Family – Toddler (19 mths – 3 yrs)

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Enrich your tot’s minds at home

A baby taught to read at six months old, a toddler learning to tumble at a baby gym…do these really give our children a headstart in life?  Many parents believe that the sooner their toddlers are stimulated, the more they’ll learn in the long run, hence the popular trend of signing toddlers up in a host of enrichment activities.

Other parents, however, stand firm on the belief that “there’s no place like home”, providing their tots with all the stimulation they need in the home environment.

Home But Not Alone
Gwen, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, works from home but makes it a point to spend quality time with her two-year-old daughter, Jaime. Gwen’s philosophy is: “After all, I know my daughter best, and I can give her one-to-one attention with tools from a wide array of sources.”

A strong believer in spending the maximum amount of time with her daughter, Gwen has seen how stretched and tired her nephews look after being rushed from one class to another. Whatever happened to the fun in childhood? For this reason, Gwen doesn’t want to put little Jaime through the hothouse route.

Gwen’s priority is to inculcate the habit of reading in Jaime. “My husband and I started reading aloud to her as early as three months. To further stimulate her audio and memory skills, we would play musical CDs (nursery rhymes, classical), tune into the BBC and occasionally use flash cards.”

For Jaime’s motor skills, Gwen and her husband have bought toys or gadgets that require her to use her eye and hand coordination. Whenever they are outside, they would do simple exercises like counting the steps to the ground floor or point out things like trees, automobiles, insects, flowers, etc. To allow the tiny tot to communicate and express her feelings, they have taught her sign language at six months. And for visual stimulation, they watch Signing Time, a programme that teaches babies basic hand signs as an early form of communication tool. Mum and daughter also tune in to Sesame Street and Hi-5 daily. “I make sure she has stimulation both within and outside the home,” said Gwen.

But Gwen is not ruling out enrichment classes totally. “If I were to send Jaime to a class, it would be because I don’t have the bandwidth to teach her. Take for instance, music, since I am not musically trained, I would not hesitate to send her to such a class as long as she enjoys herself.” As Jaime is her only child, she feels that enrichment classes are also a way for Jaime to interact with other children and build her social skills.

At the end of the day, Gwen feels that the extra TLC pays off. “Jaime is able to express her needs and wants clearly, without throwing any tantrums. She was able to tell us that she needed milk as early as seven months old. She listens and understands simple instructions. At 20 months, she can count from one to nine. She knows how to show empathy when she sees someone in pain or kiss and hug a person who is sad. She demonstrates confidence.”

With the surge of “smarter” toys in the market, it is now possible to provide a child with a stimulating environment at home. Gwen represents a growing number of parents who would rather let their infants learn at their own pace through stimulation at home than subject them to the rigours of hothousing – where the child is constantly ferried from one enrichment class to another.

‘Smart’ toys
“Our baby’s brain has millions of brain cells and she is capable of absorbing or processing huge amount of information. However parents should be careful as to how and when they are providing this information,” says Ubin Khoo, gym director of My Gym. “Prolonged input or force feeding will only dampen the creativity and interest of the child. It is always best to provide age appropriate activities gradually and in a fun, nurturing and stimulating environment. At the end of the day, they are still children and children learn best when they are enjoying themselves through play.”

But before you break out your wallet and shop for the latest educational tools and toys, stimulation at home done the wrong way can have its negative consequences too. Using the TV, CD and computer in the hopes of entertaining your impressionable infants and tots while you go about doing your chores and errands is not exactly enriching. These are virtual “baby-sitters” and such passive environment is likened to rote learning. Recent studies caution that children who are habitually left alone in the care of such electronic aids (the so-called Mozart effect) suffer intellectually from a lack of social interaction.

Fussy Eater

How to get your child to eat nutritious food?
A. Sometimes children do develop their preference for food due to many reasons. A good habit is good to start from young. If your son only prefer  milk, try to make introducing solid food a pleasant experience for him.
 Ever since my son turns two he’s refused to eat anything (except milk). I’ve tried everything. Can you recommend me some cook books for fussy eaters. I would appreciate if you could send me some recipes.

At two years of age, he likes to imitate. Let him sit together with the family at the dinning table during meal times. Let him choose the food that he wants and place the the food on a plate infront of him, not too many items, only top up when he finishes. Take away the food that he does not want pleasantly. Do not worry if he has made a mess. You can also let him play with a few children around his age, and offer food to all the children, he will want to try when he sees other children enjoying the food.

There are many recipe books in the book stores, just look around you will be able to find one that is easy to make. You may want to look for some recipes for finger foods.

KW Chew is a certified midwife and an International Board of Certified Lactation Consultant with a Masters degree in Education.

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