Two is my favourite age, I empathise with toddlers and love their spirit of adventure, curiosity and their unbelievable stamina! Did you know that a toddler's energy can outlast an athlete in the peak of fitness?
The great thing about toddlers is that they are interested in everything and anything. Each new experience is another learning and development opportunity which curious little brains recognise and seize upon. In the first three years, our brains are like sponges, learning, discovering, trying, failing and trying again. When I think how frustrated I become now, when I can’t do something new (generally IT based!) I wonder how I ever made it through toddler hood!
The temptation is to provide endless toys for toddlers to play with, however in my experience, it is the simple things that you can find all over the house that provide the maximum engagement and enjoyment.
Years ago I came in from the garden to find my daughter (aged 1) in a sea of flour with the empty bag on her head. The path she had made told the story from her eyes.
It was going to be a pain to clear up anyway, so we made the most of it by drawing in the flour, seeing how much of it would go back in the bag with our hands and then with a spoon. This occupied her for ages until she became fascinated with turning our brown dog white, and so, for the sanity of the dog, I suggested water play in the bath! Investigating the bag laid the foundation for more experiments later in life, with mud, rain water, cake making, measuring, pouring, filling and predicting. She did A level physics and I like to think that ‘the flour episode’ was her first science lesson!
It is hard to avoid continually saying ‘No, don’t, stop, leave it, get off!” to a toddler, however if we do, (apart from teaching them to say “no!” back to us!) we miss out on many opportunities which, with a little creativity, can enhance learning and development and use up some of that endless energy and curiosity!
* Empty a low level, easy to access cupboard and label it with your child’s name. Explain that this is their cupboard. Fill it with old pans, wooden spoons, a hand whisk, a spatula, some crockery such as a plate, bowl, tea pot and jug. Change some of the items from time to time so that opening the door to the cupboard is exciting! A duster for example or a sponge and a spray bottle of water, so they can ‘help’ with cleaning and dusting.
As an early years professional I’m delighted that current thinking is swinging towards my own belief that experiencing what happens when things are dropped or swung about, is a valuable learning opportunity. Under supervision, the risk of any serious injury is far outweighed by the benefits of playing with ‘real’ house hold items and learning that some are fragile.
* Toddlers love trying to lift and carry things that are far too heavy or cumbersome for them! Laundry is a great way for them to work out what they can manage and if they fall over, they land on something soft. Let them help fill the laundry basket and put washing in and out of the washing machine. Provide older children with a box or chair to stand on so they can help peg the laundry on the washing line. Peg manipulation is a great way to build on fine motor skills. “In’ and ‘out’ are spacial awareness concepts like ‘up’ and ‘down’ and ‘in between’ or ‘all around’.
* Young children are fascinated by taps and running water. Place a foot step, stool or low chair near the bathroom sink and teach them how to turn the taps on and off and wash their own hands. I hate the phrase “school ready’ as I think schools should be ‘child ready’, however if your child can wash their own hands, take themselves to the toilet and put on their coat, nursery staff will be delighted!
* Doing up buttons is another task that absorbs. Go through the wardrobe and find some old clothes with zippers, poppers and buttons. Make a pile of undone clothing and ask for your toddler's help to do them all up. Undoing them again is equally absorbing. If you can sew, you could create a garment with many different hooks, poppers, zips and buttons - a good design might even sell!
* Toddlers love to crawl inside a space that is their own. A few sheets, old towels and some pegs is all you need to create an amazing den. Set up a little light, perhaps a torch, so they can switch it on and off and put some comfy cushions inside. For younger babies, add a variety of sensory items such as scarves, tinfoil, feathers, wooden spoons, keys and a mirror. (Cover a mirror with cling film in case it breaks)
* Look to your toddler for more ideas! If they are doing something you’d prefer them not to be doing, how could you redirect the activity so that they can practice the same skill in a more acceptable way. Eg: Change taking things out of the cupboards by giving them their own 'special' cupboard'. I hate ‘labels’ in any form, so instead of ‘good’ or ‘naughty’ I use ‘appropriate or ‘in appropriate’ when referring to things toddlers do. “Inappropriate “means the wrong time or place, clarifying that the action and the person aren’t ‘wrong’, because the same action in another time or place (like taking things out of the cupboards) might be fine.
* Talk to your toddler as much as you can and be bold about using more complicated language. Children’s vocabulary is increased by the number and quality of words they heard the year before.