First, the winners of the YooHoo and friends! The winners are: Jackamo, ShelbyRose, and kathy pease. Congratulations!! I will be in touch to get your addresses for your YooHoo friend!

I am participating in Marie’s Life is Therapy” series this week – it’s a great series full of ideas and tips on how to help children learn through daily life – be sure to check it out!

I have always been a big proponent of keeping any schooling that I do with Ali all about “play” and as unguided as possible since she is so young (she just turned 3).

For instance, I don’t push school – I let Ali guide it. That way, she thinks it’s a game. When I’m busy doing the dishes, she’ll “Play States” or “Play Presidents” by herself. She’s always asking if we can “play school”, which is exactly where I want to keep her excitement level.

However, my casual approach wasn’t working too well in my efforts to teach her how to write letters. She would ask me to write things, and I would. If she wanted to write, I’d cheer her on, but she usually wouldn’t write any letters but the ones in her name.

I knew she COULD do it, but it just didn’t seem like the activity was holding her attention.

After her birthday party, I decided to experiment with a little bit more of a formal, guided task: writing thank you notes.

I didn’t think she’d do too great since she hadn’t really written anything, but I was completely shocked! Having a purpose and knowing WHY she was writing seemed to make all the difference to her.

She happily made letters that I had never seen her write before to make AJ’s Thank you note:


“AJ”, “Game”, “Ali” (and her creative addition, a smiley face.)

(Yes, A’s are still upside-down. And I kinda like them that way.)

On the second one, I started to get a little frustrated with her because she kept writing the letters out of order and all over the page.

Then I realized: duh – she’s never written on lines before because I’ve always just let her “free-style” her writing.

I explained to her how you write on top of the line and showed her how it should look.

Sure enough, we started over and she did great:


“Nathaniel”, “Game”, and a very messy and a bit out-of-order “Ali”

(My patience was not, however, high enough to get her to write ALL of those names, thanks to Greg and Julie and their long-winded kid names. Nathaniel would suffice.)

We’ve made several more, and I was really surprised at how eager she was to do them (and even asking me if we could make some later), considering her former pushback about writing.

IMG_7072“Amanda”, “Shapes”, “Ali”


“Brooks and Claire”, “Fairy Outfit”, “Ali”

Although I still think that casual learning is best for her age, I learned that sometimes having a purpose in learning can excite and motivate a toddler more than just keeping it as a game.

15 thoughts on “Guided Learning Vs. Play Learning

  1. Wow! She is doing really well on her letters! My 4 year old is just starting to show any interest in writing. She is way ahead of the game :) Keep it up. Sounds like you are a great teacher!!

  2. Awesome! Ali is doing really well with her letters. I think this is a fabulous way to practice letters and obviously Ali does too! It is a bit more structured than say playing dolls but I love how you made it fun and purposeful. Rather than having Ali mindlessly copy boring worksheets you incorporated the real life task of thank you notes.No wonder she enjoyed it so much! I love how much Ali is learning in a playful way. What a great teacher she has. :)

  3. I love the upside down A's too. Looks like she's really getting the hang of it. And kudos on getting her into the habit of expressing appreciation in the form of a written thank-you note! That's a skill that is at least as important as the letters!

  4. First of all, I WON!!!!! WHOO HOO!!!!!!!!!!!! I love those little animals, and Ethan is going to be so excited! Yippy!

    Second, holy cow! Ali is doing incredible with her writing. I'm super proud of her (and you)!

  5. I'm incredibly impressed with Ali. Jackson is good at identifying letters, but he's only mastered a "J" so far. Ali is doing amazing!

  6. I am so with you on play and learning and I am so glad that you are seeing wonderful results and she is doing great

  7. Ali's doing great with her writing!
    I'm still working on my thank you notes from when Aubrey was born…think Ali might want to come over and help me finally finish them? ;)

  8. i won a YooHoo and friends! Thank you so very much :)

    Keep up the GREAT work Ali learning can be so much fun :)

  9. I use this handwriting program with my son:

    When I'm doing school with him my 2 year old wants to write and color too so I started giving her extra pages I've made. I love that I can create their work pages to say whatever I want them to. We do a lot of memory verses this way. I figure if the 2yo wants to scribble away atleast she's being exposed to the letters.

  10. Wow, that is impressive! I don't think K can make any letters. We've tried to work on the letter K but she (and I) gets easily frustrated.

    I love those thank you notes! What a great idea so that they only have to fill them in!

  11. My 3.5 year old is so behind. I'm hoping it all just hits him soon. I need to come up with some more creative ways to get him interested in learning. Great Tackle Tuesday post!

  12. Those thank-you note forms are adorable. What a great idea for a 3-year-old's thank-yous. I am impressed with her letters!

  13. I am impressed. Maybe she could teach Benjamin to use proper upper and lower case for his name. Yes, I am still paying for the first long name choice….
    Very sweet cards!

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