Toddlers and young children are constantly asking questions about their world: “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why do we have feet?” As a parent, it can be hard to keep up with their curiosity!
But the truth is, you are likely teaching your child more than you even realize through your everyday interactions. From building tall block towers to taking walks together, there are lots of moments in our everyday lives for helping children learn about their world. Next time you sit down to play soft dough with your child or take a quick trip to the grocery store, look for opportunities to expand your child’s knowledge and vocabulary. You will be amazed at how much they absorb from these moments and interactions.
Learning Moment: Reading books
Reading books with your child is a perfect opportunity for learning moments. For toddlers, picture books are filled with colors, shapes, and letters to practice noticing; in chapter books, older children can benefit from discussions around a character’s actions or emotions.
While reading you can ask:
- “What is this color/word/shape?” Or “Do you see the triangle?”
- “Look at the expression on the boy’s face. How do you think he is feeling? What is making him feel excited? What makes you feel excited sometimes?”
- “What would you do in this situation?” What else could you do?
- Younger toddlers can benefit from flipping the pages of a board book (fine motor skills), which is one of the first important literacy skills, along with learning left to right and front to back.
Learning Moment: Baking
Toddlers and young children love helping out in the kitchen—especially if there are yummy baked goods involved! Not only is baking fun, it gives kids the opportunity to practice their math and science skills, as well as fine motor (holding utensils) and gross motor (stirring) skills.
While baking together you can:
- Name ingredients and their function: “Time to add the sugar! What do you think sugar will do to the cookies? Does sugar taste sour, bitter, or sweet?”
- Teach about units of measure. For example, what 1 cup looks like and feels like compared to 1 tablespoon. Ask: “Which is these to you think is heavier: 1 cup of flour or 1 tablespoon?”
- Teach about kitchen safety, such as safety around the stove and boiling water.
- Baking is messy and requires clean up. Use the opportunity to help your child remember about early food safety, washing their hands, washing dishes, and putting away ingredients.
Learning Moment: Taking a walk
Taking a walk down the street or to the bus stop might seem like a mundane, everyday activity to you, but through the eyes of your child, it’s an opportunity to learn and explore!
While walking together you can:
- Count your steps.
- Look for street signs; identify any shapes, letters, or colors you see.
- Talk about the different trees, plants, and flowers you see. Observe their color, shape, leaves, size.
- Ask your child to predict what they might see on the way, then check their predictions with what they saw. Were there any surprises?
- Talk about safety, including holding hands, staying on the sidewalk, waiting at the corners until it is safe to cross the street, how crosswalks work, etc.
Learning Moment: Care for the home
Toddlerhood is a wonderful time for your child to learn about taking care of your home and contributing to the family. Toddlers generally want to help and are eager to copy what you do. Take advantage of this precious time!
You can support your child’s learning and skills in these ways:
- Show your child where things go when you are done with them (dishes or wrappers, toys, dirty clothes): “Empty wrappers don’t go on the floor. If you are done with your applesauce pouch, let’s take it to the garbage can. I’ll show you where it is!”
- Find age-appropriate jobs for your child and show them (may take several times) how to do it, such as wiping down the table, putting the napkins on the table, feeding the cat, matching socks from the dryer, putting toys away.
- Let your child try a chore even if you think will be too hard for them—as long as it’s safe. For example, if your toddler really wants to sweep but your broom is twice their height, explain that it might be tricky for them but they can give it one try before mommy or daddy gets a try. Better yet, a child sized broom or vacuum is thrilling for many toddlers.
Oh, the places you’ll go
As adults, we sometimes take for granted the decades worth of knowledge we’ve absorbed through social interactions, education, and the like. Looking at the world through our children’s eyes can help us rediscover the magic in this world. Everything is new and exciting to your child; as parents we get to rediscover the world with them.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).