Since the debut of our “states” fun back in April, a lot of people have asked about our progress.

So, I finally remembered to videotape it.

This project was simple:  Two or three mornings a week, I would pull out our states placemat.  I would place a small treat on a state, and if Ali correctly named the state, she got to keep the treat.  If she didn’t, it went on another state, after I reminded her the name of the prior state.  Her attention span is typical for a 2 1/2 year old, so we spent about 5 minutes on this project a day.

Disclaimer #1: Yes, the angle and lighting start out bad. I promise I fix it after a couple of states.

Disclaimer #2: Yes, I know that this video is long. But there are a lot of states. Gimme a break.

2 1/2 Years old
2 1/2 Months of learning (or, the “fun new game”, as Ali thinks it is)
3.5 pounds of Pistachios
1/2 million marshmallows
150 Yogurt covered raisins (for variety)

p.s. – I just figured out the trick of stealing and re-rewarding today – but she didn’t seem to notice too much. Cuts down on the sugar intake nicely.

Click here for our further adventures in learning countries..


We also learned Presidents


You might also be interested in this follow-up project:


110 thoughts on “Geography, Pre-K Style.

  1. W.O.W! That is amazing!!!

    She cracked me up the looks she kept giving her cup and you everytime you stole her candy, and then the time she says, "I still got plenty." Too funny! She was on to you.

  2. I am not sure what to think of a mommy that steals back the rewards for getting the answer right. She is awesome.

  3. Wow, what a smart girl!! She is just plain adorable. I love the split-second offended look she gives you when you steal her treats!!

  4. I taught my grandson the states by using sports teams……Cowboys play here
    And he would find and point to Texas…….Cubs play here…..Illinois
    Packers play here…..wisconsin and so one……could find and name all states
    At 4

  5. That was amazing. I have been homeschooling my 4yr old for preschool and my 2 1/2 yr old loves to copy him but is still limited in the stuff she can do with him this would be great for both of them to do together! Thanks for the idea!

  6. OMG!!!!! This is THE BEST and CUTIEST thing I have EVER seen!!!! SOOOOOOO proud of her, good job!!!! I will be using this on my little one! Thanks !!!!!

  7. I’m impressed by what your daughter learned and also by your patience, persistence, and encouraging manner. Since you did this three years ago, I’m interested to know how much she retained.

      1. I LOVE THIS!!! I am wondering how is it that you got started. I have a 3 yr and watch two 2 yr olds and a 5 yr old. How did you start with moving the piece of candy to another state when not given the right answer. I am wondering because I can see how this is such a useful tool but dont want to frustate them in the process in the beginning. Thanks for any help.

        1. In the beginning, I would get her to repeat the state name after me, and then she got the treat. That’s what I’m doing with my son now. He’s all too excited to tell me the ones he knows, for which he gets the same reward as repeating after me the ones he doesn’t.

  8. Her attention span for 2.5 is amazing. My DD was like that, but my son who just turned three does not have this kind of attention span. He would have been done after three states:) Great job!

    1. It’s the same with my son! By the time Ali was his age, she knew all of her letters. He just barely talks. Oh well! He’ll learn eventually!

  9. Wow! She is amazing! I have 2 1/2 year old twin boys but they aren’t speaking as well as she does yet. But my 4 year old definately could do this. How did you start teaching her the states? Did you do a few a day or learn several close togther? How long did it take for her to get to this point?

    1. We did a few a day, and we would just review most of them, whether she knew them or not. It didn’t take her too long to pick them all up! But my son is also not as advanced verbally, so he’ll be slower on that.

  10. That is INCREDIBLE! She’s a beautiful little girl! I have a 1 year old son that I can not wait to try this with! What age did you start with her? How long did it take to get where you are in this video with her? You’ve done a wonderful job teaching her!

    1. Thanks so much! She is 2 1/2 in that video, and it took 2.5 months of learning before we shot that video.

      If your son is an early talker, start with letters – that’s what we did first. She was able to identify all of her letters by 18 months. HOWEVER, my son is now 21 months and he doesn’t know a single one, so it’s different with every child!!

