A Toddler's Lifestyle

A Learning One

By: Mary E. Woodis



NOTE FROM BARB:  I know you will find this article by Mary delightful, encouraging and instructional! I have highlighted all the words in the article that are the very things to be taught just so that the basic concepts can be found and returned to quickly later on.



The good Lord knows having a toddler in your home and home educating your older children can be trying at the best of times, but how do you make your toddler's lifestyle one of learning? Come along with me as we explore this subject and try to shed some light on this commonly asked question.

On October 24, 1998 my dear husband, Jessie, and I returned home from a trip to Kostroma, Russia where we adopted a toddler boy. What a dramatic change this would make in our whole life and our homeschool! Our toddler is a very curious and delightful little boy, but even the most delightful and obedient children can be disruptive to an older child's math lesson! How do you so involve your toddler in your educational experience that learning flows in your home? Sounds idealistic doesn't it? But, believe it or not, it can be done.

By their very nature, toddlers are curious, ready to learn and experience new things. Consequently, this is the very age that your discipline needs to be loving, but firm and decidedly consistent. They are trying out new things and are testing all the rules and limits to see if they have changed. The experiences of a child at this season of his life will determine his character as an older child. It sets the standard for how he will respond to so many other things throughout his life. God, in His providence, made life to provide many teachable moments. Take advantage of these teachable moments whenever possible.

You can teach a young child much more than you might think; more than most people think. They love songs, rhythms and verses. (From Barb: See the "Love Lullabyes" area of this website!)  Their curiosity is endless, and they are such a joy to watch as they learn. This is the perfect time to use things such as these to incorporate Scripture memory and poetry into their lives.

Now is the perfect time to teach them the habit of attention. They need this skill to be able to sit still during times of read-alouds, especially Bible. This is also the time to begin teaching these precious little ones about our dear Savior and to respect His Holy word.


Just as God is the finisher of our faith, use these teachable moments to teach these little ones to finish what they start. Don't allow them to flit from one activity to another. As Charlotte Mason said, "Put a premium of praise on every finished thing, if it be only a house of cards." I would venture to continue that to the tasks of toddlers. If they begin coloring a page, encourage them to finish it, then praise them for a task completed and a job well done. This includes putting all of the blocks back in the toy box or picking up the socks and putting them in the clothes hamper. Each task completed needs to be followed up by words of praise. In doing so, you respect them for their accomplishments and ensure their cooperation the next time. Thus is begun a good habit. 

Do not be deceived into believing that your toddler is incapable of learning and performing simple tasks. Charlotte Mason said, "a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind." That also includes understanding Scripture. The Bible says in Matthew 11:25, "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." This means little ones to me, how about you?

But, as their minds are able, so are their bodies. I believe we ought to respect them enough to believe them capable of simple tasks at an early age. Even young toddlers can help pick up garbage and put it in the trash can. Employ these little people and you will have trained a valuable helper for yourself. How many of us mothers have been guilty of grumbling about "no one ever picks up anything at home but me?" Well, have you ever taken the time to train your children to do this? Have you taught them the habit of paying attention and obeying you each and every time you ask them to do something? 


In order to do so, let me make a few suggestions about how this can be accomplished. The first task to accomplish is the building of the habit of paying attention. This is perhaps one of the first and most important things you will ever teach your children. With the exception, of course, of teaching them about Jesus unto a saving faith in Him. Charlotte Mason has much to say about this in her volumes. She said, "The formation of habits is education, and Education is the formation of habits." The time to begin is when they are very young. It is a certain fact that once a bad habit has begun it will go on forever unless it is replaced with a good one. So, may I suggest to you that we begin forming those good habits at a very young age? If you don't, you will never have a moment's peace when they get older, until you begin the very difficult work of undoing those bad habits. 

So how do we go about this? Webster's Dictionary says, "Habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance; an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary." Okay, so we need to apply habits to their lives by frequent repetition until it becomes a nearly or completely involuntary action. 


