The other day I saw Viraaj playing with his toys but he seemed a little uncomfortable. He was shifting restlessly, getting up and sitting every once in a while, I even caught him wobbling his knees. I was looking at him from the other room and this behaviour got me slightly worried so I walked over to his play zone to check on him. “What’s wrong?” I asked
“Nothing.”, he said shaking his legs.
“Do you want to go to the toilet?”, I asked
“Nope!”, he said
“I know you want to go. Come it’ll take just minute.” I insisted
“Nooooooo!”, he protested
And just as we were arguing, we had an accident.
“Look now. We have made a mess and we could have avoided it.” I scolded
“Going to the toilet is such a waste of time.”, He mumbled quietly
For little kids, playing is everything – fun, yes, but also vital for growth. It’s how they learn to explore the world and learn new things – crawl, walk, talk, explore, discover, make new friends, learn about boundaries, learn to share and so much more.
At 3.5 years, Viraaj wants to play all the time. He wants a new activity every fifteen minutes. It’s difficult to contain him in one place for more than ten minutes. He is a ball of energy! And what does he play with? Well at moment his list includes dice, carom board coins, crayons, drums and drumsticks, blocks, balls, cars, books, cards, ludo, snakes and ladders, puzzles, golf, bat and ball, plastic animals (reptiles, creepy crawlies) etc…
Parents today seem to feel it’s necessary to buy ‘expensive’ learning toys with fancy buzzers and ringers, even though there’s no scientific evidence that they boost IQ. In fact I have seen my son enjoy more with classic toys than the fancy variety. I feel classic toys are more versatile and they don’t ask him for a specific response. Most of these toys have grown with my child.
Let’s look at the classic ‘ball’ for instance. When Viraaj was 6 months old, he stared intently at the ball. He enjoyed grasping it, feeling it, licking and chewing it (the ones that had nubs and tugs), as he turned 1, he was rolling it, trying to sit on it, the next year at 2 he was throwing it, though his aim was still haywire but nonetheless thoroughly enjoying it and finally at 3.5 he is dribbling, kicking, throwing, even catching the much loved ball.
Another classic example is ‘wooden blocks’. When babies are 6 months old they are chewers. Everything is explored with the mouth. Everything is a teether (except the teether of course!), at 1 my son discovered that when two blocks are banged they make a sound. He loved knocking the blocks and creating sounds. At 18 months he began attempting stacking (with few or more unsuccessful attempts but trying continuously). At 2 years he was stacking ‘tall buildings’ as he called them and now at 3.5 years he is defining the structures – a zoo, a tunnel, a bridge etc..
When Viraaj was only a month old, he was introduced to books. There were a chewable variety, which of course was slobbered all the time, then there were board books (which also have chew marks by the way), and of course the classic paperback variety. The transition from board books to paperbacks was very quick in our case since we were reading at least 12-15 books a day (we still do). From mommy and daddy reading in high-pitched ‘parentese’ to a droning tone to lull him to sleep – we have done it all! Books are amazing travel buddies, easy to carry, work wonderfully well in car, train and plane journeys, perfect for comforting an anxious child in a new environment.
Puzzles are another amazing classic toy variety that every parent must explore with their child. I introduced big wooden puzzles with chunky pieces and knobs to Viraaj when he was 6 months old. Of course chew marks and wearing paper are enough proof for what he used them for initially. However at 1 he loved turning the puzzle board and dumping the pieces on the floor, then putting them back. At 18 months he was trying to put the puzzle together with mild assistance and finally at 2 years he became proficient at puzzles. At 3.5 years he is taking a break from wooden puzzles and has moved to mazes and puzzles in books. He loves exploring the ‘start’ and ‘finish’ hurdle mazes, shadow matching, spotting the differences in two pictures, joining the dots etc…
Crayons are another fantastic option to amuse your child. Do not introduce them to crayons before they are 1. At 1 too please give them crayons under supervision to avoid choking hazards. At 18 months, they love scribbling, at 2 they are proficient scribblers and at 3.5 they might be able to make smileys, circles, and if you have an artist in the making then perhaps even a beautiful family photo.
Always remember at all times ‘mess is good’. Children should get dirty and messy to be able to explore, create and grow. Give them an opportunity to explore different textures and use all their senses. To develop and grow they must explore touch, smell, taste, see, hear.
An easy activity to do is painting. On a hot summer day just strip them to the diaper and give them lots of home made paint with some rough paper to explore, create, eat – whatever they like! You may start this as early as when they start sitting. It’s easy to make paint at home
Here’s the home made paint recipe that works for me:
- 1 cup cornflour
- 2 cups boiling hot water
- Give it a boil. It should make a gloopy consistency.
- Divide the mixture in different containers and put a few drops of food colour and voila you are good to go!
- Put it in the fridge to store it.
Make some play dough at home. Even better make it with them. Here’s how we do it:
- 1 cup flour,
- 1/2 cup oil
- Knead it as well as you can to make snow dough. This too is good enough but go on for the rest of the recipe
- Add two tea spoons salt, some food colour and a spoon full of starch.
- Knead knead knead!
- Later wrap it in cling film and store it for a good two weeks.
- Take them out in the garden and let them get dirty in mud. Let them explore sand, water, food textures.
- If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, make a shelf for your child. A shelf that can be easily accessed by your child. Give her containers of all shapes and sizes and fill them up with stuff readily available in the kitchen – pulses, chickpeas, kidney beans etc. Let them do sorting activities with these, let them stack the containers. Else just put different things in containers and make shakers at home. Don’t forget to seal the containers!
You will find that things you never dreamt of would help build your baby’s brain and make a difference. And every parent can make a difference. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. Where you live. You don’t need to be an expert or read lots of books. All parents can help their baby’s brain grow.
At birth, all of your baby’s organs – the heart, lungs, kidneys – are fully developed. All except one – the brain.
Scientists know that the first five years of life are very important for building a baby’s brain. Everything you do and say can help “wire” your child’s brain – for thinking, feeling, moving, and learning. These are the years when you can make a big difference in your child’s development – and your child’s future.
Children grow and develop at different rates. Some children have special needs that require special help. All children need the love and support of a few key people in their lives – especially their parents.
At the end of the day don’t forget to blow butterflies on their tummies, cuddle them, coo to them, smile and laugh, tickle their toes. Babies need to be held and told constantly how much you love them. This sends a positive message to the brain and helps them grow in leaps and bounds.