  11. I was wondering how you started this leaning process of the states. Did you have her point to a state each morning and you told her what it was? Not sure the best way to begin. Thank you.

  12. Just fabulous that you taught your daughter the states, just loved listening, smiling, laughing at her cute little voice….wonderful idea I only wish I had tried this with my children (now adults), I will defintely will work on this with my grandchildren! Thank you so very much.

  13. I am in love with your little Ali! She’s so smart.

    I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but I volunteer with a family with a 6 year old boy (also Noah) with severe autism (non-verbal, and we’re still working on potty training and teaching him to maintain more than 3 signs without forgetting them when he learns a new one!), and his brother, 4 year old, (Dylan). Dylan has developed behavior issues as a result of his brother’s constant need for attention to keep him safe and all the ABA therapists that come to the house. I try to focus his behavior to productive areas vs. him acting up negatively.

    I am going to start teaching Dylan states & presidents, since he knows even the strangest animals, and pretty much every dinosaur from the Cretaceous and Jurassic time period. I love your tactic of putting the treats on them. Dylan’s obsessed with M&Ms, so maybe I’ll get some minis and use those! :) Thanks for your blogs! I look forward to future posts!

  14. I did this with my daughter! We had a world map, US map, Presidents and the solar system. I was surprised at how well she did on the world map. She was three and four at the time. She didn’t actually retain the info forever, but when time came to re-learn them in school she had a very easy time remembering. We bought ours at Walmart but that was 20 years ago. She is now in college studying to be a teacher!

  15. This is great!! We did a similar thing with our son (we started when he was 2) We would pretend to go on trips around the US – we would ask him where we would go to buy cheese (Wisconsin), potatoes (Idaho), etc. or where we would go to see something (Statue of Liberty – New York) etc – he loved it and he learned alot!!

  16. This is simply amazing!!! my daugter turned three in mid august so i will deffinitely be doing this with her thank you for sharing!

  17. Wow! You reminded me how fun it was & eager they are to learn when they’re small. My boys are now 12 & 9 and rarely like to play any sort of educational game unless I force them, which I do. :)There’s a great game called the allowance game that they really enjoy. We used to do similar games. Yours was great. And what a great teacher she has!

  18. That’s funny, I was going to ask if she was drinking iced coffee.. but when she said what comes from Washington… it confirmed that she was. :)

  19. Was this the first thing you sat down to “teach” her or did you start with something else? I have a 19 month old that is really starting to pick things up. She can count to 5 and say part of her ABC’s, so was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to get her to keep going?

    1. That’s great! You’re doing a great job. We started with the alphabet, counting, and colors. When she was at the stage where she would repeat everything I said, we started the states. I now have a 22 month old little boy, and he has no educational interest at all! He just calls all letters “A!!” — so it totally depends on the kid’s personality, too.

    1. We just talked about the different states, and we would talk about something that the state is known for to help her remember – whether that was someone she knew being from that state, or Starbucks coming from that state, or whatever would help.

  20. Great idea!! How do you enforce that she not get the treat unless she said the state without getting her upset? :) Way to go, Mommy!

  21. Holy Christmas!!.. she’s so smart!.. how did you begin to teach her this?..i do home daycare and would love to attempt this as well..

  22. This activity is a waste of time. You are treating your daughter like a puppy learning parlour tricks. It is not very impressive that a clever 2.5 year-old is capable of memorizing such facts when a strict behaviour modification tactic is applied. A monkey would likely give you the same results. Why not try playing with your child, singing songs, exploring the environment around you both? Expose her to some open-ended materials and watch her true genius emerge through imagination and creativity. This would be a much better activity than being sedentary at the table and being taught that she must always unquestioningly respond as the authority figures in her life believe she should….cause then she gets a treat :)

  23. Ok, this is ridiculous. I found this while I was pregnant with my first child (in late 2010) and didn’t look at the rest of your blog at all but have used this video as the bar for how smart a toddler is (“Ok, so she said “axiomatically bombastic”, but can she name all the states?”). I’m not sure why it’s so astounding to me, but it kind of blows my mind that I didn’t realize who you are until just now.

