I'm in a moms' business group online and recently a few moms asked for curriculum help for their 2-3 year olds. They are eager to get them prepared for pre-K, as I'm sure they have heard nightmares from other parents whose children have problems in school as early as age 4. I am convinced that these problems are not due to a lack of curricula for 2-3 year olds at home and I will tell you why.
Because most parents have been through at least 12 years of worksheets, tests, and bookwork, their only reference for what "school" is makes them think "workbook." So we automatically think we should get our 2-3 year-olds started on workbooks as soon as possible. The fact is, most parents are teaching their toddlers everything they need to know- as long as they are playing with them and not sticking them in front of the television. (Keep in mind that many home day care facilities do just that...hence the "problems" children have when starting school.)
Below are some ideas to help children ages 2-3 build the connections in their brain that will make them excellent learners, readers, and problem solvers as they enter school and beyond:
1. Play with colored stacking cups and foam letters. Both of these can be done during bath time. While playing, your words mean everything. "Can you hand me the big red cup? Can you find the blue cup that fits inside this green cup?" Foam letters can be named as the child places each one on the wall. Start with just 5-6 and then add more as they learn them. It is very easy for kids to learn letters at age 2. Once they learn them, you can start spelling words, talking about the sounds that they make, write them on paper later, etc. If you wait until age 5 to teach this, I promise, you will have a nightmare on your hands. The connections need to be started much earlier, before the child has other things on the brain, such as socializing or sports.
2. Color and draw often. (Another great time to talk about color). You can incorporate shapes into your drawings and ask your child to draw a picture using only circles, triangles, and rectangles. Show your child each shape and let him have at it. Children learn shapes really quickly and the earlier they do, the better. Hang their creations on the fridge, where you can later talk about the shapes again. Later, go around the house and find things that look like the various shapes.
3. Do puzzles. I cannot stress this enough. So many parents miss out on the value of puzzles for children who will need the same skills to learn how to read. Totally different task, but doing puzzles sparks connections in the brain that are going to be used when learning to put the sounds together from each letter when reading. Typically, children who can complete more difficult puzzles are often the same children who have the easiest time learning to read. This is not coincidence and it has little to do with anything the child was born with: it has everything to do with brain development that occurred as a baby and toddler.
4. Build with blocks. If you haven't sat down with your toddler and built with him or her, do it today. When my son and daughter were younger, I remember building with them and realizing all of the different ways you have to use your brain in order to build. It was mind blowing! I actually had a difficult time at first and then as my brain settled into the task, it began remembering the things I had probably learned as a toddler myself. Building promotes problem solving at the very least, but I'm not going to tell you more because you will see it when you sit down with your toddler and build. Make sure you have a good set of blocks with many different shapes to increase the creative possibilities in your child's building. (This will also make connections later for your child as you discuss three-dimensional shapes).
5. Read, sing, and talk to your child often. Admittedly, I was not a reader. I hardly ever read to my children. That sounds horrible! But from the day they each were born, I spoke to them- about EVERYTHING. I had "conversations" with them, talked about what I was doing, where we were going, about the weather, etc. I sang as I rocked them as well. Not lullabies, but silly songs. My daughter, who was often rocked to sleep by her Aunt Susie, learned the words to the Beverly Hillbillies and The Brady Bunch by the age of two. By three, she was making up her own songs. I know a lot of kids do, but hers actually rhymed! My kids love books, despite my neglecting to read to them. They were always there for them and I would read when they brought one to me. We loved looking at the pictures and telling our own stories sometimes. They both also learned to read very easily, my son at age five, my daughter at age four. This is not because their momma is so smart! This is because momma provided the toys and activities above, which prepared their brains for the task.
6. Count things. There are numerous opportunities to count things with your toddler. Point to each object as you count. Don't sit down with counters (there is time for that later) but use natural opportunities that come up in your day to count.
7. Dance. Dance in front of your kids and with your kids. Let them see you be silly. Aside from the physical aspects of balance and rhythm, your child will learn that it's okay to let loose and not to take things so seriously sometimes. We stress our kids out enough with all the things we require of them, especially once school starts. They need to be able to let loose from time to time and know that life is more than learning facts, passing tests, and making the grade. Isn't it?
I know that there is much more to add that you are probably doing with your toddler. But these, in my opinion, are the "must dos." Have fun!