Category Archives: Infant and Toddler

Choosing the Best Toys for Your Child

by Lauren George, Family Support Specialist

Children are explorers and inventors who learn by doing. Play gives children an opportunity to develop and practice new skills at their own pace by following their unique interests. With hundreds and hundreds of options in the store, and thousands online, choosing toys should be easy, right?  The toys and non-toys your child engages with can shape his/her development in important ways while also keeping them entertained and exploring for hours.  If you are anything like me, the real question is knowing which toys will spark my child’s interest, support their imagination, and won’t be broken in a week!  Below are some ideas for choosing toys that will grow with your child, challenge them, and nurture their overall development – their thinking, physical, language, and social-emotional skills.

Open-ended toys that can be used in a variety of ways

Choose toys with no “right” or “wrong” way of playing that spark your child’s imagination and help her develop problem-solving and logical thinking skills:

  • Blocks
  • Cars & trucks
  • Animals
  • Building materials 

Toys that will grow with your child

Plan ahead for your child’s development by looking for toys that can be fun at different developmental stages and by children of different ages.  I often choose first birthday gifts this way, thinking about what a toddler would need rather than buying something for “now.”  These could include things like the open-ended materials listed above or:

  • Outdoor toys
  • Train sets
  • Oversized trucks
  • Larger investment pieces like a doll house or play kitchen

Toys that encourage exploration and problem-solving

STEM is a buzz word you might have heard before; it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Toys that promote STEM encourage exploration, problem-solving, and trial and error.  Choose toys that give kids a chance to figure something out on their own—or with a little coaching. Look for toys that build their logic skills and help them become persistent problem-solvers. These toys help children develop spatial-relations skills (understanding how things fit together), hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills, which is all about using the small muscles in the hands and fingers. These skills are all essential for school success! Look for:

  • Puzzles
  • Shape sorters
  • Magnetic builders
  • Interlocking blocks
  • Art materials

Toys that spark your child’s imagination

Toddlers are beginning to develop pretend-play skills, and by age three your child’s imagination has taken off.  For my son, he LOVED lawn tools.  Choose items that will spark their imagination and let them take on “real world” roles. Pretend play builds language and literacy skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to sequence (put events in a logical order). Look for things like:

  • Pretend mower and power tools
  • Kitchen set
  • Baby dolls (Yes, even for boys)
  • Costumes
  • Real items like old phones, keyboards, pots, and pans

Toys that encourage your child to be active

Children are developing A LOT in the first five years of life, doing all kinds of physical tricks as they become stronger and more confident with their bodies. Look for toys that help your child practice current physical skills and develop new ones. These toys can also help your child develop early writing and reading skills.

  • Books
  • Magnetic alphabet letters
  • Play dough
  • Magnadoodles
  • Art supplies like markers, crayons, and fingerpaints
  • Real-life” props like take-out menus, catalogs, or magazines

These toys fun for your child to look at and play with; and they also build familiarity with letters, text, and print.  Avoid things like flash cards or early reader books—choosing materials your child can explore and use with their hands! 

Toys based on your child’s age

Looking for more ideas for your child, based on his age? Check out these options!

Parlakian, Rebecca. 2020. Zero to Three. “Tips for Choosing Toys for Toddlers.” Accessed December 8, 2020.

The ABCs of Toddler Nutrition

Guest post by Alzein Pediatrics

You’ve celebrated your baby’s first birthday with candles, balloons, and cupcakes and suddenly, you have a toddler. Suddenly too, while the candles were still sending tendrils of smoke into the air, your toddler seems to have become a picky eater. 

Your baby who was once eager to try everything is now eating only green peas and chicken – and absolutely nothing else. Their appetite also seems to have dropped sharply since eating that birthday cupcake.

With this abrupt shift, you may be newly concerned about nutrition. Is your child getting enough to eat – and are they getting enough vitamins and minerals for their growth and development? 

Dr. Hassan Alzein of Alzein Pediatrics in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn Illinois says, “It’s normal for toddlers to start rejecting new foods – and for parents to worry about how much food their child is actually eating. At this point, it’s helpful to take a big step back and look at the big picture.”

