Turn your living room into a learning space for $20 or less

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Encyclopedia pages showing world flags As my son Jasper grows (21 months! What!?), we’re constantly challenging ourselves to come up with inventive ways to facilitate awesome super-human brain growth. My partner Sean was cruising the Internet for ideas and stumbled upon a link to a local teacher-supply store. While we were wary (and I was sure we were going to run into those inspiration posters), we figured it was worth a shot.

After arriving at the store and walking our initial lap or two, we stumbled into the poster section. Lo and behold, these were not the cheesy posters we I was scared of, but were actually informative and capable of grabbing a toddler’s interest and holding on to it.

Sean had the idea to get a few posters (we have eight now, they were around $2 each) and hang them in our living room so Jasper could see and slowly grow interested in them. I suggested we hang them at his eye level, so he can interact with the information, we left with:

  • two body posters (one showing the muscles, one showing the bones)
  • two food-related posters (vegetables and fruits)
  • a shapes poster
  • two about the sky (one showing the phases of the Moon, the other describing and naming types of clouds)
  • an animal-themed alphabet poster.

This idea isn’t for the design-heavy — we’re living in a somewhat cramped apartment that we view as pretty temporary (lack of ownership = we’re not tied to a city we hope to eventually move from), and there’s not a real design scheme here. We have a blue wall, a yellow wall, and three poster-and-art bedecked white walls in our living room — plenty of space for a few posters that might teach our kid something.

In case you’re thinking the posters are too advanced a toddler, I’d suggest you think again! Jasper can now identify a square, rectangle, rhombus, circle, and oval. (The “gons” like penta-, hexa-, and octa- still give him trouble.) He can identify various fruits and vegetables, some of which we eat frequently, and others (like starfish fruit) we rarely see. He also knows the difference between inside and the peels on the outside (some fruits are cut in half so you see both parts). When it comes to letters, he can correctly identify (and sometimes even say) E, S, H, A, and O — both on the poster and outside our house.

No need to ooh! and ahh! over Jasper’s brains — I’m pretty sure most kids would pick up on the info if it was in front of him or her all day. Jasper’s very into his posters, and spends time throughout the day checking them out, pointing and indicating he wants to know more. He’s started pointing at his body parts when he looks at the muscles and bones posters, and tonight went so far as to point as his elbow and then the elbow of the skeleton. Does he understand that he has bones in his body? Probably not, but he’s getting there.

My point: this was super-crazy-insanely easy. It took about 30 minutes to pick out the posters, two minutes to hang them up, and it’s something that’s actually teaching Jasper a thing or two. The posters are a lifesaver during the day, now that it’s really cold outside and our activities are more limited. Most importantly, the posters are a small part of a larger goal that is slowly being realized — Jasper being increasingly interested in attaining knowledge.

We’re both aware that we’re only at the beginning stages of this whole teach-the-kid-everything part of life, and I’d love to hear from you — what unique and fun methods are you employing to help your kid(s) learn (without spending oodles of money)? How do you make learning fun?

If you don’t have a teacher supply store near you (or if you just like shopping online), I find a whole slew of options online: Our Solar System (Planetary Information) Art Poster, Flags of the World Placemat, Periodic Table of the Elements Poster Print, Multiplication-Times Tables, Educational Poster Print, and my personal (and somewhat pricey, when compared to the others) favorite, Commonly Misused Words Laminated Educational Poster. Don’t like these? Run a search for “educational posters” on Amazon and see what you come up with!

Comments on Turn your living room into a learning space for $20 or less

  1. I cannot wait to do this. My son is also 21 months and I REALLY think he’d like it too. THanks!

  2. I LOVE this!!! I grew up with my english-teacher father who drilled grammar and language into us by any means possible, including educational posters (which I now also adore). Plus maps.. we’ve now hung several maps throughout our home and this is inspiring me to hang a laminated one at the wee lads eye level!
    Do you have a link for a clouds poster? I’ve been searching for one for years now (Canadians can’t order from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca doesn’t have anything like it)..

    Cheers & thanks for another awesome feature!

    • We actually hung up a world map (complete with flags!) in our hallway right after Christmas! I love maps.

      We got the cloud poster at a school supply store in our city. It’s the kind of store teachers go to for their supplies and decorations…do you have anything like that near you? Their site isn’t the best, it’s really slow and that poster isn’t actually on it. I found this set of four, but it seems pretty pricey.

    • I’m surprised to hear you say you can’t order from Amazon.com. I’m in Calgary, Alberta and I just ordered several things from Amazon for Christmas. I order from .com because with the Canadian dollar doing so well it’s actually less expensive than ordering from .ca even with the shipping charges (Canadians aren’t eligible for free shipping).

  3. Wonderful parents and great article!

    And really just talk to and read to your little ones a lot. My boys are 8 and 10 now and have always had a big imagination, large vocabulary, are advanced in natural sciences, and make connections between different subjects. We still read together and talk about everything.

