The buzz in the media is all about the bribery scandal: Parents bribing their kids’ way into college. I don’t know about you, but when I heard it, I said, “What kind of parent does that?” Certainly a rich one, but aside from that, what kind of parent feels compelled to go that far?
Everyone has a different style of parenting. Some are over- or under-protective. Some parents are strict disciplinarians from the cradle forward. Others follow the philosophy that you only have one chance to be a child.
When you’re under three years old, life moves around you on a big, confusing turntable. Most experiences are brand-new to you, and your mind is just beginning to catalog, organize and make sense of these experiences.
That is why toddlers often seem cranky, picky, or just a bit stunned! All this stuff coming at them is as confusing as heck, and they become overwhelmed and exhausted with the hard but necessary work of sorting it all out. They want to learn how to live in our world, and they are eager to find out everything they can.
You see, play is the child’s work. It’s important for sensory and motor development, language, and cognitive growth. This is why your toddler needs a wide variety of real objects and materials to explore.
First impressions are lasting
Think about the first time you saw a lion at the zoo. It looked, smelled, and sounded a whole lot different from the ones you saw in books and movies. It suddenly became real to you in a way it hadn’t been before.
This is why real–or realistic–objects and experiences are so important to toddlers. They will get their best impressions by touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, and seeing the real thing, whenever possible. This gives their brains a chance to understand what things really are. Plastic has its place, but no one should have as much plastic stuff as the average American toddler has. I could go on and on about this, but let me give you a few suggestions for bringing the real world to your child.
How to keep it real
Real tools and utensils. Give your child real tools and utensils to use. Get a good-quality child-sized rake or broom. Give them a plant to care for–one that can take a lot of water, then have them use a creamer-sized pitcher to water it. They can use a butter knife to slice a peeled banana or a cheese stick. You can downsize a mechanical carpet sweeper by removing a section from the handle to make it shorter. These are just a few ideas. Montessori websites such as www.carrotsareorange can give you loads of ideas for real activities.
Nature experiences. You don’t need to be fancy with this. Your backyard or local park has plenty of things to touch, smell and see. Winter weather? Spend some time playing in the snow. Bring the outside in, too, by giving your toddler objects from nature, such as pine cones, seashells, and bird feathers.
Photographs instead of drawings or cartoons. Find some books for toddlers that use photographs instead of goofy, cartoonish drawings. You could also print out pictures of familiar people and put them in a small, sturdy photo album. Look for some small flashcards that use photographs or realistic drawings. You don’t have to completely re-vamp your child’s bookshelf. Just find a few things to balance out the images of dogs driving fire trucks or ducks in raincoats.
Real language. Give your toddler the gift of language by talking to them in clear speech. Provide them with names for objects, movement, and feelings. Give them short sentences that are simple commands, such as “Please pour the sand into the pail.” Use pronouns correctly, especially “you” and “I”. Please stop referring to yourself in the third person, as in “Mommy is going to the store.” When you grocery shop, tell your child what you’re buying and allow them to hold or touch things like oranges, potatoes or carrots. Let them smell the onions and the herbs, and tell them the names of each one.
Real work and contribution to the family. There are lots of ways your toddler can help around the house to feel like a true member of the family. Cut a kitchen sponge in half, get it wet and wring it out, then let them clean the table or counter. Folding laundry, matching socks, dusting, tearing up lettuce for a salad, and scrubbing potatoes are all things your toddler can do. I’m sure you can think of more.
Why Plato thought this was important
Plato once talked about having the idea of a cup in one’s mind before one could fully understand what “cup” meant and how it applied to all kinds of cups. He called it the “essence of cup-ness”. Maria Montessori agreed. For your child to truly understand and incorporate the essence of the real world, they must have as many real objects and experiences as possible.
The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. — G.K. Chesterton
Ah, Spring! The weather is warming up. You are eager to be outside, and so is your toddler! Here are some fun activities your toddler can enjoy at home.
Paint with water. All you need is a big, cheap paint brush and a bucket with about 2 cups of water. Your toddler can paint the deck, the porch, the side of the house, the sidewalk–anything goes. You can add a few drops of food coloring to the water and it won’t stain the surfaces.
Nature walk. Take a walk (without the stroller) around your yard or neighborhood and stop to observe things closely. Is that a daffodil? What kind of tree is that? What color is that car? Do you hear the birds? Ooo, look at that leaf! Your toddler will love looking at all the details and small things we adults usually ignore.
Toy wash. For this activity, you could use a large plastic truck, a doll, or even a big rock from your yard. Use a dishpan or a big plastic bowl. Put a couple of inches of water in it, and a squirt of mild soap or baby shampoo. Give your child a small scrub brush, a sponge cut in half, a shower scrubby or even a baby washcloth. Also, provide a small plastic cup or pitcher to scoop up water and rinse the object.
