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How to Help Your Child Learn

Recently, I received a call from a friend's daughter and son-in-law. I hadn’t seen them in quite some time. They’re both professionals who live in another city with their little girl, who is eighteen months old. I met her only once when she was an infant. Larissa (not her real name) knows all the letters and colors, follows stories avidly, counts ‎with ease, and loves exploring the outdoors. They told me about Larissa’s day-to-day activities—including her curiosity, persistence, and playfulness—and then said, “We believe she's advanced.

Larissa has a caregiver during the day, but this woman is moving on. So, these parents are thinking about putting Larissa in daycare, and they wonder if that's wise. They’ve read an abundance of parenting material, they’ve chatted with friends and family, and they’ve acquired various and conflicting views about what they should be doing to encourage Larissa’s learning and development. Should they enroll her in special classes? How can they know if they're giving her enough learning opportunities? Is there some ideal parenting approach that they should be aware of?

These are all burning questions and ones that many parents wrestle with. The truth is, no matter if a child is a toddler or a teenager, there will always be questions ‎of some sort.

Although I resist providing counsel “long distance,” I spoke on the phone with these concerned parents for almost an hour—and spent much of that time offering reassurance.

I told them, “You’re asking excellent questions. That's the best way to discover answers.” I said, “You’re providing a language-rich environment‎ with lots of storytelling, reading, and listening. You share music and art activities, and create games, too. All this will help build a strong foundation for Larissa’s ongoing learning and creativity. And, she goes to the park, and on walks, and to the grocery store, and elsewhere, so she’s able to enjoy multi-sensory experiences, and she can explore interesting places and things. These opportunities also serve to expand her knowledge base. You hug, sing, and laugh with one another and with extended family.” I added, “Sounds like you’re doing all the right things!

Did I offer any cautionary words? ‎Yes.

I told Larissa’s parents, “It’s good for her to have a healthy balance of stimulation and unstructured ‎playtime. Children find out what they want to know more about through play.” I said, “It’s great for parents to gather information and resources. However, be judicious. Try not to spend too much time pouring over resource material because work also gobbles up precious hours, and it's important to spend ample time with Larissa.” I told them, “Each set of circumstances is different, but daycare can provide valuable opportunities for kids to interact with and learn from each other.” And, finally, I said, “Try to relax, and to be flexibly responsive to Larissa’s changing needs over time. There’s no blueprint for parenting. You’re attuned to your daughter. And that’s quite possibly the most important thing of all!


Joanne Foster, Ed.D. is a multiple award-winning author of eight books. Her most recent is Ignite Your Ideas: Creativity for Kids. To find out about her publications and presentations, and for resources on supporting children’s well-being and learning, go to

Cover Photo by Alexander Grey

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