Choices

Why do we need to teach our children to obey? The first reason for me to do so as a Christian is that God’s word tells me to:

Ephesians 6:1-3 Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honour your Father and your Mother, this is the first commandment with a promise.

Also, I believe that children who are taught to obey their parents are more likely to obey God as well. If a child cannot submit to the authority of their parent, how will they learn to submit to God’s authority in their lives as they grow?

If you are noticing many occasions during the day where you are having problems with a child who is reluctant to obey, whinges and whines while they obey or flat-out tantrums when they don’t get their own way, you may have a child who is becoming “wise in their own eyes.”

A child who is given too many choice begins to imagine that they are in charge and will question your authority in unpleasant ways during the day.

Have a think back over one of your typical days. Keep a look out for every single choice you are allowing your child. Who chose:

  • when to get up?
  • what to do when they did get up?
  • which clothes and shoes?
  • which cup and plate?
  • what food for breakfast?
  • what activity after breakfast?
  • which book for story time?
  • where to sit for story time?
  • when to go outside?
  • what to do outside?
  • when to come inside?
  • what to watch on TV?
  • which toys to have in the bath?
  • where to sit for dinner……
The list is endless and these are just a few examples. Are you making these seemingly small choices for your child or are they making them for you? Choices are closely linked with freedoms. The freedoms and choices a child is given should be in harmony with their age and moral and intellectual ability. A toddler is not able to handle the same freedoms as a preschooler, who is in turn not equipped to handle the freedoms and choice an older child can cope with.
Freedom and choices should be granted as the child ages and shows that they have the maturity and responsibility to make good choices and to use their freedom well. As moral responsibility is demonstrated,  more and more freedoms are granted until they reach young adulthood and are making almost all of their own choices and decisions.
As a rough guide, it is around the age of 3 that children are ready to make some choices (e.g. jam or peanut butter?) with freedoms gradually increasing from there. A 5 or 6 year old is ready to make more choices in their day and should be able to make appropriate choices because of the modelling you have been giving them over the previous years which shows them what good decision-making looks like.
This is not to say that a younger toddler can never have a choice, it just should not be a day-to-day, all day pattern of behaviour.
How do you know if your child is “addicted to choice?” Simply take away all choices for a day and observe what happens. If the child graciously accepts your decision-making then they are probably ready to handle those decisions themselves.
Be aware though, that a toddler who has had a lot of freedom with too many choices will initially have a very bad reaction to this loss of choice and behaviour will most likely be quite difficult for a couple of days. If you are calm and consistent and continue to make all the choices for your child they will actually be much happier and calmer in the long run too.
The concept of being “wise in your own eyes” comes from “On Becoming Childwise”  which is an excellent resources for parenting your 3 to 7 year old. It includes information on choices, freedoms, routines,  and many other parenting issues:
On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years
Mel Hayde in her book “Terrific Toddlers” covers choices and gives extensive information on how to set up a toddler’s day. My favourite book for 18 month to 3 year olds.

Make your own toddler toys: Jar of spoons

I love this kind of activity. It takes approximately 30 seconds to put together and older babies and toddlers love it! Obviously being glass, care must be taken so that it will not drop onto a hard surface. I use my jar for highchair time, in the playpen or for mat time as these all occur over carpeted floors. You may prefer to replace the glass with something metal but make sure it makes a great sound as that is part of the attraction.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child drops the spoons into the jar which makes a satisfying jangle and tips them back out again. That’s it!

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Baby and toddler toys – beginning posting

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development
  • Concentration

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 1 jar
  • a bunch of small spoons

Routines: Playpen time – Toys and starting late

An example of my playpen ready for playpen time. An attractive selection of age appropriate toys - not too many - of different types.

My toys are stored in plastic crates so that a good selection of toys of a variety of types are all ready for me to pop into the playpen. Crates are rotated from day-to-day so that interest in the toys presented stays high for quite some time.

For those of you who have older babies or toddlers who have not yet been introduced to playpen time, here are some notes on starting late.

Starting late:

For a baby or toddler who has had a lot of freedom, the transition to a playpen can take a little time.  Make sure it is a good time of day to begin (not when they are hungry or tired) and start will a small increment of time – even 5 minutes. Put in a small basket of toys, or a toy or two in each corner of the playpen, instruct the child that they need to play here and that Mummy will be back to get them in a little while.

Yes, they probably will cry and that’s ok. If you are consistent and stick with it, your child will come to play happily for this time. You may like to play a CD or favourite book on tape, letting you child know that they can come out when the CD or story finishes or set a timer and tell them that playpen time will be finished when the timer beeps. Having a cue of some sort to signal the end of playpen time is helpful in the training period because it lets the child know that it is the signal, not their crying, that has decided playpen time is over for the day.

