Considering How to create learning opportunities for the toddler who is already *extremely* interested in books?

I was wondering why should I be hell bent on educating my toddler when she's going to learn the stuff anyways when she grows up?

When she grows up to 6 years of age it will be utterly easy for her to know what is hard and what is soft or about shapes and colours or the numbers/alphabets, then why should I bother her and myself when she's just a toddler?

Authoritative answers requested.

  • As a guide to answers: Citing research on long-term differences between toddlers who had lots of early education and those that did not may be a good direction to go, as would pedagogical theory about learning and the importance of "background" information.
    – Acire
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 11:28
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    You really shouldn't make assumptions about what will be 'easy' for a child to learn, or at what 'age' it will be easy to learn those things. And even if you are, then surely there are other things you could teach them that you feel are more age-appropriate?
    – Zibbobz
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 19:46
  • Can we expand this into asking why you should bother teaching your child language? Because that's what teaching about hardness, shapes, colors, alphabet, etc., is doing: teaching language. They'll see or feel those things regardless of whether or not they have words for them.
    – user11394
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 20:13
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    Also, do we have to come at this from a standpoint that learning things is a bother for toddlers? All of the ones I've met (and my own) seem very eager to learn new things.
    – user11394
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 20:41

8 Answers 8


I'll answer your question with a question.

University kids are able to learn advanced calculus and how to interpret difficult books and understand human psychology. Why don't I just wait until the kids are at that level, because then all of that high school maths will be so much easier for them?

The reason is that knowledge builds upon knowledge. You lay the foundations, simple words, learning to walk without falling, learning that hot can be bad, and upon those foundations more complex knowledge can be build. If the kid lacks the foundations, you cannot expect to build a house of knowledge.

How will the kid find it utterly easy to know that something is hard or soft if the kid has not developed his/her brain in order to understand those concepts? How can the kid do differential geometry if the kid doesn't even know arithmetic?

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    Is there research to back those assertions up?
    – user3143
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 19:31
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    @user3143 Here - "Learning is more effective when students' prior experience and knowledge are recognized(sic) and built on."
    – Zibbobz
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 19:48
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    @user3143: Seriously? It's common sense. You can't learn hard mathematics unless you've learnt the easy mathematics. Commented May 21, 2015 at 19:48
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    @DaveClarke - as you learn on Skeptics.SE, a lot of times "common sense" is wrong :)
    – user3143
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 19:50
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    @Zibbobz - that only notes taht you need to learn prior things. It doesn't say you need to learn them early - yes you need to learn topic A before topic B. What's in question for the OP isn't that, it's why does A need to be learned years before B, instead of right before B. The source you linked doesn't address timelines, just dependency chains.
    – user3143
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 19:55

Searching "early formal academics" will provide quite a few resources on this subject. Moving up the Grades: Relationship between Preschool Model and Later School Success by Rebecca Marcon is a good representative source.

A lot of parents feel like pushing more formalized education earlier gives the child a head start, but there's a growing body of research that says otherwise. What gives a child the longest-lasting advantage is learning that is directed by the child at his or her own pace and interest level. This kind of learning is usually indistinguishable from play in the toddler and preschool ages.

That means providing lots of opportunities for learning, then going into more depth on the activities your child shows an interest in. Most kids are pretty good at showing you what they're ready for, and at what pace. Way too many parents nowadays aren't very good at paying attention to that, but it's not too difficult when you make a conscious effort.

That doesn't mean you should just plop your toddler down in front of the TV all day. Kids are hard-wired to learn, and they love doing it. It's a good thing to introduce a game identifying shapes and colors, notice your kid enjoys it and asks to play it frequently, so you do until she knows her shapes and colors well and starts wanting to do something else.

It's quite another matter to realize your kid is 4 and still doesn't seem interested in shapes and colors, so you freak out, buy some flash cards, and quiz him repeatedly until he learns them. The former has long-term benefits. The latter does not.

Most parents I know are further down the "pushy" spectrum than they realize. There's a certain sense of pride in "teaching" your child something, even things they would have eventually learned on their own in a much more meaningful way.

