Magazine article USA TODAY

Toddlers Learn Early and Often

Magazine article USA TODAY

Toddlers Learn Early and Often

Article excerpt

ATTENTION PARENTS of fast-growing and -learning toddlers: implementing a structured home learning environment for children ages one to five can be beneficial in preparing them for the jump to preschool or kindergarten and helping you better manage your days together.

Here are some helpful tips for parents eager to influence the educational development of their toddlers:

Routine. Toddlers love to know what to expect. Give them a loosely structured daily routine that includes free play and learning activities you do together. Having an expected structure to the day helps them feel safe and gives them an easy way to learn about the world. Yet, there should be room for flexibility. You do not want to be so rigid that any deviation would be so unusual that it could cause the child to fall apart.

Read. Few activities reap the rewards that reading to your child will. It helps develop attention span, creative thinking, and language while giving both of you a close time for bonding. It does not matter if your offspring simply likes to hear the story or if he or she just wants to go back and forth between pages. Reading ability is so closely aligned with success in school that starting early really makes sense. Parents often contend that their child will not sit still for a book. Do it for as long as he or she can stand, even if this is just a few minutes. The ability to focus should gradually increase over time. Leave picture books in a bin that the child can access and you will see him or her open them up. It also helps for children to see their parents reading, whether it is magazines, newspapers, or novels. If you have an older child, let him or her read to the younger one. This should make them both feel good.

Music. Studies show that exposure to different types of music has a positive effect on brain growth and particularly is linked to math ability later on. Play all types of music, not just "kids music." This helps make children open to enjoying a variety of styles as they grow older. Music is soothing to most people, including children, so it is helpful in developing methods for self-soothing. Encourage them to move to the sound. Play instruments (both real and homemade). There are all kinds of great music for children: jazz, calypso, folk, classical, and blues--even the Beatles and Elvis (Presley and Costello). You even may develop some new musical tastes yourself.

Library. Make a visit to the library a part of the weekly routine. You want the library to be a fun part of your child's world. This will contribute to a love of reading and books. Many libraries have special programs such as Story Time or Toddler Time for small children. Find out what your library offers. Let them take books home to establish a routine of "borrowing and returning." Make introductions with the children's librarian and make sure to greet that individual each time you visit. If a youngster is comfortable with the librarian at age two, there should be no problem asking for help at age eight.

Parent-child class. Enroll in an educational parent-child class. As great a parent as you are, you cannot duplicate the learning opportunities children get in a structured group setting with an experienced teacher. You also will enjoy seeing your child blossom socially and learn other ways to continue learning at home. Remember that 75% of your child's brain develops before age two, so now is a great time to invest in education. …

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