So start small. At your daily Bible reading time require their silence. Make sure that these times are short, so as not to over-tax their abilities. But be absolutely firm in your command that they be silent. I also require that my son sit still. This is more easily accomplished because we do our Bible reading immediately after we finish our breakfast and before we leave the table.

Now think about that a moment. Your child has been sitting confined in his highchair throughout the entire meal. See! It is possible to require them to sit in one place for a period of time. You are only lengthening that period of time by a few minutes. They have already learned the habit of sitting in their highchair during a meal. Now they must learn the habit of sitting there a little bit longer.

Don't worry, this is not too much to ask or expect. Nine out of ten times, a habit is begun because we observed someone else doing it. So impress upon your older children the absolute necessity of them setting a good example before your toddler. If you expect the toddler to be silent and still, then the older children must also do the same. Be diligent in the formation of this habit. If you allow a little relaxation, or allow your child to break this new habit, this means that a contrary bad habit has been formed and you will have to go back and undo this bad habit all over again.

Now about attention. Webster's Dictionary says attention is: "the act or state of attending, especially through applying the mind to an object of sense or thought." So, in effect, we are merely asking them to apply their mind to listening in the same way they applied it to eating. One example is just the simple task of listening to Daddy or Mommy read them a story. Remember that this is a very special story because it comes from the Bible. Impress that fact upon your children. You must remember to praise them when they do well and quickly correct any straying of attention at its inception, before a bad habit is begun.

Parents, it is absolutely essential that you be diligent in this. Don't let Satan deter you with lies about your being mean to these little ones. Lies such as: they are not capable of sitting for that long or paying attention to these big words. But do remember this; Jeremiah 10:24 says, "O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing." Satan can trip us up with anger in dealing with these little ones.

So, the Bible also says in Matthew 18:10: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." Now mind you, I am not saying that you despise your children if you get angry with them. God, Himself, got angry with the children of Israel. And, indeed, He disciplined them in His wrath. What I am saying is this: it may take an act of congress, sometimes, to keep from getting totally frustrated and acting out of anger. So, remember these verses also; Romans 5:3-4 says, "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
(4) And patience, experience; and experience, hope." And if we do act out our anger, 1 John 1:9 says "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So remember, not only are we training our toddlers, but God is also training us in patience. It may take a while to form these habits, but any slacking that you do will result in the formation of a bad habit. 


We are constantly teaching our children habits. Whether they are good or bad habits is determined by the decision to allow or correct an action. In Proverbs 29:17 the Bible says, "Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul." If you don't want a child to interrupt when a person is talking, don't allow him to do it without correction from you even one time. If you do, you are allowing a bad habit to form.

The habit of attention is not only a very good habit to teach for obvious reasons, but also for the reason of respect. To not talk when another is talking is a form of giving respect to that person. If you teach this from an early age, it can save you countless hours of correction later on. Even God corrects us as He says in Jeremiah 30:11, "...but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished." Can we not, as parents, do the same for these little ones? Proverbs 29:15 says, "The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." Have you ever seen a toddler totally embarrass his mother? This does not have to be expected or tolerated.


Once you have established this habit of attention, or even as you are establishing this habit, don't forget to allow your toddler to sit in on all your family read-alouds that are done during his waking hours. Don't make the mistake of thinking that a story is too "old" for these toddlers. That very story is a wonderful way to teach them new words and build their language skills. Have you ever giggled about the way your little one said a new word? Imagine the delight and amazement you will feel when your little one tries out a new word from your current history or science read aloud. Or what about such glorious classics as Little Pilgrim's ProgressParables from Nature by Mrs. GattyHeidi, or Little Men? Can you imagine a three-year-old saying "Woe is me!"? Too funny, don't you think?

What are some other ways to incorporate learning into their day? Well, how about teaching colors or counting as you fold that load of laundry together? Couldn't you fold laundry, or sort it, while you are helping your older child with math or perhaps listening to them read? What about letting them count some dry beans, cereal or cookies as you are cooking? Parker Daniil, my toddler, loves to sack things up and carry them from one room to another. What a better way to get the garbage out of the bathroom and to the front door? Of course we wash his hands afterwards, but he likes to wash his hands also.

