Stimulating the Mind of a Toddler
To a typical toddler (perhaps two or three years old), the world is full of wonder. Everything is new and curious. It is easy for parents or nannies to foster the curiosity and learning of toddlers . . . opportunities abound in every interaction and in every environment. Here are a few tips.
Discuss the things in your environment: what they are, why they are, etc. For example, you can say, “Can you show me a square somewhere here in our living room? When your child shows you a square end table, you can say, “Good! That is square. Why do you think it is square? What would happen if it were a circle?” You can then roll a ball on the floor and discuss how a ball would make a poor end table. Your child thus learns shapes, reasoning, and maybe even a little physics.
Turn every day activities into learning games. Did you buy a some-assembly-required toy? Have your toddler help you assemble the toy. It may take you longer to assemble the toy, but the lessons learned by your toddler are well worth the time. Are you going to prepare dinner? Have your toddler help you prepare basic meals. Lessons learned in these activities include the subject specific knowledge as well as the development of fine motor skills, reasoning, etc. Throughout these activities, create fun to accompany the learning. For example, ask your child, “What is the best dinner-cooking music? Do we need something slow . . . do we want to have a peaceful dinner preparation time? Do we need something fast . . . do we want the music to give us a boost to get all this cooking done?” Then, as the music plays, talk about food and how your body uses food, music and how it makes you feel, and don’t forget to dance! By adding the dimension of music into everyday activities, the activities can become more fun, your child can learn about music, and his/her creative capacity is fostered.
When your toddler asks you questions beyond your scope of knowledge (i.e., “Why is the sky blue?”), don’t say, “I don’t know.” Instead, say, “I don’t know, but we can research that together.” You two can then search the Internet for the answer to that question, read the answer aloud, and discuss why the sky is blue. By handling tough questions this way, your toddler will learn that wondering is only the first half of an experience . . . information gathering being the second half.
Encourage creativity. For example, if your child is angry, give him/her a set of finger paints and a large piece of paper. In a mess-appropriate setting, have your child paint what s/he is feeling. Then, you two can discuss the painting and the feelings it conveys. Your child thus increases self-knowledge and can learn healthy ways of dealing with emotions. Also, creative expression is fostered and fine motor skills are developed.
Foster experiential learning. If your toddler wonders why grass is green, go on a nature hike to discover all the green things in your environment. Take your smart phone with you to do research as needed along the journey. If you come upon a green frog, you can talk about how the frog’s green color helps him/her be less visible to creatures who would like to eat him/her. Therefore, his/her being green helps him/her survive. By fostering experiential learning, learning is made tangible and fun.
Encourage your toddler to observe, question, and experience his/her world. If your toddler says, “Why do I have to take a bath?” You can say, “That’s a good question! Let’s talk about your body. It makes sweat: even when you don’t think you are sweating, you are (just a little bit). Also, did you play with the neighbor’s big outdoor dog this afternoon? Do you think he was a little unclean after being in the yard all the time? We’ve talked about pollution, so what kinds of pollutants do you think are on you now after being outside? What other kinds of stuff do you think you should wash off in your bath?”
Read bedtime stories to your toddler every night. Have your toddler follow along. S/he will gradually begin understanding the written word. Early readers are more likely to be avid readers. In addition to reading skills, frequent reading increases your child’s vocabulary.
These are but a few of the seemingly endless options available to parents who want to stimulate the minds of their toddlers. Look around . . . everything that adults take for granted in their daily environment is a potential learning experience for toddlers. Seize as many opportunities as possible as these highly teachable, inquisitive toddler years come only once.
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