There's no shame in admitting you want to be the mom who smugly says "Well, every child is different," while the other moms in play group gush over your 3 year old's ability to read or count to 10 in five different languages. Learning comes more naturally to some children, but it can never hurt to push your child in the right direction with carefully selected play things. Children learn best through play, so turn to their natural curiosity to teach important skills.
Almost any toy can be turned into a learning game, so it works well to focus on the types of toys your child gravitates toward, whether those are animals, blocks, cars or dolls. As you play with your child, use the toys to teach colors, count the number of toys she has or make the animals talk to improve vocabulary. When you're done playing, clean up together, teaching her how to sort objects by type to put them in the proper places.
2. Everyday Objects
Objects that seem mundane to you may well be good learning tools for your child. Using an item for something other than its intended purpose increases creativity and teaches your child important concepts. For example, if you make a "slide" by taking a couch cushion off the couch and placing it at an angle, your child can learn about items rolling down the slide -- which ones will go faster and which ones won't go at all. You could also use everyday objects to make learning games more fun. Take an empty paper towel roll and hand it to your child, telling him to find something yellow as he looks through the "telescope."
Books are an important learning tool for any toddler. Not only will they teach new ideas and concepts, but they also teach your toddler pre-reading skills, like which way to hold a book and how stories "work." If your child's into the idea, consider getting workbooks to practice writing, reading or math skills.
4. Interactive Media
Each generation is coming into an age that is more technologically advanced. In the past, there has been debate about the value of television, for example, with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that parents limit time in front of a screen to less than two hours. The problem, though, is mostly with forms of media where the child sits passively receiving entertainment. The National Association for the Education of Children and The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media currently state that interactive media -- where the child actively engages -- can be beneficial. You may still want to limit screen time, but allowing your little one to play video games on your smartphone while waiting in line may not be the worst thing you could do as a parent.
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Helping Toddlers Become Problem Solvers
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development
- HealthyChildren.org: Where We Stand -- TV Viewing Time
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