Nurture your relationship with your child.
Build language and other developmental skills.
Teach self-regulation and develop self-efficacy.
Infants: Birth to 12 Months
"Serve and Return"
This term refers to the back and forth interactions parents have with their infant beginning in the newborn period: Talk, Sing, Read, Play.
Talking. This can occur while simply holding your baby or during a diaper change or during feeding. This back and forth interaction is really a "conversation" as parent and child alternate cooing and smiling with each other. As the infant starts babbling, the parent can start mimicking sounds back and forth with them. By 6-8 months, parents are providing names for things.
Singing. Singing the same lullaby or song to the baby is like any other routine: it builds a sense of predictability. You may notice that the infant calms and listens intently when you sing familiar songs, or engage them in a back and forth "conversation". As the infant matures, singing songs or saying rhymes that have associated movements is fun for the infant (Rock a bye baby, pat-a-cake, so big).
Reading: It is never too early to start reading with your infant. High contrast books with simple visuals is a good place to start. The infant hears your voice, words and eventually connects words to pictures. Local libraries are currently closed in most communities but once they re-open are an excellent source of books. Many also have reading times for parents and children stratified by age.
Playing: You can start with simple games like a finger puppet, holding the baby while swaying gently to music, shake a rattle, move a bright toy across the infant’s visual field, show the baby themselves in a mirror. As the infant matures, you can add in peek-a-boo, play “so big”, increase tummy time while the child is awake, put toys within reach for infant to pick up and explore.
Exploration and Toys
At about 3-4 months, infants can hold toys. Allow the infant to hold and explore common household items (wooden spoons, measuring cups) and simple age-appropriate toys. Toys that make noise when they manipulate them provide some immediate feedback. They will grasp objects, put them in their mouth, and eventually start passing them hand to hand. They eventually begin to develop an interest in "drop and watch" as they learn that an object that drops hasn’t disappeared forever.
They also love to "throw and fetch" with the parent as the "fetcher". Once infants start to roll or crawl, you can play "chase" with them. Peek-a-boo, "So Big" and learning to wave bye-bye are good games to engage in at around 8-10 months. Infants move onto "fill and pour", putting items in containers and then pouring them out. You can make "drums" out of cans (without sharp edges) or boxes and allow the infant to drum with a wooden spoon. Play hide-and-seek games by hiding toys under a blanket or a box and the let the baby "find" them. Roll a ball or toy car back and forth. Imitate the infant’s sounds, describe what is happening in simple words while you are playing ("The ball is rolling!"), celebrate achievements!
Feeding: Self-feeding is both nutrition and a form of exploration and begins at about 7-8 months. This is a good time to offer the infant small soft food items like cereal, cooked peas, etc. allowing them to explore taste and texture.
Mouthing toys: This is a normal part of exploration so it is preferable to offer clean toys and other safe objects.
Toddlers: 13-24 Months
Read, Talk, Sing, Play. These are key guiding words that apply throughout childhood. All of these activities are interactive or can be.
Reading: Since children learn by engaging with others and doing, actively reading to the child and pointing out items in the story or asking a question (“what does the cow say?”) actively engages the child in the stories. Reading is a calming activity and is a great way to settle down from active play at the end of the day.
Talking: Children build vocabulary through hearing language so speak often to build language skills.
Talk while you are engaged in play to describe what is going on. You can chat while folding laundry or cooking or point things out when you are out for a walk.
Instructions and helping builds cooperation skills: Ask the baby to get something (“Where is your shoe? Bring it here.”)
Respond to your infant’s requests by putting them into words (If toddler points to cup of water, say “You want your water. Here it is!”).
Play “What’s that?” by pointing to an object and then naming it.
Singing, music and dance: Lullabies can be soothing at one extreme, while a dance beat encourages exercise and play. Game songs such as “Ring around the Rosie” and “Eentsy weentsy spider” are fun for toddlers.
Play: Play can involve toys, interactive games, or exploration. Mix quiet play and activities like reading with more active play in intervals throughout the day in rhythm with the toddler’s routines and meals.
Toys: Push and pull toys, toys with buttons and wheels that make noise, blocks to stack with, balls to roll and throw, shapes sorters, early puzzles, drums and noisemakers, stuffed animals can use to pretend with or as loveys; Bath time (which is always supervised) toys can include little boats, animals, cups, etc.
Fill and pour, bubbles to chase etc. are time honored favorites that also build developmental skills.
