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The importance of pictures

Images play an important part in your child’s learning. His brain is developing at a rapid rate, enabling long-term memory and imagination to improve. Pictures are important triggers for both memory and pretend play, which is why picture books are so important for this age group. His skills have now developed to a point where he is able to notice small details on the page and to recognize many more images than he was able to previously. Your toddler’s memory is still developing  and his attention span is still short, so he will have an insatiable appetite for repetition and will want to keep returning to the same book and the same pictures again and again.

Picture books offer great opportunities for learning and encouraging familiarity with words and sounds, as well as great fodder for the imagination. You can encourage your toddler to find things on the page and ask him what he notices and what he likes the most and least. Leave gaps when you are telling the story and see whether he can fill them. Using descriptive words to describe the pictures (focusing on shapes, colors, and sizes as well as locations) will encourage your toddler to develop the words to describe what he sees, and he can then follow your lead.

Picture books will lead your toddler gently into language learning and reading. They also offer the perfect opportunity to see your little one’s personality developing and to get some insight into how he views his world.

Freedom to learn

The ideal activities for your toddler at this age are those that encourage the development of a wide range of skills and interests. He will be developing preferences, but is much too young to stop trying a variety of new experiences.

Encourage messy play

Giving your toddler free reign to explore textures, shapes, colors, and the world of his imagination, will not only help him develop his motor skills (holding pencils, taking lids off jars and tops off tubes), it will also “free him” to learn to express himself. (There is a time to learn about cleaning up, too, but not until the end of playtime.)

Withhold your judgement

Toddlers are too young to “get it right.” The important thing is to encourage his sense of exploration and to encourage him to try. Hold the criticism, and go heavy on the praise.

Learning new skills

It is a good idea to resist turning playtime into lesson time at this age, but nevertheless a question such as “Do you know how to draw a face?” will invite curiosity and allow you to show him a new skill. Allow him to absorb ideas and take them in at his own pace.

Throw out the rule book

Toddlers do not need to know the true rules of Candyland or the fact that it is better to find the corners of the jigsaw first.

Start from scratch

Remember that the latest games and elaborate gadgets tend to be there for the benefit of the manufacturer’s profits rather than your toddler’s well-being. Some of the greatest fun can come from making up your own games, rhymes, toys, and stories. Children have plenty of ideas for how things should “be.” Creating something together will have lasting value for you both.

Enjoy being silly

There are plenty of years ahead for conformity and being sensible. At this age your toddler needs to develop ways to remember new information. Being silly and doing things in an original way will not only help to prompt your child’s memories, but will also help him develop the art of self-expression and original thought.

Dressing up is fun

At the heart of creative play is a child’s imagination. Although it will be another six months to a year before he is able to manage dressing up or enjoy fantasy play to any great extent, a hat, a cloak, or a magic wand are all the props he needs to become a wizard. Create a dressing-up box of hats and bags for your child to decorate.

Never too young

You can help him understand what he sees and hears around him by commenting on it and exposing him to new experiences. Even at this age you can introduce him to different types of music and rhythms, pictures and colors, plants and seeds, and the moon and stars.

Think toddler-sized

Buckets, watering cans, spoons, knives, and forks: all of these come in cheap and cheerful smaller sizes that help your little one to become more dextrous.

Show him how things work

Children enjoy being shown, rather than told, how to do new things. With gentle encouragement they will develop the confidence to try for themselves.

Favorite story

If your toddler felt good about a story last time, she will trust it again. And she will associate it with having fun and being with you.

Games for children

You may find that your child enjoys some games more than others and that he is developing a preference for playing indoors or outdoors. Free play and having time to explore are very important for children’s healthy development, but it is also the ideal time to begin to gently turn play into learning, too. Messy and unstructured play is good for children. It helps them develop skills and stimulates their imagination. Parents need to learn to relax and deal with messiness so that toddlers follow their example. Put away the wet wipes! There is a link between anxious children fearing getting dirty and problems with food and feeding.

Most of the toys your toddler had at the age of one will still be relevant now, although he will start to play with them a little differently. He will be able to deal with short trips to the zoo, to the park, to listen to music or other entertainment. Less is more at this age as he still has a short attention span and is easily overwhelmed. Imagination and simplicity are the keys to fun and games at this age.

He will be interested in
  • How things work—zips, dials, buttons, and switches.

  • What things do—cars, dolls, and animals.

  • How things sound—bells, whistles, drums, and xylophones.

  • How we live—getting dressed, making things, and cooking.

Top tips for reducing playtime chaos:
  • Limit your cleaning up by allocating a messy play area, playing outside, or showing your toddler the “special play sheet” he needs to get before using paints, for example. But after that, let him be free in his chaos!

  • Try using pictures to organize where things are kept. Your toddler will then learn where things are kept as well as the object in the picture.

  • Take the time to show him how things work, so he learns how to play in a way that lessens the chance of things breaking, but hold the criticism if he does break something. At this age damage is inevitable.

Letting her help

Move on from pretend play by involving your toddler in activities such as baking. Guide her, but let her do it her own way as much as possible, and don’t worry about the outcome or expect it to be edible!

