If you’re like me, it’s always on your mind- Am I teaching my child enough? Am I giving her enough attention? Should I be doing more to help her learn? Could I be a better mom?? The mom guilt is REAL and it’s totally normal.
We always feel like we could be doing more for our children- feeding them better, teaching them more, being more patient with them. Then, life sometimes gets in the way when we have to go to work, clean the house, make dinner, take kids to activities and practices, and still make time for our husband too.
My daughter is 13 months and I’m always thinking, what should I be teaching her? Should she start learning her colors? Her ABC’s and numbers? Should she be coloring? Learning how to build block towers or animal sounds? Maybe this is the occupational therapist in me, since I’m used to teaching babies and children and know that there’s always more to learn, but I’m sure most moms go through those feelings too.
How are they learning?
Especially at this age, our children are little sponges! They are taking in every little ounce of knowledge about the world around them. Every sound, color, picture, and movement. They are learning every day even if we don’t realize it, we are teaching them.
They are watching our every move, listening to our every word and picking it up so quickly. So first of all, when you feel like you’re not doing enough, remember that they’re always learning by just watching you all day!
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to develop activities, especially at this age. Here are a few activities that are simple enough to do everyday to be sure your child is learning. Most of these don’t require any set up or materials and just can be done while you’re sitting and playing with them. Remember, you don’t need high-tech fancy toys for your child. The best way they learn is through problem solving and imaginative play with objects and toys that are simple enough to do a wide array of things with.
My daughter LOVES books. She will hand us a book to read to her and snuggle up on our lap. Even though her attention span usually only lasts through 3 pages, she is so excited to look at the pictures and colors. Lift-the-flap books are her favorite and toddlers love lifting the flap to see whats behind it. We have a ton of baby board books at our house, but if you don’t, you can go to your local library and lend them out. Most libraries also offer free story time in the mornings so check their events to see what baby/toddler activities they have.
When you’re reading, tell the child to turn the page. You don’t have to actually read the book word for word, but point out every picture and describe it. Also, ask your child to point to a picture. If you are reading, use your finger to follow along with the words on the page so the baby learns to recognize letters and words.
Describing what they’re doing
If she’s merely just sitting and playing, use language to say everything she’s doing and using, the color and shape of an item, and what action is happening. For example, “You’re putting the bead in the cup, you’re throwing the red ball, you’re walking over to the steps.” Your child will now be able to associate words with his or her actions.
Your little one is probably begging to start doing things on her own by now. She will grab at the spoon, tooth brush, and even diaper wipes. Let them try to do these things on their own! Of course they may not be very successful at it, but don’t be intimidated by the mess it will make or that they won’t be able to complete the task. Guide them in parts of the activity that they actually can complete, like assisting with dressing. Tell them to pull the shirt down over their head or put their arms through and try to get their hand unstuck from the sleeve. Let them hold brush to brush their teeth or hair, hold the food pouch and fork to feed themselves, clean up on their toys into a bin.
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Chunky Inset Puzzles
Puzzles are great for developing so many skills. They’ll be developing hand-eye coordination with flipping and turning the pieces to fit them in their slots, fine motor skills by using their little hands to grasp and manipulate the little pegs or whole wooden pieces, and problem solving letting their brains figure out the best ways to fit the piece in the space or where it’s matching counterpart is. At the same time, your child can also be learning the concepts of the actual pictures on the puzzle, whether it be colors, shapes, animals (like the one above) or this one (right), foods, etc.
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Uninterrupted one-on-one time
PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN AND PLAY WITH YOUR KID. Trust me, I’m so guilty of it too. With all the technology we have access to now, it’s hard to just spend the time sitting on the floor playing. I dedicate at least a 20 minute block a day (I know that doesn’t seem like a lot at all) where I am completely in the zone with my toddler. I ask her what she wants to play with, what song she wants me to sing, or what book she wants me to read.
We do get one-one-one time through out the day like meal times or night time routines, but a lot of the day she’s just running around next to me while I’m doing the laundry, watching tv, scrolling through facebook, or cleaning the kitchen. I made it a goal that I would just sit down in her play room and have fun for a block of time through out the day. I don’t bring my phone or laptop in and we just play. It may seem like they’re too young to know that you’re not paying attention to them, but trust me, they’re always watching. Your child will appreciate the on-on-one time more than you know.
Singing songs with gestures
I’m sure you’re well aware of all the kiddie songs, such as The Wheels on The Bus, Row Row Row Your Boat, Old McDonald, etc. You can be singing these songs at any time- in the car, changing diapers, giving a bath. They love the rhythm and music. Demonstrate hand gestures while you’re singing and your baby will be sure to imitate!
This is a great fine motor activity that 1 year olds should start learning. It teaches them cause and effect- that they make a mark on the paper and it stays there. All you need is paper and crayons. I highly suggest these finger crayons for the young ones. They are perfect for little hands and promote a good grasp when holding the crayons.
Everything your child plays with or touches has a color. It’s easy to point out colors to them and even group things by color. For example, if you see a red ball, red crayon, and red block in their toy box, show them all of these together and that they are red.
Babies LOVE music! They can make music on their own or while listening to music played on the radio or sound system. If you have toy instruments like maracas, xylophone, tamborine, etc. that’s great to use, but you can also make musical ‘instruments’ with so many household objects. You can have them shake a pill bottle (child safety sealed, of course) to make noise, bang a wooden spoon on a pot, box, tin can, counter top to make various sounds, fill plastic easter eggs with uncooked beans or rice and shake them.
Turn up the tunes on your tv, radio, or Amazon Alexa, and dance with your toddler! Every baby loves to get their moves on when they hear music. They’ll have fun and it will tire them out quickly too!
Teaching body parts
You can do this while you’re changing diapers, during meal time, or just while you’re snuggling in bed. Point out your child’s eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, head, hair, ears, hands, feet, etc. Show them on their bodies, a doll’s body, as well as your own. Then at other times in the day ask them, Where’s your nose? Where are your eyes?
Kids love the outdoors and get stir crazy when you keep them inside all day. If your 1 year old isn’t really walking or running yet, take them for a walk and point out all the sights you see- green trees, blue sky, house, car, road- They’re soaking up all of this vocabulary so get them to see a little more. Blow bubbles, pick up leaves, or run through the sprinkler. If they need to be outside to run around and get some energy out, sitting in the grass is a great sensory experience and getting some sunshine and running around a bit will even tire them out if they’re refusing a nap.
This activity also helps improve your child’s hand eye coordination and spatial awareness. Just take a few blocks and demonstrate how to build a tower, then hand them the blocks and ask them to do it. They should pick it up quickly and want to imitate you. This Melissa & Doug Alphabet block set is great for older 1 year olds to stack, but great fine motor practice for the younger ones. Kids also love Mega Bloks which are great for stacking, putting together, and taking apart. Toys and activities like these encourage imaginative play and let them problem solve and investigate the world around them.
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