As a father of two toddler-aged children, I am always amazed by the unforeseen challenges that I am faced with in regards to trying to teach them. I’m always pondering on the best teaching methods for toddlers and questioning if there’s a better way to help them learn? When you’re dealing with little minds, it’s important to not just instruct but provide a method of instruction that will translate into a lesson learned.

As adults, we understand the correlation. I know that if I learn a+b=c, I’ll be able to apply this formula in many different situations. I instantly realize the value in learning this formula and I commit myself to learning it for the benefit of my future.

Conversely, if I’m an English major in college and trying to learn an advanced trigonometry equation for a passing grade, I may not strive nearly so hard to understand how the equation works – short of getting the right answer on the test. The value here is getting my grade but since I see no future value and I’m studying a subject that bores me to tears, chances are I won’t remember how to perform this calculation the next semester.

Teaching my toddlers is like trying to teach me trigonometry. My kids see no future value in many lessons because they don’t yet have the cognitive skills necessary to construct a future. They live completely in the present – and darn’t if I don’t envy that about them, but I still have to help them develop those life skills.

Practice is the key. If I can get my kids to practice anything, they will become better at it. If I really wanted to learn that trigonometry equation for life, I would simply need to practice it more often – understanding and internalizing it.

Seems simple enough, yes? Well maybe.. unless you have toddlers of your own, in which case you likely already realize where I’m headed. Getting your kids to practice anything is just short of miraculous. They lack a little something called “patience” and to be fair, they come by it honestly.

Challenge With Numbers

child practicing golfMy kids love to beat on the piano, drums, guitar and go to gymnastics. What they hate, however, is actually being forced to practice any of these arts, despite the fact that one or both is enrolled in all these activities.

Hand my son a pair of drumsticks and he’ll go crazy on the set. Force him to practice a 4/4 beat and he’ll be making every possible excuse to get away. Practice is nothing more than developing muscle memory, but developing this muscle memory can be quite challenging!

My daughter loves going to gymnastics but asking her to practice a bridge usually results in one, half-hearted attempt – before reintroducing me to the family of “My Little Ponies”. Without her teacher marveling over her incredible talents and abilities, she loses interest. I suspect that Dad gloats over her so much that she’s become a bit numb to the cheers.

The fact is that kids often quit for the same reasons their parents don’t take chances in life – fear of failure. If your kids don’t feel they can do something, they don’t see practice as an anecdote to that problem. They don’t see an immediate future of change resulting in something they can’t do.

What I’ve learned is to challenge my kids with specific numbers and never go small. This actually works.

Tell your child that there’s a secret to learning a particular skill – that they have to do it 23 times (for example). After a couple tries, my son will usually revert back to his original behavior and tell me “I can’t do it” – but then I remind him that he only did it two times. The secret is 23. “Try it again”.

As he does, I say, “there’s three – you’re almost there. Go again!” As he begins to practice and see the count rise in number, he gets giddy and it become something of a fun little game for him. I can get him to do 20 or 30 repetitions of something, whereas he originally will never go beyond five.

After his twenty-something practices, he’s better at anything, but I convince him that what he’s accomplished is nothing short of amazing. He’s a toddler, after all, so he needs to always be assured of this.

This little practicing technique works well with my daughter, too. If it’s something physical, like gymnastics, I’ll either lower the number or explain that the secret involves breaking the practice up in threes, every half-hour. She’s ready to go again after a bit of rest. By day’s end, she’s notably better at anything she’s practiced – enough to reinforce in her that practice works!

How about you? Do you have any little parent tricks worth sharing that have served you well?