Playtime ideas and games

Quiet play
  • Jigsaws—giant floor puzzles and robust puzzles with additional grip.

  • Matching and sorting shapes—use this to start to introduce simple rules and turn-taking. For example, picture dominoes or sorting colorful building blocks.

  • Your child will enjoy stories that are recognizable and predictable and is likely to have his own favorite characters.

  • Memory tray—lay out no more than three to five items to begin with. Take something away and ask your toddler which one has gone. Add something: add a new object and see whether he can tell which it is and what it is called.

  • Nature table—encourage him to collect leaves, shells, stones, twigs, and insects when you go for a walk. Lay them out on a table and talk to him about what they are and how they grow.

  • Spot the difference—draw two faces that are largely similar, and then add some obvious differences (such as green hair or a red nose). Ask your toddler to tell you what is different about each picture and what is the same.

  • Weighing and measuring—an oversized tape measure will help children develop an understanding of size. A set of scales and dry beans can be used for weighing and pouring.

Outdoor play
  • Sand play—with water, buckets, shells, and other accessories.

  • Ball games—play with a soccer ball, bowling pins, a basic bat, and ball.

  • Water play—including a paddling pool. Supervise at all times.

  • Playgrounds—let him play on jungle gyms, swings, and a seesaw.

Creative play
  • Play dough—it is easy to make your own.

  • Painting and drawing—give him an easel, paints, and an smock.

  • Edible faces—make smiley pizzas or silly sandwiches.

  • Collage—it is amazing what can be created with a glue stick and beads, lentils, glitter, string, and crayons.

  • Cutting and sticking things.

Pretend play
  • Glove puppets—these can be homemade really simply out of socks with sewn buttons for eyes.

  • Dressing up—keep an eye on second-hand stores for flamboyant items that can be cut down to toddler size—and look in your closet, too.

  • Indoor picnic—children will love the novelty of eating with their fingers and sitting on the floor, especially if teddy bear can come, too.

  • Treasure hunt—following clues (with your help) and finding surprises is fun for all ages.

  • Playing school—will help your toddler get used to the idea of what happens at school.

  • Playing store—will help him get used to the idea of coins and swapping them for goods.

Action play and party games
  • Action songs—such as Heads, Shoulders, Hokey Pokey, If You’re Happy and You Know It, Ring around the Rosey.

  • Party games—such as Simon Says and Musical Chairs.

  • Hide and Seek—when you hide, make sure you are easy to find.

  • Trains and cars—pushing trains around tracks and playing with cars.

  • Pretending to be an animal—hop like a rabbit, jump like a frog, and run like a cheetah.

Maria Montessori

Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori was the first Italian woman to qualify as a medical doctor. She became convinced that a child’s true potential can only develop if given the right kind of stimulation during the early years of life and devoted her life to developing a new style of child-orientated education that has been widely adopted across the world for over 100 years. Working initially with children from deprived backgrounds, she discovered that children enjoy learning practical skills and benefit from a calm and ordered environment. At the heart of her philosophy is the belief that play and learning are interrelated because one cannot occur without the other. She identified distinct developmental stages and key “sensitive” periods of learning that Montessori schools still use today.

Montessori teachers encourage multisensory learning, especially through play, and help children to learn self-management, self-respect, and how to acquire skills that encourage the development of independent thought and ability.

Supermarket games

Supermarket shopping with your toddler may fill you with fear and trepidation, but with a little planning and a large dose of patience, a shopping trip can be fun and an opportunity for learning, too.

  • On the way to the supermarket create a memory game: “We’re going to the supermarket and today we’re going to buy… an enormous loaf of magical white bread that can take us to the moon.” Make your descriptions elaborate, colorful, and silly to help your toddler’s brain create associations. Gradually add more items and see what he remembers and can imagine himself.

  • Let him help you push the shopping cart for a short distance.

  • Cut distinctive labels and pictures to give your toddler his own pictorial “shopping list.” Give him clues and encourage him to find the items on the shelves.

  • Play a simplified version of I Spy to encourage him to name things: “I spy a green vegetable… Can you see it?”

  • Encourage him to help you unload the groceries at the checkout.

  • Describe what you are buying and what it looks like.

  • Reward him with lots of praise and a small treat so he associates shopping with fun.

  • When you get home, involve him in putting the groceries away.

Lev Semenovich Vygotsky

Born in 1896, Vygotsky, a Russian developmental psychologist, was fascinated by the links between the development of thought, language, and memory. He believed children’s speed and level of development are greatly influenced by the help and encouragement they have with problem-solving. His theory was that children learn more easily when given assistance. He argued that the role of the parent (and later, the teacher) is important in helping children bridge the gap between their current and potential ability. For example, a child who is trying to fit shapes into a box may get frustrated. However, if handed the right shape, one at a time, he will succeed and learn. To help development further, the helper might push the right shape closer (but not hand it to him) so the child still has to choose to pick up the shape, but has been given a clue. Parents will do this naturally: helping children take small successful steps, one at a time.

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