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"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."
― Emilie Buchwald
Many shun away from educational activities simply because it seems like we're putting too much pressure on our kids to learn, perform, and excel. However, while putting undue pressure on a child is not right, it's also important to understand that toddlers are eager-to-learn, curious individuals, abounding with energy. They love exploring and learning, simply because their minds are like dry sponges waiting to absorb the information around them.

When toddlers are left idle, they often get into one of their destructive moods. They look for things they shouldn't be touching or pick up bad habits. All this, not because they want to be destructive, but because they don't know what to do with their time and energy. Our role is to direct their energies positively and constructively. Learning colors, body parts, or even the alphabet, or numbers is fun if you don't make it something they have to do. Learning becomes a pain only when you are forced to learn. Give your child enough freedom and he will surprise you!
Activities that teach the 'ABC'
A toddler that has just turned two may take a while before he or she can recognize the alphabet, although many are able to recite them. Identifying the alphabets wherever you come across them, such as in books, newspapers, food cartons, etc., will help make the concept more familiar. Let's take a look at some activities of how you can help your toddler learn the alphabet, and at the same time keep him occupied.
Texture Book
While you get texture books at the book store, how about making one of your own. Create an alphabet texture book. Use different materials like cotton balls, felt, wool, etc., to make large-sized alphabets, then stick them on the pages of a book. This will not only allow your toddler to touch and feel various textures, but will also encourage him to feel the pattern of the alphabet. Gradually, as your toddler flips the pages of the book, he will begin to recognize different alphabets. He will learn how each alphabet has a particular pattern. You can also paste pictures of words beginning with A and other alphabets respectively, so as to help your child connect the alphabet with actual objects.
Letter Matching
Letter Matching
You can have large cut-outs of the alphabet pasted onto blank squares of construction paper. Have another set of cut-outs (the same size as that of the previous set) made and hand them to your toddler. Help your toddler place the A cut-out on top of the paper with A. This may take time for your toddler to perfect, but eventually you will find that your toddler has picked up certain alphabets over others, identifies them, and is able to match them. You can also use foam alphabet cut-outs for this activity.
Activities that teach 'Numbers'
It's not about teaching 1-9, but it's about introducing the concept of numbers. Never use a single activity to introduce numbers (or any concept), because that's when numbers become boring. If you look around we're surrounded by numbers. When you get into the elevator, point out to the numbers. Count the birds by your window sill or count the cookies before giving it to him. When you narrate a story, include numbers like two monkeys, three apples, etc. Count fingers or even buttons on the shirt.
Stepping Number Game
Take large sheets of construction paper and cut out large squares sufficient enough to hold your two feet. Paste a cut-out of the number one on the square. Prepare two of these, one for you and one for your toddler. Make similar number squares till the number 9. Then play the stepping game. Arrange the numbered squares in a line across the room. Tape the sheets to the floor so they remain in place. Step on your #1 square and ask your toddler to do the same, then jump to the next number. Your toddler may seem hesitant initially, but will eventually love the game. Moreover, he will soon be introduced to basic numbers.
Gluing Activity
Child sticking number on page
Toddlers love to work with glue, so how about using a gluing activity to teach numbers. Get a few magazines and cut out different objects that will attract your child. For this activity you also need a blank book and a marker. Write the number in large font on one page and stick one item on the other page. Stick two items on the next page, corresponding to two. You could also stick shapes like three circles to teach shapes with the same book. Have your toddler apply glue and paste the picture in the book. Your toddler will enjoy the book he helped bring together.
Activities that teach 'Colors'
Just like numbers, colors are all around us, so keep pointing out to colors across the room. While teaching colors it's important to go one step at a time. Introduce one color at a time, and allow an interval of a couple of days between different colors. This will allow your toddler to comprehend, and will also allow him to retain better.
Color Tray
Parent supervising toddler
Gather together items of a particular color and place them in a tray. Choose items that your child is familiar with, so that he knows you're talking about the color that is common to all items. For example, get his red car, red crayon, red shirt, red block, etc. You can also include tomatoes, strawberries, roses, etc. Don't go out of the way to get these items. Just look around the house and get hold of items that your child plays with on and off. Once you show him the color tray, pick an item and say 'Red Car', and similarly with the other items. Allow him to play with the items and don't push him to learn. A child may or may not be interested in the color at the moment, but as you introduce the trays over the next few weeks, the child will begin to associate colors. To supplement your activity, every time you pass a toy, just name the color. This will help build the necessary link.
