Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

My 14-month-old wants to play with pens and pencils.

Is it safe to let my 14-month-old have pencils to draw with? My husband gave her one and now she screams every time she sees either of us using a pen. She still puts lots of things in her mouth, so what would be the best thing to give her?

Now that your toddler has discovered how to make marks on paper, she will enjoy drawing sessions. Sit with her at a table and provide a large sheet of paper. This can be taped to the table to keep the scribbles on the paper and also prevent frustration if it moves.

Buying child-friendly chubby crayons, pencils and felt-tips will help your daughter with grip, but there is no reason why she cannot use ordinary pencils and crayons if that is all you have to hand. By fourteen months, she will be able to hold a chubby crayon in her hand (not yet in the conventional grasp) and make a mark on the paper; you can show her how to rub it back and forth. As she begins to explore the pencils and crayons, some are bound to find their way into her mouth. Remove them gently but firmly, and tell her that pencils are for drawing with and not for putting in our mouths. If she persists, then put the activity away for another day.

Give her three or four colours of crayons and felt-tips to begin with. Show her how to pull the caps from pens, and also how to replace them when she has finished with one colour. It is a matter of preference as to whether you draw pictures for your child or not; some educationalists believe a child should develop portraying an object or scene in their own time. Small children can become very passive about drawing if they are used to an adult drawing for them, or frustrated that their efforts can’t match up to an adults. The main thing is to let your child explore with a variety of drawing materials, and for both of you to enjoy the experience. Generally children will not draw something recognisable until they are three years old, but observing their growing skills is a fascinating part of their development.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

We want our son to grow up to be bilingual.

We wish our son to grow up to be bilingual. He is now 15 months and beginning to speak. My husband is Italian but also speaks excellent English. From Louis’ birth, we have each tried to speak our own language to him, but as my husband is away from home all day, often not returning until late, Louis hears far more English than Italian. Will this affect his learning of two languages? We visit Italy once or twice a year and my aim is for Louis to be able to communicate easily with his grandparents, who speak no English.

Growing up to be bilingual is a great asset for any child. Most experts agree that the best way for this to happen naturally is to immerse the child in both languages from an early age. But this is not always possible, and in most households a child’s first language is likely to be the one he hears more frequently, usually the mother’s. In addition, you and your husband probably converse in English, so Louis is more likely to speak more English than Italian in the next few months.

Your husband may not spend as much time with Louis as you do, but make sure when he is with him, that he always speaks to him in Italian. Your husband may find that Louis understands Italian, but as he begins to speak he will answer in English. This is quite common amongst bilingual children. Often when they visit the country of their second language they begin to speak quite naturally, as if they realise that this is the only way to be understood.

Make sure you have plenty of Italian books for Louis to share with his father and buy some CDs of Italian nursery songs for him to enjoy. The more he hears both languages, the more likely he will be to pick them up spontaneously. As a final thought, if you are looking for some help with Louis, think about employing an Italian au pair or babysitter, which would help reinforce what he is learning from his father.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

It is hard to get my son interested in books.

I am aware of how important it is to read books to my son Sam, who is 16mths. The problem is that, after the first page or two, he shows no interest, wriggles off my lap and starts to play with something else. We have plenty of board books around, but I rarely see him pick one up. I would love books to be part of our day, but am I expecting too much too soon?

Sharing books with small children is a habit to be encouraged, but all too often toddlers will have different ideas. Learning that books are fun can take a while.

Making Sam look at books will just put him off, but even the shortest time with a book on a daily basis will pay off. Often the time between bath and bed is a good slot, or some parents prefer to have a short session in the early morning sharing a book in their bed. In time, Sam will get used to the idea and begin to look forward to story time.

When looking for a book to interest Sam, choose one with bright, clear pictures. Photo and object books have their place on his shelf, but you could now begin to look for books with a simple story line. Toddlers often enjoy rhyming text as they can identify with the rhythm, even if they do not understand every word. Look for simple stories that might interest him. Many small boys love anything to do with tractors, diggers, farms or building sites, or stories of everyday activities that they can relate to. If you have difficulty choosing, parenting magazines often carry book reviews. Or visit your local library, where you can try out different styles and authors without the expense.

Don’t expect to get through a whole storybook in the first sitting, but try to engage Sam’s interest by asking questions such as ” Do you see the digger?” or “Can you point to the dog?” This helps him to actively share in the experience, rather than just having to sit and listen. Another tip is, don’t feel that you have to read every word on each page. Use words he can understand now, or make up your own text as you look at the pictures together. The key is to engage his attention for a short spell each day as he begins to learn how books work and how enjoyable they can be.

