Learning was serious business when our oldest was born. We read to her daily, showed her pictures of faces, whatever the latest articles suggested. As she got older, I made DIY sensory bins, kinetic sand, fluffy slime, fine motor activities, you name it. I was Mary Poppins meets Mister Rogers meets a Pinterest explosion. While she’s now a very bright 4-year-old, I know now that I went overboard.
When my second was born, I didn’t have time to plan elaborate learning activities. She was subjected to her sister’s choice of books and games. If I had a moment to myself I might have been concerned about her lack of age-appropriate stimulation. Now she’s two and she’s just as bright as her big sister was at this age. Before her second birthday she looked up at a stop sign and said “Ah-gah-gawn!” I don’t know who taught her about octagons but I’m glad she picked it up somewhere.
Later I realized, while it’s nice to do educational activities with our kids, we don’t need to obsess. Babies come into this world ready and willing to learn in their new environment. As long as our home isn’t an exact replica of a uterus, newborns are learning just by opening their eyes.
There were some basic opportunities for learning to which both my kids were exposed equally. These are my tips for stimulating kids at home:
- Use your words. I worked from home when my babies were very little and would look them in the eyes while taking kid-friendly work calls. It made sense to me; they didn’t know I wasn’t talking to them. I like to read for fun so I would often read aloud while the baby was sitting in her rocker. Usually she fell asleep and I squeezed in some me-time with a favorite hobby.
- No shoes, no problem. Encourage toddlers to walk barefoot as safety permits. Their brain will be stimulated just by feeling the different textures and temperatures under their feet. Your house and yard are the only sensory bins they need.
- Get low. Sit on the floor and observe the house from their perspective. Look at the things that are obvious to them and tell them the names for what they see. One day my daughter was fixated with our china cabinet. “Duck, Mama! Duck!” She saw something that looked like a duck and became frustrated when she quite rightly sensed we didn’t understand. I got on the floor and looked up. There it was. A detail in the wood that resembled a duck silhouette. She was visibly pleased when I acknowledged what she saw.
I’m not an expert on learning and development. I have what you might call “on the job training” as a mom with two young, amazing kids. As parents in the modern world of information overload and Mommy shaming it’s easy to stress about things that ultimately (in my opinion) don’t matter. My advice is to spot the opportunities for unstructured learning that already exist at home. This frees your mind to worry about real problems like college tuition or which of them is likely to care for you when you’re senile. Cheers, friends.