Menu

7 secrets of a teacher mama: How I help my little one learn

Finding the balance between structure and free play is the key.

7 secrets of a teacher mama: How I help my little one learn

Sing! Sing! Sing!

There is nothing sweeter to your little one than the sound of your voice! (Even if you are 97% sure you sound like a dying cat.)


Change up the words to familiar melodies like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Anything and everything can be turned into a song—the sillier the better! In our family, we sing about getting dressed, diaper changes, bushing teeth, eating those mmm…yummy vegetables, and everything in between! Along with being fun and engaging, music helps children break information into pieces that can be easily remembered. (The same way song lyrics from your high school years are forever engrained into your memory.) Try to incorporate your child’s name whenever possible and watch that little face light up! My little girl’s name is Blake. She loves when we sing her name to the tune of “Bingo.”

Bonus—this helps her recognize the letters in her name.

Join Motherly

Take the role of facilitator.

Instead of taking control, think of yourself as your child’s guide. Your little one should feel as though she is in charge of her own learning. This will allow her to take more responsibility for lessons learned. For example, let her chose the toy she wants to play with. Take a second to point out details like colors or shapes and then give her some space. Wait for your tot to engage you. (It doesn’t usually take long!) Once your child approaches and appears eager to learn more, that’s your golden ticket to teach away!

Your child’s coolest toy is YOU!

Don’t stress over finding the perfect educational toys. Use what you have around the house to engage your babe—she won’t even notice if it wasn’t purchased in the toy section. It can be second nature to talk about the physical characteristics of what your child is playing with (e.g., color, size, shape, texture, or weight). But, don’t forget to talk about the functions of baby’s playthings. “Look! The ball bounces. I can roll it to you like this. Can you roll it back?

Looking back on the last few years as a mother, those early months spent worrying about my child’s cognitive development seem so unfounded—especially when I could have been catching a few zzz’s instead! A loving environment with the opportunity to explore and seek out help is all most children really need to learn their ABC’s, count to ten, and color in the lines.

You’ve got this, mama! One teachable moment at a time.

Join Motherly

Keep a learning journal or calendar.

Quickly jot down the activities and lessons you emphasize on certain days to shed more light on your child’s learning style and patterns.

If it seems like your babe mastered something overnight, you’ll be able to see exactly what you did to help speed that learning along.

With this knowledge, you can customize your teaching strategies to play to your child’s unique strengths. For keeping track with your phone, try the Moment Diary or Sprout apps!

Master the art of motivation.

One of the best ways to motivate or reward your child is with specific praise. Even though this was drilled in during my time teaching, I still occasionally catch myself offering a quick and generic “Good job!” when my daughter accomplishes a task. But, it’s important to take a second to think of a more specific response. “I love how you stacked those blocks on top of each other!”

Clear commendation tells your little one exactly what she did that made you so proud.

When self-motivated learning connects with a sense of accomplishment, your child will be eager to explore and achieve.

As mamas, sometimes the questions we have about helping our little ones learn can become a bit consuming. What books encourage a true love of reading? How long should we read each day? When will she be old enough to actually focus on the story we’re reading? What toys are best for learning? Should I just let her play, or should I jump in and teach her about shapes, patterns, and colors? Am I pushing her too hard? Am I doing enough to take advantage of the crazy fact that babies’ brains double in size the first year?

In my transition from kindergarten teacher to stay at home mom, I spent many sleepless nights over-analyzing these questions and coming up with countless others!

As a teacher, I wanted my little girl to learn everything she needed to know as early as possible. But as a new mama, I saw that she needed her own space to explore her world.

Finding a happy medium became my new priority. Luckily, my experiences as an early childhood educator have helped me take advantage of small teachable moments each day while still providing my daughter with the independent exploration that she craves.

These are the 7 principles that have achieved balance between structured learning and free play in my home—

Read every day!

Reading with your babe is the single most important thing you can do to improve her literacy development.

Make good habits from the very beginning. Reading to your baby from a very young age (even the last few months of your pregnancy) allows your little one to form a love of language. Story time can be any length of time that is appropriate for your child. Some tiny tots may happily sit through two readings of Green Eggs and Ham whereas some may get squirmy half way through The Very Hungry Caterpillar. You know your little one better than anyone, mama!

And remember, reading can also take place in any location.

I have been known to squeeze in a quick story during the two minutes my daughter is strapped into her high chair before dinner. Talk about a captive audience!

Reading is just the beginning.

Guide your child through stories by pointing out familiar and unfamiliar objects. Introduce new vocabulary and ask questions.

Strategies should vary from asking simple questions about objects to more complex evaluations of comprehension. Inquire about colors and shapes, what sounds animals make, what might happen as the story goes on, and your child’s favorite part.

Ask questions even before your child can verbalize answers. Ask your little one, “How many balloons do you see?” and then answer your own question with “One, Two, Three. Three balloons!” You may be talking to yourself, but you are also stretching your tot’s understanding of concepts and stimulating that budding imagination!

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less
Shop

The 6 biggest lies I believed before having kids

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own ideas of how we would absolutely do things differently than everyone else. Others, we believed what everyone else told us would happen would apply to our littles, too. But, that's not always the case, mama.

Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids—and the reality of what actually happened for me.

1. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake

Keep reading Show less
Life