Tag Archives: toddlers

Keys to Brain Development

In the first five years of life, a child’s brain grows from 25% the size of an adult’s brain at birth to 92% the size of an adult’s brain. All that growth comes from making connections – connections built through hands-on, multi-sensory experiences of their world. There are several ways parents can support their children’s growth and development. This video gives a quick summary, and I’ll give more details below.

Novelty – New Experiences

The parent can provide a diverse array of new experiences. These don’t have to be fancy, they don’t have to be expensive, they don’t have to be based on advanced scientific research. These are just the everyday experiences of life. Just simple activities like going for a walk, looking at the clouds, stomping in puddles, touching a slug, coming home and making hot chocolate together, snuggling up on the couch with a good book, playing with blocks, then drawing pictures. Any new experience builds connections in a child’s brain.

And if you don’t have the energy to think of something new to do, try putting together two familiar things in a new way, and see what your child does differently. For example, take the rubber duckies from the bathtub and put them with the Duplos, or take the colander from the kitchen to the bathtub. Your child will be delighted by the new possibilities. Learn more about “invitations to play.”

I have a whole collection of easy free activities with toddlers to get you inspired. (Not all are do-able in the coronavirus era, but most are.) Everything from “nature shopping” to “counting cars”, from “construction theater” to year-round egg hunts.

I want to encourage my child’s growth in all diverse knowledge and skills. I find it helpful to think about categories of development – have we done anything today to build large motor skills? What about fine motor skills? I also find the theory of multiple intelligences to be a helpful guide to inspiring new ideas – have we tried out any music today? And spatial challenges? Here’s an article I wrote on choosing toys and activities for toddlers that build multiple intelligences.

I do encourage you to offer your child lots of learning opportunities, but please don’t feel like you have to be doing a non-stop song and dance, tossing new things into the ring continuously. That would be exhausting for you! But it could also teach your child that the only way to be happy is to be continually entertained with new things. They would also be missing out on the full depth of possible learning if you did this and ignored the next two keys to brain development: repetition and down time.

Repetition – Doing it Again and Again Builds Mastery

Doing something for the first time makes a connection. Doing it again strengthens that connection. Doing it again in a different setting strengthens that connection and also makes connections to this new setting. Combining that activity with another deepens understanding. Think of a child learning to walk – they fall again and again until the a-ha moment happens. But then they still stumble and wobble along for a while. But the more they walk, the better they get at it. Or think of anyone learning an instrument – we don’t become expert by going to a class once a week. To become a skilled musician requires playing those same scales again and again till you reach mastery.

Don’t rush them. If they’re just barely starting to understand something and you push them onward, they’ll have a shaky foundation for future learning. For example, if you have a child who has just barely learned to count to three, don’t feel like you have to rush them on to 4, 5, 6… 10… 100. Let them stay at three for a while – really exploring three, getting to the point where they can tell at a glance if they have three objects or more than that or less than that. If you can do this, your child will have such a solid understanding of the fundamentals of math, everything later on will make more sense.

When my oldest kids were little, I probably over-did the novelty. I felt like I continuously had to provide new experiences. My oldest child resisted transitions so much, and looking back, I think a big part of it was that he was always feeling forced to move on before he was ready. By the time my third child came along, I had learned a lot about the importance of repetition for brain development, so I was willing to let him do things again and again. It’s a good thing, because that little boy has deep passions and wants to immerse himself in the same things for weeks or months on end.

But with him, I saw clear evidence of everything the research says about repetition and also about following a child’s interests. When he was wild about dinosaurs, we could teach everything else he needed to learn in that context – we could teaching counting, and colors, and music and art, all focused on dinosaurs. When he had the chance to do something again and again, he developed so much self-esteem in seeing himself as a competent learner. Whenever he was feeling anxious about anything else, returning to this familiar territory helped get him grounded and feeling capable, then he could take on new challenges.

There is a concept called Schemas of Play, which addresses how children tend to be working on a few key ideas at any given time. They might be exploring: Trajectory – kicking and throwing balls, or Transportation – carrying things everywhere, or Connecting – assembling puzzles. They may repeat the same activity over and over, but know that they are learning important concepts by doing that. Check out some ways to support your child’s schemas of play.

