How Toddlers Learn?

How Toddlers Learn?

Tod­dlers love to play, and learn by direct instruc­tion, imi­ta­tion and sen­so­ri­mo­tor exploration.

My folks told me that when I was just a tod­dler, I used to pre­tend I was play­ing a gui­tar on a tooth­pick.”~ Carl Wilson

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Dou­glas Davies, the author of ‘Child Devel­op­ment,’ says that tod­dlers, in the sen­so­ri­mo­tor stage of devel­op­ment, are nat­u­rally inquis­i­tive. Your tod­dler will try to explore and touch every­thing she can. Nur­ture this inquis­i­tive­ness through your atti­tude and choice of activ­i­ties for her. Direct sen­sory and move­ment expe­ri­ence; direct, hands-on and sen­sory expe­ri­ences are the best tech­niques to teach her.

Joni Levine argues that direct instruc­tion, imi­ta­tion and sen­so­ri­mo­tor explo­ration are your toddler’s three main ways of learn­ing. Help your child learn basic skills through demon­stra­tion and ver­bal direc­tives. She will learn by imi­tat­ing you. Sen­so­ri­mo­tor explo­ration involves learn­ing through trial and error, and your child will learn the most by active par­tic­i­pa­tion. Tra­di­tional tech­niques such as read­ing from a book, show­ing pho­tos or using flash­cards are not very effec­tive in devel­op­ing an under­stand­ing of the sub­ject (until she is six to seven years old). If you wanted to teach your tod­dler about par­rots, for exam­ple, the best approach would be to take her to an aviary to see, hear and/or touch one.

Davies argues that explor­ing and dis­cov­er­ing through play is an effec­tive and pow­er­ful way of learn­ing. It is widely accepted that play can build a denser web of neural con­nec­tions and shape the brain — play exer­cises the brain cells mak­ing them expand and grow. Engage your child in play activ­i­ties help­ing her develop skills includ­ing read­ing prepa­ra­tion, prob­lem solv­ing, math, social skills and vocab­u­lary. Allow her to explore themes and ideas that are impor­tant and rel­e­vant to her.

Levine rec­om­mends puz­zles, cook­ing, art, pre­tend play and block-building as play activ­i­ties. Puz­zles help develop prob­lem solv­ing, rea­son­ing, shape recog­ni­tion and spa­tial con­cepts. Cook­ing activ­i­ties help develop count­ing and mea­sur­ing skills, nutri­tion and sci­ence con­cepts. Art activ­i­ties help develop cre­ativ­ity, emo­tional expres­sion, sym­bolic rep­re­sen­ta­tion, large motor skills and fine-motor skills. Pre­tend play helps develop social skills, imag­i­na­tion, lan­guage and vocab­u­lary devel­op­ment, and emo­tional expres­sion. Block-building activ­i­ties help develop the foun­da­tion for advanced sci­ence com­pre­hen­sion such as grav­ity, sta­bil­ity, weight and balance.

Davies, D. (2010). Child Devel­op­ment (3rd Ed.). New York: Guil­ford Press.
Levine, J. (2006). The Every­thing Tod­dler Activ­i­ties Hand­book. Mass­a­chu­setts: Adams Media.
Puck­ett, M., Black, J., Wittmer, D. & Petersen, S. (2008). The Young Child. New Jer­sey: Pren­tice Hall Higher Education.