In the early years, “school” can look like a lot of different things and it can be overwhelming understanding where to start. Your toddler may have a wide range of different interests and moods to go along with it. How do you know your child is ready and how do you homeschool a toddler? What do I even mean by this “totschool” business?
Around the ages of 2-2/12 or so, I start thinking about intentional play with my kids. At this age, children will learn the most from play and being read to. That seems pretty simple right? But there is a difference between laying on the floor pushing toys around and working on the developmental skills your little one needs. The first step is thinking about what those skills are or should be and the second is finding fun ways to practice them. With just a touch of mindfulness you will be on your way to homeschooling your toddler!
What Skills Does My Toddler Need to Practice?
In general, most neurotypical children (that is, children who do not experience developmental or physical delays or have other conditions which may eventually cause such delays) will hit certain physical, emotional and social milestones within the same 12-24 months. Since that is seemingly such a broad range of time, you’ll have plenty of time to practice skills that are newly developed and encourage more to come out with your toddler. Homeschool at this point is all about developing and practicing these milestones! Buckle your seatbelts, this will get a little bit technical but understanding a bit of child development will help you on your way…
How to Practice Movement Skills
At two years of age, your toddler will begin to practice fun things like walking without help, pulling toys, carrying larger toys, running, tiptoe, kicking, climbing up and down and using the stairs. It’s probably one of the most bruise-filled periods of childhood! I remember Venti taking a header into the side of the couch once and going around with a gnarly bruise on his cheek for weeks. It’s not pretty, but with your help, they will pick up so much here.
Practice gross motor skills (that’s using your big muscles for things like running and jumping) by playing games like catch or soccer. Using ride-on toys (Rody is my favorite) helps to develop the same muscles that help them walk, run, kick and tiptoe. Invest in a hula hoop (they’re like three dollars at Wal-Mart) and use it to jump in and out of, toss toys into, crawl through, roll across the yard and basically anything else you want, just don’t count on your toddler to actually hula.
Another key skill in developing movement like this is crossing the midline. Imagine your child facing you with a straight line right down his middle from the crown of his head to floor between his feet. Any time you can get him to cross that line with a hand or a foot, it develops critical neuro-pathways the lead to skills later down the line like handwriting and planning skills.
Practicing movement skills doesn’t have to be all about planned games. You can easily incorporate practice on these in your day to day life and even have the other parent or other caregiver incorporate new habits for practice. Say your toddler is asking for a banana after breakfast, instead of just handing it over, have them walk, perhaps like a monkey?, into the kitchen and reach high to grab it from the counter or the table. When you’re playing toys together, put the car that they want just slightly out of reach on the opposite side of their dominant hand, subtly encouraging them to cross the midline to grab for it. It doesn’t have to be a repetitive game or an organized activity – any time these skills are accessed, their little brains grow smarter and smarter.
How to Practice Hand and Finger Skills
Hand and finger, commonly known as fine motor skills, or the things you do with your small muscles like your fingers and hands, are important for many things from handwriting and eating to future music lessons. Scribbling, dumping or pouring, and stacking are all developed around age two.
Aside from doing drawings together, it’s a great time to start using play-doh, finger paints and dot markers. My best advice at this stage is to stock up on a fair amount of patience – there will be messes. Remind yourself that these are “intentional messes” and you are developing skills that will continue to grow into childhood and set your kiddo up for success in multiple areas down the line. Invest in newsprint, or get an actual newspaper subscription, because you are going to be lining your home with a protective layer.
Building and stacking also start to come more into play for your toddler around this time. Stacking blocks, fill and spill toys and puzzles all start to become more exciting challenges for you both. I am absolutely obsessed with this block set from Uncle Goose – they’re an investment for a toddler toy, but they last and we are talking about heirloom quality kids toys. You’ll use it again down the line as you begin to practice letter sounds and numbers in preschool and pre-k. I can’t get enough of puzzles and the entire line of Melissa and Doug chunky puzzles is still a favorite ever since Venti was into them.
How To Read With Your Toddler
I was going to start talking to you about how important it is to read to your toddler in order to help them develop language, but you know this. You’ve known it all along and if you’re here visiting this page, you don’t need me to tell you that again, so let’s just get practical with it.
Invest in vocabulary books. These are picture books with actual photos of zillions of different items your child will be interested to talk about. These are literally the single most boring brand of book to read to a child, but they are fantastic practice and for whatever reason, toddlers obsess over them. As I’m writing this, Tall is just about 29 months old and can accurately distinguish between and excavator, a bulldozer and a front end loader and correctly pronounce all three when quizzed thanks to these ridiculous books. Go through the books. Point at a picture and say the word. Use their own hand to point to the picture. Ask them to find whatever item on the page. There is so much practice here between language and fine motor skills, it is just very, very worth it.
Aside from constantly reading, we try our best to talk to the kids often and as would to any other human in the room. We don’t use funny names for things and while I do keep my tone of voice cheerful and light, I don’t ever baby talk at this stage. The more they get practice at hearing proper speech, the more it will make sense to them and their ears will become trained to begin to understand. You can talk about anything you like, but I find it easiest to describe what I’m doing. You’ll feel ridiculous telling them, “I am going to fold up daddy’s big blue shirt for him. Look at the letters on there, I see the letter N right there! Let’s put daddy’s blue shirt on the pile on the table. Which one should I fold next?” Just be careful, you’ll find yourself muttering these types of conversations to yourself and no one wants to overhear that.
Developing Cognitive Milestones
Around this age, your toddler will begin to make a few important developmental discoveries. The understanding that something hasn’t disappeared just because it is out of sight (object permanence) has already begun to develop at this point, but now that your child is mobile and had some practice with it, they are able to create their own games with it. Now, instead of you hiding a toy under the blanket, they can hide something (or themselves!) from you. These games will become much more of a two-way street now, and practicing them becomes great fun.
Pretending is another skill that really comes into its own at this age. The easiest (and frankly, most fun) things to pretend are to be animals, because you can also practice some super loud sounds at the same time. Wearing hats and putting on someone else’s shoes is utterly hilarious to them, so don’t be afraid to lend some things out. I’ll gladly admit, all three of my boys adored carrying their own purses, going shopping with them and collecting treasures. Let’s be honest, purses are just so handy! Make these items available and within reach as often as you can.
Social and Emotional Learning
This is a big one and can be tricky to understand at times. They are also difficult to outright teach or practice but it seems the putting language to some of these things can help both you and your child understand what is going on. Sometimes just realizing a certain behavior is developmentally appropriate can be such a relief. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists out several key ones to watch for around age two, and I couldn’t possibly describe them any better than this:
- Imitates behavior of others, especially adults and older children
- Increasingly aware of herself as separate from others
- Increasingly enthusiastic about company of other children
- Demonstrates increasing independence
- Begins to show defiant behavior
- Increasing episodes of separation anxiety toward midyear, then they fade
Once you start to recognize these milestones developing in your little one, you can begin to start playing more intentionally with them. Homeschool at this age is really no more than some structured play sprinkled with life skills and an absolute ton of books.
Think you’re ready to start homeschooling your toddler? Ready to set up your own Totschool? Make sure to check out my Early Years Starter Kit, complete with a list of the exact tools and toys we use in our school every day.