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How to Help a Child Learn through Play
I really want my children to learn and gain a well-rounded education. I’ve always been really passionate about teaching my son. But what I’ve come to find out is that at this age (20 months) is it is really tough to try to keep him still! It is near impossible to get my son to sit down for much more than a few minutes at a time but it is so important to facilitate learning during this age. Your baby develops dramatically within the first two years of life. So while older kids are back in school (if applicable), it’s never too early to introduce your younger kid(s) to learning content during these key years of development.
Because of this fact, I’ve tried to get creative, I’ve observed and asked what other mom’s do to teach their toddlers, I’ve researched some different ways to facilitate learning at this age, and I’ve been implementing some techniques I’ve instinctively come up with to get my toddler to learn while on the move and playing.
Obviously, every child is different so these 9 tips are not guarantees, but doing these things helps my son to learn while we play, and it may help your toddler as well.
1– Incorporate toys that help your child learn. It is a relief to buy a book that says all of the words for me, or makes animal sounds for me for me. It is great that my son can push a button learn the correlation and word over and over again, and I love learning toys because sometimes its nice to get a break! Recently, Fisher-Price came out with a Smart Stages little yellow chair that belongs to their Laugh and Learn line.
This has been a great toy to encourage learning through play.
2- Repeat words over and over and over. I try to say the names of colors, simple words, etc. while we are playing, watching TV, driving, etc. If he gets his horses out I’ll say, “what a pretty brown horse”. Or, “that horse has white hair, look at the horse’s white hair”. When we throw the ball back and forth I repeat, “throw mommy the ball, okay now mommy is throwing you the ball,” etc. The repetition is sometimes painstakingly monotonous but when he starts saying the words it is a total ‘Pay Day’!
3- Don’t discourage them even if they are getting something they are learning wrong. Lately, Denali’s grandma got him this darling set of horses. He didn’t really know what a horse was before, so we’ve been teaching him the name of it. He now calls them, “whores”. It is pretty funny that he runs around saying, “whore, whore” but we encourage him instead of telling him he is getting it wrong. I often repeat the word and emphasize the correct way to say it. But I make sure to never tell him, “no, that’s not right, it is HORSE not whore” because I think that would discourage him from speaking and be counter productive.
4-Have a set time to play one on one each day or at least a few times a week with no electronics. We have a daily play time together when the TV and electronics (i.e. my phone) are off. I have his nursery stocked with books, toys, balls, blocks, and puzzles so that we have all of what we would need to be entertained and learn together during this time. We go from one thing to the next as he sees fit. He will suggest we do a puzzle, when he is bored with it he will grab is bucket of blocks, its a bit all over the place and the room is typically trashed by the end of play time, but he LOVES it and I really enjoy seeing him learning, progress, and have fun.
5. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Our son LOVES encouragement. We use clapping and “Good Job!”, “give me a five”, singing, and saying other encouraging words a lot. When he says his prayers (no matter how short) we always clap for him afterward. When he says please and thank you spontaneously without us having to remind him we clap for him or tell him ‘Good job!’. We often tell him what a good boy he is for getting into his ‘big boy bed’ all by himself and going to sleep. We try our best to encourage him to clean up by singing ‘clean up, clean up, everybody clean up’ and giving him five or bones (fist pounds) afterwords. If your child responds well to encouragement I say lather it on. They will repeat more of the actions you are teaching them if done consistently!
6. Allow them to play and learn on his/her own. It is important for children to realize that they can use their imagination and play solo. The way we do this may not be perfect, but often I will just tune Denali out. After a few minutes of realizing that I am otherwise preoccupied, he will find things to do (or get into to). We try to keep a watchful eye on him during this time, but we do our best not to intervene or hover unless necessary. It really is so cute to see what he comes up with to do on his own. Just yesterday he found out how to climb into an empty cupboard and jump out and say peek-a-boo. Other times he drives his trucks around, gets into things that aren’t toys (the kitchen is his wonderland of new items to discover), etc. I wholeheartedly believe it does more good than harm to allow him to entertain himself and exercise his imagination. It also helps us parents have a break and observe his imagination take over.
7. Expose your children to new situations and places. Yesterday we took our toddler to a local farm. He went on a little train ride, saw cows, horses, chickens, goats, etc. We took him through a kids hay maze and even let him find the way for the most part. He got to pick out a pumpkin and we went on a wagon ride together as a family. He had the time of his life. Some days I’ll take him to the park, other days just to a store, etc. But everywhere we go we try to teach him what is happening, tell him the names of new objects, etc. and have fun. Learning by hands on and doing is a great way to expand a child’s knowledge.
8- Try to read books daily…even if they resist. Denali is going through a stage and has a very short attention span. He used to let me read book after book, now I’m lucky to get through the first couple of pages (of a toddlers board book). Because he all of the sudden stopped allowing me to read to him I was getting really frustrated. I randomly started talking to my friend about it. She suggested that even if he gets up before the book is done, that I should continue reading it so he realizes it is not over and so he continues hearing new sounds and words. I’ve been doing this for weeks now. After awhile I’ve noticed that he will sit a little longer while I’m reading. He now makes it to page 4 or so instead of getting up to play at page 2. Continuing to read despite his lack of attention I believe has helped him to hear new words and see that I value reading and start valuing it more himself. I also allow him to choose the books which has helped as well.
9- Watch educational shows. Denali loves Daniel Tiger, Baby Genius, Leap Frog, and other shows with animals like Swiss Family Robinson, etc. He of course loves the shows like Turbo, Cars, Toy Story, etc. and probably prefers them to the others but we do try to balance out the fun non-educational shows with educational ones. Further, as a family we often watch documentaries. Although, many of the documentaries I am interested in are much too advanced for him to understand, I often point out objects on the TV screen that he can relate to like boat, bike, car, truck, whale, fish, etc.
Well, I’m sure I didn’t cover ALL of the ways to facilitate learning through play, but I hope perhaps these tips are helpful. I’m always open to trying other things as well. How do you facilitate learning through your toddler’s play? Please let me know below so I can give them a try!
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