The Principles of Learning: Toddler Applied

The learning process has endless channels, but most likely, if you are an educator you have stumbled upon the "laws of learning". These principles help provide a general outline for creating and implementing a learning strategy and environment. While studying early childhood development in college, we didn't spend much time on these principles. Once I got into the classroom, and even started homeschooling my own toddler, I began to realize the value of these principles. 

For those unfamiliar with the "laws of learning", I will send you to the wiki page HERE (instead of an online-goose-chase filled with scholarly articles and criticism).

For those familiar with the eight principles -- here are my personal tactics for applying those "laws" to toddler learning.

Principle #1: Readiness 
(mentally and physically having a clear objective and reason for learning)

For Toddlers: Be sure your toddler is not hungry or tired when starting a new learning objective or game. Well rested kiddos are ready to learn. Also, be sure to use simple but semi-challenging activities. Have clear objectives during learning time. Free play is all day, but learning time should have objectives. Puzzles, games, and activities should have structure during learning time. If your toddler is too young to verbally understand the objectives, you should show them what to do -- usually they will pick it up very quickly!

Principle #2: Exercise (activities that are repeated are most remembered)

For Toddlers: Toddlers LOVE repetition. Most of the time if the activity or game engaged them, they will want to do it again, and again, and again, and again. I find it helpful to start the same activities at the same time of day, so your little one knows what to expect. Routines are helpful!

Principle #3: Effect (this is how the activity made them feel)

For Toddlers: Praise and rewards are essential for toddlers during the learning process. Sometimes just the act of learning is the reward for the toddler. For example, growing his vocabulary is a reward in it's own! Hugs, high fives, stickers, verbal praise, and the act of learning are all essential to keeping your toddler engaged.

Principle #4: Primacy (this means learning the correct lesson FIRST)

For Toddlers: This is a tough one for parents. It is so cute to hear your little one mispronounce words while they are learning, and even make up words. We learned this the hard way. When our little guy started talking one of his first words was the letter "H". He started calling a horse "H" and we went with it, without correcting him. We were SO thrilled he was communicating and it was adorable. Once his vocabulary started growing, he LOVED to read a specific alphabet book, but every time we got to "H for Horse" he just pointed, because he was confused or embarrassed that he had been calling it "H" and he now knew it was HORSE. From that moment, anytime he mis-pronounced a word, we gently helped guide him to the correct pronunciation. 

For example, he was having trouble with the word PIANO. He would successfully identify the object or sound, but he would say "PEE-NAY-O". This was the most precious thing in the world to us, but we knew it was doing him a disservice to let him continue mispronouncing the word. We would congratulate him, "Good JOB! That is a PIANO. PI-A-NO!". Restating the word over and over helped him hear it, and after a few weeks of repetition;  it clicked! Now, he shouts "PIANO!" every time he sees or hears one. Just remember, it is hard to overturn a lesson learned incorrectly.

Principle #5: Recency (things done most recently are most remembered)

For Toddlers: This is directly related to repetition. Before a new learning activity with your toddler, you may need to review. If it has been a while, your toddler has probably forgotten the lesson. A great example of this is learning letters or numbers. If you are doing a letter of the day, you should review ALL letters of the alphabet previous to the letter of that day. It helps them refresh and prepare for what is coming.

Principle #6: Intensity (the more vivid and involved the more retention)

For Toddlers: A great way to apply this principle to toddler learning is to use props, FOR EVERYTHING. If you are learning about apples, have apples for them to touch and taste. If you are learning about shapes, have tangible shapes for your toddler to touch and hold. While not all children are kinesthetic learners, stimulating and involving ALL the senses in learning helps them retain the information.

Here are a few sample activity plans:

Principle #7: Freedom (learning free from coercion, being openly and freely engaged)

For Toddlers: This is straight forward, if your little one isn't interested... don't push them. It will just frustrate them and you. We like to choose our learning plans, based on what our toddler is into that week. Student guided learning is a helpful for us. Our little guy decided he loves totem poles, so we created a totem pole activity plan!

Principle #8: Requirement (You have to have something to obtain something)

For Toddlers: This is an abstract principle. It highlights that you must have a starting point or "root" to begin a task. This can be an intangible skill or a physical tool. It gives the student a starting point to learn or acquire knowledge. As your toddler grows and wants to accomplish more, you will naturally start to teach them this principle. Before they can ride a bike, they must acquire the proper tools, then acquire the skill by trial, error, and practice.

Have fun, and KEEP LEARNING!