Dr. Alzein recommends starting with the basics, the ABC’s of toddler nutrition. “First, we start with vitamins and minerals,” he says. “Then we’ll think about quantity.”

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps promote normal growth and development. Vitamin A is important to your child’s body for bone and tissue repair. It’s also critical for healthy skin, healthy eyes, and a robust immune system. 

Your child can get Vitamin A by drinking two cups of milk, and eating cheese. Eggs are also a good source, along with yellow and orange vegetables like carrots, yams, and squash.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is an entire family of nutrients, including B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6( pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), Folate, and B12 (cobalamin). The B Vitamins help your child maintain and grow a healthy metabolism and aids in energy production. 

Your child needs B Vitamins for a hearty circulatory system and nervous system. Serve your child proteins for Vitamin B, including lean red meats, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, nuts, beans, legumes, and whole grains.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is packed into all sorts of fruity goodness like oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, strawberries, and kiwis. Red bell peppers, also a sweet treat, are one of the best sources of Vitamin C. It’s also plentiful in tomatoes and broccoli. 

Vitamin C acts as a biochemical redox system that helps to “recharge” enzymes. It helps the heart by acting as a vasodilator in atherogenesis and is an antioxidant. It also helps your child build strong muscles, robust connective tissues, and healthy skin.

Calcium

Calcium is important for strong bones throughout your child’s life – from infancy to old age. Dairy products provide large amounts of calcium, so serve your child full-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurts. You can also provide calcium in tofu and calcium-fortified orange juice.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D – well, you know that one! Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and teeth, and it helps your child’s body absorb calcium. Besides milk, serve your child fatty fishes like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. 

Did you know your child’s body can also produce Vitamin D on its own? Just make sure your child is getting five to fifteen minutes of sunlight exposure to their face, arms, and hands each day.

Iron

Iron is crucial for brain development, building muscles, and producing healthy red blood cells. Lean red meat – beef, pork, lamb, and others – is a strong source of iron. You can also serve your child turkey, spinach, beans, and prunes for a boost of iron. 

TIP – Vitamin C helps your child’s body absorb iron from plant sources and drinking milk blocks the absorption. When your child is enjoying spinach, serve up some orange segments too. Serve your child milk between meals and serve water or orange juice with meals.

Zinc

Zinc plays an important role in your toddler’s nutrition as it helps heal all the bumps, scrapes, and bruises that happen as they become more mobile. Your child can get zinc in lean meats, nuts, seeds and legumes, milk and cheese, and eggs.

Adequate Calories

Worried about how much your toddler is eating? Dr. Alzein says, “Your toddler needs about 1,200 calories each day. That’s perhaps a breakfast of one egg and small toast with avocado and a few snacks such as an orange or cucumber slices with hummus dip throughout the day. Also, a small turkey, corn, and tomato wrap for lunch and about 4 ounces of salmon and with a few asparagus spears for dinner. 

While it might not seem like much to you, it’s plenty for your child. Our nutritionist stresses that kids are born with the ability to eat only as much as they need to grow. Parents serve food, but your child should choose how much to eat.”

Toddlers are more likely to “graze”, eat small meals and snacks throughout the day to maintain energy and blood sugar levels. When your toddler enjoys frequent snacks but pushes back against meals, offer snacks that are nutrient-dense such as whole-grain crackers with yogurt. Avoid highly processed foods like chips and sodas.

Mealtime Success

At mealtimes:

  • Provide meals and snacks at regularly scheduled times.
  • Use a child-size spoon and fork with dull prongs.
  • Seat your child at a comfortable height in a secure chair.
  • Avoid battles. If your toddler refuses a food, accept that and try again in a few days.
  • Keep portions small.
  • Don’t use dessert as a reward, and serve healthy options like a bite of dark chocolate.
  • Cut food into bite-size pieces.
  • Use ground meat instead of steak or chops.
  • Make plates colorful with lots of red, green, and orange vegetables.
  • Serve fresh or frozen fruits, whole or cut up depending upon your child’s age.

Other Helpful Hints

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to less than 4 ounces per day for children 1 to 3 years old.
  • Celebrate Meatless Mondays with meals centered around beans, seeds, nuts, peas, and fish.
  • Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, and oatmeal.
  • Make it fun! Involve your toddler in choosing and preparing foods to help expand their palate and teach them healthy eating right from the start.

