also, be aware that most very young children have an especially short attention span. Do not try to teach your child the way you might teach a new coworker how to do their new job, or even the same way you might teach your five-year old.

My baby was content to look at books for long periods of time, but your baby may have shorter periods of focus. Choosing a place that offers as few distractions as possible is important too. Your little one will keep his or her attention on what you are trying to teach longer if there is nothing else going on to compete for their attention.

Puzzles to Help Your Child Learn Numbers and Lettters

This puzzle is similar to one my daughter had and it worked great for learning capital letters and the order of the alphabet.
This puzzle is similar to one my daughter had and it worked great for learning capital letters and the order of the alphabet. | Source
This puzzle is similar to the one my daughter had for learning numbers and their order.
This puzzle is similar to the one my daughter had for learning numbers and their order. | Source
This puzzle can help a child learn to recognize the lower case letters and their order in the alphabet.
This puzzle can help a child learn to recognize the lower case letters and their order in the alphabet. | Source

Introducing New Learning Aids

As previously explained, I read to my daughter for about an hour everyday, introducing new books at the rate of about one a week after she was 4-5 months old. In addition to that, I made large capital letters of the alphabet cut from colorful paper and mounted them on her bedroom wall. I also purchased a cloth book that she could look at whenever she wanted to do that along with some board books. (I sewed some cloth books for her myself, too. Hand sewn cloth books are just as beneficial and much less expensive than purchasing readymade cloth books if you have some simple sewing skills.)

When my daughter was about 18 months old, I purchased some wooden puzzles of the alphabet and of the numbers 0 through 9. This gave her the opportunity to manipulate the letters and numbers and relate to them in a different way than merely seeing them mounted on the wall.

Also, I increased the number of new books I introduced to 2 or 3 a week. In addition, we watched the program ‘Sesame Street’ on television together daily.

Speaking in Sentences

At age 2, there were bigger changes. My daughter began to talk for the first time beyond just pointing and uttering a word here or there. She began speaking in sentences, and they were very good sentences. I attribute her good sentence structure to all the reading and talking we had done together for the first 24 months of her life.

Besides the wooden puzzles similar to those pictured to the right in this hub, with holes cut out for each piece making it fairly simple to put them together, I started providing tray puzzles for my daughter.

Tray puzzles are the puzzles that have about 12 to 18 large pieces that fit into a picture that is on a cardboard backing with a small frame around the pieces. The outlines of all the pieces are on the cardboard ‘tray’ when the pieces are removed; making it easy to determine which piece goes where. My daughter mastered those puzzles in no time. I believe the tray puzzles helped her to pay more attention to the shape of the puzzle piece instead of merely seeing the part of the picture that was on the piece. Learning to observe the shape of the puzzle piece was helpful in lots of ways later.

Introducing Phonics and Counting

At age 2, I began teaching my daughter phonics. I started with consonants since they represent fewer sounds per letter than vowels. A few consonants represent more than one sound, depending on the letter (vowel) that follows them, but most consonants represent only one sound.

My daughter and I had been reading together for as long as she could remember. She loved books and reading. At age 2, she understood that the letters made up words and that it was the words I was reading to her from the pages of the books. My daughter understood this because we had been spending so much time reading together since she was just 2 weeks old, and because I had explained to her several times a week that I was reading the words on each page.

When my daughter was a little past two years old, I began teaching her that the letters ‘made sounds.’ Every week we would learn the sounds of 2 or 3 letters. Learning the sound a letter made would take just a few seconds. After that, every day, throughout the day, I would ask her, “What sound does the letter B make?” Or, “What sound does the letter M make?” “What sounds does the letter C make? Remember there are 2 sounds, do you know what they are?” And so forth. We would spend the remainder of the week working on the new sounds she had learned and reviewing the sounds of letters she had learned previously.

From time to time I would test my daughter to see if she was ready to start learning the vowel sounds, but when she did not respond well, I dropped it and tried again a few weeks later. She was just past her fourth birthday when she finally responded to learning the vowel sounds the way I hoped she would and that is when I proceeded to teach all of the vowel sounds and then reading! This will be covered more fully in my next hub.

In addition to reviewing the sounds consonants make a few times every day, I taught my daughter to sing the Alphabet Song, and she started learning to count. By age 2 and a half, my daughter could count to 23 with no trouble. She knew the names of colors, all the letters in the alphabet, recognized numbers up to 10, and could easily construct the tray puzzles.