Start with the small increment of time and stick to it, coming in immediately once the signal sounds (timer beeps etc.) and with a happy face and positive tone say something like “Playpen time is finished, you can come out now.” A well fed, well rested child, with age appropriate toys is not harmed in any way by a little time in the playpen, in fact it actually helps them to develop those all important concentrating skills that will enable them to learn so many important things later.

Initially, have playpen time 2 or 3 times a day for 5 minutes. Once your little one is used to spending this short period of time in a playpen, gradually start to extend the time. Once they are spending longer blocks of time in the playpen, reduce the number of times in a day you use it to two and then once a day. By around 12 months all of my children would happily play in the playpen for around 45 minutes which extended to an hour by the age of 18 months. I have watched them examining objects with intense concentration, seen the cogs ticking as they use it in different ways and investigate everything about it. Babies and toddlers often do not do this for longer than a few moments unless you create situations that foster this skill.

Once a child is characterised by happily spending time in a playpen then on odd days you can make exceptions when they are not happy eg. extra tired, sick etc.

Although you may be thinking “My boisterous 12 month old will never do that” let me encourage you that they will. There will certainly be a transition time involved, however if you are consistent, playpen time will be a pleasant time for you both.

Introducing playpen time as part of a daily flexible routine will greatly improve the success you have with it. Trying to implement one planned moment in a day of chaos and unlimited choices for a child will be very difficult.

Routines: Playpen time

What is playpen time?

Time when a baby or young child plays in a safe environment within a set boundary with a selection of age appropriate toys for a set amount of time.

Why have playpen time?

Playpen time is introduced as a regular part of a flexible daily routine. Independent playtime away from all other distractions teaches a child how to focus and concentrate on a few selected items, rather than flitting from one activity to another. It teaches them to be content on their own and to know that it is ok to be separated from Mum for a short time – that she will come back. It alleviates the separation anxiety many young children feel when Mum leaves the room because they know through experience that she will return and they will be ok.

Playpen time provides you as a parent with a period of time where you can take a shower, complete some of your own responsibilities or homeschool older children – all the while knowing that your younger child is safe and happily playing with their own toys.

How do I introduce playpen time?

Ideally, introduce playpen time from before your baby can even crawl. (See tomorrow’s post on starting late.) An emotionally healthy baby can lay or sit for a short period of time happily focussed on their own toys in a secure and safe environment. Make it a part of your daily routine, a couple of times a day for 10 or 15 minutes right from a very young age. If you wait until they can roll and crawl to get where they want and then suddenly impose a barrier, baby will be frustrated and let you know. If they are used to spending some time in a playpen every day it will simply be something they expect and happily participate in.

Obviously babies need lots of time with Mum and other family members, cuddles, attention and the like – I am not advocating using a playpen continuously throughout the day. It is for planned periods of time and for a reasonable length of time.

Where?

Somewhere that you can check on your child regularly, but where they cannot see you. Somewhere away from the traffic flow of the house. When siblings or others walk by, a child’s attention is diverted from what they are doing and they will swiftly become discontent with being there. If they see you check in on them, they will likely cry for your attention and want to get out, whereas once settled an uninterrupted child will happily focus for an extended period.

When do I use it?

When your child is well fed and well rested and at a consistent time each day. Make it a part of your routine so that the child begins to know what will happen throughout the day and is happily ready to go in when that time comes.

Toys

Choose a small selection of toys. Too much choice means that children will not focus on any one item but swap and change from one to another. Ensure that toys are age appropriate; not too easy or too difficult for them to use. If the toys are not interesting to the child, playpen time will be a struggle. Rotate toys so that there is regularly “new” toys to enjoy.

I sort my baby and toddler toys into several plastic crates – one for each day of the week. This way, I don’t have to go though wondering what to put in today – I simply put in the next crate. It also means they only see the toys once a week so they are fresh and interest stays high. When I only had one child, I didn’t have as many toys as I do now so rotating was harder, however I will be adding lots of ideas of toys to make for toddlers and babies so check out those blog posts for ideas. You could also swap toys with friends or join a toy library.

Toy storage

Do not expect children to pack toys in to bags or boxes, it is too fiddly and time-consuming. Open baskets and crates are best as toys can quickly and easily be plopped inside. Large toy boxes are also not a good idea as all the toys get jumbled together, pieces are all mixed up and it is very difficult to quickly pull out a good selection for playpen time.

