Both Roots and Wings

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Preparing your baby and toddler for more “formal” learning.

Credit Image: Maskot/Getty Images

So you have a baby! Or a busy toddler!

Let’s talk about early learning.

REALLY EARLY learning!

That means we have to start with building Neural Pathways!

INFANTS and TODDLERS are not too young to learn. Actually it is all they do! Their brains are building neural pathways right now, that are going to help them learn and think better (and faster) for the rest of their lives. It is more difficult to learn without lots and lots of Neural Pathways. Children actually grow the vast majority of these very early on, and later in life it is much harder. There ARE things you can do to make up for lost time, but that will be another post. For now, lets talk about the best start for infants and toddlers.

Talk to your baby, CONSTANTLY!

From the very beginning, you are already teaching your baby. You teach your baby to feel safe, to smile, and have interactions. How to use their hands, feet, roll over, and laugh. Their brains learn so much from the very beginning it is shocking! You have no idea how much they are capable of!

There is now evidence showing that the more you talk to your babies, the sooner they usually talk. The more you talk, the bigger their vocabulary will be. The more real words you use, (instead of baby talk,) the faster their vocabulary grows. (And the better their pronunciation will be!)

Talk to them abut what you are doing. “I am changing your diaper. OOOH, that was cold! I’m sorry! There, all warm and dry. I love that pink outfit on you! Do you want to hold a special changing-table toy? It will be here to greet you each time you are on here. This is “Sir. Flopsalot.” Your three cousins gave him to you, because they love you too!”

It doesn’t need to be anything special, or overly intelligent. Your speech is teaching your child what their language sounds like. Do you have a child in the cart seat at the store? Try letting baby touch a can, or an ear of corn. Babies love to touch, love to hear you talk to them, and give them lots of attention. “This is a banana, this is spinach. Here is a carrot, it is going into a stew tonight for dinner.”

Or how about adding extra words. “This is your green hat. Flopsalot is orange! Here is the big dolly, here is the little blue car. This is a dog, this is a kite. You look beautiful in that new fluffy coat. Soft, rough, hot, cold, blue, yellow, red. Label or name everything, out loud. Where did this come from? Steak comes from a cow. The water goes down the drain, into pipes, and out to a sewer.

The more you can give your baby’s brain stimulation, and create interest, the better. You are building neural-pathways!

I listened to classical music, that was soothing and calming in the evening. Mozart was a favorite, because I read in the early 90’s that a study had been done showing that listening to Mozart raised your child’s IQ. Now almost 30 years later, I cannot tell you for sure if my kids have their higher IQ’s from listening to Mozart, rock and roll, Christian music, family genetics, or all we did with them, but I know they love classical music and the symphony. They both play musical instruments, and they still love talking/language so much, that one is bilingual and the other is polishing up fluency in her 5th and 6th languages.

So talk talk talk!

Let them touch things, teach them words. When I had an interested child in a car seat, and wasn’t driving, I used flash cards in the car. We started with picture cards. This is a duck, this is a bear, this is a balloon. My kids would try to say the words. Excited applause would happen! When a child could say all the words, I moved on to alphabet cards. I am pretty sure my kids both could tell you the name and sounds of the alphabet around their first birthday, or before. I have still never met a child that had a bigger vocabulary on their first birthday than my oldest child!

Warning, teaching them words that you want them to learn, will not stop them from learning other words they hear. A well stimulated child will pick up words everywhere! And not just the ones you approve of. So guard your mouth, and protect them from negative influences.

We never pushed our kids, these were things that we did for fun. We did not have a regular “teaching” routine. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if we had worked with them regularly while they were so young!

I thought my youngest was speaking a foreign language, LOL, because when he wasn’t mimicking words, he was saying garbled sounds I was not catching… until…

One day a dear friend pointed out he was talking plenty, just in a hurry and the words were kind of blurred together. (The doctor later explained that some bright kids have brains moving faster than their mouth can keep up.) When I realized he was talking, I realized he started talking in complete sentences, we just hadn’t understood it all at first. We taught our first child to talk, but our toddler talked NON-STOP to our youngest, and our second child picked up rapid “toddler speak.” LOTS AND LOTS of words. He was always smiling and laughing, so he also spoke while smiling and laughing. (This did not help us make out the words any easier!)

