Books for Infants and Toddlers

In my previous article I had written about all the things that one can do to support a child’s language development from birth and one of the things that make a huge impact are books. However, are all the books available in the market appropriate for your 0-3-year-old? Probably not. Here’s a basic guideline that I keep in mind while choosing books for my 18-month-old daughter. 

Types of books to choose

For infants and toddlers who are still in the process of gaining coordination of their hands, it is wonderful to offer board, cloth and wooden books, as they don’t tear and would be easy for them to hold and manipulate. For children below the age of 3 we can choose books that are more pictorial and less of text. Choose books that they can relate to and the ones that have real pictures in them. Apart from the picture books, it’s interesting to consider offering the following as well:

  • Flip and flap books
  • Finger puppet books
  • Touch and feel books
  • Sound books
  • Pop-up books
  • Rhyme books
  • Peek-a-boo books
  • Books with other babies (babies love looking at other babies!) 
  • Search and find books
  • Puzzle books
  • Waterproof books 

How to set up

One of the beautiful aspects of a Montessori prepared space is the facilitation of independence. In order to offer independent choice and cater to their sense of order, while setting up your child’s book corner we need to consider two things. Firstly, is it accessible? When a few books are placed at a low level (the child’s height to reach) it becomes easy for the child to access them to read at her/his choice. The books can be placed on a low shelf, in a basket, on a book shelf or in a box, basically anywhere that is easy to take out and put back again. The second factor to consider is how many books should we keep? Ideally, the thumb rule is not too many not too few; anything between 3-5 is a good number. This book corner can be anywhere in the house where the child spends most of their day. Books can be placed in multiple areas of the home as well. We have a book corner in our bedroom and one in our play area, where most of her day is spent. 

Rotating and care for the books 

I rotate the books in our book corners whenever I sense my daughter’s disinterest in a few of the books. I ensure not to rotate all of the books but keep one or two familiar ones that she is still fond of. Rotating the books helps sustain their interest in reading. While reading the books with my daughter, my husband and I always model handling the book with care by gently turning the pages and taping any ripped pages in front of her. 

Few publishers of note

A few of my favorite publishers / authors whose books are available in India are:

  • Tara books
  • Bright start by Amarchitra Katha
  • DK publishing
  • Usborne books
  • Bright baby
  • Lady bird books (selective) 
  • Helen Oxenbury. 
  • Rod Campbell
  • Eric Carle 
  • Karen Katz 
  • Tulika Publishing
  • Pratham Books

Apart from choosing these kinds of books for my daughter, I involve her in what I read; that is if she shows interest. For example – magazines, newspapers, photography books, encyclopedia to name a few. I really hope this article helps you buy age-appropriate books for your children. Happy reading! 

Advertisements

Toddlers Language Development

My 13-year-old niece visited us the other day. While my 17-month-old daughter and my niece were playing, my daughter handed out a few pieces of wooden strips to me and said, “This for you Amma”; she pulled out a few more and gave it to my niece saying “For Akka!”

Communicating with my toddler has become quite easy and these past couple of weeks there has been a huge explosion in my daughter’s speech. From making sounds to attempting to say the word to saying the word to saying two-word phrases and to making a sentence, we have come a long way! Of course, the syntax is still not in place, but it will happen in due time. 

From birth to six years of age, children are at a wonderful phase where their learning is effortless, provided they have been consistently exposed to rich language. Those who are aware of the Montessori philosophy would be aware of the phrase “The power of the absorbent mind!”. During the first six years of a child’s life their brain is like a sponge, simply soaking in everything that is around them, be it good or bad, direct or indirect, they are constantly processing, learning and adapting to the ways of life around them. 

Life is unpredictable and each child is different from the other; there are children who walk or talk sooner, there are those who hit the milestones at the right benchmark and there are those who get to it later. Irrespective of the timeline and different abilities, what matters the most is the acceptance the child receives from the family for the way s(he) is today. 

However, being aware of the child’s absorbent mind, it is wonderful if we, as a family, make an effort to help the child by being a ‘prepared adult’ in her/his developmental journey. To be honest, it is not hard but quite enjoyable and effortless once it comes naturally to you. All we need to do is simply expose, involve, read and describe! 

If it is of any help, here is an overview of my daughter’s language learning journey:

Fetal Period 

When our daughter was still in utero, my husband and I made an effort to speak, sing and read to her. When my sister was expecting, I used to sing and read books to her pregnant belly quite often. Surprisingly, for someone who is fond of children, books and singing, I found it quite challenging to do all of them regularly for my baby. My husband made up for it and believe it or not, it does wonders. However, there was one song that I sang to my child repeatedly throughout my pregnancy. Once she popped out, I sang the same song to her often and I definitely felt that there was a familiarity for her seeing her reaction. 

Books 

First off, it’s never too early to introduce children to books. Having said that, we introduced a few high-contrast books to our daughter when she was only three days old. I still remember the day we shown her the first book. We were still in the hospital, it was 6:30 in the evening and she was done with her feed and was up crying; my husband gently placed her on the toppocino (a baby-sized mattress that helps them transition from womb to world) and placed the high-contrast book,  that we had purchased, in front of her, just a couple of inches from her face. As her gaze turned towards the book, she stopped crying immediately. She was engaged with the book for a couple of minutes as my husband and I were standing beside her and soaking it all in, simply mesmerized! Ever since then, there has been no turning back for us. 

