Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Toddler School: Teaching Your 2- to 3-year-old (No Curriculum Needed)

A few days ago, I started a series on our homeschool. The first installment explained why we choose to home educate our children and the next several posts will outline what we've done in the past, what we're doing now, and what we plan to do in the near future in terms of goals and curriculum choices. This is not the only blog where you can find similar information, so just take this as the way one family has and is doing school at home. Hopefully something here will be helpful or encouraging to you and your family.

That said, today I'll be sharing with you our "Toddler School". As I have mentioned previously, we started homeschooling because we discovered that preschool tuition fees were too expensive for us. We opted to try and find ways to teach our oldest child at home and found a mountain (and more) of information through books and online searches. I wish that I had kept a log of everything that I read and the blogs I found, but I didn't. Oh, well...

Anyway...let's jump in, shall we?

Philosophy of Education
I'm not really sure what a true philosophy of education sounds like, but my basic premise for teaching kids (and specifically toddlers) is that a lot - and by that I mean almost everything - that they see and hear is "going in". Don't underestimate what a child can start to process if given the pieces of the puzzle. You'll see that I've taught memory verses and basic theological concepts to our toddlers. When Hannah was 18 months old I read a poster we had on our dining room wall that said, "Jesus is the Son of God". Hannah jumped in to say "Christ!"...that was the other poster we had made and I didn't even know she had ever heard me read it. If stuff is "going in" then don't worry about when or how it will "come back out". Just fill your toddler's mind with the things you know he needs for a solid foundation in school. Your child will blow you away with what he learns...and you thought he was aimlessly wandering the room!

We always start with Bible. In the beginning it was unintentional, but now we intentionally put Bible as the core of what we do in "school". Our goal with toddlers is to familiarize them with stories and characters from the Bible. Our favorite Bible is the Beginner's Bible by ZonderKidz, but there are many different picture Bibles suitable for young children. Find one that you feel is appropriate for your child but that also tells the stories like they are - it's important that toddlers are learning stories that are true, not so watered down that they only resemble the real accounts based on the names of main characters.

Once you find a children's Bible you like, start reading with your toddler as often and for as long as you can each day. Try reading before meals and before naps/bedtime. Our children have the Beginner's Bible stories memorized, especially their favorites which have been read hundreds of times.  This isn't because our kids are smart but because they heard the stories over and over again.

You can supplement stories you read to your toddler with coloring pages from a site like this or this, crafts or lesson activities (some of our favorite Bible lessons for toddlers will be in an upcoming blog post). For some ideas check out this site.  Anything that reinforces the lesson is good.

In the past we have put baby Moses in a basket down the Nile River (really, a tiny baby doll in a bucket in our bathtub). We have also set up a nativity scene with our stuffed animals, dressed as shepherds, and ran from across the apartment to see the baby Jesus. We have gathered Cheerios off of the floor to remind us of the manna God provided for His people in the desert, and we have also experienced the parting of the Red Sea in a number of interactive ways.  Take a look at our old blog for some of what we did with Joshua (2 years old) and Hannah (11 months old).

Just get creative, use what you have in your house (don't worry about finding special supplies for these activities), and remember to snap a few photos while you're at it!

In addition to reading Bible stories, we put memory verses to music (we either make up our own or use a CD like this). As a Sunday School teacher to toddlers, I also started singing the main lesson point to the children. My older two kids can still be found, on occasion, singing "Jesus is the Son of God, Hallelujah!" or "Jesus saves us from our sins, Hallelujah!".

What You'll Need for Bible
-Children's Picture Bible

Language Arts
Reading is one of the most important skills a child needs to succeed in school and throughout life. I've done a lot of reading about the subject of reading. Again, I wish I had the names of books, but if you're really interested just search your local library system. The best thing you can do for reading preparedness is to read to your child. Read all throughout the day and make books accessible to your child. One thing we did was to make our kids' Bible available to them from before they were even walking.  We have replaced it more than a dozen times in the last several years, but it's been worth it. Not only do our kids know their Bible stories but they also have been quick to read on their own.

And you don't have to break the bank reading a truck load of books! Get a library card and start perusing the shelves for picture books. I made a point to start on the A shelf and make my way down to Z, so that after almost a year I had looked at nearly every title our local library had on the shelf in the children's picture book section. Then I scowered the toddler books shelves and the non-fiction shelves. Don't be afraid to check out 10 or 20 or even more books each time (unless your library has a limit, of course). And make an effort to go to the library at least 1-2 times per month (so you don't incur any late fees). Most libraries have a system of keeping track of library loans and renewals via the internet - take advantage of this free resource!

A fun reading and alphabet awareness program I found is called "Read to Me and ABC". I didn't always find the books at our local library, but I did find some good substitutes. It expanded our usual scope of books on trucks and other transportation and it gave us some ideas for fun and simple activities to do together.

