Ways To Create Teachable Moments For Your Toddler

Toddlerhood is a time to learn and grow. As parents, you are your child's first teachers. So, it is vital that you create teachable moments with your toddler every day, in various ways.

By Aarti C Rajratnam  • 9 min read

Ways To Create Teachable Moments For Your Toddler

With your toddler, every moment of the day can be a teachable moment. But, what is a teachable moment?

A teachable moment is an unplanned event that can be used by an adult, meaning you, the parent, to maximise your child's learning. Such moments can come up when your little one is engaged in doing a developmentally appropriate task, and shows focused awareness and interest in the activity.

So, teachable moments are opportunities for you to capitalise on by making use of your toddler's interest, curiosity and awareness to extend and expand her learning.

Myths surrounding 'teaching' toddlers

Myth #1. Toddlers need to be explicitly taught: It must be understood that the brain of a toddler is wired to be curious, to explore, to repeat, to destroy and to rebuild. As parents, you do not need to teach your toddler like children are taught in a classroom. In fact, your toddler needs opportunities to explore the world with his senses. This kind of exploration has a meaning and purpose, and is called play. It is a natural and essential way of enhancing learning and acquisition of skills.

Myth #2. Look at me and learn: Many parents believe that they must teach their toddler what to do and micromanage her life. They do this by doing a task themselves and making their child watch them. Then, they make their child follow the process, one step at a time, until he has learnt to do the task to perfection. In children, learning by observing is a subconscious process and they pick up verbal and nonverbal language this way. However, when it comes to learning new skills, modeling is least effective since learning is also about experiencing. So, when your child is made to mechanically repeat what you do or instruct, she does not 'learn' in the true sense. She is only imitating an adult, losing the essence of being a child — curiosity and exploration.

Myth #3. More and more: This applies to most new-age parents. Many theories and research claim that children exposed to more, acquire more. However, the truth is that less is more. This means that children who grow up in a secure and stimulating environment, with opportunities to play, feel bored and create new things with what they have, learn more compared with children who are made to learn through structured programmes (for example, focusing on naming pictures and reading flash cards).

Creating meaningful teachable moments

1. Watch the learner: When we observe our child, we become aware of the kind of play he enjoys most. Based on what your child chooses to do repeatedly, you could come up with teachable moments. For example, a child was smearing paint on a chart paper. His mother chose to use this moment to gradually guide his random movements into circles. Thus, she was able to help him understand the concept of a circle and size. Gradually, the child began comparing the sizes of things that were circular in shape, like a dosa and a car tyre. Similarly, you can use a simple activity your child does to make him aware of complex ideas.

2. Body is the best tool: Toddlers are consciously exploring their body. So, as parents, use such moments to help your toddler become aware of bodily sensations and needs such as hunger and also, the need to eliminate digested food. While explaining these bodily functions, also teach your child simple, age-appropriate self-help skills such as self-feeding and going to toilet.

3. Move to learn: All forms of movement, including running, walking, climbing, crawling, carrying objects, balancing, hopping, jumping, hiding and sliding, promote the creation of neural pathways. These pathways aid in learning all higher order skills. For example, crawling directly affects reading. So, why not help your child understand crawling as an animal walking through a jungle? This also gives you the opportunity to introduce language into the rich fantasy of your toddler.

4. Multisensory tasks: The key to true learning lies in your ability to create learning opportunities that use more than one sense. This is why flash cards, apps, puzzles and readymade toys fall short of providing essential stimulation. When a child uses many senses, the brain wires better and takes in more. For example, why not allow your child to touch, taste and smell different things like sugar, salt, fruit and snacks and also, explore the same? Doing so not only facilitates learning but also helps in the development of higher skills like memory and cognition, over time.

5. Essential mistakes: Know that the time when a child makes mistakes, fails and tries again, are the most effective teachable moments. A child who is curious and eager to explore does not perceive failure as an end; for her, it is as a part of the learning process. The opportunity to make mistakes helps a child develop better thinking skills, including problem-solving and developing new perspectives. So, when we notice our children making mistakes, we should ensure that we are patient and do not rush to solve the problem or react. All we need to do is to simplify the task, if needed, for the child and remain supportive of her attempts to learn.

6. Creativity: A child can choose the most unremarkable and ambiguous object to create learning experiences. To quote an example, a young enthusiastic parent ordered an expensive gift for his toddler after several months of research and reading online reviews about the benefits of that particular toy. But, when he gifted his son the toy, the boy opened the box and spent hours playing with the empty carton instead of the toy. To the child's brain, the box seemed to offer more than the toy.

7. Interaction: Every moment you spend with your toddler paves the way for creating a new opportunity to help the child learn or expand her knowledge. Engaging your child in conversations helps to develop her language, communication and reasoning skills.

We can identify teachable moments by observing and listening to our child, following his lead and looking for interesting incidents. To increase the number of teachable moments, we need to give up our fixed agenda and allow our child to explore and acquire deeper, developmentally appropriate and meaningful learning.

Aarti C Rajaratnam is a psychologist specialising in childhood and adolescent mental health, a best-selling author and an innovative education design consultant.

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