Unlearning – A Process You Can Help Children Avoid

Parents often tell me that they will be using the relaxing summer months to introduce or practice skills with their young children.  When I am asked for tips, I tell parents to remember one basic fact – It takes twice as long to unlearn something as it does to learn it properly the first time.  Consider how that one bit of information impacts how children are taught the following skills:

Toilet Training:  Walk into a bathroom in a home where a toddler lives and you are bound to find a small potty seat.  The potty seat is marketed as a necessary tool in your potty training process.  Consider, however, the brief amount of time that children actually use a small potty seat.  Using that seat is not the goal.  The goal is for your child to use an average size toilet.  The potty seat merely adds a step to the whole process.  If your child is trained to use the small, temporary seat, that skill has to be unlearned and transferred to the average size toilet.  Children learning to potty train need to feel safe and secure.  There are ways to ensure their safety and security without the added step of using the small potty seat.  If you feel that your child is afraid because of the size or height of your toilet, it is far more productive to purchase two items – a seat that fits on your toilet to provide a smaller, hygienic seating area and/or a step stool.  If children can sit on the toilet, not feel as if they will fall in and have their feet flat on the step stool so they don’t feel suspended in mid-air, they can learn to use the average size toilet and skip the small potty seat entirely.

Letter Sounds:  When talking with your children about how a letter sounds, be sure to pronounce the sound correctly.  Be careful not to add vowel sounds to the end of consonants.  The letter M, for example, sounds like “mmmmm,” not “muh.”  Vowels can have multiple sounds so start with the most common (a as in apple, e as in egg, i as in if, o as in frog and u as in umbrella).  Most importantly, do not expect preschoolers to master letter sound skills.  You can expose them to the knowledge that every letter has a name and a sound but they may not be ready to integrate that knowledge.  Every child is ready to master letter sounds at his/her own rate.   According to the State of New Jersey Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards, students exiting pre-k are not expected to have mastered alphabet recognition and related sounds.  Students exiting preschool should be able to “Identify some alphabet letters, especially those in his/her own name.”  So let’s think about name recognition…

Name Recognition & Writing:   We often tell parents to start introducing children to writing words by writing their names.  This is a valid beginning because their names are important to them.  Egocentric preschoolers are most interested in what is important to them so name recognition and writing tends to most easily draw them into the world of the written word.  Young children are often taught to write their names in all upper case letters.  While that is an interesting exercise in upper case letter recognition, it is not the proper way to write a name.  We know that school age children will be expected to write their names with the first letter in upper case and the rest in lower case.  Learning it correctly the first time saves so much time.  Children who have been taught only upper case at home or at preschool will resist their teacher’s attempts to teach the proper capitalization.   Preschools and parents need to be sure that young children’s names are written the way the children will be expected to write them.
Whenever working on new skills, be sure to check reliable sources to determine what expectations are developmentally appropriate for your child’s age group.  Children develop at different rates.  One child might be ready to read at age 5 while another will not be ready for another year.  It does take twice as long to unlearn a skill and no one can promise that your child will learn a skill before he/she is developmentally ready.

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.



  1. oh! You've brought up something that I think about. I never thought that a simple and little things has a great impact to a child's development. I am so thankful to read your post, I guess it's not yet late to correct what was wrong.

  2. I love these points and they are so important


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