Your Healthy Toddler

“The toddler years are a time of transition, full of exploring and discovery – and that includes mealtimes,” says Dr. Alzein. “However, if your child is losing weight, not wetting diapers throughout the day, crying without producing tears, or seems listless and tired, along with an overall refusal to eat or drink, contact your pediatrician’s office.” 

“Your toddler may have health issues that prevent them from enjoying food, such as gastrointestinal challenges, swallowing issues, constipation, food allergies, or sensitivities. Keep a food diary for several days before your appointment, writing down every bite and swallow your toddler takes, to show your pediatrician.”

Dr. Alzein notes that the very best thing you can do to help your child become a life-long healthy eater is to offer your toddler a variety of foods from each food group with different tastes, textures, and colors – and then let them decide how much to eat.

Child Care Answers Resources on Nutrition

As your child grows or you add little ones to your family, don’t forget to review Child Care Answers parenting resources. Not only are there more tips on infant and child feeding, but also all about toddlers, including resources on biting, temper tantrums, school transitions, and more!

All aboard for potty training

As our resident infant/toddler expert, our Family Support Specialist Lauren George talks the talk (but most, importantly, walks the walk). When she’s not busy corralling her active first-grader, she’s living the dream of toilet training her two-year old.

WHEN’S THE BEST TIME TO TOILET TRAIN?

There is not one “right” way or one “right” age to learn how to use the toilet. Finding a toilet training method that works for your family is the key. No matter how you do it, remember: this is a learning process that takes time, possibly with many hiccups and accidents along the way. Most children will transition to underwear between the ages of two and four, with nighttime dryness coming anywhere from two to seven years old.

HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN MY CHILD IS READY?

You should let your child decide when he/she is ready but also be aware of readiness signs; this helps you know when to encourage your child and build interest in using the toilet. There are often signs that let you know your child is ready to take the leap and transition to underwear.

Signs of Readiness

  • Follows simple directions
  • Stays dry for an hour or two at a stretch
  • Occasionally wakes up dry
  • Regular and predictable bowel movements
  • Walks easily, possibly runs
  • Can do basic dressing/undressing (pulling pants down, holding skirt up, attempt to pull pants back up)
  • Understands and is able to use your family’s words for bathroom functions and associated body parts
  • Seems uncomfortable with soiled or wet diapers; may remove or pull at diaper when wet
  • Communicates when wet/soiled (“I pooping now”)
  • Signals by hiding or grunting during BM
  • Shows interest in using the toilet or watching toileting
  • Has asked to wear or shows interest in underwear

WE’RE READY TO GET GOING. WHAT SHOULD I KEEP I MIND?

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you in your child’s potty journey.

Play up the pottying positives. Highlight the benefits of using the toilet and say things like “Wearing underwear is fun!”. Don’t knock diapers or call your child’s old habits babyish though — that could lead to resistance. Let your child practice flushing, watch you use the restroom, read books about toileting and watch the Daniel Tiger Potty episode. (The song is pretty catchy…you can thank me later!)

Watch closely.  At this point, you might be better at detecting his body’s signals than he is. Look for tell-tale signs (like fidgeting or straining), and gently ask when you suspect he has to go. Even if you’re too late and he’s already done the deed, have him sit on the potty anyway to reinforce the connection.

Offer gentle reminders. In the first few weeks, you may need to remind your child to use the potty. Setting timers (“Hey Alexa, set a timer for 30 minutes”) may provide both of you the reminders needed to be successful. Start with sending your child every 30-90 minutes, and begin phasing back as she becomes successful. Trust when your child says she does not have to go, and offer to wait a few minutes instead.

Be patient. Even the most enthusiastic child can take several weeks to master potty training proficiency — often with as many steps backward as forward. If your expectations are unrealistic, you could diminish his self-confidence. Accidents happen – don’t scold, punish or shame.

Avoid a bathroom battle. Arguing over going to the potty actually prolongs the process. If you are met with total resistance, hold off for a few weeks and try again later. Be patient! As you wait for your child to come around, don’t bring up the subject or compare him to peers who are already in underwear.

