How to Teach Toddlers and Preschoolers

The importance of early learning

Toddler age (1 to 2 years) is probably one of the most difficult stages for parents or caregivers. Baby is growing up and has new powers and abilities to explore! Preschoolers (3 to 4 years) are of course more competent than toddlers in their physical skills and abilities, but they are also nearly always ready and happy for any attention and input you can give them.

The importance of early education can hardly be emphasized enough. It’s now an accepted fact that a child learns more than half of all that he will learn in his lifetime by the time he’s five years old. So it is important to begin teaching your little ones early and to teach them the right things during those first formative years.

Every single day is important, because learning new things every day is the main “occupation” of small children. They can usually learn a lot more with a parent’s guidance than if they are just left to figure things out for themselves. Motor skills, a wide range of practical skills, and language learning are the main areas to focus on.

Small children should not be overburdened with tedious scholastic preparation, but a surprising amount of groundwork and preparation for later learning can be done in these early years. They should not be forced to learn something they don’t want to learn—but you will find that there is very little that they do not want to learn about. They seem the most happy and contented when they are busy learning. They are such educational enthusiasts, in fact, that they can soon wear their tutor out!

Getting help when you need it

A toddler or preschooler will consume as much time and attention as you have to offer, and you may find that your child’s demands and learning needs at this age are more than you are able to meet. If this becomes the case, you may need to seek help for your sake and your child’s sake. Ideally a caregiver for your child should not only help him learn practical things, but also back you up in his moral and spiritual training. Make time, even though you may be very busy, to have some heart-to-heart communication with your child’s caregiver(s). Be sure they are in agreement with you, not only concerning the need for diligent teaching and daily care, but especially in their love for God and their desire to pass on this love to your child.

If you have to leave your child in the care of others during the day, try to avoid those TV-centered, plop-and-play, mini-madhouse daycare facilities. Older but active people whose children have grown can often provide more personal attention to a child, teach him a lot, and as a couple, often have the combined patience to answer some of your child’s many questions with wisdom gained through experience.

Remember to pray for your child’s teachers or caregivers, and ask the Lord to help them in their task of caring for him. Also be sure to let anyone who helps with your child know how much you appreciate them and their help. The love and encouragement you give them will make their job easier, and also help them to treat your child and other children in a more loving and caring way.

Make it fun, make it lively!

In order to capture and keep a little child’s attention, you have to put everything you’ve got into what you’re doing. The best teachers are those who make learning fun. Whatever children enjoy learning is what they will learn the quickest and the best. Great teachers are idea people who inspire children with a desire to learn. They have a knack for turning every situation into a learning activity so pleasant and enjoyable that the children almost beg to learn.

We parents may not be all that gifted, but there is a lot we can do. Children like to be kept busy. They like to do things, but they sometimes have a hard time thinking up things to do. So we have to continually think up new ways to channel their energies into productive endeavors. We have to have animation; we have to have enthusiasm—lots of action, lots of motion, and lots of sound effects! We have to really illustrate and put a lot of meaning and interest into what we’re teaching! Call it what you like—inspiration, charisma, talent, personality, or God’s Holy Spirit—we have to have something that brings us and them to life! If we ask God to inspire us, He will!

A teacher once asked the mother of an especially large and happy family to observe one of her kindergarten classes and offer any tips she might have.

For fifty minutes the mother watched as the teacher tried to work with her young class. Finally, the bell rang, and the teacher heaved a sigh of relief that it was over.

When she asked the mother how she thought it had gone, the mother asked, “Did it ever occur to you that you’re really competing against God?”

“No,” the teacher replied, “and I certainly don’t intend to do that!”

“Well,” the mother went on, “God made these children with an attention span of about four or five minutes. All the time you kept saying to them, ‘Keep quiet,’ ‘sit still,’ but God kept saying, ‘Wiggle.’ And what did the children do? They listened to God every time!”

Put yourself in their shoes

To understand your child, put yourself in his place and think how you would feel if you were him. Make a habit of trying to see things through his eyes and his understanding. Ask yourself, “What if this were me? How would I want to be treated in this situation? If I were only four years old and was being laughed at by the adults, how would I feel?” What may seem cute or funny to adults may be very embarrassing and humiliating to a child. Most of us know what it’s like to be embarrassed, slighted, or hurt by others. Realizing that such unpleasant experiences can be even more traumatic and painful to small, inexperienced children should cause us to do our best to spare them from such incidents.

Try to view the world from your child’s point of view. Of course, the best way to see things from your child’s perspective is to pray and ask the Lord to show you. He knows your children inside and out. He understands exactly how they feel and what they’re going through, and He will show you if you ask Him.

With small children, it sometimes helps to physically come down to their level when you talk to them; squat, kneel, or sit on the floor next to them. On their eye level, you don’t seem so distant. Seeing the world from a child’s perspective also helps you understand why he sometimes feels intimidated when others tower over him, and most of the action is going on beyond his reach. To a small child high shelves may as well be ledges far up the face of a sheer cliff; adults seem like giants two stories high who fill their dwellings with equally huge furniture and facilities often completely inaccessible. An un-familiar house can seem like a land of giants to a tiny child. As much as possible, try to keep his things down where he can get them. You may not have a “child-sized” room and furniture, but at least provide stools (or sturdy boxes) for him to climb up on to get to the sink and other places he needs to be able to reach.