Learning What Numbers Symbolize

At first my daughter could recite the numbers up to 23 in correct order, but she did not necessarily understand the importance of numbers or what they stood for. I decided it was time for her to begin learning what those numbers meant. So one day we sat down at the table and took out her box of crayons and I laid some of them on the table. As I took them out of the box I counted them, one, two, three, four, etc.

Then I took one of the crayons and separated it from the others. I showed her that it was just one crayon. Then I put another crayon with the first one and showed her that we now had more than one crayon. We called them two crayons. I did this up to 5 crayons. I laid the 5 crayons together side by side and counted them first from one end of the row of crayons, and then from the other end. I did that several times so that she would see the color of the crayon was not assigned to a particular number. I wanted her to see that whichever crayon was first, regardless of color, was number one, and that the order of the colors was not important when counting the crayons.

Next I started counting the crayons starting with different crayons, regardless of which order they were lying in on the table. I would start counting the 5 crayons beginning with the crayon in the middle, or starting with one of the crayons on either side of the center crayon. The idea was for my daughter to understand that the color of the crayon or the order in which I had laid them on the table was irrelevant. The important thing was that every time I counted them there were 5 crayons regardless of the order in which I counted the crayons, or the color they happened to be. I went through this same procedure with other objects besides crayons so that my daughter would realize the number related only to ‘how many,’ and nothing more.

Next I took two of the crayons away and counted the crayons that were left, first from one end of the row and then from the other end. There were three crayons. Then I held up two crayons and said, “Two crayons.” Putting them with the other crayons again, I said, “5 crayons.” I counted the crayons for her over and over again in different ways. Then I found other items around the house that I could do the same thing with. I showed her that we had 3 pillows, 5 plants, 4 books, etc., counting the items over again and again as I had done with the crayons.

I wanted my daughter to understand that numbers were not merely words recited in a particular order, but that they stood for how many there were of something.

So long as my daughter continued to be interested, I continued to show her examples of what the numbers meant. After about 30 minutes, even though she was still interested, I stopped and we resumed other activities for the day. Thirty minutes is a long time for such a young child to stay focused on anything, and I did not want my daughter to get tired and possibly lose interest. We played the “Counting Game” everyday for about 30 minutes and then moved on to something else.

In the following days I repeated the exercises I had gone through with my daughter, counting the crayons and other objects in different ways. Consistency and repetition are important when learning new things, particularly new things related to math. It was not long before my daughter was doing the counting and she was very proud to be able to do it just as well as Mommy!

Sometimes when we did other things, went shopping, etc., my daughter would spontaneously count the things on the shelves at the store, or in our shopping cart, or along the street as we drove to our destination. This was something she did because she wanted to and was not required to do. It was an activity that she wanted to do and thought of all by herself. I would naturally praise her when she did well, and tell her how useful it was to know how to count because now she would know if we had enough ice cream bars, or eggs, or carrots, or whatever.

We of course moved on from counting 5 objects to counting as many as 20 objects over the course of a few weeks. If my daughter asked to go further, I would tell her the next numbers, but otherwise, until she was 4, we continued to maintain the knowledge she had learned regarding counting and phonics, but also put attention on other things.

Maintaining New Knowledge and Branching Out

That was as far as I went with introducing reading and arithmetic, or counting and learning letter sounds for the next several months. I continued to review what we had learned regarding the naming of letters with my daughter; both capital and lower case, the naming of numbers, and counting, and I continued to encourage the singing of the Alphabet Song. From time to time, perhaps every couple of months or so, I would test her ability to learn the vowel sounds.

We increased our reading time together from an hour before bedtime to an additional hour before afternoon naptime, introducing many new books every week on many different subjects. I subscribed to some magazines that are published especially for very young children on a variety of subjects. Ranger Rick from National Wildlife Federation, Highlights, National Geographic For Little Kids, Kids Discover, Cricket, and many others.

Sometimes we made excursions into stores we did not normally go into in order to better understand objects like hammer, saw, nails, baseball bat, rake, shovel, boat, canoe, etc., but more for the reason that I wanted my daughter to see these objects for real, not just in pictures. The real thing can seem very different from the picture with dimension added. We would examine these objects to see as many details as possible.

Seeing these objects gave my daughter the opportunity to look at them closely and see all their parts, and even touch and handle them in many cases. There is usually much more to a canoe, for example, than is shown in most pictures. Likewise, the weight of a hammer is not evident in a picture. Plus there are many different kinds of hammers at the hardware store, but most of them are never shown in storybooks. Seeing power tools in action can help a child realize why safety around them is so important, where a still photo of a skill saw would not convey that, nor the sound they make when in use.