OK, LAUREN, I FOLLOWED YOUR GREAT ADVICE AND AM STILL STRUGGLING. NOW WHAT?

You’ve come to the right place! Child Care Answers offers a number of FREE parenting resources to help out in just this sitution.

Attend a webinar

Join me for Ready, Set, Potty Time! on January 21, 1-2pm or February 27, 12-1pm. Register today! We will talk about this and so much more, like wiping (eek!), bedwetting, and handling power struggles. Come prepared with questions, too!

Meet with an expert

Want to meet one-on-one with a potty training expert and mom of two? Complete our Family Info Form to get connected.

Read up online

A number of fantastic resources are available online. I recommend ZERO TO THREE.

Potty Training is a big skill to learn. Be patient. Accidents are part of the learning process, but if your child is truly ready, accidents should be very minimal after just a few short weeks. Good luck!

Healthy Eating and Cooking with Children

by Molly Manley, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Coordinator

Looking for a way to learn and grow with your kids, while also promoting healthy eating? Get on your aprons, and get ready to whip up something delicious with your children or those in your care. Cooking with children can promote lifetime skills such as:

  • Basic Math – Cooking involves counting, addition, shapes, sizes, and measurements.
  • Science – Highlight growing food or changing forms, like liquids and solids.
  • Language – Conversations with children while cooking will increase their language development and ability to follow instructions. Creating simple recipe cards with instructions is also a useful tool. Obtain children’s books from the library that pertain to the type of foods they will be eating.
  • Art – Have children draw pictures of the foods they ate.  Ask them to create a picture by painting with yogurt, or glue cereal to a piece of paper.

GO ON A FOOD ADVENTURE

Cooking with children also encourages them to explore new foods and how food gets to our tables. Discuss where food comes from, plant a garden, or take a field trip to the grocery store or a farm. This will give them a better understanding of what they are eating.

It would also be a good idea to shop around for child size utensils, cups, bowls and pitchers. This will make it easier for the child to prepare and serve themselves. We are promoting self-help skills, and, if the child has a difficult time succeeding, it may prompt them to quit out of frustration.

TRY OUT A NEW AND FUN RECIPE

Below are three simple recipes to try with children.

Fruit and Yogurt Muffin

Ingredients:
1 Whole Grain English Muff
¼ cup of Yogurt- any flavor
¼ cup of fruit- bananas and berries work well

Directions:
Adult: Portion out yogurt and fruit for each child separately.
Adult: Toast English Muffin.
Child: Spread yogurt over English muffin using a spoon.
Child: Add fruit to top.

Pizza Rollups

Ingredients:
1 tube of crescent rolls
1 jar of pizza sauce
1 package of string cheese – cut into quarters (1 ounce each)
1 bag of pepperoni- cut into quarters, unless using minis

Directions:
Adult: Unroll crescent roll dough, separate into 8 triangles.
Child: Place 8 pepperoni pieces on each.
Child: Place a piece of cheese on the short side of the triangle.
Child: Roll up dough starting on the short side and pinch seams to seal.
Adult: Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Cook at 375 for 10-12 minutes

Serve with ¼ cup of warm pizza sauce
Makes a 8 roll ups.

Celery Snails

Ingredients:
1 bunch of celery –  washed and cut in halves
Apples –  cut into slices small enough to fit into celery
Peanut or Almond Butter

Directions:
Adult: Wash and cut celery and apples to appropriate size.
Child:  Spread peanut or almond butter on celery pieces.
Child: Insert apple into middle of celery.

Cover image by Flickr user Andrew Seaman, Creative Commons license.

Can my two-year old read?

by Ann Aull, Early Childhood Adult Educator

We have all seen advertisements of babies and young children reading words off flash cards with proud parents beaming in the background.  While there are varying opinions on the effectiveness of these programs, the truth is that very young children are beginning to gain the skills necessary to be readers.

Adults in children’s lives can be integral in helping children to work on these skills.  How many young children can recognize the golden arches of McDonalds or the cowboy hat in the Arby’s sign? Guess what?  Connecting symbols with meaning is a huge step toward reading.