When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself. — Jean Piaget


The reason it is "easy for them anyways" is because even if you invest no effort, the child is still learning on their own. These things that are "easy" aren't. They're really complicated for toddlers, it's just that toddlers spend almost all of their (awake) time learning.

Helping them by giving them a lot of things to play around with (read: to learn from) and investing the time to try and help them will give them a starting point.

To give an example: if you let your child grow to the age of 6 while never ever letting her see an object that contains letters (no books, no pamphlets, no going outside to read ads) then learning the alfabet isn't going to be easy for her, it'll be incredibly frustrating and difficult. She'll be behind years to her peers, who've spent most of their life surrounded by writing.

But even if you never read to your child, she'll still see books lying around, she'll still see people reading and she will probably still be very interested in figuring out what you're doing. And she'll learn a little bit about reading, maybe enough to not let her be terribly behind when she arrives in school. Even if it means that she'll have to start by learning the letters instead of jumping right into books.

However, it's important to understand that if you decide to wait until the child is 6 with teaching them reading and you come home some day and your child is chewing on your favorite book, that isn't the child trying to destroy your property, that's your child trying to learn to read.

It's easy for an adult to underestimate how incredibly many things a toddler is learning and how much they learn from doing what we think as "being silly kids".

Maybe the reasoning becomes clearer if you don't think of it as you having to "educate your child". What you are really doing is helping them educate themselves better. You're helping provide a better basis to enable them to learn more (and faster) when they are older.


I've tried in earnest to find studies to back up my following hypothesis, but I don't think I'm using the correct search terms.

I believe that teaching your child more vocabulary now is much better than trying to teach them all that same vocabulary and their age-appropriate vocabulary 4 years years from now. There's a soft limit of how many new words per day can be learned by any individual, given the methods used, intelligence level, and amount of effort expended. Whichever way you slice up that time, I don't see making up 4 years of opportunity to be a worthwhile process. The time and effort you expend doing that at a later age, no matter how trivial, could be used for any other educational experience. (This is my hypothesis.)

Unfortunately, most studies done on lexical development and language acquisition that I have access to are done to study second language acquisition, and not native language acquisition.

So, the only authoritative answer I can give on the subject must come from personal observation and experience. I am the authority when it comes to language acquisition, lexical development, and verbal comprehension of my son, who is now 2.25 years of age.

We teach my son numbers, colors, shapes, sizes, and any number of adjectives (and adverbs!) in addition to nouns (objects, animals, etc.)

It has had an amazing effect on our ability to communicate with him, and his ability to communicate with us. It has had an immediate functional value.

Here are examples of the things we can say to my son, where he has full comprehension and can perform the related tasks:

  • Get your green shoes
  • Get your socks. You need two of them.
  • Which color shirt do you want to wear today?
  • Can you get a blue car to play with?
  • You can't throw hard balls inside. Please go get a soft ball.
  • Do you want to eat more of the yellow chicken or the red chicken? (Actually Sesame vs General Tso's)
  • Can you get Papa's blue shoes, with the white bottoms?
  • What color melon do you want?
  • That is hot, don't touch it!
  • We can play outside if it's not raining.
  • Can you pick up the toy with the letter A on it?
  • Which shape do you want to use? (This is used a lot when using Play-Doh tools and cookie cutters!)
  • Do you want the blue hat or the red hat?
  • Your toy is on your top shelf, on the right
  • Your car is behind you
  • Don't go under the chair
  • Stay next to Papa in the parking lot

And here are things he'll say to us without any prompting:

  • "Want big green ball."
  • "Want red berries."
  • "Want white milk."
  • "Want yellow frisbee."
  • "Too loud."
  • "Want big lion."
  • "Too hot." (Food-wise.)
  • "Me two crayons." (I have two crayons)
  • "My red cup."
  • "My draw 'H'" (I drew an 'H')

    These are examples that have happened within the last week, some of them today.

Our efforts towards increasing our son's vocabulary at 2 years of age have enabled us to:

  • Communicate to him our desires and requests
  • Elicit detailed responses from him
  • Enabled him to more accurately and quickly express his needs and desires to us

I would never trade the ability I have to communicate meaningfully with my son just to remove a few moments of teaching time from our lives each day. We don't see these learning opportunities as a bother, and actually enjoy them.