However, once we had the key to understanding him, we realized he also was speaking words far beyond his age. My youngest was famous in our little family, for using words in context LONG before he could pronounce them exactly correctly. “She is ditch tracking me” instead of distracting, etc. Yes, there are many fun stories from our toddlers, but I digress…


Numbers are a great early skill. Babies and very small children can start looking at patterns. Similar to how dots are patterned on dice, children can recognize a group or pattern. Two parents, two toys. Two bites. Three kittens. four balloons, one, two, three, four. Let’s put away five toys, one, two, three four, five!

My kids have told me they don’t really remember learning to read, or count, or any of that. They just knew how. They talked, they used a lot of words, and they learned how to read pretty naturally. When they were already trying to read on their own, I supplemented. GENTLY. If they are trying to sound out a word, and getting frustrated, then help them. I always helped them when they wanted it, but the real secret to early learning is…

A lifestyle of learning!

Early reading truly was not one of our goals! I wasn’t concerned in the least about that. What I wanted, was the following.

To create an atmosphere of learning, full of interesting things. Give your child interesting little facts. Toddlers love little bites of interesting knowledge! The air in this balloon is helium. It is very light, and that is what makes it float. That type of cloud is called a cumulonimbus cloud, can you say that? That is an RV, and THAT is a semi-truck. One is like a tiny little home, and one hauls lots of things to other places. That is a policeman, we call them when we need help. This is a picture of our earth, and these are the countries around the world. This is where we live! Our country is called… Our state or city is called… This rock is an agate. This insect is a… Children love this!

Some things need little tiny bites…like when a 2 year old child asks where babies come from. They do not need all of the facts at once. I told my children, they came from a mommy’s tummy. Weeks later, in an hour, or tomorrow, they may ask how they get out of there, “Mommy’s have a special place for them to come out.” Or, “The doctor takes them out. The child is satisfied for a time. If you are lucky. How did they get in there? They grew from a tiny egg. Some things are just not necessary for a child to have all the details at 2 or 3 years old. Those things can wait another few years.

Start reading to them from birth. While nursing them, or feeding them a bottle. read every day. They get used to watching you read, learn to love it, and they grow an attention span!

Go to the library if you don’t have the money to constantly buy appealing, beautifully illustrated books about lots of different things, go through them over and over if they like, until they are no longer interested, and you need more. There were days where we read more than 50 books a day, and they would beg for more!

No, I am not joking! I often read until I was hoarse.

My kids LOVED to be read to by the time they were toddlers, and they would grab book after book and come back for “another one.” We went to the library two or three times a week. Each child would pick 5-10 books of their choice, (as long as I deemed them appropriate) and I picked out 10-20 books. The books I selected were gorgeous picture books about famous people, historical figures, hilarious stories that made them laugh. Like…

The Slug Book, where they slurp a slug! Find it HERE!

GROSS!!! But it brought so many giggles, we bought that one. I will go into reading lists for different ages in another post.

Get down on the floor and play with them. There are plenty of years to pick your phone back up, or turn the TV back one, but you will never get your time back with small children. So stay off your phone! Turn off the TV! Pay attention, these are important years!

Here is another secret, young kids WANT to learn from their PARENTS!

Your nanny, friend, babysitter, daycare, or other family members, will not have the influence over your kids that you have. You need to be front and center in their lives. Yes, all those folks might teach them things, and you may have very special folks in your/their life that will have lots of influence, or teach them a lot. Treasure them!

But their brains were wired from birth to look at YOUR face, to crave YOUR attention. They may tire you out, but tough patooties! (Seriously, get over it!) You wanted them, time is short, do it! You will have lots of time to rest when they are teenagers and don’t really want to be around you as much.

The time is now!

So put down those phones and dive in!

For more GREAT ideas on how to prepare your children for more formal learning, I recommend a little set of booklets my best Homeschooling Mentor recommended to me. It is full of great ideas! You can find it HERE!

At not cost to you, I may earn a small stipend from links on my page.

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