HOW DO I ENCOURAGE MY CHILD TO BE A READER?

When you are in the car with your children, ask questions about familiar signs and symbols.  If you see a stop sign, you can repeat the word “stop” and spell it. That will help children associate meaning with letters.

Make a photo album with your child of his or her favorite things with the word underneath the picture so they associate the word with the item.  It is through this association that children will eventually associate letters with sounds, sounds with words, and, finally, words with meaning.

SO…WHAT’S THE ANSWER? IS MY TWO-YEAR OLD READING?

The answer to the question above is yes! Your two year old is born curious and hard wired to learn language.  So, he or she is a born reader!

Cover image by Flickr user Dan Hatton, Creative Commons license.

Supporting Breastfeeding in Child Care

by Lauren George, Infant and Toddler Specialist

You have a new baby starting and Mom hands you a bottle. She says “Charlie eats three ounces every two hours.  Here is his milk.  He is breastfed.”  You freak out.  “I’ve never had a breastfed baby before. This cannot be enough milk. What am I supposed to do with this?!”  All these things start racing through your mind.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BREASTFED AND FORMULA-FED BABIES

Yes…breastfed and formula fed infants eat differently, and that can be overwhelming when you aren’t sure what to expect.  And yes, three ounces is enough!  Unlike formula-fed babies, breastfed babies eat based on calories, not volume of milk.  They also typically each much more often than formula-fed babies.  You can expect a breastfed baby to each between 2.5 ounces to 5 ounces every 1.5 to 3 hours.  On the other hand, a formula fed baby is likely eating 6 to 8 ounces of milk every four to five hours.  That’s a huge difference when you compare them!

And what do you do with the breast milk, you may ask!? The same thing you do with formula – handle it as a food. Breast milk can be stored in the same refrigerator as formula and can be stored both fresh or frozen.  It can be heated in the same warmer or under running warm water, and you don’t need gloves to handle it.  See…it is easier than you thought!

SUPPORTING BREASTFEEDING MOMS

And lastly – Mom may need your support.  Tell her she is doing a great job providing breast milk for her baby.  Offer her a place within the classroom where she can nurse at drop off, pick up, and on her break if she chooses to.  Know what resources are available for her in your community, like local support groups or the contact information of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), in case she has any bumps along her breastfeeding journey.

Cover image by Flickr user Jeff Snodgrass, Creative Commons license.

Putting down screens and picking up a book

by Kristin Kahl, Knowledge Manager

Next week is a fantastic opportunity for families.  It’s both Screen-Free Week and Children’s Book Week! You read that right. I said fantastic opportunity, not scary-potential-for-disaster-when-my-kids-don’t-have-something-to-entertain-them-every-second.

I get it. As a working parent of 6- and 8-year-old boys, sometimes this mama just needs a minute of peace. Most of the time, the Kindle does a bang-up job of being my right-hand man to help me get a load of dishes or laundry done. The Wii (who lives in the quiet recesses of the faraway basement) is a great friend whenever the boys are snapping at each other, and I need a way to get a little quiet time.

This week is going to be different. So, I’m going to try to use entertainment other than screens for the kiddos. That’s where the books come in! The boys are old enough to be able to read on their own now. My 8-year-old is working his way through the Harry Potters and The Mysterious Benedict Society series. My 6-year-old feels like such a big kid when he reads the Magic Tree House chapter books. I think it’s also important for me to take some extra time out of my schedule to read with them. We have plenty of favorites I plan to break out, and many more waiting for us at the library.

Thankfully, I work with really wonderful experts who have some great suggestions:

 

 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS

 

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE?

What about you? Tell us about your favorite children’s book in the comments section below.

 

AN UPDATE FROM THE OTHER SIDE

Well, I’m proud to report that our family survived Screen-Free week. As luck has it, it rained just about every day last week. Also, my third grader reported it was the worst planning ever because it also collided with Star Wars Day (May the Fourth). That meant that all six of the original movies were on TV, and the poor kid had to wait to watch them. Yet, we managed to get in some great board game nights and family reading time.

