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Methods of Teaching Toddlers (2-3) Shapes, Letters and Such

I'm a working mother and our parents watch our 2 year old daughter everyday so she is not exposed to "actual learning" from a childcare person or place. I'm wondering what other moms do to teach their children about shapes and letters. She is very active and doesnt have the best attention span so I need something that will keep her interested. Are there any games, methods, anything that worked for you to get your child to learn these things better? I know there are programs online that you can purchase as "at home preschool" curriculum. Has anyone tried anything they feel really worked?



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I have to agree with a previous response. Leap frog letter factory worked wonders for my little guy. Their other videos are good also. He also loved the fridge phonics. PBS has some great shows. There is one for words that is called Word World. I know this may be a bit much for her right now, but for later it would be a great show.

Good luck.

Hi S.,
I see you have pleanty of responces and I didn't read them all. I just wanted to tell you real quickly what I have stumbled on.
My DD is 21 months old and she knows the ABC song from playing it over and over again on her leapfrog learn & groove musical table. And recently we started watching Sesime Street because she loves Elmo and they say the alphabet over and over again.
As for shapes, she learned them from the same misical table and from a board puzzle I got for her second hand. I sat down with her maybe two times with the puzzle and she knew all the shapes and still does.
Kids are sponges, they want to know everything so teaching them is really just a matter of exposing them.
Best wishes

She's 2 she doesn't need any formal teaching. She needs to be able to explore. Just talk to her and tell her what she is seeing and touching. It will all sink in. She will be in school soon enough for at least 12 years, longer if she goes to college. Don't start pushing her at 2.

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Why would you want to teach a two year old shapes and letters? She's busy learning the lessons that two year olds need to learn. She doesn't need to be pressured into preschool learning. Take a look at "The Hurried Child," by David Elkind.

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Greetings S.: I have to say that if any of my 5 children said their child was not in a "actual learning" enviroment while with me I would find it hard to help them out again!(besides the lecture I am sure I would give)
As a mother and Grandmother, I find learning in everything that we do. We cook together and I will ask for the oval orange container etc. We find shapes in everything around the house and in the yard. To learn to measure we take a ruler, tapemeasure, even string and see sizes of things and then measure the string to see what we have. Heck if all the child did was watch Elmo (my granddaughter's hero next to daddy) he teaches how to do dozens of things from taking care of pets to computers. I know that you are trying to find ways so that you can be the best at parenting that you can be. We are lucky enough that one daughter in law has decided that she wants her children to learn spanish and sign language and we are all learning as well so that the children are bi lingual. I have gone through the kitchen and asked our 3 and 4 year olds to find me cylinders, tubes, squares,ovals etc and we have a great time- infact none of them had thought about the oatmeal container as either a cylinder or a tube. So it can be everyday items that are used in your teaching moments.Find books that have shapes and sounds so that you are teaching grammer an alphabet letters all at the same time.
You will find that it is easier than you think and apart of your everyday natural life even while in the car we sing and recite poems. I wish you well in the great adventure of parenthood it really is very exciting and will never be dull. Children just need love, encouragement,examples to watch and learn from, and boundries and they will thrive and be happy. Nana G

1 mom found this helpful

I played a lot of "I Spy" type games with my son while waiting in line at the post office, while walking through the mall, etc. You sound pretty literate so I'm sure your parents will do fine teaching your daughter as well.
As a teacher I have not pushed my son to learn becase I have seen too many really smart kids who are bored in school become behavior problems. I would rather let him learn at his own pace and be there to help tutor him if he needs it to keep up with the rest of the class.

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Let me preface that I am not a big proponent of instruction to children this age. I do however think they love to play...and anything play based that incorporates shapes...( I would just enjoy that right now..later letters and numbers) would be great.
Remember, children are highly visual at this age! Less auditory. Highly hands on!

1. Use dough to make shapes
2. trace shapes in nontoxic shaving cream
3. build shapes in the sand
4. Look for shapes out in the world, around the house
5. Love the old fashioned toy from tupperware, blue and red and they put the yellow shapes in the right hole. TImeless learning.
6. I do like Noggin and Baby Einstein...minimal and measured use
7. Read...go to library..tons of books around the subjects
8. COOK! basic box foods, or recipes...made into STEP by STEP directions
9. Jello shapes
10. Painting shapes and numbers..
11. Talk about your son's dreams..what does he want to see on Mars first, second, third
12. Marbles, Checkers, Kids Games...
13. Dollar store work books only if interested and only when developementally ready to hold pencil, crayon...for now, a lot of loose parts to assemble and make things..a lot o free coloring...
14. Have her help grandma with his tools, supervised. He will learn to measure
15. Back to Marbles. Get her a Marble Run to put together.
16. Music! Music to sing and listen to...a few simple instruments...shakers, woood flutes, drums..etc..great rhythm teachers
17. An easle
18. Create a science and exploring area outide..water, measuring cups, food coloring*supervised:)..google age appropriate fun.vinegar, ...fizzy stuff..
19. Help around the house, garden....
All of this active learning will give your parents a sense of providing her enrichment, you peace that her brain is being nurtured in your absence, that she is not parked in front of a TV and definately not a computer......pick and find what works now and enjoy her..encourage her to share what she had fun with (this will tell you what she is learning

