While reading my thread about “Phonics Training Course for Mummies”, a stay at home mum sent me an enquiry as she’s worried about her 18 mths old toddler learning development and did not wish to place her child in a playgroup yet. My reply to her is as follows and would like to share these tips to mummies who had young toddlers at home.

"There's no hurry at all for 18 mths old to be in playgroup. Their brain is still developing and not designed to be put in a structured environment unless no choice. Most of the toddlers will be roaming around or desperate to leave the centre. Another reason is they tend to fall sick easily once they join a playgroup. I withdrew my son from the playgroup even when he was already 3 yrs old as he kept falling sick over 3 months. Do not worry about socialising skill. Human being has the innate nature for relationship so even if a child is enrolled into a school at 4 yrs old, they will learn to make friends easily. Playing and socialising is not difficult for any child to learn. In fact, 4 yrs old is the best age to socialise as they are not so self-centred and egocentric (can reason and less self-centred).

If you know how to teach your child especially in a play-based manner, she will definitely progress. Before 2 yrs old, you can start building up her foundation gradually on the LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET (a to z) and NUMBERS (1 to 10), shapes and colours using simple, cheap (if you buy from pasar malam) and fun ways through the following toys:-

- Letters and Numbers Puzzles (both wooden and foam type)
- Letters and Numbers Blocks (cube type) - for her to stack and after a while help her form the order a-z or 1-10 as she progress
- Wall Charts from letter 'a' to 'z' with words and numbers to paste on wall
- Magnetic Board for her to doodle, then draw and write as she progress
- Wooden puzzles on shapes, animals etc
- Whatever toys you can find on letters and numbers which is within her ability to play
- VCD that emphasize on letters, numbers and you sit with her and read out the letter - A VCD called 'So Smart - Letters' requires your participation (provided you are not against child watching TV)

The above is just a portion of her play time having “academic learning”. Other times, it is play, play and play with different types of toys, books, songs, outing etc to build up her motor skills.

So far, puzzles are the most powerful resource to learn letters and nos. The key of teaching her while playing is this - You have to say out the letter whenever she plays. This is very important as you are teaching her subconsciously while she is engross in the toy or 'struggling' to fit the letter in the puzzle The initial purpose is that she is able to identify the letter shape and fit in but as you read out the letter and she starts to understand, the ultimate purpose is that she is able to identify the letter or even say out the letter and fit in the correct place. It is not necessary to repeat saying the letter, just once is enough (eg. Yes, it’s letter ‘d’ etc) . The child also need not complete the puzzle if she refuses to play after a while. Remember to emphasize on easy letters first eg. 'o', 'i', l etc and once you roughly know she can recognise some of the letters, ask her what letter is that (eg letter 'o') when she tries to put in the puzzle (this is call testing). Afterwhich, you continue to say the letters for her to learn while she's playing until she finally able to recognise and identify all the letters of the alphabet. This way of prompting applies to all types of visual aids and learning toys so that you know whether your child knows the letter or not. Praise them when they name the right ones and they will be proud of themselves too.

For young toddler, your role is to gradually help her identify the following at fingertips by 2 yrs old:-
- 'a' to 'z'
- one to ten
- 'a' to 'z' stands for .... (eg. a for apple, b for ball....z for zebra)
- shapes, colours, animals etc
- Simple spelling based on MEMORY if she can (eg. zoo, cat) – maybe after 2 yrs old

Remember no force learning i.e force to sit down and learn the words. All these teaching should be relax and carefree and should not test your patience at all as it is short prompting and play style.

By 2 or 2 plus when she is able to achieve the above, you can start introducing phonics for her to spell based on the sound. As I understand from the mummies, it is after the child had acquired and know the letters and even the phonics sound, they do not know what to do next to help them spell or read. Few of them go by force learning and keep flashing cards which to me, is boring and the child will soon switch off. Hee hee, that's where my phonics training course comes in. By then if you take the course, it's really fun and I believe she will benefit from it. It's not solely the teaching but many more things using toys, teaching aids, prompting etc to gradually help her to read, spell and write well by 6 yrs old. But never mind, now it's still too early to talk about this.

The ultimate purpose of starting early to be able to spell and read is for the child to be able to WRITE by the time they are 6 yrs old to fully prepare them for primary school. Once a child can achieve this, tuition and academic enrichment class will not be necessary in primary school which spare them and parents a lot of agony. If the foundation is strong and without the need for tuition, the child will be able to breeze through upto Pri 2 with good result and yet enjoy their precious time at home.

You can email me at jannalin_mrc@hotmail.com and are welcome to drop by my place if you need to understand better. At this stage it is not too difficult to teach her the basic and really should not stress your child by putting her into unnecessary separation anxiety.

Hope this helps