My favorite moment was when my kindergartner decided he wanted to attempt to read The Mysterious Benedict Society like his big brother. Although he could pronounce all the words, he didn’t know what they all meant. So, my third grader sat down with him and acted as a human dictionary for a good while they read it together. It warmed this mama’s heart – thanks Screen-Free week!

Cover image by Flickr user Katie LevesqueCreative Commons license.

Going Back to Work: What does that mean for Breastfeeding?

by Lauren George, Infant/Toddler Specialist & Certified Lactation Counselor

Going back to work or school can be challenging for nursing mothers. Mothers are not sure how many ounces of milk to send in each day, getting baby to take a bottle can be difficult, and finding a provider that understands breastfeeding can be a challenge. Here are some tips to make it go more smoothly.

BREASTFED BABIES DRINK BASED ON CALORIES, NOT VOLUME.

It will be rare that a breastfed baby ever takes an 8 ounce bottle. Typically, divide 24-30 ounces by the number of feeding in a day. So if baby nurses 10 times a day, then each bottle will be roughly 2.4-3 ounces. It is best to send less milk than more milk. You don’t want all that hard work to go down the drain!

TRY TO PUMP EVERY 2-3 HOURS

Finding time to pump at work can also be challenging. I always pumped when I knew my baby would be eating, so every 2-3 hours. The more you take out, the more milk you make!

IT IS BEST TO INTRODUCE A BOTTLE AT HOME BEFORE BABY’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

Try having someone other than mom introduce a bottle first (around 4 weeks old). Try daily with a few ounces each day. Don’t stress out…some babies will take it just fine and others will take it eventually.

FIND A CAREGIVER THAT SUPPORTS MOTHER-INFANT RELATIONSHIPS

As you interview prospective child care providers, you want a provider that is open to you coming in and nursing whenever you get a chance, supports feeding on demand and not on a schedule, and won’t push you to send in more milk than you know your baby needs. Trust yourself as the expert on your baby, especially when it comes to breastfeeding!

Additional information, including a milk calculator, can be found on www.kellymom.com.

Cover image by Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture’s photostreamCreative Commons license.

STEM Activities for Toddlers

by Rachel Lee George, Paths To QUALITY™ Coach with Infant and Toddler Emphasis

Let’s face it –  the struggle is real. We as adults in general are scared when it comes to thinking of science/math activities to do with toddlers. The word “science” is scary. We aren’t scientists. And, math…well, I can only speak for myself, but, math was definitely not my strong suit growing up.

Over the years as my many roles in early childhood education have evolved and changed, I have strengthened my knowledge in this area and developed a much better understanding and appreciation in this connection between science and math to brain development in toddlers.

As I read my newsfeed before bed at night, I see moms and dads reaching out for advice on how to incorporate science and math into their young toddlers’ lives. I see teachers making comments about the struggle of incorporating science and math into their environments in child care and creating science/math activities.

Here’s where I hope sharing my experience can help.  Below are some activities that are fairly easy and incorporate science and math into the daily routine for toddlers.

SCIENCE

SENSORY BOTTLES OR “OCEAN IN A BOTTLE”

What you need:

  • Water
  • Cooking oil
  • Blue food coloring (or any color)
  • Large bottle. (2-liter pop bottles, mouthwash bottles with child-safe lids, or recycled water bottles work well)
  • Funnel

Instructions:

  1. Have the children assist you with placing the food coloring into the bottle.
  2. Fill the bottle one-third of the way full with water.
  3. Top it off with the oil
  4. Swoosh away
WATER ABSORPTION AND COLOR BLENDING

What you need:

  • Cotton make-up removal pads or coffee filters
  • Liquid watercolor paints (you could use food coloring and water)
  • Droppers/pipettes,
  • Small bowls
  • Vinyl tablecloth (to protect your work surface)
  • Baking rack

Instructions:

  1. Fill small bowls with water, place a few drops of food coloring into the water, you can use multiple bowls with different colors of food coloring.
  2. Then, use the droppers and place them into the bowls with colored water, and then drip the colored water onto the cotton pads and watch the colors absorb, blend and expand.
  3. Place on baking rack to dry.