We visited museums, especially children’s museums, zoos, and other places where new and interesting things can be seen. The Museum of Science in Boston is especially excellent both for observing science projects and for hands on projects that museum guests (children of all ages) can participate in. There is a section at that museum just for children. Also, the Boston Children’s Museum has excellent exhibits for children of all ages. Be sure to Google ‘Children’s Museums’ for the city you live in or near. Almost every large city has museums especially for children, or exhibits especially for children in their programs. If you cannot find all the information you want on Google.com, do not hesitate to call the museum in your area to ask about exhibits or programs they have for children.

We examined plants and ordinary things closely. We listened to children’s music and attended children’s plays and musicals. We went to the park to play on the playground equipment and to be with other children. Yes, my daughter’s father participated as much as time would permit, in all the trips to museums, plays, and parks.

We concentrated on reviewing what we had already learned, and on life skills. How to button a button, how to snap a snap, tie shoes, etc. I felt it was important not to ignore these skills and also important not to push too fast on academic skills. When learning is incorporated into ordinary activities one is involved in already, learning becomes easier, and teaching does too.

In addition to a love of books, like her mother, my daughter loved toy cars and Lego Blocks. Just as dolls had been available to me as a young child, they were available to my daughter, but she preferred books and blocks and Tonka trucks just like I had. She was never told that girls could not play with and enjoy toys traditionally thought of as toys for boys. At 3 years of age it was not unusual to see my daughter giving Barbie a ride in her frontend loader! (More on this in my next hub on educating my daughter.) So the things described above are what we concentrated on for the next 2 years of my daughter’s education.

Learning Readiness

At such a very young age, your child may only maintain interest in numbers, counting, etc., for 1-5 minutes or, or maybe as much as 10 minutes. That is perfectly normal. Much depends on whatever distractions may be around at the time. I took care to see that my daughter had no distractions. Whatever the time span your child remains interested, do not push too hard. It is better to pick it up again later in the day for another 1-5 minutes or so -- or the next day, than to force your child to focus too long, especially if they are not interested. Tedium at such a young age can destroy a child’s interest in learning new things.

Not all children are ready to learn at the same age, and boys tend to be ‘ready’ more slowly than girls. A child’s readiness to learn is not a reflection on their intelligence. While a child may not be ready to learn at age 2, they may learn by leaps and bounds at age 3 or 4, so it really just depends on the child and many different factors both internal and external (genetic and environmental).

If your child becomes frustrated with what you are teaching, either your child is not ready to learn it, or you are presenting something that is too advanced, or you are not being clear in your explanation/instruction to your child in a way that your child understands.

Note that I put all the responsibility for your child’s learning on you. That is because unless your child is exceptional (has a learning disability of some sort), one of the reasons stated is why s/he is not learning. If s/he is not ready to learn, do not push or put your child under stress to learn. Wait another couple of weeks or a month and try again. Make sure you are spending only a minute or two on the lesson. It does not take long to count to 2 or learn the name of a letter. That may be all your child can handle at one time, depending on his/her age, the amount of distraction, if any, that may be interfering with their concentration, and/or the difficulty of the material. Patience is essential at every step.

Teaching and Learning Methods

Introduce bits of information here and there, but do not try to force a young child to concentrate to the point that they may become frustrated. Sometimes a minute (or less) of focus is as long as you can get from a very young child, but you might be surprised to discover what a difference even that few seconds or a minute make when your child recognizes or remembers those things you conveyed to him/her in that short time span. Short lessons seem much less like work and remove the tedium of learning some things. Also, time passes more slowly for most very young children. What seems like just a couple of minutes to you, may seem like much longer to your child.

My daughter literally does not even remember a time when she could not read. She does not remember learning to read. She does not remember the process we used to teach her how to read. Yet she was reading at 5th grade level at the age of 4.

Again, I cannot stress enough, that distractions play a huge part in making lessons difficult for both your child and you. Little children want to know everything that is going on around them, so if there is a television on, other children playing close by, loud noises coming from outside your home, or from another room, or anything at all that may grab their attention, they will be less focused on what you are trying to teach them.

If you cannot reduce distractions considerably, then you will likely have to repeat the lessons many more times to accomplish the same result you might get with only 2 or 3 repetitions with no distractions. Lessons will also have to be very short because your child will be constantly dividing his/her time between what you are trying to teach, and other things that are going on around him/her.

