How do I teach my toddler ABCs, colors, and shapes?

Real Mom Problem

“My son just turned 4. I've tried puzzles, flash cards, games, etc. and he just does not want to learn! Help!”

by cmartinez0811 cmartinez0811

Quick Tips

  • 1. Make learning fun
  • 2. Read to your child daily
  • 3. Keep at it; repetition is key
  • 4. Don't compare your child to other kids
  • 5. Remember that crafts, music, playtime, and even meal time can all present opportunities for teaching your toddler

Real Mom Solutions

We all want our kids to be smart and absorb all the knowledge they can, especially in preparation for school -- and life! But helping them learn their ABCs, colors, and shapes should be fun for mom and child. Check out these great, creative ideas from the moms of CafeMom for encouraging your child's interest in learning.

Keep It Fun

  • JTNMD711

    The best way to teach a 20 month old is through songs and nursery rhymes, like the wheels on the bus, itsy bitsy spider etc. Using finger and hand movements while singing to them improves memory and math skills (because of rhythm) while the hand movements improve vocabulary (like sign language).

  • RobynS

    Don't "teach" just play. They learn through play. If you're playing with blocks, talk about the colors (even if just to reinforce what he already knows). Count blocks as you stack them, etc. We incorporate learning into play. It's never as though we're sitting down doing a "lesson." If I give my daugther some carrots, for example, I might count them as I'm giving them to her.

  • Recreated

    Make it a game. For instance, my nephew loves cars so we tell him "I need 3 red cars" and he will get them. If he brings 4 we say something like "Wow! You brought me 1, 2, 3, 4 cars! Now I have 1, 2, 3 red cars and 1 yellow car! Thanks!" He gets so excited because he doesn't realize he is learning.

  • knepppi

    If you are looking for something fun but cheap try sensory learning. Take salt and dye it different colors with food coloring and pour it in a pan and have her "write" her numbers and ABC's. Ask her to write the better B in the red pan. They love it and it can be used over and over!

  • mylovesareCCC

    My daughter turned 2 at the end of March and one of her favorite games is for me to write the letter and for her to tell me what I wrote and the sound it makes and then she gets to go around the house and find something that starts with the letter. It's so much fun and she gets so excited. Last week, I wrote "F" and she did a flip! So I wrote "FR" and she said "F-R---FRRR-FFFFRRRR-----FROG!!!!" and ran off to the bathroom to find me her toy frog. It was amazing.

  • Photo6555

    For teaching numbers, we would sing songs. We sang a lot of ten little snowflakes, five little ducks, five green and speckled frogs, and five little monkeys (her favorite).

  • ReekaJean

    My son learned his shapes and colors, and number quantities, just by playing. He doesn't have number recognition, but if you have a pile of blocks, he can tell you how many there are up to about 10. It was just through every-day play. "Oooh, this is a really pretty BLUE car." or "The wheel is shaped like a circle.", "This sign is a triangle." ,"The window is a rectangle." etc..

Be Creative

  • ncstress

    We do collages for letters we are learning and since my 2 year old loves cutting with scissors this is a favorite pastime! I'll draw a letter on a paper and have him glue pasta or put stickers or just decorate it how he likes and we hang it up on the fridge or wall and celebrate the letter each day for a week.

  • ncstress

    When learning colors, I like to dress them in the color of the day and make foods with that as the primary color. For example, yellow day could be eggs for breakfast, calavasitas (yellow squash) for lunch or yellow peppers with ranch for a snack.

  • mooremom

    I let my daughter use shaving cream to write with. I just squirt it on her little table and let her go to town. Believe it or not, it cleans up easily. You can use it to teach letters, by writing them yourself in the cream. You can draw the shape of the week, etc.

  • Ashtron07

    My daughter and I have been making an ABC scrapbook. Each page is a letter, and on that page I let her write the letter, then we glue words and pictures that start with that letter from magazines. Ours is coming together really well, I binded it with braided yarn. I think it'll be something we keep for years

  • lilblufrog

    It sounds weird, but my daughter learns best in the tub. She is in one spot and there aren't a lot of distractions. She has bath crayons so that helps with colors.