Realize that a child’s experience is limited

Even tiny misfortunes often get blown out of proportion in young children’s minds. Experience helps put things in perspective. You’ve learned through experience that certain things aren’t worth getting all upset or worried about. That cut finger will soon stop bleeding and hurting. Feelings of disappointment and loss will pass, and new joys will come in their place. Bad weather does eventually pass.

But small children don’t have your confidence that things generally work out in the end. They don’t have that frame of reference, because they haven’t experienced life enough yet. They need reassurance. They need you to explain things to them and comfort them.

Understanding this simple lack in children can help you be more patient and compassionate. You’ll be less likely to snap back in frustration when your small child cries each time you have to leave him, or when he gets upset if his cracker breaks, or when he loses his temper when someone knocks over his blocks.

Small children live in the moment. Now is where everything is happening. Now is all that matters. As they grow older, they will understand the principle of time and words like “tomorrow,” “later,” and “after.” Learning to survive disappointment—even everyday little things that seem so minute to us grown-ups—takes time and experience, and for young children it can be a painful process. It can also be painful for parents. It hurts to see your child get so upset, in-secure, and disappointed when his expectations aren’t reached, but you can speed up the healing process by showing sympathy and praying with him. It is just as important to encourage and reward him when he shows faith and confidence that things are going to work out.

When you know that your child is going to have a hard time with something, it is always good to prepare him a bit before the event so it does not come as such a shock. Anticipate a crisis coming on and try to preempt it: “Mommy is going to have to turn the video off soon because it is nearly time for your nap. You can watch for a little while longer, then we have to turn it off.”

Keep your word—it will build your children’s confidence in you

Little children are naturally trusting, so it’s very important to keep your word to them. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. If plans change and you’re not able to keep your word, make sure you give them a good explanation and make it up to them later, if you can.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

Your example is your child’s best teacher

Parents tell a child but never teach,
Until they practice what they preach.

Children are great mimics. This is largely how they learn—by imitation. Children seldom forget what they see. They go more by what they see than by what they hear, more by your actions and attitudes than by your words. Your children are a reflection of you. Your own attitudes and example of faith become a standard to your children, and their actions and reactions will largely depend on yours.

Few others will have a greater impact on your child’s life than you, but the examples of others can have a big influence. TV viewing can have a pronounced effect on your child. TV is the modern world’s handiest, cheapest, and most relied-upon babysitter—but not by any means the most trustworthy or reliable! Many of the bad habits and ungodly attitudes that concern today’s parents when they see them in their children are the result of the children imitating the negative samples that they see on TV. It is wise to limit the influence of television, and monitor what your children—and you, in their presence—watch. Stick to programs or videos that you have previewed and that you know are not harmful. This may require time and effort on your part, but failure to do so will take a lot more of your time in the long run in correcting bad attitudes. What children see on TV and the bad examples that they see in others—especially children their own age or older kids they look up to—can quickly undo a lot of the good attitudes and behavior that you have worked hard to instill in them. Be vigilant!

Little Imitator
There are little eyes upon you,
and they’re watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly
take in everything you say.
There are little hands all eager
to do everything you do,
And a little boy who’s dreaming
of the day he’ll be like you.
You’re the little fellow’s idol;
you’re the wisest of the wise.
In his little mind about you
no suspicions ever rise.
He believes in you devoutly,
holds that all you say and do,
He will say and do in your way,
when he’s grown up just like you.
There’s a wide-eyed little fellow
who believes you’re always right,
And his ears are always open,
and he watches day and night.
You are setting an example
every day in all you do,
For the little boy who’s waiting
to grow up to be like you.
—Leslie Hale
“The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

Pushing the praise button

Children thrive on being praised. It’s more important to praise a child for his good behavior than it is to scold him for his bad behavior. Try to accentuate the positive. Praising children for their good qualities is the best way in the world to get them to try harder to be good. Push the praise button, and they will do almost anything to please you. Sincere praise also helps them feel better about themselves, which is crucial to their growing up happy and well adjusted.

All children need to know they’re special to their parents in their own special way!
We all need to feel special to somebody. That’s why men and women marry and why people have special friends, so each can feel special to somebody—and children need that feeling of being special too. They also need to know that they’re important and loved and looked up to by somebody, just like the rest of us do.
There are times when you have to show each child that he or she is special, and not treat each one exactly the same all the time. Even if you have lots of children, you can still treat each one a bit differently. You can give each one something special. They should all feel they’re special to you in some way!—Maria David
When a young girl was asked which of the three children in her family was her mother’s favorite, she promptly replied: “She loves Jimmy best because he’s the oldest, and she loves Johnny best because he’s the youngest, and she loves me best because I’m the only girl.” And she was absolutely right!
But come to think of it, that’s just the way our heavenly Father is with us. He sees something special and unique in each of us, that causes Him to love and cherish us in a way not quite like anyone else who has ever lived.—Author unknown
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