Similarities of Learning As an Adult and Learning As a Child

Most of the time we all learn in bits and pieces since information is presented in that manner from most sources in our lives. With adults those bits and pieces are usually more like 10-15 minutes or a little longer, although they may be just a minute or less in some cases, but the concept is the same. Most of our learning takes place in this fashion regardless of our age. Only a few things are learned, comparatively speaking, by sitting for long periods of time in a classroom. So do not imagine that those bits and pieces of information are not worthwhile, because that is how everyone has learned practically everything they know.

Breaking the learning process up into smaller segments of time and information helps the brain process new information more easily. For example, instead of trying to learn everything on hubpages in one sitting (if that is even possible), you may spend 30 minutes here, and a couple of hours there, learning new things. Some people may be able to set their regular obligations aside for several hours or days in order to learn hubpages, but I think most of us must work it around the other responsibilities in our lives. Learning new information and building on it usually works best for more complicated material. That’s true for both children and adults.

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Comments 38 comments

Au fait profile image

Au fait 15 months ago from North Texas Author

Peggy W, thank you for sharing this article!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 15 months ago from Houston, Texas

There are many new parents freshly minted each and every day when their babies are first brought into this world. This good article should ideally be read by all of them. Will do my part by sharing once again.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 22 months ago from North Texas Author

Patricia (Pstraubie48), thank you for reading and commenting on this article. Yes indeed, babies and toddlers have brains like little sponges soaking up everything they see and hear and experience. Thank you for the botes, pin, tweet, and share also.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 22 months ago from sunny Florida

You have shared such pertinent information, Aufait.

So many do not realize how the toddler time with children impacts their success in school.

The lovely lovely thing about toddlers is that they are so open to learning new things. I often say they are like tiny vessels just waiting to be filled.

They are eager and willing and even anxious to learn. Each new experience opens makes a new wrinkle in their parents.

Voted up++++ Shared g+ pinned tweeted


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

DeborahDian, thank you for sharing your experience and your thoughts on the Montessori method of education. I believe starting early with children is a good thing because they come into this world with a spongey brain just wanting to know and learn about everything. Take advantage of that window because sometimes it closes as children get older and are more influenced by other people in their environment.


DeborahDian profile image

DeborahDian 2 years ago from Orange County, California

Our youngest daughter went to a Montessori pre-school and they used a lot of manipulatives, including puzzles, to help the children understand how things go together and how numbers work. That daughter went on to do exceedingly well in school and I attribute a lot of her ability to the Montessori pre-school experience.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you rebeccamealey, for commenting on and voting on this article! Yes, these are all things anyone can do to help their children be more successful regardless of whether they choose home school, or public/private school.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you moonlake, for sharing your experience with your own children, and for voting on and sharing this article!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Pegggy W, for for pinning and sharing this article!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

This will be sooo helpful in homeschooling little ones, or even just supporting them as they grow up and move from preschool forward. I like how you are breaking this guide up into a series, too. Great job! All votes up!


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

Great information. We always had puzzles to help our kids with numbers and letters. We read to them everyday more than once a day they were always handing us books to read. Voted up, Shared.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Going to pin this to my schooling board on Pinterest. Hopefully it will get some more views from there. Also sharing again!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Deborah-Diane for pinning this article and for sharing your knowledge and experience on this subject. I've written so many articles that I can't always remember what I've included in them, but I believe I did include what you have said. It is said that people learn 80% of all they will ever know by the time they are 5 years old, and those are years most children spend with their parents, not in school. Children learn from the moment they arrive in this world and it's important for parent to realize they are the first teachers and they hold the most influence and give the most examples. You are so right in what you have said.


Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

Great information on home schooling. In addition, I always tell readers in my education articles that a child's parents are his first AND MOST IMPORTANT teachers the child will ever have ... whether you home school or not. Many parents who send their kids to school feel that they have no other responsibility in the educational process. That couldn't be further from the truth! I pinned this to my education board. Thanks!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for reading, commenting, and tweeting this hub! I do think children learn a lot of things better off not known both in daycare and in school.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Some people truly have no choice and have to use daycare settings to house their children while they work. But I have often thought to myself that the children who are spending so many hours there are learning from the day care workers instead of their parents at those all important stages of their lives. Hopefully the values are the same...but that is unlikely. Your children were lucky and so were my brothers and me having had a stay at home mom when we were children. This time will tweet this important message.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Peggy W, thank you for reading, commenting, voting and sharing this hub! We are in agreement on everything you say, especially that parents are the most important role model for their children. Children learn more things more quickly before they reach the age of 6 than they ever will again in their lives, so it's a shame if that time period is not utilized to teach them positive useful information.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