I suspect that if my son could not communicate so well with us, we would spend considerably more time failing to communicate than we would ever spend teaching him these simple concepts. The nature of this assertion, however, makes it nearly impossible to study scientifically.

  • BTW, I drew an 'H' is wrong. It should be a, isn't it? Commented May 23, 2015 at 16:38
  • @TheIndependentAquarius The letter "H" is pronounced starting with a vowel sound, so it should follow "an" and not "a". Like "an ape" or "an eight".
    – user11394
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 16:39
  • Having many kids, I can tell you that the size of your probe it's too small. If all my kids have one thing in common, it's that each of them is totally different from all the others. And that includes language acquisition. So making a hypothesis from one sample is meaningless.
    – sbi
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 8:45
  • @sbi You've got the order wrong. I have the hypothesis already, before testing any samples. The more time you spend teaching your child language when they're younger, the better they'll be at that language at a young age. (Even if they're not speaking it, comprehension can improve). It's not actually possible for certain aspects of language to grow unless they're exposed to those use cases/vocabulary.
    – user11394
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 19:15

A person's ability to learn and retain learning are inversely proportionate to their age. This doesn't mean you should start teaching your child collegiate-level philosophy, but it does mean you should try to take advantage of your child's openness to learning.

Spending time with your child teaching them basic things is a good way to form a long-lasting bond with them, prepares them for the learning experience they will be facing in school, and ensures that they will learn things that you might assume they'd learn in school, but actually do not (you'd be surprised - school is not a be-all-end-all for learning things, and as it gets more and more regulated, more and more things get left out).

You don't have to force your child to learn everything right away - especially if they don't show any interest at first - but repetition also aids learning, and starting early gives your child an advantage in learning in the future.


What a toddler should be learning should be nearly entirely focused on social development and physical development. Learning to play with others, learning to get along with others, learning to talk and communicate. Learning to run, skip, hop, jump, climb. Playing is a toddler's job, and primary method of learning.

So if you're hell-bent on your toddler having playdates, going to the park, and stacking rings, you're doing an excellent job, and on the right track.

What we consider academic learning - learning to count, learning the ABCs, even really learning colors and shapes - aren't particularly important to learn super early, though they often are easy to slip in with the rest of what they're doing.

As far as reading, some argue that it should not be taught that early, because some children's brains are not ready for the concepts yet; instead, letting them absorb more information at a simpler level will get them ready for success later.

Some nations (Finland for example) teach reading quite late - Finland starts at seven, for example - but still have highly literate and intelligent populations; there's not a lot of evidence that teaching children as a group to read earlier than 6 or so is much of a help in long-term success.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't help learn the building blocks, though. Vocabulary, grammar, and many basic concepts can be learned during that age simply through normal play and hearing parents and other adults in their every day conversations. Some children will be ready to learn to read or learn mathematics at an earlier age; my almost-four year old can do basic addition, for example, and not really by any attempt on my part to teach him. His mind just works that way.

If your child shows a readiness to read or add or whatever, help him or her. If not - well, providing a basis for future learning is very powerful as well. And above all else, make sure most of their time is spent playing: playing is how toddlers learn.


I was wondering why should I be hell bent on educating my toddler when she's going to learn the stuff anyways when she grows up?

I don't know that there's great value in being "hell bent" about it, but certainly you shouldn't let the grass grow under your feet.

The main value in educating young children is getting them to learn how to learn rather than the trivial knowledge they are learning.

It's really hard for humans to develop the lengthy attention span that is needed for success in the real world today. The brain doesn't do it "automatically", there's a long learning process involved. It's not a bad idea to try to give a toddler a head start on this.

Authoritative answers requested.

I realize the above is just (my) common sense. I'd find it hard to imagine that there are comparative studies on what happens when you try to educate toddlers versus a laissez-faire approach, but I'll be watching for other answers just in case, it's a very interesting issue.


Depends on your definition of "stuff" in "learning stuff".

There's a good amount of study that explain that teaching academic to young kids isn't really necessary. What is important is that you teach/show character, or in other word executive function. If you can teach your kid self control (body/emotion), working hard, critical thinking and language/communication then learning academic in school will be easy for them.

This is good news since it mean that parents who aren't educated can raise a very smart kids.

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