How to Teach your Toddler English at Home
I teach my daughter English the same way I teach her Romanian: daily conversations, songs, games, flashcards, books, toys (and here I include anything that can be turned into a toy). I do my best not to mix the two languages, but other than that, I have no rules or predefined plan, whatever comes naturally will do.
Before she was one, I read her many books, and she would love to turn the pages. Then gradually she started pointing at images and ask what I translated as “What is this?”, and I would tell her the word. We started with animals, from the age of 1 until around 1 ½ she was pretty much interested in animals and animal sounds only. After 1 ½, when she could already recognize many animals in both languages, she started to show interest in other things (food, objects etc.). Around that age I also started to teach her colours, alongside with other objects, whatever we could find in books, around us or had flashcards for. At first I told her names of colours and, whenever possible, I pointed to something that was definitely red, for example, not red-orange, or I pointed to somewhere where there was one single colour, not two colours next to each other, to avoid confusion. Later on, after she understood the idea of “colour” and she started to point to a colour when I asked her, I started to combine colours and objects, pointing to a car and saying: “That’s a red car.” Around the same age, she showed interest in body parts, pointing to my face, each body part in turn, and I would tell her what it was. Her first favourite song was Head and Shoulders, and she loved to dance on it, so it was pretty easy for her to remember the body parts mentioned in the song. Around the same age I also started to teach her numbers – we count animals in books, toys, anything we have on hand.
Following are some of the ways I teach her, but of course, the sky is the limit, anything that comes to your mind can turn into a game. At the end there’s also a list of animal crying sounds (that can be used when teaching animals or if you want to make your own songs adapted to famous children’s tunes). Click here for some of the finger plays I use.
I read to her since she was a few months old. At first, she just looked at images, then she started to turn the pages, and later on she pointed at animals, asking me to name them and to tell her what crying sounds they make. After practising this for a while, I started to ask her questions:
Where’s the elephant/cat/…?
Can you show me the dog/ fish/…?
and she pointed to them. Needless to say, I praised her each time she got them right (“Good job!”). When she made a mistake, I just pointed to the right animal and say:
“That’s the elephant!”
I also taught her the crying sounds of animals, and I used the sounds as a hint when she couldn’t point to an animal right away. For example:
Me: Where’s the cat?
Her: (no pointing)
Me: Where’s meow?
Her: (she pointed to the cat)
- Flashcards, wooden puzzle animals, plush animal toys, blocks with images on them, crayons, felt animals etc.
Flashcards are really useful as they can be used in many fun games and there is no confusion if there’s only one animal/object etc. on each. When teaching colours, in order to avoid the confusion that books could have aroused, I made my own colour flashcards, using origami paper that I glued to a piece of cardboard. Crayons also helped.
I used flashcards in several games. One of them was to give her the flashcards, one by one, while telling her the name of the animals/objects on it, then spread them on the floor and ask her to get one of them and put it in a jar or a box. For example, I would say to her:
Where’s the peach? Can you find the peach?
(She finds the peach flashcard.)
Good! Now put it in this jar/box!
When she couldn’t find one, I would gently point to it and say:
That’s the plane!
When I am busy in the kitchen and she wants me to play with her, I ask her to bring me flashcards, or wooden animals, one by one, and this takes some time, plus she gets to move around the house and have fun playing with me. Sometimes, instead of asking her to bring me a certain animal, I let her bring me anything she finds or wants, and I say to her:
You brought me the pig. Thanks!
Another game she loves to play with flashcards is the treasure hunt game. I hide the flashcards around the room, and ask her to bring them to me, one by one. When I started the game, I put the flashcards in visible places and told her:
“I put the cow here, ok?” or
“The cat is on the chair.”
but later, once she understood the game, I didn’t make sure she sees exactly where I hide each of them.
(With older children, it’s more fun to have them close their eyes while you hide the flashcards.)
When she couldn’t find an animal I asked her to bring me, and she came with a different one, I would say to her:
“Oh, you found the cow. Thanks. Now, where’s the lion? Can you find the lion? It’s somewhere around there!”
and I would point to the area where the lion flashcard was.
A variation of the treasure hunt game is to hide flashcards inside books. I hide 5-6 flashcards at a time, and she finds them. I then ask her to put them in a box or give them to me, repeating the word on the flashcard:
You found the sheep. Good job!
After she finds all the flashcards, I hide another set of 5-6, until all are done. This game is especially useful for practicing words, before your toddler can recognize a certain animal/object.
After my daughter turned 1 ½, I also started to play a memory game with her.
I put 2 different felt animals in 2 different containers (anything that’s not transparent and has a cover will do: boxes, coffee can, etc. just make sure they are of a different colour and your toddler can open them) and tell her:
The rabbit is in the green can. The lion is in the yellow can.
Then I put the lid on, take each can in one hand, roll my hands while humming a song (Ring around the Roses, for example), then stop and ask her to point to the can where one of the animals is:
Where is the lion?
She opens the lid and takes out the animal I asked.
(With older kids you can have more than 2 animals/containers, but it might be a good idea to start with 2.)
She loves games and she sometimes initiates one herself, and we have lots of fun while playing. Of course, whenever we finish a game, I praise her:
You found them all! Great! Give me five! (Hugs and kisses follow 🙂 )
- Finger plays and songs.
Needless to say, every toddler loves to move his/her body to the sound of music and finger plays, so I use lots of them. They are especially a saver when we’re outside and she gets bored, in which case I found that a new one or one we haven’t sang for a long time, would do the trick. I also sing to her on our way to and from the day care. And I invent my own songs, using the tunes of kids’ songs. Here are some of the finger plays I use.
Another useful way to teach young learners English is drawing – she asks me to draw animals, her favourite characters etc. in the sand (when we play in the park) or on paper. While drawing we can practice not only names of animals or object, fruits etc., but also shapes, colors, numbers or body parts.
Animal Crying Sounds
|Bear – growl
Bee – buzz
Bird – tweet
Cat – meow
Cow – moo
Crow – caw
Dog – woof woof
Donkey – hee-haw
Duck – quack quack
|Elephant – pawoo
Frog – ribbit
Goat – meeh
Hen – cluck
Horse – neigh
Lion – roar
Mouse – squeak
Monkey – ooh ooh ahh ahh
Owl – hoo
|Penguins – squah
Pig – oink
Pigeons – coo
Rabbit – squeak squeak
Rooster – cock-a-doodle-doo
Sheep – baa
Snake – hiss
Wolf – owoooo