Down Time – to Process it All

Children need rest. It is during sleep that we build myelin sheaths that insulate our nerve pathways, helping us access information more quickly and efficiently apply that knowledge to new situations. (Nutrition is also important. To build myelin, they also need a diet with plenty of healthy fats, like fish oils, nuts, avocados, olive oil, and whole milk. Learn more about nutrition for growing brains.)

They need down time – time to putter around the house “doing nothing.” Time to play aimlessly. Time to “waste time.” When they don’t appear to be doing anything, it may be because they are processing all the new learning they’ve been experiencing, and they need time to take it all in and incorporate it.

Don’t feel like you have to constantly entertain your child. When they are “bored” is when they may come up with some of their most creative ideas. They might make connections between things on their own. I remember once my daughter, who was 5 at the time, was complaining about how bored she was. I told her “I need to finish this work… figure out what to do for 15 minutes, OK?” My work took longer than expected, and when I went to find her 45 minutes later, she had all the toy horses arrayed on the table, and proceeded to tell me all their names, ranks and how they were related: “Princess Snowy is getting married to Duke Blaze – he is from a different kingdom where his sister… ” She’d created this whole complex imaginary play world, which she would never have done if I was hovering over her guiding her play.

I think it can feel tricky to find the right balance between feeling like we should introduce novelty and guide learning and knowing when to step back and let them explore on their own. It could be something as simple as having a bedtime story routine – each night, we read two stories – one for novelty, one for repetition, and then I let my child look at books on her own for a few minutes before turning off the light. (Here’s more about choosing books for your child.)

Read this article on How Much is Enough, How Much is Too Much which looks at questions like how many toys to buy, how many activities to schedule, and how screen time fits in.

Check out my past writing on brain development, which includes more about the science of brain development.

Fun with Toddlers – Beach Theme

My Fun with Toddlers series includes crafts, games, songs, rhymes and books tied into a theme. These can be used as lesson plans for a toddler class, preschool curriculum, or for parents to have fun with little ones at home. A beach or ocean theme offers lots of fun opportunities.

Science Activities

Field Trips. If you live near a beach, go there! If there’s an aquarium nearby, go there. Or go to a pet store, what I call the “small animal zoo” to observe fish and other aquatic creatures. You may even find great tropical fish tanks at restaurants or in hospital lobbies. Or, search for “virtual field trip aquarium” and you’ll find lots of options, including Seattle Aquarium.

Sink and Float Experiments. In the bathtub, or a large tub of water, let your child experiment with a wide variety of objects. What sinks? What floats? Help them notice any patterns (e.g. these metal things sink, these plastic things float, heavy things sink…).

Explore Shells. Offer a collection of shells for your child to explore. Talk about their colors, shapes, textures. Count them. Sort them.

Ice Excavation. Fill a container with water, drop in sand, shells, and plastic fish and freeze. Put it in a tub and give your child water to pour over it to melt the ice. (If your child won’t eat the salt, you can also give them a salt shaker to sprinkle salt on it to hasten the melting process.) Photos from littlebins.

iceice2

Sensory Activities

Ocean Sensory Bag. Get a gallon size ziplock (freezer bags are even sturdier than regular bags). Fill it with water, or with blue shower gel or clear hair gel from the dollar store. Add plastic fishor shells or glass stones, then close the bag, and tape it closed. Set it on a table (or tape it to a window) and a baby or toddler can poke and prod at it, and the fishies “swim away” from their fingers. Photo is from For the Love of Learning.

sensory bag

(HearthSong also makes a really cool AquaPod which is a 4′ diameter pod you fill with water that kids can jump on, roll on, etc.)

aquapod

Discovery Bottle. Fill a water bottle partway with water, add blue food color. Then add in either oil (mineral oil or baby oil are prettier, but any vegetable oil will do – see more pictures at Imagination tree) or blue glitter glue (like littlebins does). Then add seashells and/or plastic fish. Put on the lid and seal with tape or glue. Child shakes and observes.

bottle 6  

Beach Dough. Make play-dough with sand. Let your child play with it with their usual Play-dough Tools and add shells to mix in.