There are plenty of interactive books on the market, with tabs and flaps, textures and dials. These may be a more fragile than sturdy board books, but can still be shared together. If he does pull a tab off, perhaps because he isn’t yet dexterous enough, don’t scold him but let him watch while you mend it. Showing him how to respect books is all part of the learning process. Keep these books on a shelf that can only be reached by you. Also, teach Sam how to put his sturdier books back on a low shelf when tidying up, rather than putting them in a toy box.

Sam will also learn by your example. If he sees his parents enjoying books, he is more likely to catch the “bug” himself. Keep a book beside your bed and let him see you enjoying a magazine or a newspaper. Make use of your local library. Most have story sessions suitable for his age and he will be allowed to borrow books as well. Making a weekly visit will become an enjoyable outing for both of you.

Encouraging Sam to enjoy books is worth the effort. Giving him a love of books now will help him later at school with English, spelling, story writing and research. Statistics show that some boys can be more reluctant to read than girls, so helping them early on does pay off. We live in a technical age, but books still have a huge influence on us.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

I’d like to encourage my son of almost three in imaginative play.

How can I encourage my son, who is approaching three, to be more imaginative? He doesn’t play make-believe as I did as a child.

Using imagination does appear to come more easily to some children than others. Providing your son with some props and ideas may help. Many children have a lot of toys, but not all of them need imagination to be played with. I would suggest giving him a few ideas and see if he can build on them. If he enjoys playing with cars, draw a road plan on a long sheet of paper. This is something you could do together using lining paper which you can find in decorating shops. Discuss with him what he would like on his road and draw some simple outlines. Then find some bricks, either wooden or of the construction variety, and “build” houses and shops along the plan. Just showing him one or two may get his imagination going. Let him take over and then be prepared to offer more suggestions if needed. If he has play people or farm animals they could become part of the layout. Many children have farms, car parks and road mats but making his own will encourage him to think and create a world of his own. Once he is involved in making the scene, leave him to think things through alone.

Providing props for role-play is also something to start thinking about. Pretending to be someone else can be a very powerful experience for a small child. He learns more about himself and others by role-play and pretending. Begin a dressing up box and continue to add to it over the next few years. Again, many children have ready-made fireman, doctor, nurse and police outfits, and possibly a few of their favourite TV heroes as well. But you can further their enjoyment by finding other things to enhance their games. A policeman will need a notebook and pencil and maybe a toy phone. A doctor or nurse needs a medical kit, which your child may already have, but it could be enhanced with a few extras such as bandages and a reel of micropore tape for securing them. Teddy patients need beds, so use old shoeboxes with covers made from cloth napkins. Once you begin to think how to improvise, your son will quickly catch on and copy you.

Ask grandparents for old hats, bags, belts etc as well as donating your own when clearing out. Even things such as old store cards and train passes can be used for make believe play. Given a box of props, many children will readily become a “grown up”, a “daddy” or a “bus driver” and begin to use their imagination in thinking how that would feel.

Small children need room to play. Give them space to set out shops, hospitals or police headquarters. Show them how a blanket over chairs or a table can become a house or a den. While their playthings needn’t take up the whole house, be prepared for some untidiness during the day in certain areas. Let it be understood that things do need to be tidied away at the end of the day, but allow their play to be as uninterrupted as possible until that time. Suggest an area for their den that is not going to be in your way throughout the day, but also where you can keep an eye on what is happening.

One of the best ways to encourage a child’s imagination is to read to him daily and also make up stories yourself. Passing time at the doctors waiting room or when caught in traffic can be fun if you begin to weave a story about the situation. Many parents don’t believe they have this ability, but surprise themselves when they find it is very easy if their audience is a pre-schooler who listens intently to every word.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

My son of almost three is always trying to help me around the house. This can be frustrating at times but I don’t want to discourage his helpful nature. What things could I let him do on his own whilst I get on with my jobs?

My son of almost three is always trying to help me around the house. He will follow me around wanting to do what I am doing. At times I let him help, although it is frustrating when he insists on hanging onto the vacuum when I am trying to get the rooms cleaned quickly. Should I be encouraging him to help and what sort of things could I expect him to be able to do by himself so I can get my own jobs done.

Although as adults we are inclined to consider housework as a chore which needs to be done quickly there are so many possible learning experiences in household tasks which you can offer a small, willing helper who sees helping you as fun.

