It’s over.

The holidays may be over but the cold, wet, windy, snow, icy, stuck inside, winter is only beginning.  Now is more than ever is the time to explore indoor fun before you go stir crazy.

  1.  Still, get outside!  Bundle up and get out there.  Take the dog for a walk or just go out to get the mail.  Whether your child is walking, in a stroller, or in a carrier on your back, the sensory stimulation from outside is infinite.  The fresh air will give you a little boost of energy too.
  2. Rotate toys.  Now is also a perfect time to make space for all of the new goodies you child received.  Donate or storage is up to you.  Either way, put some toys out of sight for a week or two.  Bring them out and put others away and it will be like Christmas all over again!
    0-6 months can be focused on an activity WITH caretaker for up to 3 minutes
    7 months – 2 years will play with a toy or book for about 30 seconds before reaching out to engage with you
  3. Libraries and Book Stores: Both of these have free story time and activities for all ages.  If not, go anyway, there’s bound to be another exhausted parent and energized child.  And don’t think just because you have a newborn of 3, 4, 5 months old you can’t go anywhere.  Although a wee babe may not be engaging with other kids yet, he/she will still appreciate the sensory input from varying environments.
  4. Indoor play: Here are a few of my favorite specifically indoor activities…
    1. Kitchen – while you may have dishes to do, dinner to prep, or coffee to make – set your little one up right on the kitchen floor with a wooden spoon, a few plastic mixing bowls, and even a heaping of flour if you’re not afraid of a little mess (exhibit a).  You’ll be Suzy Homemaker and he’ll make you flour soup!
    2. Book forts – drape the living room in blankets and sheets, turn off the lights, toss some books underneath with a flashlight and lay on your bellies.  A different scenery can make old things seem new and exciting.
    3. Mirror, Mirror – take turns making silly faces in the bathroom mirror.  A great way to practice sounds, body parts, and who’s who. Note: babies don’t recognize their self until around 2 years old.  Before that, it’s just another baby!

 

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What do you want?

How many times have you asked your toddler this question?

What about your 6 month old?
It may seem silly giving babies and toddlers choices, it’s not like they are able to make a logical decision at this time. However, you can still ask baby for her input without severely affecting any major outcomes. (Don’t ask your baby if she would rather have paint or carrots for dinner.)

The next time you are playing with your baby, offer two choices.  Hold the toys at his eye level, about a foot apart.  Ask “Do you want the red ball or the shaker?”  Give each toy a little jiggle as you name them so he can look at each separately.  Judge by eye gaze, facial expressions, body movements (reaching), or vocalizations.  You might have to review the choices a few times, but note his movements during each presentation.  And be sure to pause a few seconds in between each toy so his little brain waves have time to connect. “Oh, that toy is fun.  I think I want that.  I want to hold it.  I want that toy!”

If your baby is mobile and is able to easily access her toys independently, think about putting some out of reach, either in a large toy box, or up on a shelf.  This way, she will have to get your attention.  Here, she is learning to initiate communication.  You can then still provide her with two choices, even if you know exactly what she wants.

When you respect your child’s wishes you are helping her realize language is a positive, helpful tool.  “Oh! When I reach for the cup, mom gives it to me!” When you disregard their choices, they can feel frustrated, belittled, and a tantrum can arise.

On another, similar note, don’t ask your baby, toddler, 7 year old, 16 year old, a question you don’t want an answer to. i.e.:
“Are you ready to get out of the tub?” “No?” “Well you have to anyway”
“Can you clean your room for me? “No?” “Well, you have to.”

Either tell them what is going to happen, or respect their wishes! i.e.:
“Time to get out of the tub, would you like to read a book or play with a puzzle when you dry off?”
“Let’s put your clothes in your room away and then we can finger paint at the kitchen table.”

Think about it, what if I said to you:
“Would you like some pizza? Oh well, I don’t have any.  Here’s a potato.”

or

“Do you want me to do the dishes while you watch TV?” –doesn’t wash dishes–
I would throw a tantrum too.

Getting Messy

“Agh, you’re a mess”. It’s easy to forget they have go-go gadget arms. If you are getting ready to head out the door and you’ve got an 8 month old covered in applesauce, this can be a problem.  But otherwise, let the children play!

“Messy Play” is a great sensory experience.  Allowing babies and children to explore with their hands, fingers, and more helps develop fine motor and hand eye coordination.  Using different materials engage all of senses including tactile, sight, smell, and most likely taste.

