What makes one- to three-year-olds both wonderful and frustrating is that they want to learn about everything: people, clothes, food, furniture, tools, cars, animals, books, grass, sticks, flowers, dirt - you name it - if they can get their hands on it, if they can just see it, they are interested. To them, the world is brand new, and they are experiencing it for the first time. By the time they are three years old, they will have spent more than a thousand days examining what's around them; they will have absorbed a good deal of information and come to some conclusions of their own about the fruits of learning, conclusions that may stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, some children will conclude that curiosity leads to trouble and that questions annoy adults. They will have discovered that the safest and most pleasant way to get through a day is to maintain the status quo. Some children will have turned into monarchs, more preoccupied with ruling their families than with anything else. Others are more fortunate. By age three these lucky ones will have concluded that learning is a busy and joyful business that brings personal rewards as well as appreciation and encouragement from the people they love.
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These children are supertots; by age three they will have developed a positive attitude toward themselves, life, and learning that will enrich their entire lives. All this by age three, yet oddly enough, most books on play and early learning do not specifically describe appropriate learning activities for one- to three-year-old children. Infanthood is stressed, as are the years from three to eight, but the general feeling parents often pick up from reading books written by child psychologists and educators is that the best thing for one- to three-year-olds is to stay close by their mothers at home so that they can soak up security for the school years to come.
Something's wrong with this kind of thinking. Personally, I think it has been promoted largely by male pediatricians and academicians who are not at home with their children on a full-time basis. Talk to most mothers of one- to three-year-olds about their waking hours and they will tell you that they and their children get bored being home all day long together. They get bored with their home, their things, and each other. That they love each other is not in dispute: that they are content merely to relish the warmth and security of each other all day long is.
I believe it is necessary and important to provide stimulating play situations for one to three-year-old children. Doing this takes skill, forethought, and organization, but in the long run, the effort is worth it for both you and your child. It is not easy to be the parent of a supertot. One- to three-year-olds are known for their terrible, negative moments. The phrase "terrible twos" comes from the experience many parents have with children who seem to defy any and all efforts toward peaceful, pleasant negotiations. The energies that supertots devote to learning can drive you crazy at times; for you too have personal needs: the need to be quiet sometimes, the need to have certain rooms stay picked up sometimes, the need to get out and be with others your own age
Supertots don't care much for your needs. When they get older, they may understand, but now they just want someone to play with. In the struggle between meeting your child's needs and your own, don't give up on yourself. Get organized to do both. Teach your child to enjoy playing alone sometimes. Get good babysitters who will keep your child safe and happy when you're not there. Get together with friends to form a playgroup. Why, I often wonder, do so many books on child psychology suggest waiting until a child is three before arranging for him or her to play in a nursery school setting with other children. My own experience has been that cooperative playgroups run by parents are greatly enjoyed by many one- to three-year-olds. (See Chapter 10 for suggestions on how to start one.) It's true that small children don't play together the way older ones do, but they love to investigate each other's toys, and they like watching one another in action.
The purpose of this book is to suggest specific learning activities that supertots like.
The main intention of each idea is to help children develop some aspect of their potential. The goal is personal, never competitive. A supertot is not necessarily the smartest, toughest, fastest kid on the block, but a child who feels loved, likes the world, and continues to want to learn about it.
Another intention of the activities is to give parents a break. When you want to do something with your child, or when you are busy and need to find something for your child to do, consult the book quickly. Use it as a recipe book of practical ideas. The illustrations are provided to show you how the activities work and to convey the idea that perfection is not expected.
In order to help you make the most of the ideas, however, the following advice is given to help you develop the art of teaching your own child. For after all, the home really is the child's first school, and you really are your child's first teacher. In saying this, I hasten to point out that by "school" I don't mean contrived, formal lessons, and by "parents as teachers" I don't mean strict, stereotyped schoolmarms and masters. The kind of education that is needed in the home is a gentle and joyous and casual kind of education that goes on as naturally as conversation and play. For that is precisely it: conversation and play are the two main ingredients of high-quality education for supertots.
To teach your child in the best way, you must first learn to identify and support your child's investigations. Watch. What is your child interested in at the moment? The cat? The fringe on the couch? The new toy that Grandma brought? Whatever it is, allow your child to find out more about it, provided the investigations are safe.
Second, talk about whatever it is that interests your child. Name it, describe it, ask questions. Talk with your child, not at him or her. Don't overdo it. Try to guess what your child would like you to say or tell about. If you think he or she would like you to be quiet, be quiet.
Third, introduce new experiences at the right moment. If your child is absorbed in watching the cat, don't distract him or her by calling attention to the new toy. Wait until an appropriate moment comes.
Last, enjoy your child, and don't be pushy. The developmental stages of growth for so-called normal children unfold in a general plan that enables you to make some comparisons with other children the same age. For example, between ten and fifteen months most children learn to walk. But the specific timetable is individual, and you'll only waste time and energy competing with others and trying to get your child to do something before he or she is ready. You're not that powerful, and thank goodness you aren't. It would be awful to be totally responsible for every bit of progress your child makes. Too many parents today feel needless anxiety about the developmental progress of their children.
Which leads back again to your happiness and sense of well-being as a person and parent. What you feel about yourself is an important part of what you convey each day to your child about people and life. The more you feel a sense of your own worth, the less apt you will be to use your child to compete for you and make you happy. As you take loving care of your child's emotional, physical, and educational growth, take loving care of yourself too. Give yourself rights as a person: even the right to resent being a parent sometimes.
Some parents think learning is something that happens in the brain only. They think "educational toys" promote learning better than anything else. They are misinformed. Learning for children involves the whole body: eyes, ears, mouths, teeth, hands, feet, tummies, arms, and legs. All parts of the body need to be valued and exercised.
Learning involves emotions too. Learning how you feel about something is especially important to very young children who have already experienced a full range of emotions before they are able to identify them. Learning that others, especially you, share the same kinds of comfortable and uncomfortable feelings is crucial. Learning to trust others is essential for developing attitudes about the outside world and wanting to learn more about it. In short, all aspects of your child's growth are important: intellectual, creative, social, emotional, and physical. As parents of a supertot, you can foster a balanced development for your child; I hope this book will help you.
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