It may take a little longer for you to get the house cleaned if you allow your son to help, and things may not look quite so perfect when he has finished, but you are teaching him so many things it is worth letting him join in as much as he wants to.

Helping around the house gives a child a sense of responsibility. Doing “chores” is a good way to help a child understand how a family works, where everyone takes their share of helping to keep their home neat and tidy.

If your son likes to be with you as you do your jobs look at each room and find something you can get him to do there which will help you work through the house more quickly.

It is never too soon to teach a child to take a pride in his surroundings. Help your son to make his own bed each day. If he uses a duvet then show him how to shake it out by holding the corners and smooth it into place. As well as his own bed your son can help you with yours.

If you have piles of laundry to put away get your son to help you sort it out. He may like to sort his own washing into different categories such as pants, socks and vests. Show him how to fold them up and, if his drawers are at a suitable height, encourage him to put the things away. Again, he can be set to sort out your laundry if he wants to whilst you get on with another job. Most small children take this kind of task very seriously and will be happy to take some time over it.

If your son enjoys dusting show him how to pick up an article and dust underneath it. He will love to help you polish as well as it is a satisfying task. Use a solid wax-based product which you show him how to apply. If he wants to use spray cleaning products himself teach him he must always do so with you close by to avoid any accidents. Also, give him a duster to clean his room with. He will be happy to get into all the corners and under the radiators providing they are not very hot.

You could also show your son how to clean the taps in the bathroom. Providing you use child friendly sprays, or put on the cleaning product yourself first, he should enjoy washing off the cleaner and then having a second cloth to dry and polish the taps. You may need to keep an eye on him if he is using water so the floor is not flooded but show him ways to prevent this from happening. If you treat your son in a grown up way, praising him for his help and ability to make things clean and tidy, you will find he is less likely to make it into a game and cause more mess. He will feel that he is doing important grown up work and so will probably take great care over it. Telling him what a great job he is doing will encourage him to continue.

You will probably spend much of your day in the kitchen. This is one room where your son can really be encouraged to have areas of responsibility. Provide him with a low cupboard or shelf for his own dishes and plates. Teach him how to lay the table for you. If you show him the correct way to hold cutlery and plates, explaining why this is so, he will try very hard to copy you. If you constantly tell him to be careful and warn him about dropping things accidents are more likely to occur than if you give him the responsibility he wants, being involved in the day to day running of your home.

Show your son chores such as emptying the dishwasher. If your cupboards are too high for him, do this chore together; he can hand you items which belong in places he is unable to reach. Encourage him to keep his own crockery neat on his shelves.

Washing up is an activity most children enjoy. By thinking about how you can provide for this he will enjoy scrubbing at bowls and cutlery, perhaps at the end of a baking session. Let him stand on a small, firm stool so he can reach the sink properly and provide him with a waterproof apron.

Make sure you always thank your son for any help he has given you so he feels valued and will want to help you again.

If you show your son how to do things and provide him with the proper equipment he should be able to help you in many ways around your home. You are teaching him valuable life skills. “Chores” can become just that when we have to perform them day in and day out but to a child they are fun. Everything he does, from sorting out socks to laying a table, is helping him develop. Without realizing it, a child learns many of the basic concepts of maths. and science as he helps you around the home. You are teaching him to be both responsible and independent. It may take a little longer to get the house cleaned but the time you are spending together, talking and working, is invaluable.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

When is it safe for children to help cook? My son of 2yrs 4mths always wants to help me.

When will it be safe for my children to cook with me? Sophie is 13 months and Ben is 2 years 4 months. They are always wanting to “help” in the kitchen, but I am worried about them having accidents.

Deciding when children are ready to help in the kitchen really depends on what you are doing. Some everyday tasks, such as peeling and slicing, are beyond them, but there are plenty of things they can do. Ben can fetch vegetables and dry ingredients for you, if they are stored in a place he can reach. Both children can be given a wooden spoon and allowed to stir ingredients in a bowl, even if it is just breaking up mince prior to you cooking it. Helping to decide how to decorate their pizzas for tea is also something they will enjoy. Food preparation may take a little longer with two extra pairs of hands, but your children will gain immense satisfaction in being allowed to help.

Showing Ben the correct way to cut will come in a few months, although using a plastic picnic knife to cut lettuce or banana could well be within his scope now. Point out the dangers to him, but try not to be over-protective as most small children take the responsibility of helping very seriously.

