The toddler years are exciting for both parents and children. As he takes his first steps and utters his first words, your little one is collecting milestones left and right. Toddlers are famous for wanting to express their independence and opinions while generally lacking the abilities to do so, says Julie Temple Stan, editorial director of Hooked On Phonics.
Don’t be fooled, though. “Your toddler is a little sponge ready to soak up all of the language-rich experiences you can dream up,” says Stan. “But, juggling the needs of a busy toddler, family and work can make finding time next to impossible.”
It is possible, though, to develop your tyke’s mind while navigating through your routine as a busy mom with these daily games that can help the two of you bond and your child develop his mind and senses.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t stay on key, because your toddler doesn’t mind. Break out into song with your little one while driving to and from preschool, cleaning up the toy room or making dinner together. “The songs busy toddlers enjoy the most usually involve actions,” says Stan. “Position your little one on your lap and gently guide her hands to do the motions with you.”
Turn instructions into silly songs, too, by making up tunes about bathing, cleaning up toys and eating snacks. Get your child engaged by creating actions that illustrate the meaning of the words, similar to "itsy-bitsy spider." “A child is much more likely to remember the meaning of the word if she acts it out at the same time she hears it,” says Stan.
Your toddler is busy learning words and uttering phrases on a daily basis, so why not incorporate word association games into your busy routine? As you are waiting in line at the grocery store, ask your child to practice categorization skills by naming as many vegetables or snacks as he can, suggests Amanda Morin, a Maine-based early intervention specialist and the author of “The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book.”
While running errands, busy moms can also play silly rhyming games that teach word association. “Silly rhyming games in which you try to come up with words that rhyme with ‘cat,’ for example, practice phonemic awareness and vocabulary,” says Morin. “It’s all about incorporating it into daily life, so it’s not a chore for parents and kids.”
Turn an everyday ride in the car or walk through the neighborhood into a game for you and your toddler. Prompt your child to detect important details in her environment and make it a game that will ultimately help improve her language development, suggests Melanie Potock, a Denver-based pediatric speech language pathologist.
“To help your toddler focus on the details, try this game that emphasizes the part of a whole,” says Potock. Begin by asking your toddler questions about what she sees as you walk or ride. Questions such as “Can you find the wheels of the car?” “Can you find the door handle of the door?” “Where is the seat of the swing?” help your child to understand that certain parts form the whole object, says Potock.
It may be difficult to squeeze in some daily exercise with a toddler in tow; however, you can get fit by including your toddler and making the activity a game. Potock says that parents can easily incorporate balancing games in an exercise routine by encouraging toddlers to walk on lines on the sidewalk, like walking a tightrope. Balancing games help improve your child’s sense of balance and can ultimately help him learn how to sit still for a longer period of time, says Potock.
Toddlers are also full of energy, so take advantage of their liveliness by playing Simon Says while you are exercising. Simon can instruct your child to mimic your actions, perform jumping jacks or run in place while you are doing the same. Your toddler may enjoy trying yoga poses with you as well.