MATH

SORTING ACTIVITY

What you need:

  • Cupcake tin
  • Rocks, beans (supervised if beans are small), pom pom balls, or anything that can be collected in abundance and has some color to it
  • Sand or water

Instructions:

  1. Let the child fill the cupcake holes with the materials.
  2. Talk about: How full they are, which is fuller, or which one is less full. How many colors are in each hole and compare/contrast. How many items in one hole as compared to items in the next hole
FILLING AND POURING WITH MEASURING CUPS AND SPOONS

What you need:

  • Sand table or small aluminum foil bins
  • Sand or substitute such as water, rice, cornmeal, or oatmeal
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Scoops
  • Shovels

Discuss:

This activity gives you the opportunity to talk with children about numbers, weight (which is heavier, lighter), fill (empty/full), equal, greater. All of those words are easy to introduce during sand play.

You may choose to use individual bins rather than a common sand table to allow two or more children to explore at one time.  We all know that when one child is interested, they all tend to want to come over as well to see what’s happening.

Remember – there are so many things that are math and science related on daily walks through the neighborhood or park. Point out simple things like looking on the ground as you walk with your toddlers. Seeing worms or ants on the concrete might produce a long discussion about texture, size, how it feels, smooth, soft, shapes, or shadows from the sunlight.

Daily trips to and from work or home in the car can provide other great discussion topics. Firetruck sirens, airplane sounds, water fountains, stoplight colors and shapes, the wind from a cracked window, small and large school buses….there are so many simple yet dismissed conversations that we have. As parents, we often don’t realize those missed opportunities where we can extend learning by asking just a few more open-ended questions. We can always engage toddlers and young children more. Be creative to dig deeper and build that core knowledge from the beginning.

Cover image source.

How to Promote Learning with Infants

by Dawn Johnson,  former Paths to QUALITY Coach with Infant/Toddler Emphasis

A lifelong love of learning starts from the earliest moments. Babies love sharing time with their parents or primary caregivers (at home and school) and some babies love to spend time with other babies. Providing a safe, nurturing environment for babies (including positive language) will help develop a love of learning (oh, and build the brain—did you know that by age 3, 80% of an infant’s brain is wired?). When children have a strong desire to learn from the prewiring done from birth to age 3, the brain development will increase to 90% by age 5 AND, will have a stronger chance of staying wired through active learning experiences throughout life.

ACTIVITIES TO PROMOTE A LIFELONG LOVE OF LEARNING (AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT):

Please note infants learn through total sensory integration. The more senses the baby can use to learn about the object, the easier it is for the baby to retain information about the object.

CLAY

Get a large block of clay from an art store, leave whole or cut in half, put on a sheet of plastic or canvas, add a bit of water and let infants explore! You might need to show your baby it’s ok to touch the clay. While he or she is exploring the clay, you will want to talk about what is happening. “You are touching the clay, and it’s smooth. What do you think about it? Can you poke the clay?”

CLOTH STRIPS 

Cloth strips can be used to weave in and out of a laundry basket (you might do most of the weaving and the infant most of the removing!), for a game of peek-a-boo, to fill and dump from a bucket, as something to hold or chew on. You will find that some children prefer cotton over satin or fleece over Sherpa.

SINGING SONGS

Infants love to hear your voice and they develop a love of math through rhythm and rhyme. While singing with infants, move your head or body to the rhythm, hold the babies and dance with them, clap your hands, pat your legs, etc.

BALLS

Small balls, bumpy balls, squishy balls, large balls, any and all balls provide so many opportunities for learning! Even our youngest infants can watch balls roll or bounce. Infants will hold, drop, lick, throw, bounce, and crawl after balls. Balls provide opportunities for new vocabulary and multiple opportunities to talk about math and science—colors, size, what’s in the ball, why does it bounce, why does it roll, etc. Adults can describe the balls and ask inquiring questions about the balls.

YOU

Infants want to play with YOU! You have fingers, toes, shirts, pants, shoes, hair, eyes, mouths, etc. Infants want to touch you and hear you and play with you. The best thing you can do with an infant is provide the infant with unconditional love and attention, be on the babies level, talk with baby all day, sing with baby, take baby outside and let baby touch the grass, feel the breeze, hear the birds, smell the fresh scent of rain.

Cover image by Flickr user Dean WissingCreative Commons license.