Toddler is voracious learner

My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter is a very fast learner and has a great memory. She knew the numbers from 1 to 10 by 14 months, and the entire alphabet by 18 months. She loves to read printed letters. It is hard to believe, but we never pressure her to learn. We know very well that we should not start formal learning at this age, but we just can't help exposing her to these things. I'm afraid that playing is not enough for her and that I'm wasting her talents.

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You have a very unusual situation here, and a very unusual child. Most children at this age are not possessors of so much knowledge. Many children would find all this "work" anxiety provoking. You would be able to tell if this was the case for your daughter if there were sleep disturbances, nervous tics or habits, such as rubbing the face over and over in the same area, or frequent tantrums.

However, from your description, you have a child who really takes joy in learning. I have, elsewhere in this column, given a name to this kind of child: a voracious learner. This type of child cannot get enough -- he or she just loves the thrill of learning.

So, what can be done for a child like yours? I would not attempt to teach her to read. The fact that she knows her letters is good, but that doesn't mean that she understands that letters have a sound, as well as a shape and a name. Reading can't occur until that knowledge is in place, and it generally doesn't happen until the child is five or six, although I wouldn't be surprised if it is earlier for your daughter!

There are other skills a child must have in order to read, such as hand-eye coordination. Can your daughter do puzzles? Try getting her some simple ones, and graduate to harder ones as she advances. Also, the muscles in her hand must be developed in order to write effectively, which we call fine motor coordination. Giving her things to draw with will help develop this skill. It doesn't matter what she draws, just that she uses the muscles in her hands. If this isn't successful, don't worry. It is something that she will learn with age.

As for the numbers, try counting things. Everyday items around the house, like Cheerios, are very good for a start. The next step after learning the numbers is to learn that each number stands for one thing. This principle is called one-to-one correspondence.

There is a toy called "Sorting Bears," which can be found in school catalogues or educational toy stores. Your child can then learn sorting skills. This will develop visual discrimination, which she will need for reading and math.

Every child needs to be a regular kid, as well as a learner. Make sure that your daughter has plenty of time for play. She needs to run, move around and exercise her muscles. Also, keep in mind that the above activities should be done over a period of time -- don't rush to do them all at once.

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