Crafts

Ocean Foil Painting. Cover cardboard with aluminum foil. Squirt on a little green paint and more blue paint (glitter paint is especially fun). Give child q-tips or paint brush to smear the paint around. Let the painting dry overnight, then add ocean life stickers. Find a full tutorial and more pictures at newswithnaylors.

foil

Bubble wrap prints. Place bubble wrap on a tray. Dribble some paint on it. Let your child use their fingers or a paint brush to spread the paint around. Then press paper onto it to print the paper, then cut the paper into fish or starfish shapes. (photo Crafty Toddlers)

Celery print fish. Give your child a fish shape cut from paper, paint, and a celery stalk. Show them how to dip the celery in paint, and press it to the paper to make fish scales. This image is from Crafty Morning. Your child’s art won’t be this pretty. You could also do this on a paper plate to make a fish like a Little Pinch of Perfect‘s project.

celery-stamp-rainbow-fish-craft-for-kids-to-make Paper Plate Fish Craft Inspired by The Rainbow Fish: a perfect read and craft book activity for kids (preschool, kindergarten, ocean, summer, childrens literature)

Ocean Suncatcher. Peel the backing off of contact paper, and place it sticky side up. Give your child blue tissue paper squares and black ocean life shapes to stick on. When they’re done, seal it with another piece of contact paper and tape in the window. Images from Mrs. Plemon’s kindergarten and Buggy and Buddy.

suncatcher Shark Crafts for Kids: Shark Suncatcher~ BuggyandBuddy.com

Coffee Filter Craft. Give your child ocean colored liquid watercolors or diluted food coloring and a q-tip. They dip the q-tip in the color, then touch it to the coffee filter to decorate it. Idea from a little Pinch of Perfection.

Ocean Animal Coffee Filter Suncatcher Kids Craft and Free Template (summer, ocean, whale, shark, dolphin, kids craft)

Paper Bag Jellyfish. Child paints the paper bag, then you cut the tentacles and add a face.

ocean themed crafts

Aquarium – photo at top of page. Spread glue across the bottom of a paper bowl. Sprinkle in aquarium gravel, sequins or gems, or glass stones. Add a sparkly paper fish. (This craft is better suited to preschoolers than young toddlers.)

Outdoor / Pretend Activities

Set up a “beach”. Put out a plastic tub of water – if you have one big enough for your child to walk in or sit it, that’s great. It not even a few bowls full of water to play in with a few scoops to pour back and forth is fun. If you have access to sand, put out a small container of sand for them to play in. (Tip – put the tub on top of a plastic tarp or large trash bag so that when they’re done playing, you can pour all the sand they spilled back into the tub.) Put up a beach umbrella. Bring out towels, and beach reading, and drinks with paper umbrellas. Play some surf music.

Fishing. If your child is no longer mouthing small objects: print or draw pictures of fish, cut them out, add paper clips to each, and throw them in a “pond” (any big container). Give your child a magnet to “go fishing” with.

Songs to Sing

Row Row Row Your Boat

My Bonnie (hold child in lap, lift child up each time you say Bonnie; tune)
My Bonnie lies over the ocean My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean Oh bring back my Bonnie to me
Bring back, bring back (rock back and forth) Oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back (rock back and forth) Oh bring back my Bonnie to me

Little fish (here’s a video of the tune – my words are slightly different)
Little fish, little fish, Swimming in the water,
little fish, little fish, Gulp, gulp, gulp.
Oh no! It’s being eaten by a
Bigger fish, bigger fish, Swimming in the water….
Octopus…wiggling…  great white shark… lurking…
Big blue whale…. Spouting… (for this verse end with “Splash, splash splash” instead of gulp)

Baby Shark (really fun to sing! here’s a video,)
Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo
Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo Baby Shark!
Mommy Shark… Daddy shark… Grandma shark… Going swimming… See a shark… Swimming fast… Safe at last… Bye-bye shark…

All the Fish (tune)
All the fish are swimming in the water, Swimming in the water, Swimming in the water
All the fish are swimming in the water (swimming motions with arms)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH! (spread hands wider & wider, big clap for the SPLASH)
All the ducks are paddling in the water, paddling in the water, paddling in the water
All the ducks are paddling in the water (doggy paddle motion with hands)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH!
All the frogs are jumping in the water…. (jump with both feet)
All the kids are splashing in the water… (splash hands in the air)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH!