1 mom found this helpful

Just my two cents: it's easy for us parents to feel we need our kids to get an early start on learning quantifiable things like recognizing shapes and things, but in the long run I think that learning will be a more enjoyable and enduring process for both parent and child when we try to put it in context rather than try to set aside specific times and use specific curriculum to "teach", particularly with young toddlers. So my suggestion: spend time reading to your child, take her to weekend storytimes at your public library (they often have fun action songs and rhymes so she won't have to be sitting still the whole time), go for walks around the neighborhood and at kid-friendly places like Tilden Park's Little Farm, the Lawrence Hall of Science (great play zone for the kindergarten-and-under set), Ardenwood Historic Farm, farmer's markets, etc., and engage her in dialogue about what you see - they take in a lot more than we realize and will often surprise you with how much they can remember and repeat. For a while when my girls were toddlers, I wondered why they would say something like "There's a dog. Oh yeah, there's a dog" when they saw a dog - eventually I realized that it was because whenever they pointed out something they saw when we were on a walk (e.g.: "Mommy, there's a dog!"), when I saw what they were pointing to, I'd respond "Oh yeah, there's a dog!".
My own unscientific experience has been that by building the "learning" into everyday activities, errands and outings, my kids have been developing a healthy attitude towards learning - they see that learning can be a fun thing and they also see how it's applicable to everyday circumstances, instead of being some abstract concepts in a workbook.

1 mom found this helpful

Skip the curriculum. The best research points to free play, outdoor play, talking with/verbal interaction, and playing with other children as the best brain developers for children. You can point out letters and shapes in everyday things but at this age, children need massive amounts of outdoor and physical play. Their brain structures for vision, coordination, hearing, and other sensory abilities need development and reinforcement first.
Stay away from flash cards and workbooks and educational videos*!

*Videos are entertainment, pure and simple. fine for occassional use (for preschoolers, not under 2s)

My son started learning shapes with the Baby Einstein Shapes dvd, a few hand-me-down books, and just talking about shapes of things we saw everyday. I would play it while he ate lunch and he LOVED the puppets on the show. It is short and fun to watch or play while he watches and he still likes it. As far as letters go, I found the LeapFrog Letter Factory dvd and read reviews on Amazon. I got it for his 2nd bday and started showing it to him about a month or so later. He LOVES this dvd. Seriously, he asks for it everday and now knows the letters and the sounds they make. It has been incredible to watch. I also got an alphabet puzzle which has a word under each letter that can later be spelled with the letters. I strategically put this out with other puzzles every other day or so and we look at it together. He now picks out letters and then tells me what sounds they make. If your son likes trucks and cars, there are some wonderful books which use trucks, cars, trains, construction vehicles to teach letters and numbers. Construction Countdown has been a favorite for us and it has different color vehicles so you can also talk about colors too.....one way we do it is we say, "Which color machine would you drive? Daddy? Mommy? Mama? Papa?" He loves for us to make up little sentences where we say he is driving the red cement truck etc. Hope this helps and relax and have fun with it and they will too.

Go for a walk and talk about what you see, smell, feel and hear!
See the orange flowers, they smell sweet and are soft to the touch. Do you hear the birds chirping? Can you make that sound? Oh, I hear an airplane - can you find it? It is up high in the sky.
Puzzles work wonders for shapes, letters, colors and numbers.

Every item in your home (or grandma's house) can be used to teach something - remember, when your child was born, she knew how to breathe, sleep and poop. You even had to teach her to eat.

