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

Updated on October 13, 2015
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C. E. Clark homeschooled her child from kindergarten through high school. Public and private education is high in importance to Ms. Clark.

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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