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Child counting apples

Once your child is three years old, you can start teaching them about letters and numbers – but keep it fun! Nanny Elaine Addison has some suggestions that will help turn learning into a game

Between the ages of three and four, your child may start showing an interest in letters and numbers. Look out for signs that they are ready to learn. For instance, are they constantly questioning written words and numbers from storybooks, street signs, clocks or even cereal boxes? Are they beginning to separate toys by size, colour or shape?

The best way to teach children is through play, so make learning fun and appealing by turning it into a game. Here are some ideas:

Tips for learning letters

  1. Cut large letters from A to Z out of corrugated cardboard, soft sandpaper and coloured card. Let them touch and feel the shape, texture and size of each letter and help them to trace around it with a pencil.
  2. Choose a letter and help your preschooler to find items beginning with that letter around the house or when you’re out and about.
  3. Make an illustrated A to Z and hang it on the wall for reference, or stick magnetic letters on to your fridge and ask your child to find the specific letters that spell out a simple word such as ‘dog’ or ‘cat’.
  4. Floating, spongy alphabet letters make great bath-time toys.
  5. You could also play ‘alphabet snap’ with two sets of illustrated A to Z flash cards. You just say ‘snap’ when you find two with the same letter.
  6. Nurture a love of books and reading with lots of cosy one-on-ones with your child. And as letters start to interest your child, look for alphabet books that link letters to familiar objects.

Counting games

  • Count their toes or fingers whenever you can – while getting dressed or in the bath. Also count when you’re driving in the car – how many red cars can you spot? Count steps when you climb stairs, biscuits as you give them out, and bricks as you put them away.
  • Have fun with fruit – separate the apples, bananas, and oranges, then ask them how many items are in each group. Which has the most, and which has the fewest? Divide a bunch of grapes: ‘Two for you, one for me…’ and then count who has the most.
  • Toys such as farm sets with different types of animals are another good way to teach sorting and counting. Separate the animals into groups and then count the biggest and smallest groups. Or better still, visit a real farm for a fun day out – don’t forget to count what you see!

Have a singsong

Songs and rhymes will also help to introduce your little one to letters and numbers. Don’t worry if they jumble up the letters or numbers – praise and applaud any effort with great cheer. And don’t panic if they don’t seem interested in letters and numbers just yet – remember all preschoolers are unique and develop at different stages.

Here are some songs that can help your little one learn:

  • One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and then I put it back again
  • A, B, C, D, E, F, G…sung to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is popular with all toddlers
  • One, two; buckle my shoe; Three, four; knock at the door…Sing and act out the rhyme together

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