The best way to teach is to have conversations with your child. Explain what you are doing, and even why. Have fun!

hi S....
don't run out and buy anything or waste your time with printing out worksheets, your best resource is you, your husband, your parents, or other older playmate, simply playing and talking. i'm pretty sure she has toys that expose her to shapes and letters, and i'm pretty sure she is exposed to books, so follow her lead what does she really like to do on any one particular day or hour for that matter, because we both know interests can change nearly sec. to sec. at this age. so whatever it is she is choosing to enjoy, find the learning experience in that and discuss these things with her. stop when she tires don't quiz her or make her perform newly acquired info on demand, you will take the fun out of it, once it is no longer playtime in her eyes she will tune it out, lose interest, and most likely fail to retain anything, or chose to exhibit to you that there is know retention on her part. at this stage in the game they learn best though experience and exploration of their natural world. a perfect example: the letter nearly every child will truly remember repeat and recognize out of the context they were exposed to it in is the first letter of their name. why? because this has the most relevance to their life. now if you still really like the formality of workbooks and such have them in your home put them in with her art supplies and color books allow her the opportunity to experience them as a choice of her own making, and when she does be there to talk about her play with them while it takes place ask questions point out similarities and show pride in however she chooses to trace the letters or what have you. don't make it a structured set aside activity you deem the time and place for she will resent the time it takes away from her wishes, you for necessitating this time away from her wants, and the material for the inconvenience it places upon her will. once she takes an interest in such workbooks, you could always remind her "ooooh i know...you wanna do your letters/shapes/or whatever" with lot's and lot's of excitement, and more often then not she will want to and with a fervor and excitement that a new toy brings, and this is the best way for their sweet, ply-able, soak it up like a sponge, little brains, to acquire and retain new info and the abstract ideas much of this new info is full of. whatever you finally choose to do and whatever you find your daughter responds to best, i wish you all the strength and patience you'll need to see it through.

good luck,


I have to agree with a previous response. Leap frog letter factory worked wonders for my little guy. Their other videos are good also. He also loved the fridge phonics. PBS has some great shows. There is one for words that is called Word World. I know this may be a bit much for her right now, but for later it would be a great show.

Good luck.

Hi S.-

I am a first grade teacher and could not more highly recomend the Leap Frog videos - Letter Factory, Word Factory, etc. There is a coresponding Fridge Phonics toy. This way your child is learning thier letters and sounds! Both of my girls know thier sounds well before preschool age. Good Luck!

Hi S.,
When I was working with my boys on learning shapes and letters, I would pick one shape or letter to concentrate on at a time. Then, as we went throughout out day, we would point them out -- making it a game. We'd be walking in the neighborhood and I'd ask them how many circles they could find on the car parked on the street. Once they mastered finding circles, we'd move on to another shape (be sure to go back and review periodically). The same "game" can be used for colors and finding letters on signs, cereal boxes, books, etc. Make it fun and don't overdo it or she will lose interest.

I am a primary school teacher and I am always getting kids that do not have strong academic skills. The first place I put them is on www.starfall.com This is a great website for learning the abc's for those kids that like constant change. My son is also a toddler and I started him on this site. It is very colorful and animated. It can also teach your daughter about using the computer. If you do not have access then flashcards work. Play games like memory and have her say the letter or color, shape, etc. before she gets to keep the card. Hope this helps. Good luck

I didn't "teach" but incorporated it into our everyday life. "Would you like to wear the yellow shirt or the orange shirt today?" Holding each out when saying its color. "Look at the blue sky! What a pretty purple car. Should we buy red grapes or green grapes today?" And when playing with blocks or playdoh [cookie cutter are great with playdoh because you get color or shape to comment!] or other toys, comment on the shape or color just conversationally, not as teaching or instructing.

For letters, I had an alphabet puzzle that was just part of the toys.

Don't stress on starting formalized education too soon, they've got 13+ years ahead of them, make learning fun now!!

we used to color, draw and play a couple of matching games for toddlers that were made for them with colors and shapes. We bought them at wal mart or toys r us.

I don't see any need for formal lessons on these things. Just start noticing them when she's with you. For example, count out her cookies or ask her if she wants the blue one or the pink one. Talk to her about her name, put the letters on her wall and then answer questions about other letters as they come up. I think natural approach is probably best here. My son is almost 3 1/2 and can read most simple text. I have not given him an formal instruction, he just happens to be very interested in print.

Hi S.,

I don't think you need to rush it or be concerned about it at this point. Children learn at their own pace, and learn based on what they're interested in. Try not to get caught up in comparing her to other kids her age. I have many friends with boys the same age as mine and they are all so different...and many of them started preschool together at age 2!! Just give her opportunities to play and interact. As for toys...the Leapfrog toys are great! They focus a lot on letters and numbers and they have fun songs that teach children with rhythm and repetition.

As long as she is on track with her development, I would not worry about it.