Fish in the Ocean (tune: Wheels on the Bus)
The fish in the ocean go swim, swim swim. Swim, swim, swim.  Swim, swim, swim!
The fish in the ocean go swim, swim, swim.  All day long!
The octopus in the ocean goes wiggle…. Sharks chomp…. Crabs pinch… sea horse rocks…

Rhyme to Say

One, two, three, four, five. Once I caught a fish alive.
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Then I let him go again.
Why did you let him go? Because he bit my finger so!
Which little finger did he bite? This little finger on the right.

Books to Read

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon. A counting book-that-sings based on the “Over in the Meadow” tune, featuring gorgeous illustrations.

Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!: Counting Round and Round by  MacDonald. A terribly clever design. As you read forward in the book, it counts up from one to ten. Then when you reach the end, you flip it over and count down from ten to one.

Ten Little Fish by Wood and Wood. Age 2 – 5. A counting book with cute illustrations, simple text. Counts from ten down to one, then “along comes another fish… soon one is a father, the other is a mother…”

Spot Goes to the Beach by Hill. Duck & Goose Go to the Beach by Hills. Ladybug Girl at the Beach by Soman and Davis. Honestly, just go to your library catalog… do a keyword search for “beach”, then narrow the search down to children’s books, and you’ll discover books from Curious George at the Beach to Paddington to Pete the Cat to Scaredy Squirrel… pretty much every series with more than a few books goes to the beach at some point.

Here is a free printable handout handout you can share with some beach themed activities.

For science themed activities for older kids related to the ocean, the beach, sink and float, check out my other blog, https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/. Or check out my Fun with Toddlers series for other themes, including: Pets, Zoo, Transportation, and the seasons.

Fun with Toddlers: Zoo or Jungle Theme

Toddlers enjoy learning about all sorts of animals, including those that can be found at a zoo, or in a jungle. Here are some fun activities about wild animals.

Songs to Sing

We’re Going to the Zoo by Raffi – YouTube

To the tune of Wheels on the Bus: “The lions at the zoo say roar roar roar, roar roar roar, roar roar roar. The lions at the zoo say roar roar roar all day long.” Repeat with any animal sound you want.

Rhymes to Say

Five Little Monkeys jumping on a bed (video of motions)
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed.
One fell off and bumped his head.
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said:
“No more monkeys jumping on the bed”.
Four little… three…

Five little monkeys (in a tree) – video
Five little monkeys sitting in a tree,
Teasing Mr. Crocodile: “You can’t catch me!”
Along comes Mr. Crocodile
As quiet as can be and…SNAP!
Four little monkeys sitting in a tree… three… two…. one
… Along comes Mr. Crocodile
As quiet as can be and SNAP! One little monkey says “Ha Ha! Missed Me!

The Funky Spunky Monkey (tune Itsy Bitsy)
The funky spunky monkey climbed up the coconut tree.
Down came a coconut and bopped him on the knee.
Out came a lion a shaking his mighty mane.
And the funky spunky monkey climbed up the tree again.  OR
The funky spunky monkey climbed up the coconut tree.
Down came a coconut and bopped him on the knee.
Along came his mama who hugged away the pain.
And the funky spunky monkey climbed up the tree again.

Alligator, Alligator
Alligator, alligator, long and green (hold out arm: 4 fingers, thumb below)
Alligator, alligator, teeth so mean (open and close fingers and thumb)
Snapping at a fly, snapping at a bee,(snap with fingers and thumb)
Snapping at a frog, but you can’t catch me! (arms slap together, then shake head)

Building Projects

Build a Zoo: Take out blocks or Duplos and toy animals. Build a zoo with your child.

Outdoor Play: Build a habitat for plastic animals with rocks, sticks, and plants.

Games / Activities

Pretend to be an Animal: Make cards or dice that have pictures of animals, or put plastic animals in a bag. The child rolls (or draws a toy from the bag). Then you both pretend to be that animal – moving like it or making the sound.

Habitat Sorting: Put out plastic animals or pictures of animals, plus pictures of habitats. Talk with them about which animals live on farms, which live in jungles, in the ocean, or in the desert.

Art Activities

Bead Snakes: Thread beads on pipe cleaners. Fold ends over. Optional: Add googly eyes.

Hoof and Paw Prints: If you have toy animals, check out their feet. Find ones who’ll make different shapes of tracks. Set out paint, paper, and animals, and make tracks. (You could also make tracks in play-dough.)

