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Early learning fun

For a newborn baby, the world is an incredible and exciting place, everything is new, just waiting to be discovered. Babies start learning from the moment they are born, and children learn more in their first two years than at any other time in their lives.

Babies learn from what they see and hear around them. Most importantly, they learn through play. This means that anyone caring for a baby or toddler has a central role in helping them find out about their world and giving them the chance to play and learn.

We love this Usborne easy-to-use guide, ‘Entertaining and Educating Babies and Toddlers' which although now out of publication second hand copies can be found online. It provides a huge range of simple, inexpensive ideas for activities for newborns and toddlers. Research shows that babies learn best if you are both enjoying whatever you’re doing together and this book helps make the simplest everyday things fun, enjoyable and fascinating for your child.

The book recommends you keep activities short and it gives you lots of ideas and information on how to get on with chores, venture out, make bath-time, meal time and play time a learning experience that both child and adult will enjoy. Each chapter is packed with activities, guidelines, expected development stages, coping tips and advice. Remember that for babies, having fun with people who care for them is simply, the best thing in the world.

These are just a few of the tips that accompany the chapters

Up to three months

Singing and music •Singing is a tried and tested way of soothing a fretful baby. •Putting some coins or dried beans in a plastic container and replace the lid. Shake the container to make it rattle. •When you sing, tap out the rhythm on the soles of your baby’s feet. This let them “feel” the tune. •Say a baby’s name often. They quickly learn that “sound” is special to them and may turn towards you or smile.

Faces and mirrors •Hold the baby facing the mirror and say “Look! there’s Jack” (or whatever the baby’s name is). Then move the baby away, saying “Where’s he gone?” •Now hold the baby facing backwards over your shoulders, so they can see their face close-up. Most will be mesmerised by the little face looking back at them. •Try wedging a non-breakable toy mirror down one side of a pram. Babies will be able to look at it and look away when they want to.

Six – 12 months

Fun with food •If spoonfuls of food are spat straight out, this is quite normal. Just keep trying ... and keep calm. •Reward a spoonful successfully swallowed with lots of smiles and praise. Aim to keep things positive. •When babies keep their mouths clamped shut, try opening your mouth. If they copy you, pop the spoon in. •Giving a baby a spoon to play with while you feed them with another can make things easier.

Baby talk •Babies who are spoken to often have a much bigger vocabulary of words they can say by the time they are two. •Research shows that children who are good talkers and listeners are more likely to become good readers and writers. •Songs, nursery rhymes and baby books all help babies learn to talk.

12 – 18 months

Learning to love books •Try leaving out the last word of a story or nursery rhyme and waiting for the child to add it. This early predictive skill helps with reading. •Let the toddler tell you about the pictures or story. Their interruptions show they are interested in the book and thinking about it. •Counting together helps children learn numbers. Encourage the toddler to point at things on the pages as you count them together. •Story CDs don’t give a toddler the chance to snuggle up and share a book with you, but can be calming (and give you time to get a meal ready).

Home help •Let your toddler put some fruit into a bowl, shoes on to a rack or clothes in the washing machine. •When emptying the washing machine, leave a few small items and let them put the items in the wash basket. •If they want to help you wash the car, put a plastic apron on them, give them a sponge and prepare for them to get wet.

18 – 24 months

Shapes and sizes •Keep a collection of different-sized boxes, tubes and plastic pots and trays. Help the toddler put them in size order, saying the shape and size of each thing. •Try helping them tape some boxes, cardboard tubes or yogurt pots together. Talk about what shape each object is and what you could be making. •Cut some simple shapes out of thin card. Let toddlers lay the shapes out on a flat surface, name each one and see what pictures you can both make. •Of you have a sand pit or can visit the beach, most toddlers will spend ages pressing sand into moulds, plastic cups and buckets of different sizes.

Time to get dressed •Make time for toddlers to dress and undress when you’re not in a hurry. Show them how zips and buttons work. •Agree on a compromise. Let the child pull a t-shirt on, but say clearly that you are going to do the trousers up. •Shoes can be especially problematic. Try distracting a toddler as you quickly slip them on, or say you’ll “do” one foot each. •Have a regular dressing play session. Give toddlers a selection of clothes, and let them play with them – socks on hands are fine.

2 – 21⁄2 years

Balls and beanbags •Stand opposite the child and gently throw, roll or kick a ball towards them. •If things go well, both take a step back after each successful catch or kick. •Try some higher and lower throws, then get them to dribble the ball to you. •If they grab the ball and run, they may have had enough. Just relax and chase them.

Rainy day ideas •Out of the toddler’s view put a little toddler-friendly food, such as cereal, jelly cubes and chopped fruit into plastic bowls. Put a hand over the toddler’s eyes and let them taste each food and tell you what it is. (Beware, this may get messy). Now let them cover your eyes and watch you taste and guess which food is which. If you make a “deliberate mistake”, all the better. •Put a selection of toys and safe, everyday objects such as sieves or spoons into a cloth sack or pillowcase. Try to choose objects of varying textures and shapes. Can they guess what each one is through the cloth. Let the toddler enjoy the surprise of seeing whether they guessed correctly when they pull each item out.

This is just a taster from Entertaining and Educating Babies and Toddlers written by Caroline Young. The book is very comforting and helps parents to cope and enjoy the precious first years of their baby’s growing life. Although out of publication second hand books can be found online.


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