Let me paint you a picture.
It’s laundry day. I have at least three loads to do and a 2 1/2 year old following me around who desperately wants to help. For anyone who has ever spent any time with little kids, you know you have to find a way to harness their energy for good, or things can go bad very quickly. Left to her own devices, she will load/unload willy-nilly from the washer and dryer (dirties in the dryer, cleans on the floor), roll in the warm laundry, and then take handfuls of clean clothes off to her playroom for some new game she has invented. It can be absolutely exhausting to try to keep her out of it, and its not always an option to do it while she sleeps.
The alternative? Make her a part of the whole shebang. Let her take pride and ownership in helping, and learn something while she’s doing it. Here’s what that looks like:
I carry the basket downstairs and together we get it to the laundry room. I tell her to push, and I will pull (early physics concepts, vocabulary building). She leans in hard to get the basket to roll across the floor (gross motor skills), I help a little.
She immediately starts pulling out clothes and loading them into the front-loader washer (fine and gross motor skills). She drops several socks and I tell her verbally, waiting for her to locate them on her own (listening and following directions). When she cannot spot them, I get a little more specific, “The socks are behind you on the floor” (learning positional words, more listening and following directions). This time she sees them and adds them to the washer. I add the soap pod. She knows these are only for adults to touch as we have discussed this many times (personal safety, listening and following directions) I thank her for not touching the soap to reinforce this very important information and remind her one more time that they are only for grown ups.
Together we close the door to the washer and she waits for me to tell her when she can push a button. I turn on the power and together we look for the START button. I point to it and read out loud “S-T-A-R-T, start” (letter recognition, print concepts, early reading skills). She says “Start”, and pushes the button (fine motor skills).
Are you starting to see it? Can you see the stealthy learning hidden in this activity? Of course it would be easier to just toss in the clothes while she naps, but look how much learning she would miss out on!
She helps with each step of the process, and eagerly leaves her other activities to run and do it (I’m sure many parents wish the rest of their families were this enthusiastic about laundry!) I should note that she’s just an average toddler, and not a super clean freak who can’t live without the laundry. It’s all about how the activity is presented, and the pride and ownership she feels when she can help me, and successfully complete a task. These are all great qualities that we want to see children have with their schoolwork later on too.
We switch the clothes from the washer to dryer together, those wet clothes are heavy! (fine and gross motor skills) I add a dryer sheet and again remind and thank her that this is only for adults (personal safety, listening and following directions). We close the door and look for that start button again. I point to it and read “S-T-A-R-T, Start” (letter recognition, print concepts, early reading skills). She pushes the button (fine motor skills) and says “start”.
Starting to notice a pattern? I know it seems very repetitive, especially when I spell it all out like this, but that’s the point. Young children learn best through repetition and feel better and more confident each time they are able to complete a task. Also, notice how many times I listed each skill. That’s a lot of practice! So imagine if we do three loads a week just like this, how many times she has looked at and spelled the word start. How long do you think it will be before she knows the names of those four letters? Or before she can read the word. And all I did was point to a button on the washing machine. 🙂
When the clothes are dry, we push and pull together again (early physics concepts, vocabulary) and dump the basket out on the living room floor (gross motor skills). Now the fun begins! I give her an assignment, that is as soon as she’s done rolling in the warm laundry.
“Find all of the socks. Make a sock pile” (listening and following directions). She searches for socks (early algebra sorting skills) and puts them in a pile. I fold laundry and mostly mind my own business as I stealthily watch her out of the corner of my eye. I may redirect a little or remind her what she is looking for, but I mostly leave her to it. If she finds all of the socks, I ask her to find the matches (more sorting).
When that is done, I give her a new assignment. “Find all of your clothes and put them in a pile. Or find all of the baby clothes” (early algebra sorting skills, listening and following directions). She may try to fold some things, but that is a work in progress and we’ll get to that more when she is older. While we’re doing this we also talk about the clothes. We may name the different types of clothes or the materials they’re made of (vocabulary building) or discuss the sizes (math skills). The possibilities are really endless.
Then comes my FAVORITE part!
In order to make all of our lives a little bit simpler and to give her a little added independence, I switched to a basket system for her clothes a few months ago. Basically, she has seven little pink dollar store baskets in her closet. Each one gets a complete outfit. When it comes time to get dressed, she simply chooses a basket and puts on the outfit (self-help skills). She again takes pride and ownership in choosing her own outfit, and I am very happy knowing that her clothes match. I call that a mom win!
Once all of the clothes are folded, my dear little girl gets to help load her own baskets. Get ready to see some amazing toddler math! She lines up all of the baskets on the floor (listening and following directions) and then I hand her a stack of underwear and ask her to put one in each basket (counting with 1 to 1 correspondence). She does this very carefully and makes sure each basket has one. Occasionally I don’t give her enough underwear. When she tells me she needs more, we go back to count the baskets (hehe, more 1 to 1 couting). “How many baskets are empty?” “2”. “So 2 baskets are empty, you need 2 more pairs of underwear.” Then I add in for good measure “2 baskets are empty, and 5 are full. 2 and 5 make 7 ” (Counting, early addition skills).
I know what you’re thinking, she’s not really adding right there, and she’s really not ready for addition. I would say right and right. I would then tell you that it doesn’t matter. My goal at this moment is to have a math conversation, and to start building the framework for later skills. And remember how many times we will load those baskets and how familiar those concepts will become. Repeat with socks, pants, undershirts, and shirts (counting with 1 to 1 correspondence). That was easily five passes over seven baskets counting with 1 to 1 correspondence, and a ton of practice! Even with an amazingly fun game, it can be hard to get a toddler to repeat a skill that many times.
To the untrained eye, all I did today was the laundry. There are no fancy creations to hang on the wall, no completed worksheets to post on the fridge, but some how, my daughter is a little better at listening today. She is feeling more confident when she counts, and she easily identified the letters S, R, T, and A.