Recent years have brought an increased emphasis on teaching school content to younger and younger children. While this is not the primary work of toddlers, there are wonderful developmentally-appropriate ways to introduce letters, sounds, and numbers to toddlers. The really young learn most readily through pictures, stories, music, games, and a whole lot of hands-on play.
I believe that the most successful learning takes place when an environment is prepared with such careful thought that when a child enters that environment, he automatically begins to absorb concepts without anyone instructing him and without even realizing that he’s learning. This kind of learning environment is perfect for any child but most of all for the very young.
Some specific elements work well to create a natural learning experience for little tots, a learning experience that is not only effective but is fun and easy for you as the teacher!
If you want your little tot to learn a specific procedure (very important), put it to music. When I was little we used to sing “This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands. This is the way we wash our hands so early in the morning.” You can replace “wash our hands” with whatever you are teaching at the moment. If you encourage the child to mimic what you are doing while you sing, you will be modeling for her how you do the particular job, and she will be practicing the skill as you sing.
We’ve all heard that a picture is worth 1,000 words and wow is that true! A visual can convey so much in the time it takes a child to take a look. Pictures and images make use of visual memory where the picture and all its details are stored intact. Memorable images often can be recalled many years later in minute detail, carrying with them any learning concepts that were embedded in them. Combine a visual with song or story and you have a doubly effective teaching method.
Stories can be considered childhood’s language. Children are natural storytellers, they think of their lives in terms of story. The story line or plot is the glue that holds all the elements of the story together. If you want your little one to remember a sequence of events or steps in a procedure, make up a story that links all the pieces together. Combine a story sequence with images to make an even more effective learning experience.
Very young children learn about the world through their senses—sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste. They pick up cues about natural characteristics of objects in their world; they learn about things that are soft or hard, heavy or light, smooth or rough, hot or cold, sweet or sour, and so forth. They learn about shape, what happens when you drop something, what “round” means and how round objects behave. They learn so much that becomes background for formal learning later in life. The richer the sensory background, the broader the store of prior knowledge and understanding the child will bring to school.
Now that we’ve talked about some elements that help the very young connect with learning, what are some specific learning tools for that age group that use these elements?
Especially designed for the very young, our stylized alphabet is the easiest way for children to connect letter symbols with the sounds of the letters. Pull up the rocking chair and enjoy the Alphabet Tales together, and as a wonderful by-product to cuddle time your child will permanently link the images of the letters with their sounds.
Once the children are comfortable with the alphabet shapes and sounds, our SnapWords® Numbers, Colors, Days, Months, & Seasons Teaching Cards. The Numbers and Colors set contains the numbers 1-10 and 13 color words. Colors included: black, blue, brown, gold, gray, green, orange, pink, purple, red, silver, white, and yellow.\
SnapWords®Nouns 1 Teaching Cards are perfect ways to introduce young children to basic sight words, while keeping with the laid-back, fun approach that was started with Alphabet Tales. Nouns1 List includes 59 nouns commonly used across the curriculum. These concrete words are perfect for beginning readers and may be combined with sight words from other lists for sentence-building.
For the first exposure to numbers–what they look like, what they are called, and how many they represent–reach for I Can Sing from 1 to 10 and sing your way through the book with your tot. She’ll learn without knowing it! (The song is set to the tune of Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.) I Can Count from 1 to 20 is a fun and easy way for very young children to learn to recognize numbers and their names, using engaging rhymes and visuals.
For great reading on preparing your preschooler for an excellent learning experience, head on over to our sister blog: Brainy Tot.