Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Top 6 Areas of Focus for Growth and Learning in Toddlers

Early childhood teachers have training and curricula and guidelines to help them fill their days with meaningful activities. But many parents don't have those same tools and are left with the question, what should I be doing with my toddler? Less is more in my opinion and all those academic skills everyone is so worried about are best left to accidental learning at this age. By that, I mean learning through normal daily activities instead of formal instruction. That being said, there are a number of things to make time for in order to stimulate your toddler's emotional, physical, cognitive and social growth and development.


  1. Free play: Let your child decide what she wants to play with and let her go! Try not to interfere too much or direct her play this way or that. If you want to be involved (or they insist you be involved!) follow her lead and have her tell you what your role should be. Some good materials to have on hand for free play are pretend play props, building materials, animals/dolls, books, puzzles and musical instruments.
  2. Creative exploratory art/music: I know art is messy, but it's a fantastic outlet for creative and even scientific energy (i.e. what happens when I mix these colors, what if I stick this in here?). The key during this age is, it's all about the process. Don't worry if all their drawings are scribbles and all their paintings end up looking like brown blobs; they're doing whatever they need to be doing! If this concept is very hard for you, try this: instead of asking "what did you draw/paint/make?" ask "how did you do that" or "what colors did you use?" Also, let your child listen and move to a variety of music and provide access to musical instruments, purchased or homemade.
  3. Gross motor play: Running, jumping, climbing, sliding, swinging, tumbling and dancing. Do it indoors or outdoors, with recorded music or instruments, with playmates or in structured classes.
  4. Socializing: Disclaimer: you don't have to - and shouldn't - try to force your child to interact with other adults or children. The purpose of this is to give them the opportunity to be around other children, in whatever capacity they feel most comfortable whether it's playing with someone, next to someone, alone or just watching other children. Setting up play dates with one or two other children is ideal; large groups can be intimidating and make shy children shut down even more. Story times at local libraries or stores are also great places to be around other children.
  5. Shared story time: Read read read! Board books, picture books, simple stories, fairy tales, seasonal books...just read! For older toddlers, you can see if they'll focus their attention a little longer by reading chapter books before bedtime. I've been reading the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne with Little C before bedtime, 1 or 2 chapters at a time, and she loves them. Eventually I'll loop back and start reading again from the beginning so she can get more out of them. And don't forget, let your child read to you! You'll be amazed at what they remember about familiar books. Some they'll be able to retell you word for word and others they may paraphrase and with others they may just make up their own story. However they read, they're building important literacy skills! The only guidance you should provide is helping them flip through the pages one at a time from front to back.
  6. Involve your children in daily activities and chores: Children learn the most through shared experiences with you - I can't stress that enough! Whether it's helping to cook or clean or fold laundry or take care of a pet, those moments with you are precious.

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