Children learn more in the first few years of life than in all the years that follow. They learn about relationships and feelings (about trust, caring and empathy; about anger, fear, jealousy and resentment), about language (first learning to understand words, then to speak them), about how thing work (throw a ball up and it always come down, turn over a cup of milk and it always spills). One of the most important things they learn – or should learn – is to love learning.
Every child is born curious and this natural curiosity is what propels early learning. But in order for curiosity to continue its creative course, it must be cultivated. When parents encourage a child’s search for knowledge, the child will keep searching, as an active and eager participant in the learning process. When parents discourage the search, the child might be less likely to keep the search up – or atleast, to keep it up with the same eagerness.
To fertilizes your toddler’s curiosity so it can blossom into a lifelong love of learning:
- Accept, encourage and answer questions. With so much to learn, it’s not surprising that, once they can speak, toddlers ask so many questions. And though it may be tempting to ignore or put off your toddler after the fiftieth ‘Wha dat?’ of the day, try to resist. All of a young child’s questions deserve answers (though sometimes the best answer to a question is another question). When toddler’s don’t receive answers to their questions, or receive answers to their questions, or receive unsatisfying ones (such as ‘Because’ or ‘You’re too young to understand that’), they may stop asking them. Of course, your answer to your child’s question should be tailored to his or her age; keep explanation short and simple.
- Accept and encourage exploration. A toddler’s explorations may turn out to be a parent’s mess. But it’s through the exploratory process that world us full of fascinating things and events that your toddler has to experience in order to learn about them. So resist the impulse to restrain your little explorer in the name of cleanliness or tidiness. You may prevent important learning experiences. (Giving your child freedom to explore doesn’t mean putting home, hearth, and your toddler’s safety in jeopardy).
- Accept and encourage experimentations. The inquiry toddler’s mind wants to know. What happens when I remove the leaves from the plant in the foyer? When i throw sand in a playmate’s face? Or when i throw a toy car across the room? Of course, while you don’t want to allow your building scientist to destroy your home single handedly while testing hypotheses, you don’t want to inhibit the impulses to experiment, either. When experiments take a turn for the destructive or the dangerous, stop them, but make it clear that you object to the result of the experiment, not the process. (‘I know that you wanted to see what would happen if you poured water over the side of the bath, but the water has to stay in the bath.’) Then redirect the inquiring mind. (‘Let’s see what happens when you pour water into this boat.’) To bring out the scientist in your toddler while saving your home, devise experiments that can be conducted under controlled conditions: blow the fuzz off a dandelion, pour sand through a strainer, mix food colouring with sudsy water in the kitchen sink.
- Expose your toddler to a variety of environments. Museum, playgrounds, supermarkets, toy shops, parks, zoos, a busy city pavement – almost any safe and appropriate locale can provide learning experiences for the young. Most toddlers pick up plenty through the power of observation; you can enhance what your toddler picks up by asking questions and adding some observation of your own.
- Expose your toddler to a variety of experiences. Swinging on a swing, shimmying down a slide, splashing in a paddling pool, planting flowers, pulling weeds, playing ball, stirring flour into cake batter, scribbling with a crayon, setting the table, ringing the doorbell, pushing the lift button. The possibilities are endless and everywhere The experience alone is valuable, but your commentary (‘See, the harder you push the swing, the higher up it goes’ or ‘Watch, when you push the button, the red light goes on’) can help make them more valuable still.
- Expose your toddler to fantasy. For a toddler, there’s as much as to be learned from fantasy – in books, movies, videos and the occasional television show – as there is from real life. Encourage make believe in your toddler’s plays: in the world of fantasy, your child can be grown-up at a tea party, a squirrel in the forest, the Cat in the Hat or Winnie-the-Pooh – just about anyone or anything he or she would like to be.
- Discourage excessive TV viewing. The fastest way to click off a mind is to click on the television set. True, a child can pick up information by watching carefully selected children’s television programmers (the alphabet, colours, counting), but the learning is passive. It doesn’t encourage children to learn on their own, as active participants in the learning process. Children who learn from TV tend to except answers to come to them in the form of glitzy, fast-moving graphics, dancing animals, and catchy tunes. They become complacent learners, their natural impulses to make their own discoveries is suppressed. So limit the television viewing, and when your toddler does watch, stay involved yourself.
- Foster learning by nurturing self-esteem. A child needs to feel good about him or herself to be able to learn.
- Make learning fun. If children feel coerced or pressured into learning, are punished or belittled for failures (‘I can’t believe you still can’t tell an A from a B’), or are confronted with formal learning situations prematurely, they’ll come to dread learning, not to love it.
- Set a curious example. Show your toddler that you’re never too old to explore and discover that learning is a lifelong pursuit. Your own excitement about learning – at your own level as well as at your child’s – will be contagious.