It is February, and I know that for most of us in Canada and the Northern United States this is a difficult month. Winter has already been here for two or three months, and we know there is at least another month or two until Spring. It is often the time of sub-zero temperatures (or -20 celcius), when it is really too cold to bundle little bodies up and take them outside to play. So the question arises, what do you do with your toddler all day long in the deepest, darkest days of winter?
Toddlers are busy, curious little people who have some pretty specific needs. They need to move and explored with their senses. They are into pouring, stirring, dumping, emptying and occasionally filling back up again. They love crashing, throwing and making noise. They need lots of touch and lots of repetition. The problem is that they are too big and curious to be happily carried around all day, but they are too small to play imaginativly by themselves for long periods of time.
If left to their own devices, a toddler will often be able to amuse themselves. But that amusement can come at a messy, aggrivating cost. Entire boxes of kleenex emptied out and ripped up around the house. All the books removed from the lower shelves of the bookshelves. Flour, cereal or something sticky spread all over the kitchen. Marker or crayon decorating the wall, the cupboards, the floor and the baby. When toddlers get bored, everyone suffers. They make messes, have meltdowns and become grumpy, difficult little people.
The thing is that this little person is trying to get their needs met. She is very much living inside of her body. And she is becoming aware of her ability to interact wiht the world around her. No longer content to just watch and learn through seeing, toddlers want to learn by doing. In my inexpert experience as a parent, I would say there are three things that a toddler needs us to give them in the winter that they miss from staying inside a long: movement, sensory stimulation and interactive experiences.
Plastic lights-and-buzzers toy makers tell us that if we just buy the right toys, our toddlers will be happy, stimulated and smart. But toddlers need real life. For their brains and bodies to mature well they don't need educational videos and toys. All they truly need are tactile experiences and loving people. We can use common things around the house and a little creativity to keep our toddlers, and ourselves, happy in the winter. Stay tuned for suggestions on how to help toddlers meet their need for movement, interaction, imitation and sensory imput.