Letting toddlers cook for pleasure can be a great rainy day activity. One of the easiest activities is making cakes. Keep some ready-made cake mix in the cupboard. Sophie can join in the stirring with a wooden spoon and Ben can manage whisking the milk and egg together. With some help, they can both spoon the mixture into cake cases and decorate them when cooked. Don’t worry about trying to get a perfect result – the cakes will still taste good even if they are misshapen!

If you wish to cook from scratch, then find a simple biscuit recipe. Remove butter from the fridge in advance to make creaming easier. Divide the mixture into two, and give each child a bowl and spoon. Alternatively, use ready-made shortcut pastry to roll out and cut into circles to fit tart tins. Sophie may need help with a cutter, but Ben should easily mange this. Use for jam tarts or mix up a savoury filling of egg and cheese. Child-sized rolling pins and plastic cutters are preferable. With encouragement, Ben will also enjoy helping to wash up. Just make sure he is standing securely at the sink and is well protected with an apron.

There are a lot of children’s cookbooks and equipment around – just adapt the ideas for your young chefs. Encouraging your children to help in the kitchen can be great fun, as well as providing opportunities for counting, measuring and weighing.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

How do I provide messy art play at home for my 2 year old?

We have recently moved to the country. I have tried in vain to look for an art group suitable for my two-year-old daughter. In her previous class, she loved painting and sticking, and I had none of the mess to cope with. I know I should allow some of these activities at home, but I don’t know how to go about providing for them without spending a lot of money on materials. Apart from enjoying herself, is it important for her development that she has these kinds of activities now?

The thought of providing for messy play at home does intimidate some mothers, but pre-planning helps. Plenty of the materials you need in the early stages can be found around the house. Start saving small boxes and packets for junk modeling. Large cereal packets can be flattened and used for finger painting. Cut the top off a plastic lemonade bottle and invert into the rest of the bottle for a non-tip paint pot. Play dough can be made at home – there are plenty of recipes in craft books for the under-5’s.

Take a trip to a store specialising in young children’s playthings and buy three colours of paint. Begin with the primary colours; yellow, blue and red. Easily washable paint is available. Add three stubby brushes, some non-toxic glue sticks and a large pad of paper. With these basic items your daughter can begin to have some fun.

Cover her in a grown up shirt worn back to front with the sleeves rolled up or cut off at the right length. Plan your creative sessions when you can devote some time to being with her and when neither of you are tired. If the kitchen floor is due to be washed, you won’t mind a few splashes and it can be part of the clearing up afterwards. Let her paint on a rainy afternoon and pop her into the bath before tea.

Keep all the art materials out of reach and sight, but do make the effort to provide some kind of activity every few days, especially in the winter when being outside may not be so possible. Cover all the surfaces with newspaper or large pieces of PVC cloth kept especially for the purpose. Make sure your daughter is sitting at the right height at a table or let her loose on the floor which has been well protected.

Her first paintings will be of the up and down, round and round kind, but show her how to change brushes for each colour and talk about the resulting colours which emerge from the three primary colours. Early art work is not meant to be recognised as anything. It is the “doing” which is interesting to her. She will be well past three before the concept of “painting a picture” will occur to her. She may prefer to use her hands instead of a brush. With ready mixed paint this is an ideal occupation. Use cardboard if she wants to do this, as it won’t tear as easily as wet paper.

By all means join in her sessions, but try not to show her too much. Exploring the medium for herself is much more meaningful. As she becomes older and her hand co-ordination improves, introduce stamping – potatoes cut in half, leaves, plastic cotton reels and countless other household items can be painted and then stamped on to paper. On a day when you are not so inclined to have a lot of clearing up, provide “sticking”. Keep old greetings cards and cut out the pictures ready. Newspaper colour supplements, old magazines and catalogues will provide plenty of interest. If you wish to add some extras, small pieces of material, lace and braid, along with sparkly paper and gift ribbon are all effective. Provide a flat surface, well covered and show her how to use the glue stick. She may stick things upside down or the wrong way round, but again it is the actual “doing” which is helping her refine her hand to eye coordination, fine hand movements and sense of colour, pattern and form. Even a large pad of cheap paper and a packet of washable felt tips can provide an opportunity for her to be creative. Displaying work can also be fun and rewarding for your child. A pin board or fridge magnets are all that is required, and keep the display fresh by changing the work frequently for all to admire.

It may seem daunting, but providing different mediums for your daughter to explore can be a satisfying part of parenting, despite the clearing up at the end. But involve her in that too, as to her it is all part of the fun!

