Toddler learning is going on around you all the time, as your little person figures out his world. He is learning when he empties the carton of cheerios out on the floor, learning when he throws a ball through a window, and learning when he splashes half the bathtub water out on the bathroom floor. He’s also learning when he builds towers, draws pictures, and helps you measure out the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.
How can you encourage learning? How can you help your toddler reach his full potential and be the best he can be?
You don’t want your toddler to dump that carton of cheerios out on the floor. You don’t want him to throw that ball through the window, or splash half the bathwater out on the bathroom door. But it’s important you don’t over-react when your toddler’s learning experiments end in unpleasantness. Over-reaction makes your toddler afraid to experiment, afraid that something will go wrong and mommy will get angry. He stops experimenting, stops learning, and hides in a kind of shell.
So when his experiments end wrong, don’t shout, scold, or punish. You can leave it at a simple “Uh –Oh” and get his help in cleaning up the mess.
Of course there are times when it wasn’t an accident or a learning experiment. Perhaps your son didn’t throw the ball against the window as an experiment or because he didn’t know glass broke, but simply because he was angry and wanted to break a window. In that case he would deserve a scolding and a very long time out. But make sure you know the motivation before you punish, and don’t punish the mis-steps of an inquisitive mind.
Blocking off exploration is another way we stop our child’s growing minds. It’s important that you give your child lots of opportunity to learn, discover, and investigate; and not just in the toy chest. If you’re putting together a piece of furniture, let him try to figure out how to help you put in nuts and bolts. If you’re cooking in the kitchen, enlist his help for pouring your measured ingredients in the big basin and in mixing. Ask him to help you clean when you’re not using toxic cleaning liquids. And allow him to explore outdoors to his heart’s content; poking his head in any nook or cranny that catches his attention.
Stop him if he’s doing something that could end him in the hospital, but don’t hold him back from everything that could hurt him. If it’s just a superficial hurt, it’s often better to let your child experiment and learn the lessons that pain will teach him.
Buy your child open ended toys that encourage exploration and thinking outside the box. Electronic toys are attractive and billed at encouraging learning, but the best educational toys are really the open-ended toys that encourage your child to use his imagination, use his mind, and make new things. Toys like duplo (toddler lego), toddler magnetic sets, or even plain and simple blocks.
For a young toddler sensory stimulation is also very important, and you’ll want to find him tactile toys that offer a variety of different textures, colors, shapes, and level of firmness. If your one year old puts a toy in her mouth, let her. It’s part of an all-important exploratory experiment. Just make sure all her toys are clean enough she can explore them that way if she desires.
Have fun encouraging toddler learning—it’s a grand world they are discovering, and you just might be raising the next Einstein!