Basic equipment for children from one year onwards 11
Boxes of every description and size, small boxes to fit into bigger boxes, large boxes that become instant houses’, trucks’, ships’ or anything else the imagination can conjure up.
Plastic yoghurt containers, cardboard rolls from toilet paper, tins without sharp edges, cotton reels . . .
Water, even a basinful, is always fun and can teach basic science principles. Empty plastic bottles to pour and measure with can teach about quantity and the physics of what floats and what makes things sink. Even a two year old will enjoy making these discoveries if you take the time to point them out.
A box of dressing-up clothes will give pleasure and endless creative opportunity’
Dolls and soft toys are always useful for adding the human element to a child’s play.
Sturdy puzzles, simple enough not to cause frustration yet challenging enough to be interesting, teach and entertain.
Toys like posting blocks’ in which a three-dimensional shape has to be inserted into a matching cut-out promote spatial perception.
Balls of all sizes.
Books made from cloth or sturdy cardboard with simple pictures for the child to look at herself from nine months or so. Whenever you have a quiet moment while waiting at the clinic or when she is having a bottle, go through the book with her, talking about the pictures. Point out colours by finding all the reds and blues and
yellows and so on. Later on you can’encourage her to find something red’ and praise her lavishly when she gets it right. Help her get the right answers by making it easy at first and she will find it such fun that she will want to play along. Make up simple learning games along these lines pointing out shapes and sizes – round, big, small, square – there are opportunities for learning to classify all around you.
Books to read to her. From the beginning of the second year your child should enjoy being read to. Keep it simple and short, stopping when she loses concentration – children have very short concentration spans. She will probably only pay attention for a few minutes at first, but it builds up in time.
Don’t be misled into thinking that the child who can reel off facts’ or impress with the ability to count at the age of two is going to be advanced. None of this has any bearing on her future ability. Through repetition you can teach very young children to recognise and repeat words or numbers but this is not really the ability to read, or a sign of a future mathematical genius. You will be doing your child a far greater service if you give her practice in the basic skills that are needed to master these tasks. This way she will have a true understanding of what she is doing not just a superficial ability that is also unfair to her because she will have the wrong impression about it. What you should be aiming to achieve with your child is the continued pleasure and excitement of discovery which is natural in infants. One of the most striking characteristics of children who develop successfully is their desire for discovery and enjoyment of learning, in contrast to the rapid decline in the need to know and the bland acceptance that characterises those whose potential has already been dimmed.
Opportunity to let off steam in outdoor play is needed. Very active children in particular need the opportunity to use up excess energy by running, climbing and jumping. A visit to the playground if you do not have a garden can be a sanity saver when your toddler is bursting at the seams with pent-up energy.
A sand pit, even a small one in an old baby bath, can be set up on a balcony if you do not have a garden. Use washed river sand and keep the pit covered when not in use to prevent soiling by animals.
Attitudes that help children grow up effectively. There is a fine distinction between helping your child constructively and doing so much that she comes to rely on you completely. When your toddler comes to you with a problem, judge whether it is really impossible for her to cope with it, for example, unscrewing a tight lid; or whether, with a little bit of instruction and demonstration, she will be able to manage. It is fine to help in situations where she could not possibly cope and it is good to show her how things are done or work, explaining in a simple way exactly what is happening. But letting your child use you as a tool that does everything for her even when she can manage herself, is unwise. It will increase her dependence on you and will encourage clinging because she cannot cope with anything without you, and will eventually harm her self-esteem.