Any stay-at-home or work-from-home mom can attest that while the early childhood years can feel all too short, the days themselves can feel quite long. Caring for an infant, entertaining a toddler and keeping up with a preschooler or school-aged child can prove to be exciting -- and exhausting. It is therefore always good to have an arsenal of activities at the ready to meet your child’s ever-changing mood and demands.
From day one, your child craves interaction with you -- his caretaker and favorite playmate. While interactions in the infant stage are, of course, gentle and following your child’s lead, his brain needs stimulation to learn and grow. Zero to Three, a foundation that promotes healthy development of babies and toddlers, recommends that you select activities, which engage your baby's five senses. Gently coo and talk to your baby to encourage vocal imitation and speech development. Play peek-a-boo or make funny faces close-up for your infant to imitate. Provide soft, brightly-colored, age-appropriate toys that make noise and have different textures so he can explore his environment through play. By engaging your child in this type of play, he begins to learn communication skills, hand-eye coordination, cause and effect, and confidence in his ability to interact with the world around him.
Imagination is important in children’s lives because it helps them learn about the world around them, try new roles for themselves and learn to handle intense emotions. To encourage creativity, it is important to limit TV, internet and video game time for children and teens. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend television for children under the age of 2. Facilitate imagination by turning the tube off, and provide books, board games and hobbies for your children. Create an imagination village by decorating and painting cardboard boxes, provide age-appropriate musical instruments for your child to play with and create his own songs or band. Design a superhero cape out of a bed sheet, or a tiara out of pipe cleaners and beads to enable imaginative characters come alive for your child.
Kids are naturally active so it is important to facilitate a healthy, active lifestyle. KidsHealth.org recommends that kids between 12 and 36 months should get at least 60 minutes of physical free play per day, in addition to 30 minutes of adult-lead activities. Getting the kids outside is a great way to keep them active. Facilitate tag, hide-and-go-seek or arrange a relay race or obstacle course. If it is hot outside, fill some water balloons, squirt guns or put a sprinkler in the yard, and let your child enjoy running and playing in the cool, refreshing water. Be active with your child by going on bike rides, roller blading, playing catch or practicing soccer or basketball moves. Draw with sidewalk chalk or blow bubbles. Playing outside is a great way to get your child, and yourself, some much-needed exercise. Be sure to slather on the sunscreen, to protect skin from sunburns and make sure your child has a water bottle to prevent dehydration.
Jump start your child’s imagination with arts and crafts; provide finger paints, modeling clay, salt dough and other art supplies for your child to learn and experiment with. Help him create edible crafts, and clean out the pantry at the same time by providing candy, marshmallows, spaghetti noodles, food coloring, frosting or peanut butter to let your child make interesting and delicious crafts. A graham cracker can become a canvas with peanut butter paint, or frosting can be used to “glue” together gummy bears, marshmallows and pretzels. Encourage unique painting methods such as using cooked spaghetti noodles for a brush, or blow globs of paint through a straw. Most of all, make sure your child knows that the world of arts and crafts knows no mistakes because everything is beautiful, so he can explore his world with no fear of failure.