Learning At Home With Your Toddler

Here in Toronto, Canada we are on the cusp of our second wave of the Covid 19 pandemic. Although I know a great number of people who were brave enough to send their children back to daycare and school, I knew after our personal brush with the virus we wouldn’t be one of those families. That meant I had to figure out how to provide my ever curious daughter with a learning environment at home where she could thrive until higher safety measures are in place or our city finds a new normal.

As a former nanny I can definitely see the benefit, even outside of a pandemic, of making a habit out of learning at home. With this “Play to Learn” education plan in place for a lot of Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten students in public schools, a lot of students don’t settle down into an actual curriculum until they are on to grade one, and at that point they are trying to play catch up.

I remember spending the summer before my kids (when I was a nanny) went to school teaching them both to write their names. It was a moment to be celebrated for the kids and myself. We worked really hard at it. I also remember a few months into school speaking to the teacher when I picked the kids up about one of them not knowing how to write their name and how we should be practicing that at home.

You can imagine my frustration.

Put simply, his new skill wasn’t being used enough during school for him to retain it, and I had gotten a little slack on our at home education because I felt they needed a break now that they were in school.

I think that experience definitely opened my eyes to some holes in our education system and how a lot of parents, regardless of your child’s age, are forced to take a more active role in your child’s education. I know a lot of this is about funding. Teachers are overworked and underpaid, and I definitely sympathize with that, but I don’t remember my mother ever having anything to do with our education when we were kids.

Outside of signing permission slips, my mother never had an active role in our education, thankfully so. I think if my mom got some of the notes my kids got when I was a nanny outlining all the things their teacher expected us to work with them at home, she would have done something overly dramatic like showing up at our school with a briefcase and asking out principal for her paycheque, since apparently she was a teacher now. (She would 100% do something like this.)

Being a nanny definitely opened my eyes. I live in the same neighbourhood I worked in, which means eventually my daughter will end up at the same schools. This is why I have always tried to do my best to get her comfortable with the idea of learning activities at home. I want her to be prepared going into school, and I want her to have those skills and not feel like she is drowning when she reaches grade one.

As soon as I could I introduced her to things like flash cards, learning songs, and cognitive play. A lot of my friends who are also parents often asked me how I get my daughter to sit for one to two hours every morning and do flash cards, puzzles, or scheduled activities. First, with everything and our children, it is mostly about routine. When you do something often enough, they get locked into that schedule and everything gets a little easier. Second, I find it’s so important to learn how to engage with your child in a way that entices them. Just like you, they are little people and they have interests. Play on those interests to achieve the desired learning result.

I recently have been reading up a lot about Love Languages, and how important it is to learn your partner and your child’s Love Language. If you’re familiar with that, you know everyone has different needs and everyone needs to be shown love in a specific way (if you don’t definitely read up on it to improve the important relationships in your life). Just as each person has their own Love Language, I feel every person also has a Learning Language.

How often has someone been teaching you something and you’ve pulled out a notebook and needed to write that down? Or how often have you not been able to grasp something when you read it but have someone show it to you and you get it down right away? Finding out your child’s Learning Language will definitely help you gear each and every activity to ensure your child’s success.

From a very young age, my husband and I both knew our daughter was musical. If it was singing George Costanza’s answering machine jingle to get her to stop crying in the car at four-months-old, or watching The Greatest Showman around the clock for around a year, it became abundantly clear our daughter’s whole mood could be changed with music. When she was about ten-months-old we learned that Music was her Learning Language. Whether it was singing what we wanted her to do, coming up with little songs for anatomy, or the alphabets, or even animals, she seemed to pick up anything extremely quickly if it was set to music. Luckily for us, in the age of Youtube, there is a kid’s song about everything under the sun which means, learning has come easily to our daughter.

When music isn’t working, games is a safe bet for pretty much every kid. Everything is always more fun when it’s a game, especially if your child has very limited interest in learning.

For one of my kids (nanny) Active Play was the best way to learn. He could pick up spelling if he was hopping from letter to letter better than he could reading a book or even singing out the spelling. Find out what your child is interested in and use that interest to make learning fun for them.

If you do this right, they will actively seek out activities where they are learning because they will relate your lessons to fun.

If I’m being completely honest, this will make it less painful for you as well. It’s getting hard out here for us parents. We have been quarantining with our kids, some of us have been doing remote learning and been thwarted back into a classroom we swore we would never go back into. Trying to force our kids to learn is just another thing right now that pulls at the thread of our mental health, and it’s okay to admit that. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to admit you had no intention of being your child’s teacher on top of everything else. We’re already chauffeurs, maids, assistants, nurses, chefs, friends, entertainment, and so many other things to our kids, a lot of us (especially those of us who made it through school by the skin of our teeth) had thought Thank f*ck our kids are in school and I don’t have to worry about all of that. Then of course 2020 came knocking, and by knocking I mean it kicked in our doors like we owed it money, and suddenly we are doing that too.

Once we created a learning space for our daughter in our living room, it made our mornings pass a little more quickly and just improved both our moods.

A lot of parents just don’t know where to start. As I said, we are not teachers. Just start with the basics. ABCs, counting up to ten, colours, and shapes are a great start for your and your toddler and flash cards for these are readily available and inexpensive.

Learning at home definitely benefits your toddlers, but it benefits you as parents just as much. You are teaching them basic understanding. Which means it will be easier to teach them outside of your little lessons, whether it’s teaching them to be a little more independent by being able to identify things and grab them themselves when asked, getting them to do tasks like brush their hair or teeth, or even just working on their listening in general. Any type of learning you do at home with your child is starting a solid foundation for their learning when outside the home.

Right now when everything, including your child’s education, is so unsure, put in the work to ensure your child is getting the exercise they need mentally as well as physically.