I have a mental list of categories to help me ensure a good selection of toys which varies according to the age of the child:

(For babies) Something to:

  • mouth or cuddle (favourite teddy or any suitable baby toy)
  • look at (stimulating cardboard books, fabric books, photograph books)
  • listen to (music makers, squeakers)
  • feel (texture related toys)
  • kick or bat at (dangle toys, those that clip on the side of the pen)
(For toddlers) Something to:
  • read
  • push (vehicles)
  • stack
  • open and shut
  • touch and handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • build or construct with (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play with (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • post (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • practice with (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)
  • solve – puzzles (beginner peg puzzles)
  • make music or noise with (maracas, clappers, drums or other percussion, pots and pans or battery operated toys)
Toddlers plus:
See this post on room time.
Packing away

Teach your child to pack up right from the first use of the playpen. Initially it will be you packing away with them watching. Encourage them to help you put the toys away, perhaps placing a small item in their hand and guiding it to the basket and thanking them with a big smile for helping Mummy pack up. It won’t take long for them to understand what you want them to do and you can gradually pull back on the amount of packing you do until the child is completely responsible for this task themselves.

Several of my children have been heard to vigorously start throwing toys back in the crate without me telling them to do so – a very clear sign that in their opinion playpen time is done! While this is very cute, it is important that they realise Mum decides when playpen time is done, not them, or they will simply pack their toys away after a few minutes and expect to come out.


Teaching Toddlers to Cut

Thin card strips (about one inch) are a good first cutting experience. Parallel and diagonal lines can be added to the strips for a new challenge once random snipping has been mastered.

With older siblings to watch, the littlies are always very keen to cut. Rather than have them constantly nag me or try to grab those scissors and have a go on whatever is handy when I’m not looking, I prefer to spend some time and teach them to cut safely – under supervision! It is great for long stints of uninterrupted school time with older children while young ones are happily occupied on a purposeful and satisfying activity.

The stiffness of straws makes them easy to hold and cut. Cut straw pieces can be used for threading activities.

A good pair of child-sized scissors is important. Make sure that they have a larger hole in one side of the handle so the all of the child’s fingers can fit inside, rather than the kind that have two equal sized small handle holes. (See the pair in the photo.) I also buy proper scissors straight away, rather than safety scissors, simply because of the frustration children feel when scissors are not sharp enough to cut well. The initial paper based cutting experiences outlined here would be fine with safety scissors, but once they move on to the straws and other materials they may not be sharp enough.

Streamers are more difficult to cut because they do not stand stiffly out from the "holding hand."

Cutting strips should be about one inch wide so that the child can cut completely through the strip in one snip. Sliding scissors forward and making a second snip to cut through paper is a more difficult skill and should be introduced later. Show your child which hole is for the thumb and check that they continue to hold the scissors correctly with the blades facing away from them. Young children tend to turn their hands around, rather than the object they are cutting, which causes them to end up in all sorts of interesting and uncomfortable positions.

A new level of difficulty. Use cut beads for various craft projects later.

The first material to present is the easiest to cut – one inch strips of thin card stock. Regular paper is too thin and does not stand out stiffly from the child’s hand, flopping down and making it difficult to cut. Remind your child to keep moving their holding hand away from the scissors as they go.

Tinsel makes pretty off-cuts for craft projects. It is quite difficult to handle for beginner cutters though.

I usually set my cutting activities up in the same format (same tray with basket or two wooden bowls) so that once familiar with the task, there is no need to re-explain what to do when a new material is introduced. Scraps are caught in the empty bowl or basket and can be collected and used for art activities such as gluing or collage.

Curling ribbon is also quite difficult to cut because it curls! Add snippets to your collage or other crafty supplies.

When the first cutting experience is presented I demonstrate first, explain what they need to do, then supervise very closely for a time, until I am sure that the child has mastered holding the scissors correctly, points them away from their body, moves their holding hand while cutting, collects their scraps in the container provided and is generally using the scissors in a responsible manner. I am then able to relax my supervision a little and begin to vary the materials once interest in those already available is beginning to wane.

The photographs throughout this article are in a suggested order of difficulty. Stick with thin card strips until the skill is well mastered, moving to thin card strips with straight and diagonal lines to cut along, before introducing the other suggested materials. Moving too fast will simply result in frustration as the material proves too difficult for the child to manipulate and cut successfully. Other items (such as the animals pictured below) can be added to keep interest levels high. Following on from here, a variety of interesting papers, shapes and other materials can be presented, including those that require the child to slide the scissors along and make several cuts. Start with free cutting, straight lines, then curves and other shapes.

My toddlers love this activity. They focussed for an incredibly long time, cutting the streamers into food for the animals to eat. (The scissors should be presented on the tray with the blades facing away from the child.)

Felt boards

Felt boards are an excellent independent activity. They make great table activities (although usually they use it up against the wall rather than actually at the table) and if you have a small version can also be used for highchair time. They require no special skills and are completely open-ended. Language development is enhanced as children create and tell their own stories using the pieces provided and they will keep a child’s attention for an extended period of time. The children in my family have enjoyed using the felt board and still choose to do so even as they grow older.

I made this felt board at Uni as a mini assignment and almost failed because the lecturer thought it was too big to be easily portable!! Now I use it all the time and love the fact that it is large enough for one child to set up a large scene or even for two children to play side by side.

