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Using play to teach your toddler

Often when we talk about homeschooling we think of children of school age who receive their education at home instead of in a school. But we often forget that even before children are old enough to go to school, they are still being educated through the games and toys they play with, and the activities they do with their parents and siblings. So even though not everyone ascribes to home schooling for older children, you still need to provide a certain kind of education to those too young to start school. This article will delineate the main areas of development, and some ideas for activities and toys for each.


The keyword for children this age is creativity. Have you noticed how at Christmas or a birthday, toddlers tend to enjoy boxes more than the thing it contained? It’s because toddlers are able to use their imagination to pretend that the box is something else -- and the box enables them to change the scenario as many times as they like. Toddlers like to move and be active, so make sure that the play area and the toys are free of sharp edges, and that they are safe to be in contact with the body (as children up to 4 still put things in their mouths). Make sure to supervise at all times, and especially closely when they play with crayons, chalk and paint.

So one area to develop is their body coordination. Big toys such as tricycles, playhouses and activities involving music and mime are perfect for this. For the younger ones, stacking games are especially good. You also want to help develop their fine hand coordination with games involving manipulation of pieces like bead puzzles and other toys. Drawing on a chalkboard or on paper also helps with this, and as they grow older they can hold smaller and smaller pencils and crayons.

Children this age love to play make-believe or pretend games, otherwise known to us as roleplay. Make sure that you give them grow-up clothes (as long as they are not dangerous) and do not impose gender roles on them. Boys can dress like mom, and girls can dress like dad; this is important for their understanding of the gendered world around them. Provide costumes and opportunities to play pretend as much as possible. Help them put on plays or their own TV show, play mommy along with them. You’ll see them come up with ideas you never imagined! This is part of their creativity development.

The last but not least part of their development is their literacy development. When your toddler asks you for a definition, give it as simply and honestly as you can. Read them stories and show them that words can be written down as well. You will see them try to write words down in their own language: that is a sign that they understand the concept of the written word. Encourage them to learn letters and numbers. Quiz them during the reading of their favourite book. Tell them to tell you a story and write it down as they go, so that you can read it back to them later.

As you can see, there are many possibilities to teach your toddler and to prepare them for school life (home or otherwise). Online toy stores are good if you can’t find what you need at your local toy store.