  • bestmomIcanbe

    Use M&Ms. Tell her she can't have it until she names the color. This method works. My two year old knows the colors in the M&M bag!

  • maddysmom8809

    For colors, I took different colors of construction paper and made large circles and cut them out. I wrote the name of each color on the circle. Sometimes we'll just use them as flash cards. Other times, I lay them out on the floor and ask her to run to a certain color. She loves it.

Make It a Part of the Everyday

  • JustThe10ofUs

    I sing the ABC song, every time I change my daughter's diaper. It starts that young.

  • jcbruce_80

    I personally believe that at this age, they need to be given the freedom to lead their own education. Be creative. You can teach colors and shapes in every day life. "Look! That window is a rectangle!" "Do you see the red ball?" "Let's eat some green grapes."

  • lcbowman

    I just talked throughout the day. Whatever we were doing. Getting dressed, "let's put on your blue shirt. Your socks are white." Playing with toys, "puppy is brown. His ears are black", eating lunch, "your crackers are orange. Your beans are green." We did the same with learning to count. "Let's count your blue blocks, 1, 2, 3.." By making it just a part of everyday life it brings it to their awareness. I have found that most things are learned easier if they are just a part of everyday life.

Let Them Learn at Their Own Pace

  • klc08

    We used flash cards with my daughter. When she was in a quiet, content mood I'd break them out and we'd go over the pictures and letters. By two she recognized all her letters, upper and lower case. Just remember not to push him/her. If they're not interested, try again at another time.

  • Jillredroom

    The most important things a 3 year old needs to know are saying please and thank you, how to share, and how to enjoy being with you. All the other stuff is icing on the top. No one else in pre-K is going to have everything down pat. Let her be creative and learn her own way in her own time.

    If you son doesn't do these things relax, he's just not ready. Most studies I have found say that most children will all level out academically by 3rd grade. This is not a race.

    We do such damage to our children when we do not let them just be children. For now make it a game. Write in pudding on the table, or in shaving cream in the tub or in chalk outside. Your son is doing just fine. Breathe.

  • aebaby

    Every child is different- don't set a bar to succeed for your child and become frustrated when she does not want to participate. Take a walk outside. "Wow isn't the grass pretty- it's so green?", "Hey look at this leaf, see it's red", "Oh this Play-Doh is sure a bright orange!" Children are sponges, the info slips in with the everyday things you say. Just let them hear you.

  • TinaBeena1216

    I am a preschool teacher and I work with kids ages 18 months to 5 years old. It's great that any of you mommies wants to encourage your children to learn, but please don't force it on them, or have a designated "academic time." Children learn through play. Read and sing to your child, play with your child, talk to your child. Don't worry if they recognize their letters. It's NO BIG DEAL, mommies! Just love your child and have fun with them!

Try Tips from a Preschool Teacher

  • SoInLove3

    Two year olds can not be expected to sit for a long time, or else they get frustrated and ignore what you are teaching them. I was a preschool teacher, and am now a stay-at-home mom. At this age, I do lots of art projects (helps learn colors, spacial concepts, cause and effect, fine motor skills and is great for sensory). And manipulatives such as puzzles, blocks, stacking, all are great at this age for building fine motor skills which are needed in the future for writing skills. Also, they are learning a lot of self awareness with their bodies, so I do a lot of gross motor such as hopping, riding a tricycle, climbing, etc. This age group also likes sensory projects such as Play-Doh, water play, and sand play. Dress up is fun for this age too - it encourages language skills and the dressing part is good for small motor skills. Music is also a great way for teaching a toddler! I am singing all day long, it seems! Give him a choice of different musical instruments and have a parade or play follow the leader with the music. I understand that you are wanting him to learn things, but for a toddler, they learn mostly through play. Right now, exposing him to things like the alphabet will certainly help. I have numbers, letters, and colors posters up in my home at eye level to my toddler. She also has puzzles for these concepts. Even though she can't 'identify' what they are, she knows that ABC's are 'letters' and 123's are 'numbers'. Good luck!