Think your toddler is reading his favorite book already? He probably just has it memorized. With the weight of "preschool is the new kindergarten" and "kindergarten is the new first grade," on parents' shoulders, it's easy to see how they may strive to give their babies a head start with learning. However, guard against letting the pressure of your expectations push you toward pushing Baby too soon.

Don't Push: Nurture Enthusiasm for Learning

Teaching a toddler at home is not inherently negative, but there are some aspects of learning to be aware of so it remains a positive experience. Intense, formal teaching, such as rote memorization practices (i.e. flash cards) is inappropriate for the little ones, says the National Association for the Education of Children  (NAEYC).

"Using flash cards is not an effective way to help toddlers build language and literacy skills," says the article "Toddlers and Reading: Describe But Don't Drill." 

Many experts agree that emphasizing memorization can stymie your child’s innate love of learning. If your child's shows and resistance or a general lack of enthusiasm to any type of educational coaching you may try, stop. Negative reactions from your child signals that he's being pushed too hard and constructive play is a much better way to go.

Even if your child shows an interest in learning to read, hold off. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states, "Although a few four-year-olds sincerely want to learn to read and will begin to recognize certain familiar words, there's no need to push your child to do so." The AAP says that even if you do succeed in teaching your child to read at this early age, he may not maintain it once he starts school.

"The crucial factor that determines whether a student will do well or poorly in school is not how aggressively he was pushed early on, but rather his own enthusiasm for learning," the AAP says.

The Best Way to Teach Your Tot

Teaching — or working with your child — on a daily basis is one of the greatest gifts you can give him. But it is how you teach, not what you teach, that should lead the way.

It's beneficial for your child to be exposed to letters, numbers, colors and shapes before kindergarten but in a fun and discoverable way. Here's how to do it without any pressure:

Read to your child at least once a day.
A valuable passion you can pass on to your child is a love of books. Attend your local library’s story time, and check out new books on a weekly basis. Make up creative stories with your child. Have your child do illustrations while you write down words. Your child will want to be able to read all by himself if he has developed a love of books.

Make everything a learning experience.
Whether it's a trip to the supermarket or the county fair, make yourself available for conversations with your child. This encourages him to communicate and ask questions. Point things out with enthusiasm, but then let your child take the lead. Is he interested in what you are doing and eager to continue? If so, good!

Ages 1 - 3 are not ready for marathon learning experiences.
They need exposure and encouragement. They also have a right to a childhood filled with mud pies, ice cream and ponies. However, making the time for some creative teaching in between carefree jaunts is definitely worth the effort.

Fun Ways to Stimulate Your Child's Brain

"The third year of your child's life is an important time in the development of his brain," says the AAP in Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Bantam; 2004). This is a crucial time for you to help your child develop his brain and intellectual growth. The AAP provides these suggestions:

  • Encourage creative play, building and drawing.
  • Be attentive to your child's rhythms and moods.
  • Give consistent warm, physical contact to establish your child's sense of security and well-being.
  • Talk to or sing to your child during dressing, bathing, feeding, playing, walking and driving — using adult talk.
  • Read to your child every day.
  • If you speak a foreign language, use it at home.
  • Introduce your child to musical instruments.
  • Play calm and melodic music for your child.
  • Listen to and answer your child's questions.
  • Spend one-on-one personal time with your child each day.
  • Offer your child simple choices in appropriate situations throughout the day.
  • Help your child use words to describe emotions and to express feelings such as happiness, joy, anger and fear.
  • Limit your child's television viewing and video time.
  • Promote out-of-home social experiences where he can interact with other children.
  • Acknowledge desirable behavior frequently.
  • Spend time on the floor with your child every day.