Don't panic! Your toddler is learning more than you realise
Enough with the guilt – it’s time to relax. According to experts, kids are often learning even when you think they’re not.
From the moment they're born, our children are learning. We know we should be engaging our children in learning activities well before they start school but it can become an obsession. In fact, many parents feel guilty if they’re not actively teaching their children at all times.
Keep it simple
While some parent-directed play is important and beneficial for both parent and child, it’s also important to let your child learn through their own experiences. “Clinically, I see many parents who are absolutely stage-managing the whole weekend where the child has no moment that is not scheduled and fascinating,” says child psychologist Judith Locke.
Here are some top tips from Judith to help your child learn in their own way:
- “Make sure your child has the opportunity to develop their own creativity, in their own way."
- “Don’t make everything elaborate – sometimes they love to play with a cardboard box!”
- "Even TV time can be good for them, if you choose wisely; choose educational programs, of which there are an abundance to choose from."
- “As long as it is not the primary babysitter, I don’t think TV – if given in short bursts – is so bad for them.”
- "Try watching their favourite shows with them and talk about what they’re watching and learning."
Structure vs free play
Mum-of-three Isabel De Bono is a firm believer in striking a balance between structured learning and play.
“We always do an activity together, which is structured to assist their learning in some way,” says Isabel. “Fine motor skills games, art activities, jigsaws – and every night involves stories before bed.
“But I believe children are actively learning all the time, and this doesn't always mean one-on-one learning. They learn just as much through self-exploration if they have enough stimulus around."
Isabel also believes life experience makes a lot of difference to a developing child. “Experiencing the beach or a farm or the zoo or just going to a playground helps a child in later years. It all helps when using prior knowledge at school to assist with their inferring and predicting, and visualisation when learning to read and comprehend.”
“I have always tried to give my children as many experiences as I could growing up, but I think time together is more important than structured learning when they are young.”
Don't stress about your child's learning
The most important thing to remember is not to worry about your child; there are plenty of simple ways of ensuring little ones are learning that don’t make things hard for mum.
- When it comes to babies, just placing them in a comfortable position where they can view the world around them can be enough.
- Children of any age don’t have to be learning through parent-directed activities all the time; learning to amuse themselves will teach them to understand the world.
- Enjoy playing with your children; they will learn just by having you around and having fun.
- Playing with toys and objects and talking about them helps babies and toddlers begin to learn how things work, for example, that objects have different shapes, colours and textures.
- You can even teach them – and keep them busy – at the supermarket; ask them to find the yellow food, the biggest apple, the smallest lemon, etc.
- Kids learn by example. Taking 10 minutes to read on the couch is actually showing them that reading is fun and worthwhile, setting them in good stead for the future ... and you get to catch up on your favourite book.