I feel like part of my duty as a former preschool teacher of 10 years is to share with you something I hold with the upmost value in parenting: our children’s social and intellectual development. This is something I feel incredibly passionate about because I know from my educational background, that intellectual development begins at Day 1.
So often as an educator I would hear from parents of our 2 year olds and even all the way up to 5 and 6 years old, that their children were “not ready” or “not capable” of educational growth; this is so much further than the truth than I could have ever explained. Children will learn as early as we will allow. Children learn through play, through verbal interaction, and, in fact, their minds are constantly craving growth. In my opinion, it is our duty as parents to foster that growth.
So, as a parent, what can you do to foster this? Well, first you have to realize that educational growth does not necessarily mean having the most expensive toys, items, or access to school facilities. It is very easy to feel like you need to newest Fisher Price singing, dancing, talking toy. The truth is, you can really take anything you have and make it educational for your little one. In the early days, all you really even need is your face and a voice. Infants thrive on face to face time and will feel an instant connection to your voice, it is important to talk to them throughout the day, narrate your activities, and be ‘present’ in everything you do together. Even if you feel like they don’t understand your words, your verbal communication and cues will only help them to understand and interpret communication skills much earlier than a baby who grows up in an under-stimulated environment. So what do you talk about? Talk to them in the car, point out things you see (even if they can’t see them), sing to them, and tell them anything that comes to mind. At home when you are sitting with them, narrate your actions, tell them about washing the dishes, explain to them that you’re touching their hand, that their blanket is soft, or their bath time water is warm.
As your child grows older you can start incorporating play activities and using those as educational experiences. Whether you have that awesome Fisher Price toy or not, use what you have, be it a box or a puzzle, the key is to be present and interacting with them. Even now, at Raj’s young age, I tell him the color of the car he is holding, teach him that his teddy is soft and can be kissed or hugged, and when he crawls over to our shelves of photos we sit and point out all of the members of our family. I sit on the ground and stack blocks with him (only for him to knock down right away – cause and effect), and I teach him to roll a ball back and forth with me (teaching taking turns, sharing and patience).
Of course, as your little one grows throughout the years, toys help to keep them engaged, but again what I can not emphasize enough, is that what they will truly thrive on is your personal interaction with them. A box can be a toy, and is more often than not the best kind of toy to them, but it is all in what you make of it. Talk, sing, dance, read, and play with your little one (and put the phone down), I promise it will go a long way!
Below I have linked some of my favorite developmental toys for babies, I hope you will find these as fun as I have over the years in the classroom, and if you are having a hard time relating to them, these will help in getting you used to the interactive part (trust me, you’re not alone in finding it difficult to connect with someone who can not ‘communicate’ back).