Should two-year-olds learn or play?

My friend and her husband are constantly teaching their two-year-old daughter, who knows the entire alphabet and can count to 20. I have a daughter the same age. We read books, sing songs and play with Playdough; she also plays very well by herself and with her older siblings. My friend thinks we play too much and that we should begin teaching our daughter academics.

Question:

Play is the work of a two-year-old. I certainly don't think you need to increase "learning time" with your daughter. From what you have written, she is learning a great deal already.

When your daughter plays with sand and Playdough, for example, she is increasing the muscle strength and control in her hands, so that, later, she will have an easy time holding a pencil and beginning to write. When she sings songs, she is learning vocabulary as well as the joy of music. When you read to her, she is learning to love books, which will help her as she learns to read. When you play games or do puzzles together, your daughter learns social rules, such as waiting her turn. Hand-eye coordination is also developed, as well as strategies for going from one step to the next.

These activities form the basic curriculum of any pre-school, because they lay necessary groundwork for all the academics to come. Meanwhile, they are also fun. So, any child can see that learning is an enjoyable activity, rather than just a pressure to perform.

Your friend's child may be what I call a "voracious learner" -- a child who has arrived at the desire for formal "learning" very early in life. There are children who really push to learn their letters and numbers, and want more and more. But can this child play with her family, or just have plain fun? There are not many children who would not also benefit from the pleasurable activities your family has organized for your daughter.

My advice is to continue with the wonderful job you are doing, and not to worry about academics at this early age. A child who is raised to love learning in this fashion will do very well when it is time for more formal work.

Best,
Patti Greenberg Wollman

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