Color Separators
Gather old Pringles cans and wrap them with different colors of paper. Write the names of their respective colors in bold. Although your toddler cannot read, he's actually getting exposed to more of the alphabet. Place the wrapped cans besides each other. Place a tray of colored blocks and ask your toddler to drop the block into its respective can. This will take a while for your toddler to master, however, it's an activity that will reap fruit. Just be patient, and don't fret when he messes up the colors or even looks baffled the first time you introduce this activity. Eventually, your toddler will learn to differentiate the colors. Instead of blocks you can use colored pom-poms, tiny balls, etc. You can even add food coloring to spaghetti or pasta and ask your child to sort them into respective colored bowls.
Story Time Activities
Story time is an important part of child development, because it stimulates the child's creativity. It also keeps them occupied and intrigued for longer. While reading out stories from books is an all-time favorite bedtime activity, you can make it a day time activity by incorporating simple activities into it.
Toy Animals
Girl carving pumpkin
Build a story around your toddler's favorite animals. Create conversations between the animals, give them make-belief food, and even put them to sleep. Toddlers are fascinated with animals, and when we give them character and dialogs, there's nothing like it. Bring out the toy cars, trucks, and wagons, and give the animals a ride. Usually, your toddler will tell you which animals he or she wants in the story, and will often provide the necessary direction. Just play along. From this story time, a toddler learns the names of animals, learns to connect, learns to be creative, imaginative, etc.
Vegetable and Fruit Fun
Mother and Child
Take a few vegetables and fruits and draw eyes, nose, and mouth for each of them. If possible give them some kind of clothing using old pair of socks, etc. Create a story of your own by imagining what Mr. Cucumber said to Mrs. Cabbage, and how baby turnip was rescued by strong and masculine pumpkin man. This activity not only teaches kids about different vegetables, but also enhances their creativity.
Activities that teach 'Shapes'
Again, we're surrounded by all kinds of shapes. In fact, every tactile object has a shape, so keep showing them to your kids. Pointing out to circular plates, square boxes, rectangular books, triangular pizza slices, etc., are wonderful ways to introduce shapes. However, simple activities will make the concept easier to comprehend.
Bread Shapes
Bread Shapes
Get out those cookie cutters and cut out different shapes from slices of bread. Your toddler will love watching you cut out a circle, square, etc. Eventually, your kid will have a shape he likes and will ask you for that particular shape. Apply peanut butter or any other topping and serve it while proclaiming the shape. You can also use pancake batter to prepare different shapes of pancakes using cookie cutters as molds.
Play Dough Shapes
Dough Shapes
You can either buy play dough or prepare your own at home. Play dough is colorful and malleable, which is why they are loved by kids. You can use play dough tools to cut out the shapes. Your toddler will enjoy making the shapes on his own. While you are at it, you can also teach colors. Give the shapes eyes and nose to make them more fun and appealing. You can also make shapes of different sizes and teach the concept of size.
Food Activities
Toddlers have an innate desire to cook, especially because they see you spending such a lot of time doing it. While most of our toddlers have managed to mash their fingers into a banana or smear peanut butter and jelly all over themselves, there are some other activities that will not only introduce them to other foods, but will also keep them occupied.
Food Ripping Fun
Toddlers love to tear stuff, so how about giving them some lettuce or cabbage leaves to rip apart. In the process if they put some in their mouth, there's no worry. Toddlers also love to dip them fingers in water, so you could provide a bowl of water in which they can wash their lettuce before they tear them. This will keep them occupied for longer.
Pouring Colored Liquids
Child playing Colored Liquids
Toddlers love to pour and transfer (more like they love to spill!). Fill a few transparent beakers (non-breakable) with different liquids like one with orange glucose powder, another with watermelon juice, another with carrot juice, etc., and give them to your toddler. Hand him measuring cups (the ones used for baking), some spoons, a large bowl, and a few glasses. Let him play as he pleases. Name the different colors and allow him to have a ball just pouring and mixing the liquids.
Two-year-olds want something new all the time (unless they specifically ask for repetition). They love driving you nuts by asking you to repeat the same story or nursery rhyme over 50 times. But it's their call. If they like an activity, repeat it, but if they dislike it, don't push. If they're neutral, try the activity without being pushy and gage their response. Toddlers hate being pushed around, so make sure you aren't pushy. Learning must be fun and voluntary. If your child wishes to learn animal names over the alphabet, then amen to that! Toddlers are learning on a daily, minute-by-minute basis, so don't get too worried. Our job is to keep them occupied with different fun and interactive activities―what they learn from that is purely up to them. In fact, if you look at any activity closely, you can learn a lot from it, because each one involves numbers, shapes, colors, etc.