My son is very independent and stubborn and did not like looking at books etc. about colors and shapes with me. He would put his hand over my mouth! He did like story books - but no ABC's Shapes, etc. He LOVED watching Mickey Mouse Club House on the Disney Channel and was saying "rectangle" and "trylangle" and "shircle" at 25 months, all thanks to Mickey! He multi-tasked while the show was on - ate a snack, played with his toys but was clearly listening and would look up whenever something interrested him. He's almost 5 and still likes to watch it sometimes.
Playing with crayons is a fun way to learn colors too. Also, just pointing out things during the day - "Look at that big yellow truck!" Etc. etc.

Your parents taught you your colors and shapes somehow, maybe they still remember! ;)


I would suggest keeping it simple. I took a little time when coloring with my son to make the shapes and tell him about them (different amount of sides) then I would point out things in our house that are the different shapes.

I also got a book called Elmo's Shapes from the $1.00 bin at Target. He loves the book and often chooses it to read.

One other option is to watch Sesame Street. They have several shows that that focus on shapes.

I would save your money and not spend it on a computer program. At two there is not much they can do on the computer anyway.

Good luck and happy teaching,


Hi S.,
I see you have pleanty of responces and I didn't read them all. I just wanted to tell you real quickly what I have stumbled on.
My DD is 21 months old and she knows the ABC song from playing it over and over again on her leapfrog learn & groove musical table. And recently we started watching Sesime Street because she loves Elmo and they say the alphabet over and over again.
As for shapes, she learned them from the same misical table and from a board puzzle I got for her second hand. I sat down with her maybe two times with the puzzle and she knew all the shapes and still does.
Kids are sponges, they want to know everything so teaching them is really just a matter of exposing them.
Best wishes

Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten By David Perlmutter, MD, FACN and Carol Colman
I was really turned off by the title of this book- but it turned out to be wonderful- it is full of games/activites you can play with your child and how to build on them as they grow. He explaines some of the science behind how their brains are developing and how these games help. I think it is more teaching them how to learn than just teaching them facts; creating building blocks for future academic success.
You have so many great responses along the lines of making every day things into learning experiences just by including your daughter in the conversation. And it is often a onesided conversation, but trust that she is absorbing so much of it.
Best of Luck

I did it through play with our daughter. We played games with her toys. She had a toy that had shapes that went in the hole. I'd say the name of the shape and put it in the hole. Then I'd ask her to find that shape and put it in the hole.

We did lots of building with blocks that came with different shapes and as we would build I'd ask her for a shape.

We did counting the same way. How many triangles do you have in your building? She would have to know triangle and count.

As for letters and sounds, read to her and point them out. Boom Chicha Boom Boom is a great book for learning letters.

Aslo starfall.com is a kid phonics website. There are cute, short videos that teach vowel patterns. My daughter loved the videos when she was 4.

We also played the "Can you find a ___?" game in the car. So you try to be the first person to spot a shape or a letter on your travels. We played it in the house, but she quickly had the objects memorized.

Play is the way to go.

Good question S.!
I have two little active girls (13 months apart and both under 3) and we just try to talk about things as we go through the day. Also, get some books that talk about colors, numbers, shapes, etc and read with her as much as possible.
Wishing you luck with your bundle of joy!

I don't think you need to spend money or follow a program. Play with her. While playing talk about shapes, colors, numbers, etc. They learn by playing. That should be easy enough for your parents to do too. My 22 month old knows all her colors, shapes, the alphabet and can count to 14. I'm a SAHM. We just talk a lot while we play.

At a quick glance, I can see you've already gotten a lot of great suggestions, so am going to simply say this.. as you and your parents go through the day with her, make sure you keep these things in mind in your conversations. In other words, as you ask her to do something use terminology that helps her learn. Example, she's picking up toys to put them away. Say, "Put the blue ball in the red toy box", or when giving her snack, "I'm going to give you three crackers" and help her to count them with you. Our grandson counts to three as he's being strapped into his car seat, because there are three separate steps in snapping his straps around him. Put her name on things that belong to her, and point out the letters that are in her name in other writing. The first letter of a child's name is often the first letter they recognize, and they build from that. Reading labels works well. At breakfast time 'read' the cereal box with her. Often children are attracted to those boxes by the cartoon characters or other writing and illustrations on them. Take advantage of anything of that type that interests her.
I also like to have a good variety of music CDs with silly songs that reinforce learning. Children learn a lot through music. Music videos, used sparingly... no more than half an hour at a time and no more than twice a day... can also be good.
For grandparents (parents too) taking a nice walk through the neighborhood and talking about what you see as you go is a great way to interest a child in learning more things about their world. This learning will translate into more academic type of learning as she begins to relate the real world with the written page.

Ok, I started out thinking I didn't have much to say, but said more than I thought I would. I hope some of it helps.