  4. My husband has started to teach our three year old the sound of the letters… which has now turned into a game of rhyming words… ball, doll, etc… She loves it and gets a kick out of trying to match the inital word he starts with.

    • Rhymes are the best. Around school-age my dad introduced me to a game called “Inky Pinky”. A person thinks of a rhyme and then announces “Inky Pinky!” then states a clue and the other person/people have to guess the rhyme pair.

      So, an example might be “Inky Pinky: dirty bird in a pond” would be a “mucky ducky”. Others can give a clue to a new rhyme pair or expand on the previous one. An “Inky Pinky for 3: gross dirty bird in a pond” would be a “yucky mucky ducky”. Then the next person might say “Inky Pinky for 4: fortunate gross dirty bird in a pond” is a “lucky yucky mucky ducky”. There are no points; no one wins even if they get an inky pinky for 6 or 7 or stump someone.

      The name of the game comes from the answer to the clue “pen explodes on your little finger”.

  5. I had a world map as a kid, and I swear that’s where I learned most of my geography. I remember map puzzles also being really fun.

  6. There’s no doubt toddlers can pick up on a lot – we’ve been teaching our daughter to name more obscure body parts (mostly for our amusement). Her nursery workers were amazed that she pointed to the lines between her nose and lips and taught THEM it was called the philtrum! 😀

    • This is so going to be my child too. As a child of an MD and a RN she will for sure know all the obscure body parts. Umbilicus, ASIS, uvula, oh my!

  7. We’ve been doing similar things with our son, not really with posters, but pointing things out in books. A few months before he even turned two, he learned the entire alphabet all the Capital letters, then it only took him a few weeks to figure out all the lower case letters, he could count to ten before he turned two, he could spell his name without having to see the letters and he can even read his name. He just turned two in Nov. Now he has a Bugsby reader pen he got for Xmas and he’s picking up more vocabulary from playing with that. He reads signs when we’re at the store…mostly numbers and individual letters. He loves to learn and books are his favorite “toys”. I agree, if you spend time with your toddler, they can learn a lot of things.

  8. LOVE this! Are you going to homeschool? My daughter grew up with her brothers in homeschool, so I fell in love with educational gifts and decor with her and it’s become an obsession now.

  9. When I was a kid my dad bought a bunch of plastic placemats with the same sort of stuff on them (maps, multiplication tables, periodic tables, etc.) and would change them out every so often. It gave us something to talk about over dinner.

  10. It sounds silly, and will get lots of questions, but labeling common objects in the house go a long way with word, letter and sound recognition. You don’t have to go too in depth, just label chairs, doors, sinks, tables and other words your child frequently uses or hears.
    Also, hanging your kids artwork makes a huge impact for their sense of pride, and provides a constant conversation piece.

    • I totally agree! We have different parts of our living room and kitchen labeled right now, and are probably going to expand it in the future. So far, Jasper ignores the labels altogether. 🙂

    • My mum did the same thing for my two older brothers and I! She just stuck them on things with clear contact paper (stuff like cups, fridge etc). Funny thing is she didn’t get around to doing it for my younger brother and sister and guess which ones of us excelled in english literacy!

  11. I know someone who grew up with a world map on the wall from the toilet in the bathroom. To this day he can tell you the location of any place on the planet thanks to those long bathroom visits. I now have the same thing in our bathroom and it’s great for filling the time when needed 🙂

  12. I remember laying on the futon nursing my daughter–maybe she was 2? 3?–when she unlatched, pointed up to the alphabet card of an ink bottle (“I is for ink bottle”), and this conversation followed:

    “What is dat?” she inquired.
    “An ink bottle,” said mama. “Long ago, before people used pens like we have, people would dip a different kind of pen into the ink in a bottle like that and then write on paper. But those are archaic.”
    “Wha’s archaic?”
    “When something falls out of use, usually because it’s replaced with something else.”
    “Oh.” (Latches back on.)

    We spent hours just looking at those simple alphabet cards on the walls. And to this day, my 10-yo dd remembers the conversation about how ink bottles are archaic.(And she has a fabulous vocabulary!)

  13. the great thing about the poster is that you can change them out as much, or as little, as you want! move them or switch them. And if you go to the library, sometimes the librarians have free posters that they give to preschools or elementary schools. You could always ask if they have any leftover.
    i really love the ones that have a poster on either side. 2 for the price of 1!
    Also, I find the small ones great for place-mats. Laminate them and switch them for something to look at at the dinner table.

  14. I live in Canada, and the dollar stores here sometimes stock great educational posters. I’ve seen them at Staples/Business Depots for a few bucks apiece, too.

  15. Haha! I had to look at the poster to figure out what a rhombus is… : )

    My mother (the english teacher) totally had awesome placentas for me as I grew up! She still has the United States map so I could pass the test in 4th grade! My whole family would quiz each other while we ate! Very fun!

  16. When I was little, my dad bought a bunch of packs of those glow in the dark stars and then made all the northern hemisphere constellations on my ceiling for me. Then on cloudy nights when we couldn’t see the stars we could still practice the constellations and learn about space from my bedroom 😀

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