In addition to reading to your child, go ahead and teach them the ABC's...phonetically! I didn't know what I was doing when I taught Joshua the alphabet this way, but let me say that it is one of the best ignorant choices I've ever made. We used an alphabet puzzle and with each letter I would say the sound (to keep things simple, I chose only the short sound for vowels and didn't include any secondary sounds for consonants).

In terms of writing, I made pencils, washable crayons and markers, and other writing utensils readily available to our children. Just let your toddler color and scribble to their heart's content. Abby's favorite is to draw on a dry-erase board. You can find them in the $1 bins at places like Target. Be sure to get washable dry-erase markers - they are a bit hard to wipe off, but they are truly washable.

What You'll Need for Language Arts
-Books, lots and lots of books!
-Library card (so you can access more books)
-Alphabet puzzle or refrigerator magnets
-Paper (scrap or construction), washable crayons and markers
-Dry-erase board with washable dry-erase markers (optional)

Numbers and Things
To prepare your toddler for math, start counting with them in every day life. I used to count the buttons on my kids' onesies even before they could talk. When Joshua was around 12 months old I began to count while he was on the changing table. I said, "One. Two." And he said, "Threeeee!" Babies are pretty smart, if you ask me!

This year I'm focusing on teaching Abby shapes and colors. We do this by picking one color and one shape per month. I had a lot of fun crafts and activities planned to go along with these colors and shapes, but so far we've only managed a couple of color collages and our daily color/shape identification. We also use some shape flash cards that we found somewhere for $1. Shape sorters are a great toy to familiarize toddlers and babies with different shapes. Puzzles are also a good option. Check out our Toddler School post [coming soon] for the overview of our year and the weekly lesson plans.

With Joshua I had a lot more time to focus on toddler skills, so we did bigger projects. Painting, triangle biscuits, color lunches (yellow mac and cheese, yellow squash, and a banana), and even a few color scavenger hunts (we took photos of our village, printed them, and made a big color collage that hung in our entryway for a while). Those things were fun, but Abby is learning her colors just fine with a quick review a few times a week.

What You'll Need for Numbers and Things
-Craft Supplies

A Final Note
And, last but not least, try not to put your toddler in front of TV and movies as much as you are able. We have never had a TV, but we still found it easy to find Sesame Street clips for Joshua to watch. He was glued to the laptop and we thought he was absorbing all kinds of good information. Instead, we found that he was grumpy after watching. So, we stopped putting it on for him. At the time we didn't really know all of the benefits of limiting media input, but I'm glad we made the habit when we did.

I recently read "The Well-Trained Mind" which encouraged parents to think of what you are giving up by turning on the TV. Would your toddler sit down and read a book, build a puzzle, listen to some music, or make some coffee in their kitchen set instead? Try for the use of TV to be an intentional choice, one that will enhance what your toddler is learning at home.

Toddler School in a Nutshell
Don't buy a curriculum for 2 and 3 year olds. Start reading, take out some basic drawing supplies, and build a few towers. In fact, don't even wait until your child is 2 years old to start some of the suggestions above. Read books to your baby - when Joshua was only a few months old I started sitting him in the bouncy seat and reading to him. Talking to your child is one of the best things you can do for him/her. I told my kids everything I was doing (now I try not to answer when they ask me, "What are you doing, Mom???"). Count to them, talk about the color of their shirt, and sing a lot of songs. Everything that your child sees and hears is "going in" and in just a short time it'll all start to come out - you'll be amazed at what your child has picked up along the way.

 Our Favorite Toddler Toys
*Family Favorites
-*Blocks (wooden, Duplo, MegaBlocks, even empty pasta boxes)
-*Cars, trucks, trains, and anything else that can be pushed around the house
-*Mixing bowl and spoons, measuring cups are optional
-Shape sorter
-Stacking cups, rings, etc.
-Musical/Rhythm instruments
-Train tracks
-Kitchen and accessories, food optional
-Dolls and stuffed animals
-Dress Up: hats, purses, shoes, gloves, anything that you or your spouse would wear

Our Favorite School/Craft Supplies
*Family Favorites
-*Play dough and utensils
-*Construction paper and scrap paper (ours has flow cytometry data on the back)
-*Washable crayons and markers (Crayola brand is really the best, find them here for the best price)
-*Dry-erase board and washable dry-erase markers
-Child-Safe scissors
-Washable glue (sticks and white school glue)
-Pom-poms, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, popsicle sticks, craft foam, felt, and anything else that can be poured, glued, or manipulated in one way or another

So, what "toddler school" activities have you tried with your kids?  What are your favorite resources for ideas and inspiration?

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great blog! Does anyone know of any toddler programs in Minnesota they could recommend?