To make a felt board, all you need is a very light piece of plywood or very strong piece of card. Box card is no good as it usually has corrugations and will tend to crease along these. Mine is strong card and has stood the test of time, although the corners are getting a little dog-eared now. If I was making it again I’d go for thin, light wood. Buy a large enough piece of felt to cover the board, with enough overlap to stretch around and glue (hot glue gun is ideal) to the back.

Use your imagination to cut out any number of felt shapes. You may like to have a mixture of animals, people and recognizable characters, as well as an assortment of shapes for building houses, gardens and whatever the child thinks up (i.e. squares, circles, triangles, grassy clumps, stems, petals, tree trunks, leaves, circles for flower centres etc. The possibilities are endless)

Basic colouring books are a great source of simple shapes that you can trace and transfer onto the felt pieces to cut out. I also have several sets of felt figures that go with specific stories which allow the children to re-tell these favourites to themselves.

It is helpful to have the board on a slight lean to help the pieces to stick and some people even stick Velcro dots (hook side) on the back side of each piece for extra grip.

That’s it! Easy to make and hours of play for your child. As with most of these activities, start simple. Put out a few basic shapes to begin with, or just the garden pieces, or animals and fences etc. Older children like to have them all at once and create complicated scenes but the toddlers will be more focussed with less to choose from and rotating pieces to keep their interest levels high.

Toddler and table activities: Playdough


Playdough is a timeless activity that is loved by children of all ages. Whether you buy commercial playdough or make your own, it is an open-ended activity that is suitable for a variety of ages. With the addition of a few new accessories every now and again interest will stay high and children from toddlers upwards will have a ball. I even know a Mum or two who like to get in there and do some modelling of their own!

The highchair is a good place for playdough as the mess is easily cleaned up. A child getting up and down from the table will have dough mashed everywhere. Do not leave the dough out in the air when it is not in use. If it is re-wrapped in a plastic bag and stored in an airtight container it will last for ages. In really hot weather it may need to be stored in the fridge. My last home-made recipe batch would easily be 6 months old and still soft. I have had some batches last almost a year.

One of the biggest readiness factors for playdough is whether your toddler has developed the self-control not to eat it! I make my own so I know at least there is nothing harmful in it, however gobs of salty dough can’t be that good for them so until my children are generally able to resist the urge to put it in their mouth I refrain from letting them use it. (I say generally because surprisingly even an older child will occasionally be caught with that giveaway playdough eating smile!)

Initially, just the experience of touching and squeezing the dough, flattening and pulling it apart and so on will be interesting. Keep it simple and introduce new accessories only when interest has waned and then only one or two items at a time. Biscuit cutters are not very successful until the child has the dexterity to roll out the dough and press the cutter into it – a surprisingly difficult task for a toddler. If you are sitting and playing together with the child they will probably enjoy this but will not be able to do it alone. Store accessories in small containers and rotate to keep interest levels high.

Here is the recipe I use. I couldn’t tell you where it came from but it is a great recipe. Cooked dough always lasts longer than cold mixtures but it does make a mess of your pots. Choose a very large pot, and stir continuously throughout the process. It starts off very liquidy and nothing happens for a while, but once the dough begins to form it will solidify quite quickly. I usually enlist my husband’s help towards the end as it gets very difficult to stir once the dough is forming. Keep going until the dough has lifted away from the edges and there are no wet looking patches left. When you have finished, tip the dough out to cool and fill the pot with water. If you leave it overnight to soak, the next day it will all just lift off. If you try to scrub it clean you will be there for ages.This I know from experience!

Playdough

4 cups flour
1 cup salt
2 tbsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp oil
3 cups water
food colouring – add to water.
  • Mix dry ingredients before adding wet.
  • Heat in saucepan and stir continuously over low heat until a large doughy ball forms.
  • Turn out and roll in a little flour if sticky.
  • Allow to cool. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Below is a suggested list of items to add to the dough, beginning with the first toddler introduction and on through to any age child. The order isn’t important, although toddlers are fairly limited as to what they can do alone so I usually stick to this order to begin with. Older children will use whatever is of interest to them.

Toddlers:

  • plain dough
  • dough with glitter in it
  • a bunch of popsticks to poke into it
  • coloured craft matchsticks, also for poking
  • cotton reels, corks, film canisters, lids and other random bibs and bobs
  • plastic farm animals, fences and trees
  • dinosaurs and plastic eggs
  • plastic sea creatures and boats
  • shells
  • plastic bugs and rocks
  • artificial flowers
  • cars and road signs
  • plastic or lightweight hammers
  • rolling pins
  • biscuit (cookie) cutters
  • plastic plates, spoons and cups. (Do not give these to a child who is already tempted to eat the dough!)
  • playdough stamping tools
  • garlic press
  • many other store-bought playdough accessories