How babies and toddlers learn and how you can best support them

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We know that during a child’s first two to three years of life, they are designed to learn. Play is your child’s way of making sense of the world. And when they play, they are actually discovering and learning, making connections and developing relationships and attachments.

From birth, babies respond to sound and touch. They learn through their senses. A baby starts recognizing his mother’s voice, and identifies to the mother’s warmth and smell. This is the time for you to enjoy holding and cuddling your baby, singing him songs. Babies who have developed a strong attachment through the comfort and security of a parent’s love will be able to transfer that trust onto others. With trust in place, he will be more capable of forming positive relationship with others.

Whether you’re a new mother, or a more seasoned one with two, three or even four children – every child is different, and not one parenting journey is the same. What works for your first child, might not work again for your second. And you begin to wonder what went wrong.

I may be an early childhood educator but I am also a mother of two myself, and my experiences with both of my children are almost poles apart. But by understanding how your babies and toddlers learn, no matter how different the journey may be, you will come to realise that YOU are the best person to help them learn.

Here’s how:

  1. Believe in yourself

A mother who is calm and positive enables the baby to react the same way – calm. A mother who is constantly worrying and is unsure, sends out the same vibe to her child who tends to pick it up and will react the same way – the baby would probably cry and feel uneasy. So in spite of the storm of fear and uncertainty brewing inside you, do your best to be a calm and supportive mother. Try soothing your baby by singing him a song or distracting him with funny faces, or have a go at peek-a-boos. No one knows your child better than you do, and you have to believe in yourself.

Amidst the chaos, one cardinal rule should remain close to your heart. Remember to love yourself. If everything becomes too much for you to handle, it’s not a bad call to ask for a close friend or a family member to give you a hand. You’re only human and you need a break when the situation calls for it. So don’t feel guilty that you’re leaving your child in the hands of others, but take the opportunity to refresh yourself and come back ready to roll again.

2. Believe in your child

A child who feels safe and loved develops confidence naturally. Present them with opportunities to explore and investigate by providing them with a rich environment filled with safe toys or objects and even offer yourself up as their playmate. Often, we tend to deny our children the opportunity to learn by offering solutions to their problems. But the thing is, you have to first believe that your children can do it. Know when to let go and let them grow. They need to experience the journey of discovery themselves – to explore, discover, experiment and make mistakes.

And take care not to rush them or the process because when we do, or decide to take the all too convenient way of stepping in to do it for them, we are ultimately stripping our children of their chance to develop their sense of mastery, their confidence, their sense of accomplishment.

Children who do not go through such processes may not have the ability to question and to form appropriate skills for a successful future. They may face difficulties in establishing their own sets of thoughts, give up easily, and ultimately their self-esteem takes a hit. Believe in your child, and he will believe in himself.

3. Create a safe, nurturing space to play

Children would go for the very object that attracts and interests them with little attention paid to their surroundings. So provide a safe environment for them to explore on their own under your watchful eyes. Child-proof your play area and ensure that there is no clutter so the children are able to move freely.

You could lay some foam mats on the floor, and provide open ended toys that can be used in a number of ways. They are the best for stimulating imagination. So think wooden blocks, cars, play dough, art materials and dress-up outfits.

Construct a dramatic play area at home where your children can interact in play settings. The beauty about a child’s world is that things are always not as they appear to be. A piece of block is not a block, it’s a phone! This indicates the ability for abstract thinking – which is in fact a higher level of thinking.

Occasionally, you can switch it up and create your own water play at home. Prepare a tub full of water and make available a variety of objects for them to play and experiment with. They don’t necessarily have to be bath toys, but objects that are safe for play in water. This is an enjoyable way for the children to explore the concepts of floating and sinking, or even start pouring and filling up other containers. The possibilities are endless.

4. Celebrate successes

Each milestone, no matter how small is worth celebrating. So he’s managed to fit the block into its right shape, praise him for it but remember to keep it specific and be genuine about it. Most importantly, be there to encourage your child to have a try at things, be there to catch his moment of glory, and even if he makes mistakes, applaud him for his efforts. Put your smart phones away, and be present. Know that precious moments like these pass us by in a flash.

5. Spend quality time together.

This is the best thing that you can ever do for your child. Go for walks with them, read together daily, go for playgroups, look up at the sky together. Every moment spent with your child is another opportunity for you to discover what excites and interests your child. Follow their lead, and while this would mean having to read ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ for the hundredth time, remember that children make connections and learn through repetition.

A saying goes, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family”. We have Mother Teresa to thank for those wise words. Spend quality time with your children, pay attention to them, talk to them, and listen to them.

You are your child’s favourite and most important playmate. And no amount of toys, no matter how fancy they are, is able to teach your child what he will learn from you. The growing years together are and will be some of the most crucial and profound years of your parenthood. It is a beautiful journey to embark on, so be there to be a part of his childhood.

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About the writer: Shobana Chandran

Fondly known as Shoby, Shobana believes that learning is a lifelong experience and one that should be undertaken in an active collaboration between the parents, teachers and the child. She is currently Julia Gabriel Centre’s Head of Enrichment Programmes. In over the decade that she has been with the learning institution, she has been paramount in shaping the early childhood education landscape through her dramatically different ways. Along the way, she has also helped many parents make the most out of their early years journey by helping them understand their child’s learning development. She is reachable at shoby@juliagabriel.com.my or visit Julia Gabriel Centre’s website.

This post is sponsored by Julia Gabriel Cetre.

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