Sit her in the high chair, put on a plain onesie, bib, or smock and let her go to town.  It might seem icky to you but its just fun play to her.  Try a variety of textures like shaving cream, lotion, applesauce, chocolate pudding, crushed goldfish, finger paint, etc.  You can also make homemade play dough and mix in coffee grounds, crushed candy canes, or cocoa powder for a scented experience.

Other projects by age:

6 months-1 year: Babies at this stage are at the beginning stage of food exploration.  Drop a dollop of pureed food and a spoon on their tray.  If baby is reluctant to get messy try using your finger or the spoon to draw in the puree.  Baby see, baby do!  You can also start but placing some on babies fingers and letting him eat it, so he knows that this stuff is good!

1-2 years: Cooking in the kitchen?  Doing dishes?  Sit your little one on the floor with a baking sheet/cake pan that has some flour, sugar, or breadcrumbs inside.  Throw in a spatula or whisk.  Then get out the vacuum.

2-3 years: Washable or edible finger paint in the bathtub.  Let them go wild then hose ’em down.  Edible paints: smashed blueberries/strawberries, applesauce, cocoa powder or Kool Aid and a spray bottle of water, yogurt, hummus, or pudding, the possibilities are endless!

Tis the season

With Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa quickly approaching, you may be shopping for the little ones on your list.  As I have mentioned in a former post, toys are not everything.  And they shouldn’t be.  The best toys are those that promote interaction.  When interacting during play, a child is communicating, even if he is just tapping your leg to continue the activity.  He will also practice social emotional skills such as sharing, or experience various feelings such as joy, suspense, and boredom, all of which are accompanied by body behavior, and you can bet he will pick up on that!  Children also build their imagination during play which encourages turn taking, sharing, role playing, and more.  When you are shopping for toys, it may be easy to pick a toy that gives you some “me time” which is definitely needed at times.  But overall, choose toys that do both – enable you to take part in your child’s imagination while allowing room for independence.

Below is a guide to my favorite toys, grouped by age, from 0-3 years.
You will see books for every age, and some toys overlap age ranges.  Toys that grow with a child are great because a. it saves money and b. less toys=more floor space/less cleanup!

Toys that are good for any age:
Picture Album: include family members, pets, and pictures of baby!
Stacking Blocks, Nesting Toys, Legos
Balls

0-6 Months
Books:  Baby Touch and Feel: Animals – or any of book from this line.  Each page shows one simple picture on a blank background, usually with some type of material to feel.  Run babys fingers over the pages and tell her what you see.
Black & White – A tummy time spectacular!  Each page is contrasting black and white images, perfect for infant’s developing eyesight.  It folds out, accordian style.  Open it up, stretch it all out, and stand it in front of baby during tummy time.  All your tummy time problems solved (haha).

Toys: Babes at this age are taking in their world.  They are exploring with their eyes, ears, hands, and mouths!  Look for toys that are easy for their little hands to hold and safe to mouth (but not small enough to put IN their mouth). Some favorites are Crinkle Teethers, Floor Mirror, and the famous Sophie or mini Sophie

6-12 Months
Books: Books with flaps or windows.  The classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear has a great “slide and find” option.

Toys: Containers! Anything with containers!  This age loves to put things in other things, and take the things out of the things.  Think sorting bins, shopping baskets with fake food, or a building blocks that come with a storage container like Duplos from Lego or Mega Bloks.

Also, push toys and activity cubes will encourage motor activity as baby begins to pull himself up and take steps.

1-2 Years
Books:  Books that ask questions or encourage baby to interact such as Where’s Spot and Where is Baby’s Belly Button?  As well as books that have repetitive phrases.

Toys: More containers (see above, ages 6-12months), as children will forever like doing this.  Musical instruments are a great gift, and it works on their fine motor skills.  This simple piano is perfect and this doguitar is hilarious.

2-3 Years
Books: As long as it’s not bedtime, books that involve acting out parts are great for this age.  We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and My Many Colored Days (a Dr. Seuss I bet you didn’t know about!)

Toys: Imaginary Play!  These toddlers are starting to model the daily routines they see, that means YOU!  Kitchen sets, tool kits, baby dolls, and stuffed animals are the way to go. Also, puzzles.

I hope this guide makes your shopping a little easier!