Hey S. - there are a ton of books that you can get that show these things....just reading them repeditively to your daughter will help her get it! Anytime you are playing with her you can just tell her the color of the toy etc...it's just something that as it is repeated over and over she will pick up....

I am sure there are some fancy programs out there, but for us we just incorporated it into her everyday learning. This may not work for everyone, but it worked for us. By 1 1/2 she knew her shapes and basic colors.
Have fun!

my daughter is the same way. she doesnt like to sit down and learn from a book so I found shapes and colors around town.we would play games like "how many green things or squares can we find while we drive to the store. at first she had trouble but as I started saying "there is a green car" or " there is a sqaure sign" she started to understand and was excited when she understood because she wanted to join in the game. she loves it when we see a stop sign because she loves to say octigon.you could also hide letters around the house like an easter egg hunt and when she finds them let her yell the letter outloud. I have found that if I make it fun they learn faster. I hope this helps you. have a great day.

Hi S.,

In the method I use to teach my children to read, I do not use the letter names, I hold up the card that shows the letter and I tell the sounds. For example I hold up the letter a, and I say the sounds it makes... short A (apple)long A (Bake) and "ah" (always). Names of letters came later, when it was time to spell, and you tell the letter name along with the sound and the child spells the word for you.I've taught all my kids letter recongnition / reading / spelling / writing with this method.It covers all the senses at the same time and really brings it home. The program is called Spell to Write and Read by Wanda Sanseri.

I have found that children will learn very easily when the brain is mature enough for the concept, but if it is not, you and your student will be highly fustrated! If the child of that age (2) seems preoccupied and not willing to settle down and listen, then she is too young for the concept. You will spend many more hours trying to teach it now, than waiting a year or two and trying to introduce it then.

I didn't try to teach actual reading/recognition of letter sounds until my children were 5. If they are interested and they ask, for example writing their name, by all means it should be taught, because interest shows readiness.

With my boy, I started letter "sound" recognition at 5 and struggled and struggled to get him to do it, but then ended up waiting another 6 months and tried it again. That 6 months made all the difference and what was a stuggle before was quickly and easily absorbed and he was understanding and reading in no time. I found the same to be true of my young daughter with math concepts.

Two years old is an age of exploration. She is learning a GREAT DEAL as she plays , manipulates things, and interacts with her world. If you find something she is interested in great, but if not don't worry. Time will bring the maturity/interest needed for the concepts you want to teach.

I take flash cards with me for whenever we need to wait somewhere. Doctor's office, grocery store, etc. They are relatively inexpensive at Walmart, Target, Toys R Us. Lots of different kinds for shapes, letters, numbers and words.

Books are the best to teach shapes, colors, etc. My kids loved the alphabet letters that stuck to the bath tub. Those shape boxes are good where the child takes a shape and matches it to the opening in the box. Real life is the best teacher; whatever you do or wherever you are talk about these things. Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt? How many pieces of apple to you have? How many steps to the door to let Daddy in? What color is your hair ribbon. Show her alot of hair ribbons and talk about each color. Show and talk and let her touch the things in her world. It is a gradual process. Sing songs with her.
If you want the words to have meaning; like the letters of the alphabet then read a book while you sing the song or say the letters. Kids can sing alot of songs but it doesn't have meaning if they can't recognize thier letters.
Have fun, no pushing, and watch her grow!

She's 2 she doesn't need any formal teaching. She needs to be able to explore. Just talk to her and tell her what she is seeing and touching. It will all sink in. She will be in school soon enough for at least 12 years, longer if she goes to college. Don't start pushing her at 2.

Hello! Here's a easy quick idea that is fun for your child! Get something like shaving cream, whip cream or play dough......next, first show her how to draw the number or shapes. Shaving cream is a funny texture as well as fun to write different things in then smooth back out and draw again...if they try to eat it..which some kids will try even if you tell them it's yucky...try whip cream. Playdough can be shaped, then ask them what it is and say excitedly it's a "square!" or "A" and tell them the colors of play dough and ask them if they remember what color it is? Fun fun as fun as you can keep it without getting frusterated the better! ENJOY

We don't do anything structured but just take opportunities to reinforce this information as we play.

When drawing with crayons or chalk I repeat the colors each time my son picks up a new one. I also draw the shapes for him and tell him the names or count the sides. When building with blocks I ask him to get me differented colored blocks or tell him the color of the block he just picked up.

For letters, we buy these cookies at Trader Joe's shaped like numbers and letters and each time I give him one I tell him the letter and a word that starts with that letter. We have a couple of books that have the letters of the alphabet and pictures of words that start with that letter so we read through those and I say the letter and then A is for apple, etc.

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