Interactive games such as hide and seek, naming body parts, asking the baby to help by handing a cup or a spoon, pretend cooking, engaging in early cooking steps, pretend with stuffed animals or puppets etc.
Once the toddler is no longer mouthing items, parents can engage them in early art work such as painting with water-based toxin free toddler paints, scribbling with crayons.
Mirrors, dress up, looking at pictures of themselves are other good ways to entertain toddlers.
Toddlers: 24-30 Months
Read: Reading is ideally interactive with young children although some children do like to sit and page through their books, which is also to be encouraged. When reading with children at this age, you can ask them to look for simple things in books (Where is the doggie? Can you find the ball? Which one is red?) A variety of topics are of interest: Picture books about counting, rhyming, the alphabet, animals, daily activities etc.
Talk: Children are starting to speak in short 3-4 word sentences at this age. The more the parent describes and explains, the more vocabulary and language skills the child develops. Name what they point to; remind them about please and thank you, hello and good bye—this is teaching both language and social skills.
Sing: Children may be able to sing songs they hear often and it is a great time to introduce them or continue to expose them a variety of music from simple children’s songs with actions (“wheels of the bus”) to dance music and other music the older children or adults in the family enjoy.
Read, talk, sing, play. These are key guiding words that apply throughout childhood.
Play and Exploration with Toys
Explore: Push and pull toys, cars, stacking toys, magnetic tiles, soapy water and things to clean (dolls, toy dishes etc.)
Interactive play: Puppets, stuffed or plastic animals; ring or bean bag toss and count the ones that go in; make shapes with playdough (can buy or make at home, use cookie cutters etc); pretend play (dinosaurs, animals, princesses, cooking, house etc.); Make an obstacle course inside or in the yard; build a fort inside or in the yard.
Art: Crayons, paint, or used whipped cream to make designs on a cookie tray. Beading: with macaroni, large beads, any object with holes (large rings) on a string or piece of yarn; decorate cardboard box of various sizes (house, costume, a vehicle etc.).
Take a walk (and explore): Jump over cracks or puddles; play “follow the leader” and try walking on toes, with a jump, backwards
Music and dance
Songs with actions (London Bridge)
Ride toddler bike/big wheel
Backyard swing set if have one
Use opportunities to offer simple choices (jacket or sweater, raisins or apple to eat, these pants or those pants, etc.); Pretend play with stuffed animals that includes emotions like happy, sad, angry, scared—“what can we do to help Stuffy feel better?”—a hug, read a book, gentle touch, nice words.
Toddlers: 31-36 Months
Read: Children by this age often love to sit and look at a picture book. Interactive reading with the child as for the 24-30 months old is recommended. The parent can also start asking about the story: "Why do you think Cinderella is crying?" Toddlers can often fill in phrases in their favorite stories by this age and should be encouraged to do so. Some like to act out parts of their favorite books.
Talk: By now, your child is quite conversant and may even start to ask questions (“why?”). Simple explanations, even if over and over, are what they are in search of.
Sing: Music, music, music…sing and dance
Play and Exploration
Art: Similar to the younger toddler but can add tracing around simple objects, coloring. Cut pictures out of magazines and sort into different bowls or boxes by theme (dog, children, toys), then count them. Talk about colors. Shapes out of playdough.
Games: matching games, rhyming games, follow the leader, hide and seek
Interactive: build a fort and have a picnic inside of it or even naptime; play grocery store with old boxes and plastic containers; pretend cook; build roads out of blocks or cardboard and then drive toy cars and trucks on them
Exercise: Take a walk, play tag or chase, jump on a trampoline (one at a time under supervision), teach somersault, dance to the music, yoga.
Regulation Skills. Children build self-regulation skills over decades. Parents can promote self- regulation by teaching words for emotions, modelling self-regulation and self-care, and engaging children in regulation skills like deep breathing that he/she can use when upset/anxious.
Offer the child simple choices.
Asking about emotions of characters in books. Once a child has words for emotions, can use them to say what they are feeling.
Teaching simple yoga and deep breathing (see Elmo’s Belly Breathing video)
Prepare the child for transitions: (“In 5 minutes, I have to start cooking dinner. Do you want to help?).
Life Skills: Having children help often does not save time but it does teach them cooperation and important life skills and builds a sense of self-efficacy. Pick up toys and put away (“clean up, clean up”). Help set the table, cook, sweep the floor, water the flowers etc.