Years ago, parents sent their kids to kindergarten to learn the ABCs. Today, educational benchmarks and standards keep rising. Kids are expected to achieve more during each school year. When your child enters kindergarten, she’ll be expected to know the letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds. Feeling pressured? Perhaps. Or you can look at it as an opportunity to spend quality time with your toddler while he absorbs important concepts through fun, hands-on activities.
Remember when your infant stuck everything into his mouth or focused on the textures of different objects with intensity? The explanation is that infants and toddlers learn first with their senses. Since they are still developing the ability to speak, they rely on touching, seeing, tasting, hearing and smelling to explore the environment. Indulge your toddler’s senses with specially designed activities. It might seem like all your tot is doing is making a huge mess, but she’ll actually be learning every step of the way.
Let your toddler explore the letters of the alphabet with different textures. Roll out play dough and use alphabet cookie cutters to create the letters in his name or the entire alphabet. Squirt a pile of shaving cream, whip cream or pudding on a flat surface and demonstrate how to form different letters. Let your child trace letters you draw or encourage him to do it himself.
Here is a great post on making your own play dough, you can even turn that into a bit of a science lesson for your future scientist.
Wow your tot with a simple lesson in wax resist. Use a white crayon to draw letters on white paper. You can use index cards to write one letter on each card or larger paper to write his whole name or the entire alphabet. Then, show your toddler how to make the letters magically “appear” by painting over the page with water color paint. Get excited with your child as each letter appears, naming the letter and its corresponding sound. No need to keep drilling, just let each letter appear and move on. Adjust this activity for outdoors by writing letters on the sidewalk with chalk and encouraging your child to squirt each letter with a spray bottle or squirt gun filled with water.
There’s a reason that Hide-n-Seek is a classic kids’ game that never goes out of style: Children love to find hidden items! Make a stack of letters drawn on card stock or use pieces from a large alphabet puzzle if you have one. Start by hiding about five letters at a time, or create several of the same letter. Help your toddler search and discover each letter. Once found, clap, sing and celebrate that letter by saying its name and sound or make up a silly song that incorporates the letter’s name and sound.
As you likely know, toddlers are active. There is nothing that says learning can’t be active, too. Use a large floor ABC puzzle with over-sized foam letters or create letters by cutting them from cardboard. Help your tot learn letter names by asking him to choose a letter from a pile, then help him call out its name. Then, encourage him to throw it across the room at a target, jump up and down on it or race it to a designated spot across the room. Alternatively, line up about five letters on the floor and give your child a few bean bags. Ask your child to say a letter name, then try to toss the bean bag on that letter.
Re-purpose a cookie sheet as a magnetic board for letters. Place about five magnetic letters on the board at a time with an additional pile of the same letters on the floor next to the board. Ask your child to match the letters by picking one from the pile and placing it on the board next to the corresponding letter. Say the letter name and sound as your child makes each match.
Magnetic letters help with this idea, Melissa and Doug make a great set of high quality wooden magnetic letters.
Bean Bag Toss
It could be argued that learning to read is the most important skill your child will ever learn. Perhaps Dr. Seuss said it best: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” So go ahead and have fun with your toddler while laying the foundation to help him succeed in preschool, kindergarten and far beyond.
Have Fun With all These Ideas
Stay positive while enjoying these hands-on learning activities with your child. Let your toddler take the lead, turning the activity any direction he chooses. Be patient and don’t become frustrated if (when) your planned activity doesn’t go exactly as you, the adult, anticipated. The most important element is exposing your child to the ABCs with fun activities. Over time, she will learn them.