Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Walking for Numeracy, Literacy and Sensory development

We go walking A LOT.  The great outdoors is a sensory-development fun zone.  Between the sounds, the textures, and the creatures and people passing by, the natural and man-made worlds have a lot to offer toddlers.

TalkingSnapdragon flowers

Here is my guide to making the most of walks with your toddler, in your garden and further afield.

Sensory Fun
Watch for trucks, cars and planes.  Hear the sounds they make, point out the different speeds and ways in which they move.  Listen for birds, dogs and insects.  Describe their different colours and habits.  Encourage your child to touch wet and dry surfaces, hot rocks and cold puddles, naming them as you go.  Try to vary your walks so you can take in different environments, forms of transport, and walking surfaces (bumps, tan-bark, long grass, paths).

Take toddlers to a place where they can walk up and down small hills.  This is excellent for their sense of balance and vestibular system (inner-ear balance centre).  Your toddler will fall over much less if you take them to play on hills regularly.  Rolling down hills and twirling on swings, sliding down slides and walking along planks and sleepers are also great for balance.  I have discovered with my toddler that the more I hold his hand when he walks/runs, the more he relies upon me for balance, and he hangs off my arm.  When you hold their hand, hold it down in an ergonomic position (lower than their shoulder height), to dissuade the 'hanging-off-you's'.

Letterboxes are fabulous for numeracy.  They are also great for keeping your walk moving in the direction you want to go ('and the next letterbox number is...').  Point out the colours and different materials of the letterboxes for extra descriptive value.  Keep certain boundaries: not opening other people's letterboxes, not stepping on people's property or their gardens.
To a lesser degree, number-plates on cars are also great for numeracy, but be sure to drum the safety implications into your child ('We do not stand behind cars.' 'We don't touch other people's cars.' etc.)  Look at number-plates on your own cars, on cars parked in driveways from a side angle.  Signs are brilliant for pointing out numbers and letters.  Count small objects like rocks, and leaves, count your steps as you walk, count the birds in a flock, and ants as they enter a hole.  Notice the shapes of road signs, of lines and rectangles in road-markings, from a safe distance.

Singing while you walk is great fun.  Go through the 'Alphabet Song', then spot as many things as you can starting with each letter.  Talk about the letters you see on your walk ~ in signs, on bins, gutters and road marking patterns.  Draw letters in sand or dirt with a stick.  Write your child's name in the sand (remember to clear it away before you leave). Describe everything you see, or encourage your child to tell you about it.

Positional Words
'You walk in front, I'll go behind,' 'Do you see the bird on the fence?' 'That girl is riding on her bike next to the lake.' 'I'll lift you up and you can walk down the slope towards me.'  Stepping out is fabulous for ingraining positional words into your toddler, and helping them learn how these words relate to their bodies and the space around them.

Safety Awareness
Make a set of rules for walking and stick to them.  Ours are:  Always hold my hand crossing the road, in the carpark, when we are walking in a really busy area.  Stay on the path (not on people's gardens), don't approach dogs and cats without permission (from the animal or its master), amongst others.  Just like with every other plan and tactic you use with your children, sometimes the safety rules have to change with the child's development, too.

Walking Strategies
Have a ritual for saying goodbye to things your child is enjoying ~ a simple 'Goodbye Letterbox' and a wave is usually enough to extract my toddler. Stick to the ritual ~ leave once you say goodbye, give the dog a pat or the tree a hug.  Then move on, stating the next destination ('We are going to the swings, now.')

'Touting the next thing'
Keep an eye out for interesting objects 3-5 metres ahead, and keep touting the next thing to keep the walk moving.  Have a destination ~ 'We are going home for a snack.'  Keep reiterating it.  It's much easier to keep a walk moving with, 'we are going to x,' than just, 'we are going...'

Teach in-built reactions to Stop, Look for Moving Cars, and Hold my Hand.  Play an easy game at home saying '1,2,3...STOP!'  Put your hands on the child's shoulders to start with, signifying, 'Stop,' and when they've got it, move on to just saying, 'Stop.'  You can play 'Stop Chasey', too, or reverse roles and let the child control the action by saying, 'Stop!'  Have fun with it, and very quickly you'll get an instant reaction (or at least more of a reaction). Remember it is harder for young toddlers to integrate what they hear into what they do - they may not hear you call their name if their senses are immersed in their surroundings. You may have to tap them on the shoulder before they hear you.