Speaking of hand washing time, how about using that time to teach hot and cold? As we give him a bath, or put lotion and powder on afterwards, we practice naming body parts together. You know armpits, elbows, knees, ankles, shoulders, not just eyes, nose, ears, fingers, and toes. (See the "Songs to Learn From" page in the Love Lullabyes area! The second song down is "My Body Song.")  Get more detailed as you go along, if they know their fingers, teach them fingernails and so on. As you sit to eat a meal, teach them the name of each bite of food; corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, rice, and chicken. You can also use this opportunity to teach them the color of each food. Each and everything in a toddler's life can and is a learning experience. Use these times wisely. They are God's way of providing learning opportunities for your youngster. And you are also building relationship with him at the same time!

I would also suggest letting your older children in on the teaching times. If your older child needs review in a math assignment or on phonics, help them to feel bigger by letting them "teach it" to your toddler. Emily is "teaching" Parker phonics. Talk about building memories! You should see what a precious picture they make all cuddled up on my bed pouring over the pages of letters, pictures and sounds in Emily's Simply Phonics book.

What a great way for her to brush up on those phonics rules and teach him to learn to recognize his alphabet letters. (From Barb: See a sample page from my Make-My-Own Phonics Book.)  This is also helping him to learn to form the correct sound for each word. Parker Daniil only knew baby talk Russian when we brought him home. I have been thrilled with the progress these two have made together. The best time for them to do this is during the time that Jessica is doing her math. It really cuts down on the confusion during that time and keeps them busy and relatively quiet. That aids her powers of concentration and frees me up to help where needed. Emily also reads aloud to Parker during this time. Thus, she is putting into practice those phonics rules and he is getting more read-aloud time.

Another way that Parker Daniil's time is being redeemed is by going outside with Daddy to do the chores. I can't think of a better way for him to learn about the feeding and care of animals than to actually do it with Daddy. Much can be said for a toddler's time alone with Daddy. Children need this time to learn to relate to their Father. Valuable bonds of trust and love are being forged that will facilitate their relationship when the child grows older. Yes, Daddy's can do more than play with these toddlers, and I believe they should.

Just as the Bible says in Proverbs 3:12, "For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth," so should these Daddies be involved in every aspect of these little ones' lives. Even unto the part of correction. But, Mothers, remember that as we respond to our husbands, so our children will respond to them also. Teach your children to respect their fathers according to this verse in Proverbs 4:1: "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a (your) Father, and attend to know understanding." 


But in doing all these things to make our toddler's lifestyle one of learning, let's not forget to give them time to play alone. These little ones need down time just as much as we do. They also need this time to develop their problem solving skills. Don't run to them every time they are frustrated. Perhaps they need some time to puzzle the problem out. Now if they are breaking things out of frustration, do step in and teach them a better way to handle the problem.

My son is constantly amazing me with the way he solves problems. The other night his ball rolled underneath our bed. He got down on his belly and reached and reached, but he couldn't quite touch the ball. He tried to get one of us to get it for him, but no luck. So, he went to his room, got his stick horse and used the stick end to rake the ball out from underneath the bed. Do you see how easy it would have been to rob him of this learning experience? If we had jumped up and gotten the ball for him, he would never have thought this problem through. 

As we are learning to provide educational experiences in the lives of our toddlers, let us keep this verse in our minds as the aim of our instruction with these children. The Bible says in Proverbs 23:24: "The Father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him." So the next time your little ones are getting on your last nerve, take the time to find a constructive activity for them. All they need is a little correction or direction. You can be the judge of that.


Instilling good habits in toddlers is the most important way to use their lifestyle to enhance their learning. As they live so shall they be. Don't lose these precious years to build memories and habits for a lifetime!




To learn more about habit training,

look for Mary Woodis's book, Habit Revisited.

In it you will find many more ways to incorporate habit training

in the lives of everyone in your home.


For more information you can reach Mary at:


...or by writing to her at:

Crooked Pines Publishing  / 1365 County Road 74  / Florence, AL 35633


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