Window washing. This is a great one for sliding doors or french doors. A small, trigger-type spray bottle, a small squeegee, a washcloth or sponge, and you’re ready to go! I suggest you mix a small amount of white vinegar into the water when you fill the bottle. This will keep your windows from getting hard-water spots and will keep your toddler from drinking the water.
If you have a sandbox: Bury treasure in it. Shells, small plastic toys, river pebbles or any small, weatherproof object will do. Bury the objects a few inches under the sand and let your toddler discover them.
Gardening. Keep your sessions brief and your expectations small. Buy a six-pack of plants and let your toddler dig a hole, then plant each plant. Bear in mind that your toddler may want to pull them up and re-plant them every few minutes. To water the plant, give your toddler a small pitcher and a water source (bucket, drink dispenser, or cooler). Fill the water-source container until it is too heavy for your Toddler to lift. Bear in mind that Toddlers like to “dump” water on things, so don’t be over-protective of the plants. Let your toddler go back and forth to the water source as often as they want to.
Sweeping. You can find child-sized brooms at every store during the Spring. For safety, remind your child that the broom bristles have to touch the ground. A push-type broom works best because toddlers are not yet ready for the side-to-side motion of sweeping.
As always, don’t forget sunscreen and insect repellant.
If you don’t want your Toddler to get dirty…GET OVER YOURSELF! Getting dirty is the best part of playing outdoors!
In addition to my duties as a Default Mom to my own family, I spent 35+ years as a Montessori directress (teacher). While I worked with children from 18 months to 12 years old, two-thirds of my career was spent with the youngest members of the school community. I directed (taught) a class of twelve Toddlers (18 months to 3 years old). It was my calling and my joy.
When asked to direct a Toddler environment (class), my first thought was, “Uh-oh! Diapers!” My second thought was, “At last! A chance to get in on the ground floor of child development.” The first three years of life are where the foundations are laid for the future, and I loved the idea of supporting these little ones during their most formative time when everything is new.
An important part of my job was to help, guide, and counsel parents.I learned that moms of toddlers often feel isolated. In the day-to-day-ness of parenting a young child, you have no time to interact with other moms of toddlers. Small issues become big, but you don’t have anyone to tell you if what is happening is normal.
Help has arrived. I have created a series of posts, which will show up on a regular basis, to help you in your life with your Terrific Toddler.
Today’s Topic: Routines and Rituals
Imagine you suddenly find yourself in the middle of the hottest new dance club on a busy night. The lights, the sounds, the strangers pushing around you, everyone moving to a rhythm they understand–but you don’t.
This is what daily life is like for a toddler. Toddlers are on sensory overload all the time. Life comes at them at full volume and they have no way to control any of it. Sometimes it gets to be too much.
The best thing to give your toddler is a daily routine, so your child knows what’s happening next. I’m not talking about a rigidly-structured schedule. I’m talking about a predictable sequence of events. Here’s an example of a predictable routine, from a toddler’s point of view:
Every morning when I wake up, I go to Mommy and Daddy’s room to snuggle with them. Then we change my diaper. Then we get dressed. Then we brush my teeth. Then I eat breakfast. Then I go play with my friends at the gym while Mommy works out., etc.
What I’m emphasizing here is the “this-happens-then-this-happens” nature of the routines. Toddlers need to know what is going to happen next. Change is not something exciting to them. Each day needs to follow a general pattern, a rhythm.
But What About Change?
Life is unpredictable, but most of us follow a general routine in our days. If your child is going to have a change in routine, take the time to prepare your child for it. For example, “After you play today, we’re going to Nana’s house to eat lunch. Nana told me she got strawberries just for you.” If you are calm and confident about new events and changes, your child will be, too. As long as you stick to a regular rhythm, your child will learn to be confident when change happens.
What are Rituals?
Remember my daily routine example? It included a ritual in it–the morning snuggle. Toddlers really love a ritual.
Typical rituals toddlers enjoy are those around the big routines, like nap time, bedtime and bath time. At nap time, your child might need to follow a ritual:
Mommy closes the blinds and puts on my nap music, I get my lovey and get in bed, then I kiss Mommy. Then Mommy says, “sweet dreams!” and closes the door almost all the way. The ritual and details need to be the same every time.
The Bonus for Parents
The upside of rituals and routines for parents is that they make your toddler feel confident, and a confident toddler is usually a happy toddler. Knowing what’s going to happen next reduces anxiety and makes the entire day much smoother for all concerned.