As I've been pondering teaching our little ones, I've been trying to break the process down into bite size pieces. First you must have a home in which learning can occur naturally. If in order to learn, you have to first stop all the usual commotion in the house, you'll rarely take the effort to set up a learning time. For instance, if you are a high TV use home, and the kids are accustomed to it being on all the time, you'll have a hard time convincing them to turn off the bright & colorful TV to listen to a story. Children under two, by the way, have no business in front of a TV.
So, aim each day to have simple home, with the TV off (and the game stations, iPods, Radio Disney, and so on). Have on hand fun learning toys-not expensive ones, home made play dough will do just fine. Make it together for even more fun! Some good things to have around (for little ones):
Cups for filling/dumping in the sink
Fun music like Veggie Tales CDs (We like the worship CD & the Campfire Songs)
Art supplies: finger paints, safety scissors & construction paper
Board games like Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Memory
Dress up clothes-find great additions at thrift stores and on sale after Halloween
Make a regular time to read to your child. The earlier the better. Remember, it's not the point to get through the whole story, just to make books fun. Until mine are around 3-4, we just read the little one-liner board books and spend much time pointing out butterflies, moo-cows, birds, and trees in the pictures. A tickle time or a favorite snack paired up with reading will help your child associate good feelings with books.
As you go about your day, include your child. Talk to him or her about what you are doing. Even from an early age when they're too young to even understand, they can learn the sounds of the English language, it's rhythms and cadences. They love to hear you talk.
When you're at the store and your child points at the oranges, say, "Yes, that's an orange. Feel it's skin." Point out colors, shapes, names of things, and textures. Don't worry about what the couple behind you might think, they're thankful your child is getting attention and not causing a scene by throwing a fit (all of ours do at times, by the way!).
As you observe things in nature-trees, birds, the moon and so on, point them out and say, "That's the moon, and God made the moon. God also made Mommy & Daddy, and you!" Later you can quiz the child and say, "Who made you? Who made Mommy? Who made the stars?"
Teach little ones (even around age 2) that we pray to God. Involve them in prayers, ask them to bow their heads (but don't expect it to be done the whole time, every time) and expect them to be quiet during prayer time. We pray when we hear a siren near our house, and all our children take turns praying for the situation, as well as blessing the food at meals and praying for other needs as they arise. Jaybird may not know what we are doing when we pray, but she will insist we hold hands and bow our heads before we eat-a habit that will grow as she understands more later.
There are several things you're tying to accomplish in the very early years: obedience to your authority, a love of learning, and a love for God. By creating a calm, peaceful home full of learning opportunities and by pointing out who God is at every turn, you'll easily reach the second two goals.
Does anything about this make you feel silly or nervous? You must get past your own hangups if this is to be a lasting endeavor in your home. Pray about your misgivings-God is not the author of confusion, he wants you to master this! Remember your authority and responsibility to teach your child. Get started and don't look back! It's the best investment you can make!
I want to say thanks to my friend who so openly shares her struggles with having the confidence to teach her young ones. I appreciate her honesty. She's helped me think through this process and hopefully together we can break it down so it's not so scary!