Early Years Parents Guide
The Preschool Years
The world is getting bigger and brighter with each passing day. That's how your preschooler sees things. Story books, media, conversation, games and imagination open up new worlds of knowledge for your preschooler.
Cognitive development is one of the fastest developments in the early years. A baby's brain is just 1/4th of the adult's brain size and by the age of 3, it reaches the 80% of adult's brain size. It means that your toddler's brain needs stimulus of all kinds – visual, auditory and sensory – to aid mental growth. Toys that invite children to explore, listen, touch, think, and make connections include textured beads, matching dominoes, matching pictures, memory games and shape-sorting toys.
Fine motor skills like picking up small objects and opening bottle caps require good hand-eye coordination and finger manipulation that comes with practice. Toys like building blocks, pegs, puzzles and lacing toys help to practice and fine-tune these skills.
By the time your child turns 2, s/he is no longer toddling unsteadily. You'll be breathless watching your energetic child walking, running and jumping. Physical strength is rapidly increasing and new skills are being tried. Games and toys that require movement and action will help build skills, stamina and strength. Try hula hoops, pushing and pulling toys, ride-on toys, skipping ropes, balls and sports equipment.
After the age of 2, you get to see your child's sentimental side. That hug with a whispered 'Love you' will happen now. Teach by example, and watch it happen. Your child is also sensitive and will instantly react when ignored or treated harshly
Even before speaking, your child has probably absorbed a good number of words and language skills. Now, your child begins to speak fluently, say words more clearly, and can correctly answer simple questions. A three year old usually speaks 200-300 words and at this age, children exposed to several languages easily pick up new languages. Toys and games that involve talking to other players, role play and listening are useful.
Your child's cognitive skills
As a parent, you never stop being amazed at the new things your child says and does. Your child who was earlier playing with different toys, has now begins to think while playing, focussing on a game or toy with concentration, figuring out how it works, and why objects match. With a greater awareness of different shapes, colours and sizes, your child's power of Visual Discrimination is growing. Your child is capable of sorting objects and pictures according to colour, shape or size. Games that encourage sorting, stacking and matching also build Concentration and promote Logical Thinking. Children can connect concepts like 'bird and nest,' 'lion and cub' and 'table and chair.' Matching pictures, letters and concepts is something they enjoy doing. Your child's interactions and communications are also taking on new dimensions. Empty promises will not work as they can remember what happened yesterday, and look forward to what was promised for tomorrow. Perception of concepts like time, distance and relationships is increasing. A keen Observation leads to imitation of attitudes, gestures, behaviour and speech. Give your child, activities and playtime ideas that encourage role play and thinking. Memory games, 2-player games and jigsaws promote memory and social skills. These games encourage the child to think logically, follow a sequence of actions, and figure out how to fix a puzzle that does not fit. Simple problem solving skills are evolving as your child finds the right way to fit a puzzle through trial-and-error. Role play is also important as children learn to imitate adults and fit in socially. They love imitating adults, right from infancy when your baby wanted to keep your mobile phone at her ear. Now they begin to play cooking games, Mummy-Daddy, doctor, mechanic and teacher.
Language and Communication Skills
At two, your child's Communication Skills are spectacular. Verbal and Non-verbal expressions are getting more and more sophisticated and your child can fit the right word to the right context, discriminating between similar words that have small differences in meaning. You may never have explained many words but your child has been listening to you and those around him/her since s/he was growing inside you. Months of listening now translate into clear speech. The minimum Vocabulary expected at this ageis 50 words but a child exposed to many people and conversations can easily speak 200-300 words between 24 and 36 months. When a child turns two, s/he has a large Passive Vocabulary tucked away in the brain, which s/he will slowly begin to use in the coming months. Your 2 1/2 year old can express feelings and thoughts easily; “I'm so happy, Mama!” “How big the dinosaur is! Let's go to the Dinosaur Park again,” “I love you, Mama!” This also offers a good opportunity to teach your child to verbalise negative emotions like anger and sadness, which will help to get rid of them. “When you are angry, tell me why so that I can help you. Don't throw your toys when you feel angry. They will break and you will lose good toys.” The limited vocabulary of the toddler has grown into an Active Vocabulary of 50-200 words at two years, and by the age of three, several hundreds. You may find yourself being bombarded with endless questions, as well as repetitive ones. But remember that this is your child's way of learning. Everything you say will be processed by the brain and tucked into the memory. Your 3-year old may tell you “This colour is not gray - it's silver!." If you point to a hen and call it a cock, you may find yourself being corrected. Keeping up with the sharp brain of a 3-year old is a daily challenge. In the early years, your child can pick up new languages far more easily than you can. If exposed to a second language, young children can quickly learn it. It might be common to use a combination of two languages in daily conversation, but they soon learn to use the languages separately without confusing them. Children can even learn more than two languages, if they are exposed to them by people who interact with them regularly.
Fine Motor Skills
You might have enjoyed watching the pincer-grasp of your infant, but now your child's Fine Motor Skills are growing more skilful. This 2-year old can screw and unscrew boxes and bottles - and you'll have to ensure that your medicines and household cleaners are out of reach. You never know when the little brain might think that bottle of pink-coloured floor cleaner is a bottle of juice! A little clumsiness remains, but there are far less spills and accidents as your child's Eye-hand Coordination improves. They can now fit a puzzle piece into a hole of the same shape, and stack rings or cups according to size. While a child discovers which hole a piece will fit into, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes activity going on in the brain. S/he is unconsciously figuring out why the piece will not fit into another hole, comparing sizes and shapes, figuring out how hard the piece needs to be pressed and how the fingers need to turn or move. At the same time, a sense of satisfaction and a boost of confidence accompany the correct answer as a puzzle fits perfectly, and the correct combination is committed to memory.
In self-correcting puzzles, the wrong pieces don't fit perfectly, only the right ones do. So when the puzzle is first being tried, trial-and-error helps to figure out the right answer. Later, logical connections and memory make fixing the puzzle quicker. Mistakes can be spotted by the child when pieces don't fit.
Home is Child's first school
Learning alphabets at school is very simple, if they have given little practice during the learning that happens in the first few years at home. Children are digesting and processing a great deal of information, and accumulating many skills as they watch, try and learn. Don't underestimate the learning ability of your little one. Speak to them as if s/he understands everything, and you will soon discover that s/he does. Offer puzzles and games that stimulate learning and discovery - they are the first textbooks. Get creative and do some exciting things - go for a picnic with a basket full of food (which your child helped to pack), games and bed sheet to sit on. Go for a nature walk, and examine colours, sizes and textures of leaves and flowers. Challenge your child to a treasure hunt at home, where s/he must spot as many orange objects or round objects as possible. You can double the pleasure of parenting by playing games with your child and getting involved in all their activities. Your child will love you for it!