You are so right in that children are like sponges when it comes to learning new things. New parents should all read and learn from you as to how to teach their own children whether their kids later attend public or private schools or remain home schooled. It is NOT a teacher's job to teach them everything. That job is a good parents main responsibility in life. Children also learn much from observing their parents habits. Your daughter obviously had good role models and got a great start in life thanks to you and your husband. Up votes and definitely sharing!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for your support Shyron, and I hope whatever is happening with your friend and her granddaughter that needs special intervention will turn out well.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

I gave her the URL for giving you baby a headstart and the URL for this one also.

I wanted to send it to my friend for her granddaughter, but right now she need prayers, more than anything.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Shyron! Be sure to give her the URL for giving your baby a headstart too!


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

A new baby is on the way! I will advise the mother to read your hub, it is such good advice.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Nicole S! I hope people will realize how important it is to their baby's vocabulary and their baby's desire and ability to learn, to get started on these simple things that can make such a difference.


Nicole S profile image

Nicole S 4 years ago from Minnesota

Wonderful hub here, so much good information!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Nicole S, for commenting on my hub!


Nicole S profile image

Nicole S 4 years ago from Minnesota

Great tips here! These are good ways to get them started for sure.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Sunkentreasures: Thank you for your input!


sunkentreasure profile image

sunkentreasure 4 years ago

PRECIOUS CHILDREN By BERNARD LEVINE

Bless your children with the power of prayer

Celebrate their uniqueness

Feed them encouragement and inspiration

and let them feel they are greatly loved.

Teach your children the beauty of kindness

Enrich them with the wonders of nature

Fill their hearts with joyful melody

and always be their friend.

Clothe your children in goodness

Make their world full of nice surprises

Help them to follow their dreams

and thank God they came into your life.

© Bernard Levine


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Stay tuned, as I will continue from age 4 in my next hub on this subject.

Thank you for stopping by Shyron!


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

No more toddlers, but I do have grandchildren.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Shyron: Thanks for stopping by and leaving comments!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Angel: I started by teaching my daughter the things most children should learn. I didn't plan to start reading to her so early on, but she was what is now called a high-need baby, one who cries continually and I was trying to find something that would console her so that both of us could get some sleep. Looking a bright colored pictures did the trick!

I just taught her the things I had been taught as a little person, except that I added lower case letters and vowels. I didn't learn those until I went to public school.

Since my husband had taught himself to read at age 5, and we hear quite often about precocious children who even graduate from college at age 5 or 10, I thought I would see how far I could go with just short lessons here and there. It worked. She was reading like a pro at age 4.

I will get into what comes next after this hub, in my next hub, when I will start with age 4 and what I did from that point forward.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Angela: Yes, young children have brains like a top quality sponge and if presented well, they soak up knowledge. Children who get a head start as I described have the advantage whether in public school or home school. Thank you so much for taking time to read and comment!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Daughter of Maat: The great thing is that most parents can do what I have done to give their children the advantage even if they plan to send their children to public/private school.

Thank you for your comments!


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Excellent Hub. I have a dear friend who's a Montessori(sp?) School teacher and I've seen her materials where she employs some of these same teaching techniques. My son could read, write and spell when he started to school. He'd had heart problems (before surgery at age 4) and we entertained him by teaching and reading to him prior to the surgery to keep him reasonably quiet and still. He was still into the learning/reading thingy after the surgery so when he started school he was well prepared. Excellent and informative Hub. Voted Up. Best, Sis


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

Good Hub! Good advice!


Daughter Of Maat profile image

Daughter Of Maat 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

Fantastic hub, it really puts educating young children into perspective for the first time parent. Thank you!


Angel Mehsinjer profile image

Angel Mehsinjer 4 years ago from United States

Some of my friends are home schooling and my husband and I were talking about maybe home schooling our children when they come along. We don't have any children yet, but probably will have in the next year or so. I think your suggestions on starting with babies and toddlers are really interesting. They seem pretty sensible. How did you decide how you were going to do it? You said you wrote your own curriculum and didn't depend on a commercially available curriculum, which is what my friends follow.

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