To teach looking left and right, play the Car Spotting Game.  Stand on pavement or nature-strip, on a street with a few cars a minute passing.  Create anticipation ~ 'Is the next car coming from the left (cue: all look left) or the right (ditto)?  Will it be red?  Each child can guess a direction and colour, and all can clap and cheer when someone's prediction is true.  It is great fun, good for direction and colour recognition, and the kids often learn instant recognition of left/right after this game.

Gently stick to you walking rules without making a big thing of it.  If you keep them up, your walks will become more fluid, you won't have to constantly keep telling your child not to try to unlock each garage, and not to fiddle with people's mail, and 'touting the next thing' works better.

If your child tire during the walk, make a big game of it, ie. let's stomp like a dinosaur, flap like a bird, or 'pock' like a chicken.  Make a game also of the flop-on-the-ground tactic used by kids when they are tired.  I say 'Bye-bye,' and my son waves from the pavement where he lies ~ I walk three paces, and look back, he will usually catch me up to say 'Hello!'  If we are in the park where there is no imminent car traffic, I go and hide a few paces away behind a bush, or become suddenly fascinated with an insect he can't see unless he gets up and joins me.  If I draw too much attention to his being on the ground, he does it more.

Encourage kindness to insects and animals (not squishing bugs, observing small creatures and leaving them alone, very gentle patting and handling in close-up encounters).  Young children tend to be intensely curious about the natural world, and I believe encouraging their compassion for animals and plants and their stewardship of the earth and its creatures has a cross-over effect into their home-life.  Learning to be gentle, thoughtful and kind becomes second nature (as much as is possible for a toddler!), learning not to step on plants improves body co-ordination, finding a path through the anthills requires good motor-planning and balance.  In quieter surrounds and with a lack of 'screen-based' distractions, children become naturally more attuned to their body placement in space.

Blake's garden, where rocks and findings from our travails find a home

  Try to plant some little pots your child can tend. Full sensory immersion,  that experience!  They love to water them and watch them grow. Smelly herbs and bright flowers, lettuces and strawberries and beans are all good. Kids like sampling their produce and may get a sudden taste for vegies if they've grown them themselves.

Pick up rubbish (toddlers love posting items, as you know, into bins), as long as you can wash your hands afterwards, and keep hands out of mouths (Keep a wet flannel in a freezer-bag in your back pocket).  Your child learns to be helpful, that rubbish belongs in bins, and you'll have less rubbish to look at when you walk there again.  Plus, it feels good.

A few days ago I had a really crappy walk with my boy.  We were walking back from the doctor's office, with no pram, and Blake wanted to check every water meter, stop and flop on the pavement each ten paces,  and I was praying for some fences to keep him on the path.  I realised the pram paradox.

You may think it's easier without a pram, but with a pram, your arms are free, etc. But...there's a place to put your bag each time you need to run after your child (preventing having bags topple off your shoulder as you reach down to grab their hand), the pram side is an alternate place for them to hold, when they are sick of having their hand held, they can help push the pram, and it focuses the walk forwards.  Of course, you need a pram with good, easy-access brakes, so you can leave it and run if need be.

Kids have a wonderful way of pushing us to change, usually a month or so after we learnt a new tactic and made it part of our 'way-of-doing' daily tasks Where I used to hold Blake's hand to help him balance on the uneven terrain at the park, I now try to do it only when he is crossing mud, reaches out or asks for help, or for safety reasons.  I have to learn to pull back and watch him learning, rather than assist too closely.  Holding hands to assist his balance at a certain point became holding him back and retarding/changing his sense of balance.  He does, of course, like most toddlers, try to change my sense of balance...'What happens when I pull Mum around?  Gee, when she puts the brakes on, I really have to pull hard...'  Rather than encourage this kind of bodily and balance exploration when we are walking, I try to get this activity going at a certain space along our route ~ spinning and twirling on the grass in a suitable space; otherwise using my arms as a  trapeze would become a new toddler walking ritual.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Say 'No' to 'No.'

Blake 'helping' in the garden

One of the best things I ever read about parenting toddlers was the advice to curb use of the word 'No.'

