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Toddler 101: The learning sponge

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We have all heard it before: "Kids are like sponges." They observe, they listen, they explore and create. They discover the world around them every minute of every day, and they do it with gusto. Even when seemingly saturated, their minds always have room to soak up more. We adults, whose zest for learning often becomes dulled, can learn a lot from these little Einsteins.

Kudos to all kiddos for so readily soaking it all up and still wanting more. But the real awe-inspirers are toddlers. At their age they are at the height of discovery and awareness. They are literally discovering something new every day, and most of the time they do it through pure, hands-on experience. With every pat of the kitty's tail, every toy in the mouth, every finger up the nose, a toddler is learning important information about the world around him.

In fact, the toddler years are a critical time for learning and development. Data from the National Academy of Sciences shows that approximately eighty percent of the brain's total growth and development occurs by the age of three. That is some serious sponge-soaking. And, it is an opportunity; toddlers should be exposed to endless learning experiences, no matter how small, to give them a chance to stretch to their unlimited potential.

What is most interesting about a toddler's intellectual growth and development is that quite often a toddler may not be able to verbally communicate what he is learning, let alone communicate much at all. Because of this barrier, parents often do not realize how much their toddler really knows. While the finer information may not be readily apparent to mom and dad, rest assured that constant learning is happening.

Then the language boom happens. For example, mom and dad are sitting at the dinner table one evening, counting to ten over and over, hoping that their little Tyler will chime in. But alas, Tyler just keeps stuffing his cheeks with pasta and watches them like they are a couple of crazy clowns. Although a little frustrated, mom and dad should not be worried that the most Tyler has said to that point is, "Big...twuck!" The next night at dinner they do the counting again. This time when they get to ten Tyler sets down his spoon, stares curiously at them, and then confidently adds, "eweven, telve, firteen, forteen, sixteen, sebenteen, nineteen, TWENTY!" Mom and dad's mouths drop open in awe...and they immediately log onto Facebook to post what a genius their little boy is.

And that is how a toddler is the proverbial sponge. Tyler's parents had never even tried to teach him to count that far. Sometime, somehow, he heard someone count to twenty and his powerful little brain soaked up the information long before he could vocalize the words. Sure, he made a couple of mistakes, but Tyler's parents are beaming with pride. While they rapidly respond to comments from friends and family on Facebook, Tyler starts to smear applesauce on his forearms like lotion and sticks his sticky spoon into dad's wine glass.

But don't fret - he's just learning.

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Copyright ©2011 by E. Darby Herrington. All rights reserved.

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