Question: What’s the difference between a nursery assistant and a football manager?
Answer: One gets paid millions to look after children.
Jokes aside though, looking after children and keeping their play stimulating requires a lot of effort on the part of adults. This is particularly so for those making the transition from baby to young child.
Toddlers may be described in many ways. Some call them terrible (as in “terrible twos”); others call them “terrific” (although I suspect those people do not currently have toddlers in their lives). Most toddlers fall somewhere in between. They are wonderful little people some days and trials on other days.
Toddlers are at an interesting stage of development. They can get around on their own, but they need constant supervision. They understand most of what they hear but are usually unable to communicate their wants and needs effectively. They want to do everything for themselves, but their skills and abilities are limited. They want to try everything, and most of what they do is motivated by an interest in cause and effect. (“Let’s see what happens when. . . .”)
Toddlers also have an abundance of energy. As they enter the toddler stage, some will still be taking two naps per day, but by the end of toddlerhood, many will not be napping at all. This means that a parent or caregiver must occupy the toddler for many hours each day, often without a break. This can be a challenge for most adults, whether they are encountering life with a toddler for the first time or experiencing toddlerhood for the second, third, or fourth time.
In addition to their abundant energy and desire to learn about the world around them, toddlers also have specific needs and characteristics unique to their stage of development. They are not walking babies or watered-down preschoolers. Expecting them to stay involved in activities that are not sufficiently stimulating or are too advanced for their abilities will lead to frustration for the child and the parent or caregiver.
This means parents and caregivers are instinctively doing things that stimulate their children to learn. Talking on a toy telephone, asking “Where are your ears?” as you change your toddler, playing hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo, letting him bang about with pots and pans in the kitchen—these are activities you’ve done countless times without thinking you’re providing a rich learning environment. You are. Running, sliding, swinging, and playing outside are activities which encourage physical development. Playing with playdough, paints, and crayons develops fine motor skills and promotes creativity. Washing hands before meals teaches health. “Hot! Don’t touch!” teaches safety, and a short playtime with friends helps your child learn social skills.
Simply put, toddlers need a stimulating environment and a variety of experiences to help them develop. Activities which emphasize the senses and physical activity will be the most successful. A consistent daily schedule will help your child know what to expect and help him become more independent. He will enjoy repetition of the familiar in songs, books, arts and crafts, and simple games, and he will also be interested in anything new. Try to make a short walk or some outdoor play a part of every day. Be sure to allow your child plenty of free time with interesting things to discover and explore. We all learn best when our interest motivates us to find out about something, and toddlers are no exception.
In many cases, toddlers know how to create their own fun when given the proper materials. Although they require constant supervision, there are things you can do and materials you can provide that will encourage creative and independent play. The first step is to make sure your home is properly toddler-proofed for safety. Many small items interesting to toddlers, such as coins and beads, pose an extreme choking hazard. Make sure such items are well out of reach—an especially difficult task if you have older children in the house, too.
Performing kitchen tasks can be extremely difficult when combined with keeping an eye on an energetic toddler. At times, a one-year-old may be happy just to sit in his highchair or at his own little table with a few toys or snacks to keep him occupied while you work. At other times, he will want to be right there with you, underfoot and into everything. Kitchen cupboards and drawers are full of interesting things that may prove irresistible to your child. Why not provide your child with his very own Baker’s Box? Put together a collection of unbreakable kitchen tools in a plastic crate or small storage box. Store it in a spare cupboard that is low enough for your child to reach. He can use his tools for play or for helping you do some “real” cooking or baking.