    Homeschooling makes this world Smaller. Every. Day.

  24. Great idea!! Change would be a good reinforcer to use as well if you didn’t want to reward with food, kids love money ;)

  25. Can you please share with me where you bought the states place mat? I found one on Amazon but it doesn’t look like the one in the video b/c it doesn’t have any pictures of things on it. Thanks you!

  26. Hi,
    I just received the states place mat in the mail today. I’m super excited to begin teaching my 2.5 yr old his states. My question is though, how exactly did you first start out? Did you just point to the state and say this is __________ and then this is _____, and do this 5 minutes a day? I’m not sure how to go about it.


    1. Pretty much!

      I just started teaching my two year old son last week, and he loves it. I point to the state or place the treat on the state and say, “This is Alabama. Can you say Alabama?”

      Then when he says “Abama”, I give him the treat (or tell him he can take it.)

      Now, he knows Alabama, Mississippi, California, Hawaii, and Iowa. So when we get to those states, I point or place and say “What state is this?”


      Then I give the treat.

      So if I know he knows a particular state, I get him to say it without my prompting. But if I don’t think he does yet, I say it first and get him to repeat. If I think he might know it, I ask him first, and if he can’t tell me, then I prompt him and get him to repeat after me.

      Does that make sense?

  27. LOVE this. I am buying my daughter a map tommarow. I so wish I would have done this a year ago. Will do this with my 2 and 4 year old. Love it!

  28. Just curious, was she able to retain all the information from these map drills and do you think it benefited her in later years?

    1. She retained a lot of it, but in general I think it was good for her brain development – she is very good at memorization of anything now.

      Also, she is currently teaching her little brother the states. I love it!

  29. Thank you for sharing! My son had picked up 7 states by 21 months, just by chatting about where we had lived/traveled and where friends and family lived, but in two months he’s learned over 20 more and thinks it’s a fun game! Great idea. My parents had us memorize state capitals as kids, while we waited for dinner each night…placemat learning works!

  30. I love your post. I bought my 3 year old a map 5 days ago and have been going through the western half of the states to start. She does really well with the exception of California and Colorado. She did want to learn Maine and Florida for some reason, so we have those as well. Do you have any suggestions on how to teach them the North East corner? Both my husband and I struggled as children when we were trying to learn them. Thanks for sharing the video.

    1. That’s awesome!

      No, I don’t have any tricks for the Northeast, but my daughter knew them better than I did after a few rounds of the game!

  31. What a great way to do it! Although I’ll have to wait for my two year old he barely talks and attention span is only 30 secs. (Although it been rapidly changing since we took gluten from his diet so who knows) But definitely going to try with my preschool. Learning states seems to be torture for him even though he’s interested.

  32. It would be fun to do in reverse: Call out the name of the state and let her put a piece on each one till the map is covered. I love her voice!

  33. I love this! She’s adorable and I love her “Starbucks comes from Washington’. What a smart girl! That memorization of states will serve her very well in years to come!

    1. “In years to come” has been disproven many times. As in several studies completed, when children memorize facts when they are this young it does not transfer over to when they are older. Children were given flashcards in the study as 2 year olds. They had them all memorized. When the children were retested “in years to come”, they couldn’t remember any of them.

  34. Loved it! She is so cute! I’m relocating with my husband and two kids, from Portugal to the U.S. and I would love to have that placemat! Going to check it for them!

  35. I just saw this video and thought, “She’s so precious!” Then, I saw this video was made about 8 years ago and got a little sad thinking how old she is now. LOL. Kids grow up too fast. I have a six year old son I’m homeschooling (1st grade) and a two year old daughter, whose hair is as wild as your little girl’s hair was in this video. :)

    1. She’s in fifth grade now, has long straight hair, and is still sweet and precious and enjoys learning. :-) So even though they grow up, it’s still enjoyable! I have a first grade son as well.

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