4 Learning Activities We're Doing With Our 14-Month Old
Beyond toys, games, and sing-along songs...
Just before my daughter turned one, there were a few new parenting books I decided to check out. Little Girl was walking months before her first birthday and has always been pretty active, so I felt good about her motor skills development. I didn't know, however, what other developmental milestones I should be looking out for (or trying to encourage).
So, I began reading the milestone lists in What To Expect In The Second Year and The Wonder Weeks and I'm so glad I did: I had no idea what Little Girl was capable of at such an early age! At first, I was a bit disheartened to read a few of the milestones listed: "Oh, she doesn't do that yet..." (putting toy blocks in a shape sorter, for instance). But then I realized, we hadn't actually tried to test several of the accomplishments listed. So, in the spirit of being more intentional about our parenting, we started embracing a few new habits that have done wonders for her development.
1. We're asking her questions. Lots of questions!
A month ago, I confided in my sister (an elementary school teacher) that I was concerned that Little Girl wasn't saying many discernable words (like my friend's Little Boy was saying at the same age). My sister gave me some insight into a concept called receptive language, basically saying that kids understand language before they can actually speak it. Well, we had to put this to the test! Little Girl had just been getting patient enough to sit through simple story books. In fact, she loved books (that's Mama's girl!) and was always constantly shoving a books in my lap wanting me to read to her. So, I decided to test her understanding...
"Little Girl, can you get me the book with Dumbo and Mama?" She turned, shuffled through her stack of books, and lo and behold, she picks out the Disney book with the famous elephant on the cover, and puts it in my lap. Thinking this might be a fluke, I tried again...and again. I asked her to bring me about 10 different books (telling her the title), and she brought me every single one I asked for! What an insight into her understanding...she knows far more than we thought!
Now, we ask her questions all the time: "Where is the zebra (toy)?" "Where is your ear?" "Which (block) is green?" It's such a great way to figure out what our pre-verbal daughter has actually picked up on, and what we still need to practice.
2. We're giving her choices.
Similar to asking questions, we have now started giving her the choice between two different things to help her decide what she wants. I hold out a piece of bread or a banana: "Which one do you want for snack?". "Which shirt do you want to wear?". "Which book do you want to read?". Giving her only two options helps to keep it simple, but also gives us insight into what she likes, and helps her know that her choices are important.
3. We're teaching her to tidy up.
Thank you Marie Kondo for revealing the age-old "secret" that Little Ones really can clean up after themselves at a surprisingly early age! We actually bought this phenomenal little children's book while we were in Singapore a few months ago called I've Been Tidy. As we read it to her, we point out that the Little Girl in the book is "being tidy" when she picks up her toys and her clothes. So, now we tell her at the end of the day: "Little Girl, let's be tidy!" And immediately, she knows that means putting her toys in her toy baskets. Does she always do this? Of course not (she is still an independent toddler, after all). But she does know what it means and she knows that it is something we expect of her. We sing as we tidy up along with her, reminding her that she can help us so much by putting her own toys away.
4. We're giving her a re-cap at the end of every day.
I first heard this idea years ago and immediately knew I wanted to do this when I had children someday. As an expat, there are so many things that our daughter encounters every day that we know might require more explanation (we meet new people often, travel often, and experience unique cultural customs that aren't part of our normal routine at home). So, at the end of each day, as we're getting ready for bed and about to say our prayers, we talk through the day with her. We remind her about the things we did, the people we met, and summarize what we perceived to be her feelings about the various experiences ("You started crying before we left the zoo because you missed your normal nap. You were really tired" or "You got a lot of attention at the store today. You liked when that lady played Peek-a-Boo with you"). Of course, we look forward to the day when she can tell us her own feelings, but for now, at least we're able to help her name her emotions.
I'm currently listening to this fantastic audiobook: The Emotional Life of the Toddler. In the book, the author encourages parents that summarizing a pre-verbal toddler's emotional state can help them feel understood. After all, they do understand our words more than we think they do (see #1)!
Reading all those toddler development books linked above has really been eye-opening. Although it can sometimes tempt me towards feeling jealous or insecure about whether or not my daughter has reached a particular milestone "on time,"overall, these books have helped me to feel empowered to know what Little Girl is capable of and to help nurture those things in her. These activities are great for now...we'll see what new activities we might be adding to our repetoire in a few months!