There’s no greater joy than seeing your child learn and master new skills. Playtime is how babies, toddlers and young children develop and learn, and experts agree it’s the early years that count the most! Here are five simple tips for fostering early learning in your tot.
Purposeful play. With purposeful play, you can encourage early learning through ordinary activities. Purposeful play is simply focused play. It’s spending one-on-one time with children and teaching them instead of just letting them play. It’s as simple as describing your actions while you’re preparing a meal or counting the blocks and naming their colors as your child builds a tower. Sensory play with empty water bottles and small balls, confetti/sequins, buttons, colored rice, water/glitter or anything else you can think of to put inside is also a great way to practice cause and effect, colors, sounds and shapes.
Read together. Small children love books. But take story time a step further by asking your child to point out certain objects in the pictures of their favorite books. This helps them practice their vocabulary and identification skills. You could also ask your child to name colors they see on the pages or to count same objects. To foster fine motor skills development, let them turn the pages of the book.
Let them help. Toddlers love to please their parents, and they like to help with everyday tasks. Teaching them how to do small chores like unloading the dryer or using a cloth to wipe up a spill is a great way to not only practice gross motor skills, but also instill a sense of responsibility and respect. You may think it’s too early for those lessons, but starting chores at a young age will pay off in the future because it becomes routine. Make it fun! Sing songs as you pick up toys and put them away, or make a game out of it. Ask your child to find all of the toy balls and put them in a basket or stack three books on the shelf. The possibilities are endless, and this type of play encourages listening and communication, object recognition, memory skills and thinking.
Go outside. Pointing out landscape and objects on a walk outdoors and asking your child to repeat the names helps to build vocabulary, listening skills and cognitive skills. Another fun way to foster these skills is by creating a scavenger hunt. This is a fun activity for any age. Place pictures and the name of the object you want them to find on their lists, and walk with them looking around and trying to match a real object to the photo. Have them repeat the word to you, and when you find the correct match, jump around and cheer! And let your child mark off the object on the list.
Follow their lead. Around 18 months to 24 months of age, toddlers begin to engage in pretend play. You can encourage creativity and imagination by following their lead and playing along. For example, if your child loves to read and selects a book to look at, sit down with him/her and grab a few stuffed friends for an audience. Ask your child to be the “mommy” or the “daddy” and read a story to her/his babies. Or perhaps your child really likes to build with blocks. Ask him what he is building, and then help him develop a story to go along with it.
Encouraging early learning doesn’t have to mean structured lesson plans and a tight schedule. Children learn best through play and through their relationships with their parents, family members and friends. So go play, and have fun with your child! You’ll be surprised to see what a difference these few tips can make in fostering early learning in your tot.