Awhile back LeeAnn from Las Vegas asked my opinion on just when is the right time to begin teaching her 2-year-old daughter. She has already begun teaching basic concepts such as alphabet, colors, and numbers, but some members of her family feel that she is pushing her little girl.
In my opinion, the easiest way for LeeAnn to test whether or not she is pushing her daughter can be found in this quote: "Is it too soon, or should I let her keep going as long as she is interested and is having fun?"
If LeeAnn's daughter is interested in the concepts that she is learning and having fun while learning then it is definitely the right time to teach her.
Young children are interested in the world around them and they are interested in what their parents know. Building on that interest to teach basic concepts (just as LeeAnn is doing) is not pushing your child -- it is meeting your child's needs. One of the most important things you can do for your child is to offer an environment rich in learning opportunities. If you give your child the opportunity to learn then he will learn -- it really is as simple as that.
Remember, young children are learning a great deal about themselves, their family and caregivers, and their world ever day. For most of those lessons you are the teacher. By the time your child has reached the age of 2 you have already taught hundreds, even thousands, of important lessons about how to function in the world and society. Indeed, many of the everyday activities you perform with your child also have academic implications. For example, the books that you read to your child and the songs you sing with your child have a lasting impact on literacy. It is no great stretch to add other concepts into your repertoire and this can make a great deal of difference in how prepared your child is for preschool and kindergarten.
There are really only three things you should remember:
~ Keep it fun Making learning into a game and your child will always enjoys what you have to teach her.
~ Keep it light Educational products and activities that are actually games are wonderful but don't force your child into spending time each day with flashcards or the like. They'll most likely learn faster and more meaningfully if you have an alphabet scavenger hunt at the supermarket.
~ Embrace the teachable moment but don't schedule lessons and force educational activities on your child. When the opportunity presents itself (and it will countless times in a day!) take advantage and use it for a lesson. For example, simply putting on socks can be a lesson in right and left, colors, or counting!
HOW TO TEACH
So how do you teach your preschooler without scheduling lessons and forcing them to pay attention? You embrace the teachable moment!
What is the teachable moment? It is simply an opportunity that springs out of normal, everyday life or as children become older and more verbal a timely question or comment.
Time when you and your child are in the car, for example, is a wonderful teaching opportunity that many parents overlook. If you are reunited after a day's separation then you can share stories about your day-and in the process work on vocabulary and literacy skills as well as teach your child about the world around them. You can also use cars and trucks to teach colors, road signs to teach shapes, and so on.
Mealtimes are also wonderful teaching opportunities. Counting is easily worked into almost any meal, such as telling a child they can have two cookies or giving them five tater tots. Shapes and colors can also be brought into mealtimes. For example, my son likes to choose the shape for his sandwiches-triangles or squares? As a child grows older you can also do letter sounds with the various foods, such as milk starts with "mmmmh".
WHAT TO TEACH
Skills you should work on with your child fall into eight basic categories, according to early childhood educators:
~ Social/Emotional Skills, which will be the greatest predictors of success in life.
~ Self esteem, which is crucial for all learning.
~ Physical Skills
~ Communication Skills: listening, speaking, singing, drawing, gesturing
~ Basic Concepts such as colors, letters, numbers, vocabulary
~ Categorizing Skills, what is the same and different
~ Compare and Contrast Skills, which is the higher order level of Categorizing
~ Experiences on which to draw. These are perhaps the most important of all, as they provide a frame of reference for future learning. The more experiences from which a child can draw, the better s/he will understand both learning and the world.
These are all literacy skills and they are all key to your child's future success.
So rest easy, LeeAnn, you are doing exactly the right thing for your daughter!