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

How can I help my three-year-old learn to use scissors?

My three-year old becomes very frustrated when using scissors. She usually ends up with torn paper. How can I help her?

Using scissors is a skill some children find hard to master, as the blades must be at a 45 degree angle to the paper to cut efficiently. Many children of this age enjoy cutting for its own sake. To help them master this skill prepare some cutting strips. Use round-ended metal bladed scissors rather than plastic ones. By three you may be aware that your child is left-handed. If you think she is, left handed scissors can be bought from shops specialising in young children’s playthings.

Use thin card rather than paper to begin with. Recycle card from tissue boxes, food packets etc. Flatten any boxes and use the unprinted side. Make the strips about 20-25cm long and 16cm wide. Using a ruler and thick felt-tip pen, draw straight lines about 4cm apart. Show your child how to hold the card with one hand whilst cutting with the other following the line.

As she becomes more proficient, draw wavy lines then zigzags. Once she has mastered this, give her old greeting cards to cut. Use ones with definite outlines so she is able to see where to cut. It won’t be long before your child can cut out on paper, as she has acquired the skill of holding scissors at the right angle.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

How do I teach my daughter of 2.5 yrs the alphabet?

Is two-and-a-half too young to learn the alphabet? My daughter is interested in the letters in her books.

Learning to recite ABC is only one part of understanding how letters work. Teaching your daughter that each letter has a sound will prepare her for learning to read in the future. Use an ABC book with simple clear pictures reading it with letter sounds rather than names. By all means teach her the order of the alphabet; there are several songs which do just this. Knowing the order of the letters will be important in the future too. How else do we find names in a directory?

Show your daughter that letters and print are all around her. Point out street signs and food packets as well as looking for known letters in books.

You can make up simple games to play at odd times in the day. “How many things can you see that begin with ‘a’?”, using the sound and helping her to begin with. It is important to keep sessions short and fun so she doesn’t become bored or put off.

Use letter shaped cutters to make biscuits, serve alphabet pasta shapes and buy a set of magnetic letters and a board to play with. All will reinforce her learning.

Make an alphabet book of your own. Find pictures in magazines and use a scrapbook for your daughter to stick them in. She can help find and sort the pictures as well as sticking in. Label in small case letters, as children learn these first when at school.

There are several books for parents about teaching these pre-reading skills, which will give you many ideas. Look in the educational section in the children’s department of a large bookstore.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

I am expecting my second baby in six weeks’ time. My older son, Fred, is two and a half, and has been attending nursery since September. We have talked to him about the baby constantly, but he never shows much interest, and I am concerned about how he will react when the baby arrives. He has been the centre of our universe since he was born, and while in every respect he is a contented little chap, I do worry that he doesn’t cope well with change. For instance, he loves nursery now, but it did take three to four weeks for him to settle down.

Having a second baby brings about many changes in the family that will affect everyone, including your first child. It is a wonderful time for you all, but you are right that toddlers do not like change. There is no perfect age gap between children, but it is generally thought that at around two and a half years, any jealousy they feel is less pronounced. Your child is beginning to have a growing sense of independence, and is unlikely to be threatened by the new arrival. Fred is at a super age to enjoy a new baby. Don’t be surprised that he is showing little interest at the moment. It is natural, since at present he can’t imagine what it will be like to have a baby in the house.

It is a benefit that he has a happy nursery to go to. This will give him a certain security and continuity to his day. It is also a world which is unaffected by the new arrival. Do continue to talk to your little boy about his new brother or sister, and what will happen when the new baby arrives. Make sure that you have explained to Fred where Mummy and Daddy will be when the baby arrives, and who will be looking after him. Encourage him to ask questions, and talk to him about his friends who have had new baby brothers or sisters. Reassure Fred that he will still be able to do the things he enjoys – playing with his trains, going to the park, seeing his friends at nursery etc.. Even if it appears that he is taking no notice, on one level you are preparing him for the change. There are some super illustrated books dealing with a new baby in the family, which can help an older child understand.

Try to involve Fred in plans for the arrival of the new baby. Encourage him to do things for himself when possible, such as putting his shoes and coat on. This will make life a little easier for you when the baby arrives, and it will encourage Fred’s sense of independence.

If you have not already moved Fred from his cot to a big bed, think carefully before doing this now. Ideally a toddler needs two to three months to get used to new sleeping arrangements before the baby arrives. This is a special event in Fred’s life and should not be connected to the arrival of the new baby.