11 Ways to Teach Your Toddler Practical Life Skills at Home

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Practical life exercises are important to help a child develop coordination of his fine motor abilities. They encourage him to be independent and learn self-discipline, life skills which help him adapt better to society and his surroundings. Practical life exercises also improve a child’s intellect and concentration and encourage him to think in an orderly way.

Here are 11 steps on how you can help your toddler develop practical life skills at home.

1. Be an Example
Toddlers are wonderful imitators. Rather than always allowing your toddler to watch television or restrict him to a play area, allow him to tag along as you do certain household chores. Use the opportunity to demonstrate correct practical life skills. This will encourage him to do living activities in a purposeful way.

For instance, show him how to carry his cup to the sink after meals. Or show him where his Lego box is kept, how to move the box to the play area, how to use the pieces, how to clean up after playing and return the box neatly to its original position. After each demonstration, let him try.

2. Create a Positive Atmosphere
Adopt a cheerful attitude towards practical life exercises, such as doing simple chores. Your outlook passes on to your child. As you clean the floor, sing songs like “This is the Way We Sweep the Porch” (to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush). Give your toddler a little broom and dustpan so he can join you.

3. Give Your Child Freedom to Try
When we coddle a child by pampering him and being over-protective, he’ll find it difficult to learn new things. According to Maria Montessori, all children learn through active participation, by being involved in a practical way. This means doing something themselves, especially by using their hands.

4. Have Age Appropriate Activities in Mind
There are many practical life exercises within a toddler’s ability. Toddlers can learn to carry a small jug of water, pour an assortment of beans or water from a jug into a cup, fold a washcloth into half, remove a book from a shelf, learn how to wash their own hands, turn pages properly, open and close a bottle, put on a shirt or pants, zip up trousers, wipe a table, sweep a floor and even prepare a simple snack.

5. Make Practical Life Activities Accessible
Place books at your toddler’s height so he can reach them easily without always having to ask you for help. Keep child-safe cutlery, dishes and cups at a similar height in your kitchen so he can practise setting his own place at the table as regularly and independently as possible.

6. Use Descriptive Language
When children repeat their actions, they build up automatic patterns that eventually become fixed as mental images. These mental images then become represented by language. Talk to your toddler as much as possible about what he’s doing, when he’s doing it. “You can get the banana from the fruit basket on the kitchen trolley.” “Point the mouth of the jug toward the centre of your cup.” Your toddler will not only learn the task at hand, he’ll build up a tremendous vocabulary.

Teaching your toddler to say, after a meal, “Thank you, Mama. May I be excused?” also builds his awareness and responsiveness of those around him. This gives him a better sense of orientation in his social structure and makes life more pleasant for himself and those around him.

7. Be Encouraging
Children love positive affirmation. Every time your toddler completes a practical life exercise well or does his best, praise him sincerely. When you value your child’s efforts, he’ll be constantly eager to try something new.

8. Expect Lots of Mistakes and Repeats
Mistakes are an essential part of learning. They come as your child attempts to perfect his skills. Children also need to do things over and over again in order to improve. Remember that every child is unique and learns at his or her own pace. It’s OK if your toddler doesn’t do a perfect job, the important thing is that he tried. Be patient as he carries his cup to the table. Spills will happen! Show him where to get a dishcloth and how to wipe up a mess. Eventually, he’ll be doing it fairly decently on his own.

9. Develop Responsibility
Young as he is, a toddler can be expected to learn correct use of his toys and other common household items. If your toddler uses materials incorrectly or irresponsibly, demonstrate again how they should be used. If he persists with negative behaviour, show him the larger picture: “The sooner you finish putting your blocks away, the sooner we’ll get to read that book you wanted.” If he continues to resist, revoke his privilege to engage with his blocks until he’s ready to approach them in a positive manner. A consistent approach will teach him self-discipline and ownership. It will also help him develop a sense of order and learn the value of time.

10. Set Yourself Up for Teaching Success
Teaching toddlers requires patience. It can be a challenge to train your toddler if you’re tired after a long day. Try to reserve some energy to engage meaningfully in a practical life exercise with your child daily, but don’t be too ambitious when you know you’ll be blowing your top soon. Remember, however, that consistent and loving training is the key to success.

11. Delineate Roles at Home
If you have a live-in helper, this may get in the way of providing your toddler with practical life learning opportunities. Limit the “help” that your helper gives, for instance, by instructing her that your toddler should be allowed to feed himself, pick up his own toys, dress himself and so on. Supervise and be intentional about letting your child develop his role at home so that he won’t be robbed of chances to develop important practical life skills.

Practical life exercises are crucial to a toddler’s development. Enjoy watching your child grow in leaps and bounds as he engages in them. You’ll realise too, with a sudden tug on your heartstrings, that the baby years are really over.

Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling. She blogs about parenting, home education and life as mom to four kids (one baking) at Mama Hear Me Roar.

Image credit: Flickr user ahmadzamri