Helping your toddler learn

Your tot doesn’t need to wait for school to start counting, being creative or even reading. Here’s how you can help her along the way


From doing a jigsaw to counting out apples or even jumping in puddles, your little one is learning all the time. But did you know that these skills all help your child fulfil part of a carefully laid out ‘curriculum for babies’? It’s officially known as Early Years Foundation Stage framework (EYFS), a list of learning goals introduced into daycare settings like nurseries and childminders. Sounds full on, but don’t worry, you don’t have to stock up on textbooks! It’s more about making sure your child is hitting milestones. These are the areas the EYFS covers and how you can help your child’s caregiver move her in the right direction.


Personal, social and emotional development

AKA: Learning to get on with other tots and making her own decisions.

“This is about things like forming relationships, letting a child choose what resources she wants to use, asking questions and resolving differences with their friends,” says Jan Dubiel, an early years specialist from the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. It includes recognising your child’s characteristics and temperament, helping her learn about herself and others, encouraging her independence and self-control and giving her the opportunity to make friends and interact with others.

How you can help…

You’re likely to be doing all of this already. But setting clear boundaries in terms of what’s acceptable behaviour is a practical way to support this area. “Allow your child some ‘free space’ in which to develop, too. For example free play and playing with other children,” says Helen Longstaff, manager of the Bridge Road children’s centre in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, who’s worked closely with the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Communication, Language and literacy

AKA: Very early stages of reading and writing

“Eventually, when your child reaches reception at school she will start to learn phonics,” says Jan Dubiel. “But initially this is all about talking and using words.”

How you can help…

Encourage your child to explore words through singing rhyming songs. “And of course, read to your child and talk about what’s in the book together,” says Helen Longstaff. “Look at the pictures and maybe see if she can tell you what’s happening.”

Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy

AKA: Very easy maths, learning about numbers, shapes and measures (big/small, heavy/light)

“Later on, children will start to learn more complex concepts like ‘one more than’ or ‘one less than’, but at this stage it’s about things they come across every day,” says Jan.

How you can help…

Use everyday opportunities to help your child become familiar with numbers. “Count the cars you can see on your walk to nursery or town for example,” says Helen Longstaff. Or try counting out the fruit you’re buying next time you’re at the supermarket.

Knowledge and understanding of the world

AKA: The start of subjects like science and history

“Messy play, or making hand and footprints with paint would come under this area and would be what we do at nursery,” says Helen.

How you can help…

“Walking in the park and looking at leaves, exploring textures – for instance squishing mud between their fingers or playing with bubbles in the bath – are all ways children can learn about the world,” says Jan Dubiel.

Physical development

AKA: All about movement

This deals with your child’s fine motor skills  (learning to do intricate things that need a degree of dexterity) and gross motor skills (big movements like running and jumping).

How you can help…

“It’s not hard to encourage a toddler to run, jump or hop!” says Jan Dubiel. “Fine motor skills include things like using a zip, doing up buttons and holding a knife and fork.”

Remember, children develop at different rates. “Choose toys that are appropriate for your child, don’t just go by what’s written on the box,” says Helen. Record your little one’s experiences in a book. You could write down funny things he’s said, too.

Creative development

AKA: Encouraging your tot’s creative side

This is about encouraging your child to use his creativity and express himself through music, roleplay or imaginary play, and by making things, drawing and painting.

How you can help…

Next time you go somewhere your child enjoys you could ask him if he wants to draw a picture of it afterwards. “And keep in mind the emphasis isn’t on the end result, it’s about enjoying the process,” says Helen. Those splodges of paint may look like splodges to you. But to him, well…it’s obviously a rocket, isn’t it!

Mums’ stories

“Issy starts school in September, so recently I’ve started to think about preparing her for it. Issy’s pre-school teacher went through the basics of the EYFS, so I know it requires a certain level of literacy and numeracy and also social skills. She had problems with number recognition and I’m anxious she may be dyslexic like me and her dad, so we’ve started to use some early learning workbooks for writing and numbers. A lot of what they cover ties in with what she’s learning at nursery and she really enjoys them.”
Caron Heyes, 42, from Kingston, Surrey, mum to Issy, 3


“Scotland has something similar to the EYFS called the Curriculum for Excellence. We use teddies and toys to add and subtract so she can see the sum happening in front of her. She also likes to work out door numbers as we’re walking down the street. She doesn’t always get the bigger numbers right but it helps her to recognise what each digit is.”
Lynne Nelson, 28, from Dunfermline, Fife, mum to Caitlin, 4


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