*This post is part of an ongoing series called Learning 101 which will be guest written by a few amazing educators (and friends) who are parents themselves. The first installment is by a former tenure teacher, current stay-at-home mom of four, author of the blog raisingwills.com, and one of my best friends, Cally Will. Enjoy!
When Colleen asked me to write a Top 5 List for The Two-Minute Mom about toddler learning milestones, I hesitated. What the heck do I know about what kind of milestones or even skills toddlers should be reaching or working on? She quickly reminded me that I have spent the majority of my life around young children, both professionally and personally. I was a special education teacher for 11 years and and I am a mom to 4 crazy kids. So I have learned a lot about adorable, sweet, and often sticky young toddlers. It really is such a fun, amazing age group. Toddlers are grown up babies and are quickly learning how to become independent. However, they are not quite the total monsters that they will become once they hit the dreaded 2 year mark… or even worse, 3 years.
Toddlerhood is a challenging, yet beyond fun, stage. These littles have so much that they are working on and learning, without even realizing it. My list is in no particular order but just skills that I value and feel are important to work on with your toddler.
1. Develop those fine motor skills…
Toddlers love to touch everything. Take advantage of this by helping your little one work those fine motor muscles. Pinterest is filled with “safe” play-doh or cloud dough that you can make at home. I mostly just use regular play-doh and my kids love it just the same. It really works their hands and fingers and is just addicting to play with. Experimenting with crayons or markers is great for this age too. Toddlers love to color or “draw” and it helps strengthen those hand muscles. Puzzles with large pieces, that are easy to grab, are also fun to try at this age. Think of those Melissa and Doug puzzles, that have the big, chunky pieces. Painting is another great way to get their hands and fingers moving. Pick up some finger paints or even water colors and a larger paint brush and let that baby get messy. It’s how they learn!
2. Let Them Play – Work on those gross motor skills too…
Toddlers need to move. They don’t stop moving throughout the day, so make sure to give them both structured and unstructured time to move. You can make simple games both inside or outside, as long as it’s simple and fun. Throw and kick a ball, chase bubbles, play “Mommy Says”, play tag. However, they should also have time to just be able to run around, without structure. Whether it’s in the backyard or at the park, let them go and follow their lead.
3. Communication Skills
A huge worry that most parents have during this year is whether or not their child is talking enough. This is where I urge you to talk to your pediatrician if you have legitimate concerns. I’ve had both early and late talkers, so I understand both ends of the spectrum. I do know that one of the recommendations from our pediatrician is to talk, talk, talk. Luckily, my husband and I both love to hear our own voices, so this was not a problem. Talk to your child all the time. Even when you think it’s ridiculous, like when you’re changing a diaper or getting them dressed. With all children, but especially children in this age group, everything is a learning opportunity. Of course, the teacher in me loves to remind people to read, read, read to your child. Toddlers have a tough time sitting still. Picture books with flaps to bend or books with tactile pages (fuzzy, bumpy, prickly make great toddler reading material.
4. Identifying body parts
Toddlers love to explore their independence and usually want to begin learning small self-help skills, like putting on their coat or shoes. Learning their body parts helps lay the foundation for this. This is also a great way to practice those communication skills too. Start with the easy ones – nose, eyes, mouth, ears, hands, feet. You can make a million games out of it – “Find mommy’s nose!” “Where’s your eye?” When reading, you can work on this too. “Find Bear’s ears.” You can also play Mr. Potato Head – “Let’s put the eyes in.” Toddlers also love music, so don’t forget that there are million different songs to work on this too. “Hands are for clapping” and “Head/Shoulders/Knees/Toes” are some of my favorites.
5. Put them to work – Yes, I’m talking chores
Ok, I’m not talking about giving your toddler a list of chores and expecting them to get them done. Laughable. But let your child help you. If you’re filling the dishwasher, let them get in there in help. The Dollar Store sells great little brooms and dustpans and mini mops. When I’m desperately trying to get something done and my almost two year old wants to help, sweeping the floor becomes her chore. It can be annoying and will probably slow you down. Believe me, I get it. But by letting them see that you want them to help, not only are you laying the foundation for early responsibility, but you are also showing your little one that everyone in your household has a job to do. No matter how big or small.
Cally Will is a professional mom and former teacher. She lives with her husband, four children, and needy dog in the outskirts of Chicago. Her hilarious writing can be found on her blog, when she remembers to update it, www.raisingwills.com