Use 'Not now,' 'We're not touching that at the moment,' 'Enough,' 'Stop,' etc.  Even better, frame your requests in a positive way.  'Hey, over here,' 'Look at this,' 'Let's go and (walk in the garden, play the drums, pat the dog.)'  Anything but the dreaded No.  Toddlers faced with a constant barrage of No trend to have frustration-tantrums, learn not to listen, learn that No is meaningless, or learn to say No to everything themselves.

Tell the child how to, rather than not to, do something, 'Pat the dog gently,' 'Glass can break ~ touch it like this.'  Toddlers need experience of how to do things, and if told constantly NOT to do things, their frustration levels rise, and tantrums ensue.

A small note on tantrums ~ all kids will have them, sometimes.  They are a natural reaction to a world built for big people, with boundaries in place that little people don't understand, and especially to not having the words and skills to express their desires.  If you can't say, 'But Mum, I want to play a while longer,' then the reaction is likely to be, 'WAAAAHHHHH!'  Great ways to prevent and reduce tantrums are
                       Don't give in once you've said Enough or Don't touch (think very carefully before you say anything, so you NEVER go back on your word)
                       Explain the way to ask for what you think the child wants (Yes, I want juice, or No, I don't want it, etc.  My toddler thinks this is a great game, watching Mum talk to herself like this, and he finds it so funny that is defuses most tantrums).
                       Model the behaviour you want, ie, don't have tantrums yourself in front of the child.  If you need to go outside to kick a brickwall or scream, do it.  If you lose your cool, your kid will think that's a great new game ~ getting Mum/Dad to lose their cool.  It also shows the child you think this is acceptable behaviour.
                       Give a '5 minute warning' before nappy changes, activity changes and leaving a place your child is enjoying.  Say WHY these things are necessary ('We need to change your nappy so you don't have a wet bum, we need to go so we can get to Grandma's').
                       Give the incentive of a next thing to look forward to doing. 'We have to leave now,' is nowhere near as enticing as 'We have to leave now so we can play with Play-Doh at home.'

I will do a whole future post on tantrums and how to 'Pitch the next thing coming', for now, though, this is supposed to be about the word 'No'!

Some things are annoying for toddlers as they are objects their parents often touch, like hot mugs of coffee, and which are totally out-of-bounds.  Make your life easier by ALWAYS watching where you put your coffee, not ever letting young children play with cups and mugs (it's much harder to go back if you allow it even once), and teaching WHY it is important not to touch...'The mug is HOT.'  Hot and stop are two words I've cultivated inbuilt reactions to in my boy.  Hot means keep your hands away.  Stop means go no further, or freeze where you are.

The most important thing to remember about the word No is not only do we say it so much it loses real meaning, but it doesn't tell the child what to do.  It often doesn't even tell them what not to do....No?  No, what?  No, don't touch the crystal vase, or no, don't stand here or no, don't breathe...?

A positive direction is telling the child what to do, ie, come and do this instead of doing that (prohibited) thing.  A good analogy is ~

You are training a dog.  The dog keeps jumping up all the time.  Instead of saying No, don't jump (the dog, like a toddler, is likely to only hear the word Jump, and think they are doing what you wish), saying, 'Fido, SIT,' will achieve so much more.  You are giving a direction that, if followed, precludes jumping.  Dogs, like children, naturally want to please.

Positive directions/redirection takes the focus AWAY from the object/activity we want to dissuade, and takes the focus to something new that is allowed.

A quick note on sensory development ~ it is often not possible for young children to listen to your directions, pay attention to whatever they are captivated by, and take everything in all at once.

Touch your child on the shoulder and say their name before the direction is given.
Repeat directions a few times, if needed.  Use simple language and words you know they understand.
Get down to their level and look them in the eyes when you speak.
If you are showing them something and want their attention, tap, scratch or use noise to show them where you want their attention.

Getting kids to help with small tasks is a great way of cultivating helpfulness, and getting them involved in activities you want to do yourself.

Get them to carry small objects, constantly praising their abilities.
Hand you the pegs while you are hanging out clothes.  They can put the washing into the basket for you.
Turn the tap on and off while you are filling the watering-can.
Taste-test for you while you are cooking.
Carry a bag with a few items while you are in the shops.

All these suggestions have the added bonus of increasing small-motor skills and sensory development ~ a lot more positive than, 'No, don't touch it!'

Thanks for reading.  Please subscribe (link at the bottom of this page) or follow this blog for more toddler tactics, and remember that EVERYTHING can be a learning experience if approached in a certain way ~ sometimes for your child, and often for you.