When to Teach What: A guide for colors, shapes, letters, and more…

When should I teach my child colors, shapes, letters, numbers, nursery rhymes, songs, and sensory activities?

A few weeks ago, a reader asked us to do a post about when to teach certain things. Let me start by saying that I could have made this post a LOT longer than it is. I tried to keep it short and sweet and stick to the things that parents most often have questions about. Also, I only address the pre-kindergarten age. This includes birth to age 5ish. If you have a question about any other type of thing (like reading, writing, pretend play, etc.) just let me know in the comments or email me. I can definitely write another post like this with other activities. Now, here are general guidelines of when (and a little bit on how) to teach colors, shapes, letters, numbers, nursery rhymes, songs, and sensory activities.

What Age to Start Teaching Your Child Colors, Shapes, Letters and More! -- Moms Have Questions Too

Colors

18 months is the generally accepted age for teaching colors. Some kids learn their colors sooner and some learn them later. 18 months – 2 ½ is a great age for specifically teaching colors. You should always be reviewing colors with your child though, all the way up to kindergarten. Also, be sure to use the color words both before and after the noun (this is a blue pen, this pen is blue). It is important to use the color word both ways so your child can better understand the concept of color. If you are looking for ways to teach colors, check out this post with games, activities, and books to teach colors. You can also purchase my Color Activity Pack for $1.99. It has a bunch of great color activities, plus a curriculum guide.

Color Games for Toddlers - Color Scavenger Hunt -- Moms Have Questions Too

Shapes

2 years old is a great age for teaching shapes. Start by identifying the shapes you see in the world around you. Your child should have a basic understanding of shapes by 2 ½ years old and should be able to identify many shapes by the time he is 3. Start by teaching the basic shapes (square, circle, rectangle, triangle), then continue to more advanced shapes (oval, star, heart, diamond). Purchase my Shape Activity Pack for awesome activities to teach shapes.

How to Teach Shapes - Square Sensory Bins - Moms Have Questions Too

Letters

I remember being so worried when Little Bear was 2 ½ that he didn’t know his letters yet. I tried teaching him letters in lots of different ways and honestly, he just did not understand the concept of letters. Well, I finally decided to give up for awhile and not pressure him. A few months before he turned 3, he suddenly got it and learned all of his uppercase letters in about two weeks. The point is, 3 is a good age to teach letters, but do NOT stress and pressure your child to learn them. Do lots of fun things to teach and expose him to letters, but don’t worry about it. Your child should know his letters by kindergarten, but there should be no pressure before that. This post on sensory activities that help kids start writing letters is a great place to start. Check out all of my letters posts here.

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Numbers

3 is a pretty good age to teach numbers. I generally like to introduce letters first and then introduce numbers a little later. I think this helps your child understand that numbers are different from letters. I recommend 3 as a great age to start teaching numbers, but just like letters, there is no pressure to learn them all fast. Your child should be able to count up to 20 and identify numbers 1-10 before kindergarten. If you do lots of fun activities involving numbers, they should easily be able to do both of those things by kindergarten. Check out how I teach numbers with tot trays. Here are 40 Awesome Number Activities for Preschoolers.

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Nursery Rhymes

It is never, never, NEVER too early to teach nursery rhymes. Seriously, you can start saying them while your child is still in the womb. Kids should be able to start memorizing nursery rhymes around 3 years old. If they don’t memorize anything until 4, don’t worry about it. When they are between 4 and 5, start to point out patterns (rhyming, rhythm, etc.). Here is a short list of some nursery rhymes to teach your kids: Humpty Dumpty, Little Boy Blue, Little Miss Muffet, Hey Diddle Didddle, Pat-a-Cake, This Little Piggy, Hickory Dickory Dock. Don’t stop there, exposing your child to lots of nursery rhymes will be very beneficial when they are learning to read.

What Age to Start Teaching Your Child Colors, Shapes, Letters and More! -- Moms Have Questions Too

Songs

Just like nursery rhymes, it is never too early to start singing songs with your child. They have the same rhythm and rhyme of nursery rhymes, with the added bonus of a little tune. It’s great to sing your favorite songs with your child, but don’t forget to sing some kid ones with them. Here are some great ones: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Hot Cross Buns, Mary Had a Little Lamb, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Baa Baa Black Sheep. If you don’t like your voice or think you can’t sing, sing anyway. Your child doesn’t mind. It’s okay to get a CD with kids songs on it, too. :)

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Sensory Activities

You can start doing sensory activities with your child as soon as he or she is born. Start by showing him pictures of people and bold colored objects. Your child will love to look, taste, and feel everything around him. At about 9 months to a year old you can introduce sensory bins. Start with things that your child can put in his mouth (blocks, large balls, long necklaces with large beads, etc.). As your child gets older and moves away from the putting-everthing-in-his-mouth phase you can start to add other objects to a sensory bin (rice, pasta, water beads, shredded paper, beaded necklaces, playdough, etc.). Remember that children learn through looking, touching, tasting (especially young children), and even smelling. Be sure to offer lots of experiences that allow your child to explore his senses. Here is a great post on why to use sensory bins and one on how to use sensory bins. Also check out my 15 creative ideas for sensory bin fillers.

St Patrick's Day Sensory Bins and Treasure Hunts for Kids -- Moms Have Questions Too

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Learn more about the Toddler Curriculum from Moms Have Questions Too

6 Responses to When to Teach What: A guide for colors, shapes, letters, and more…

  1. What fun playful ways to learn about shapes and letters!

    Thanks for linking up to TGIF! Hope to see you linked up again later today! Have a great weekend,
    Beth =-)

  2. Thank you for your insight on this! My son is 21 months old and we are on track to finish colors soon. I was planning to start shapes late this summer, mix in some other miscellaneous themes, and start numbers after Christmas. He would be 2 1/2 then. Do you think it would be better to start letters then instead of numbers? I had originally thought that we would do numbers first so that when we got to letters it would naturally progress in to learning to read. However, from reading this and other articles from moms I trust I am not so sure that’s the best plan. I’d love your feedback if you have time! :)

    • I would probably recommend starting with letters first. In all honesty, it probably doesn’t make that much of a difference, but I have noticed that children seem to understand the concept of letters sooner and are able to recognize them better than numbers. If you really want to start with numbers though, it won’t traumatize your child or anything. :) Good luck! I’m sure your little one will have those colors down in no time.

  3. My son is 3 years old and 3 months. He knows his colors, shapes and numbers but he’s not really interested in letters yet :( I’m going to give him a break and start up on it in a few weeks. For my son he was really interested in numbers way more than letters. I love the activity with the paper bag and colors. I will be doing this with my son. Sensory bins are a favorite of his also.

    • That’s great that you are taking a break for awhile. Little Bear has definitely needed to take a break from school-type things on a few occasions. We love sensory bins in our house, too! I’m sure you’re son will get interested in letters in his own time. Just follow his lead. :)