Paper Plate Snake: Decorate a plate, then cut it into a spiral snake. (see photo at top) Add eyes. 

Books to Read

Dear Zoo by Campbell. Fabulous lift the flap. “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet…” See what they send!

Good Night, Gorillaby Rathmann. A charming wordless book about a gorilla escaping its cage.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? by Carle. Great repeating rhyme and rhythm. Children love to predict what will be on the next page.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Andreae. A sweet story about everyone finding their special dance.

More ideas (and source citations) at: www.pinterest.com/bcparented

Here’s a handout version of these Jungle / Zoo themed toddler activities. For more theme-based activities, check out the Fun with Toddlers series.

Simple Pleasures

IMG_20160131_193313206   IMG_20160131_193106064

It’s easy to get caught up in commercialism and all the manufactured toys that promise “hours of fun” and “educational benefits” for our kids. But there’s plenty of fun and education to be had in simple home-made activities. My mother-in-law grew up in Argentina in the 30’s and 40’s, and they didn’t have any manufactured toys (she remembers owning one toy in her whole childhood – a doll given to her by a neighbor), so she’s a pro at this!

Last night’s invention was T.P. Roll Bowling. With a piece of cardboard, 13 toilet paper rolls, one paper towel roll, and a little ball, we had a game that engaged the whole family for the evening. It’s great large motor practice in learning to aim and throw the ball at the last remaining pins. It was also great math practice in keeping track of the score. The paper towel roll was worth five points, and that meant scoring the pins knocked over required some basic addition skills, not just counting pins.

Next time you’re tempted to spend time shopping for the “perfect toy”, try creating something yourself!

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Routines and Rituals

When working with parents of toddlers and preschoolers, I talk a lot about the benefits of daily routines. Today I want to look at the difference between the routines of everyday life and the rituals of the year.

Routines Rituals
When: Daily or Weekly. Everyday life. When: Holidays, Seasons, Life Events
What: Predictable, reliable, easy to learn and to do What: Special, memorable. Specific to family / culture
How they make kids feel: Safe, competent How they make kids feel: Special, loved
Examples:
·       How they wake up in the morning
·       How you say goodbye when you go to work or they go to school
·       How you reunite and share your day
·       Mealtimes – Do you eat together?
·       Bedtime Routine
Examples:
·       Birthdays
·       Holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, religious and cultural holidays
·       Life events: first day of school, graduation, tooth fairy, etc.
Hint from an experienced parent: Keep it short and simple! Hint from an experienced parent: Make it special, but not too elaborate or expensive. It needs to be easy to repeat if you want it to be a tradition.
How you know a routine is working for your family: It makes everyone’s life calmer and more enjoyable. You can enjoy it too! How you know a ritual is working for your family: It feels special, and meaningful and fun to you to. If you’re overwhelmed with stress trying to do something, think about how to simplify it to focus on what’s important to you.

When your child is young, it’s a great time to think about what you want your family rituals to be around holidays and special occasions. If there are traditions from your family of origin or group of friends that work for you, definitely keep doing them. But, if there are traditions that just exhaust or frustrate you, then having a new child in your life is a great excuse to get out of those activities!

Think about what rituals you would enjoy. What would feed special to you? What would be fun for you? What lessons do you want your child to learn about your family values from the way you celebrate holidays? When your child is one year old, test some out. When they’re two years old, repeat the ones that you liked, but drop the rest, and try something new. When they’re three or four years old, experiment some more. By the time they’re five years old, they’ll start noticing and remembering traditions, so it’s nice if you’ve found some good “keepers” by then.

When you do these rituals, reinforce their power by reminding your child that they are traditions: “Every year, you get to open one present on Christmas Eve” or “remember, last year when you were four, you found four balloons in the house – how many do you think you’ll find this year?” Tell them why you do those traditions: “I give you a book every year for your birthday because my dad gave me a book for my birthday every year” or “We always volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. day because it’s important to work to make the world a better place.”

It’s OK if your traditions are different from their friend’s family! When your child says “How come my friend does this and we don’t” you can explain your family culture and how you make the choices that are right for you.

Learn more about daily routines here and specifically about sleep-related routines here.

Read more about birthday rituals here and more about using rituals to connect your child to his/her culture and heritage here.