Month on month, the way we introduced books and the way she interacted with them evolved. When she was still in the supine position, we would lie next to her and read. When she could hold her head still, we had her in our laps, for short periods, to read to her. When she could roll over or crawl, we read to her while she was in that position. When she started to sit, we had her sit beside us while reading. Now at 17 months of age, she likes to sit by herself and explore the books at her book corner. 

Music and Singing

For most parents, singing comes naturally. From the time they are born, singing to an infant is such a wonderful way to bond! They can relate to a song that you have been singing while they were still in your womb! When I was pregnant, I read, in a Montessori guide’s blog, about singing a few same songs to your baby often, till they are three months old. Just around the time they are three months old, they begin to recognize the song and turn towards you whenever you sing it! I tried it with my daughter, and it worked! I can’t express my joy at seeing her reaction. 

During the initial months, while I was nursing my baby, I found it very convenient to reach for my phone. Since the baby sleeps for most part of the day, knowing the importance of skin-to-skin contact and the short bonding window that I had, I used the time to sing to my baby. However, when she dozed off and was nursing for long stretches, I would have a book or my phone in hand, to kill time and forget the back pain! Today, she hums and tries to sing all the songs that we have been singing to her repeatedly, since birth. 

When I say music, it’s purely about listening music sans the video. Of course, we have our Bollywood and regional songs to listen to but listening to the classics is a wonderful way to not only acquire language, but also a beautiful way to understand the rhythm and notes in music.   During the initial months, I used to play Western and Indian classical music to my daughter at a low volume, and as the days went by, we explored more genres and music in other languages (even Mongolian, why not?). Today she loves to hum, sing and move to the rhythm of any music we listen to. 

Naming and Describing  

How often are we guilty of replacing names of things with “it”? Keeping that in mind, when do we feel that it is the right time to start naming and describing to world around us to our child? Truth be told, it can be from day one! “Oh look, you have soiled your diaper, let’s clean you up.” “Let’s unfasten the buttons of your diaper, now I am taking a wet wipe to clean you up.” “Let’s put the dirty wipe in the dustbin, the soiled diaper and clothes in the laundry basket and let us go to the bathroom and wash ourselves up” and so on and so forth. 

I believe that naming and describing our emotions and our experiences to our children, is like having a conversation. We are communicating our thoughts through speech and in doing so we are respecting them as intelligent beings and enriching their language learning abilities, being a rich, warm and loving source of knowledge. 

I’ve often come across people who didn’t know what aspects to name or describe to their children. Well, it’s quite simple, every action can be described using precise words of the objects and actions used. Another thing that I loved doing with my daughter, during the initial months, was to sit in a park or garden and describe all that was happening around us. The animals, birds, insects, people, sounds etc. It helps the child to comprehend when we make an effort to speak slowly and clearly. 

PRECISE LANGUAGE

Having considered all the above things, I can’t stress enough on the usage of precise / exact language with children. They are so cute! and more often than not, without our knowledge, we kind of tend to modulate our tone in a sweet, childish way while speaking to them. And it doesn’t stop there as we take it further and use baby words! “Can you see the doggy?” “Do you want some bikkie?” “Look at the froggy leaping!” 

Learning language comes naturally to a child. Their hormic need to develop themselves by absorbing everything in their environment includes language and during the first three years of life, they are unconsciously soaking in all the distinct words and sounds in their environment and thereby forming the different patterns of speech in a language. The usage of precise language binds the child’s experience together and later on, helps her/him to express themselves articulately. 

A repetitive exposure to language in the above ways, creates sensorial impressions for the child and lays a strong foundation for writing and reading later on. So, if you haven’t already started, it’s never too late to start reading, singing and conversing with your child. For some of us, it comes naturally, for others it takes time, but the effort surely pays off in the end. 

Park and the Senses

9th February 2019

On most days of the week we try to explore a new park in the neighborhood and today was one of those days. The moment we entered the park my daughter seemed a bit unsure and wanted me to pick her up. As I gently encouraged her to take a short walk, she decided to give it a try. At 16 months she is on the verge of becoming a confident walker. She ventured a little and was about to climb down a step when “Stop! be careful” said a voice. My daughter and I looked up to see an elderly man with a friendly smile on his face. I smiled back and said, “She can do it!” 

Still unsure of her surroundings, my daughter wanted to be picked up, but instead I offered to hold her hand and walk slowly. As we walked, I described to her the surroundings and named a few things that she had spotted. As we continued, my daughter suddenly left my hand and took a step backwards. When I turned to see what caught her attention, I saw my sweetheart keenly observing a stream of big, fat red ants who were busy doing their business. She found a bunch of ants underneath a fallen and almost-dried almond leaf. She was tempted to touch the ants but fortunately she listed to me when I said, “We only watch the red ants”. She spent some time observing the ants and when her eyes finally met mine, I said, “You found the red tree ants!” I casually reminded her of the time our car was covered with red ants and how we tried to get them off the car. She took a couple of minutes to observe the ant activities. Just when she was about to touch the big bunch of ants, I reminded her again, “We only watch the ants”, fortunately she listened.

We took a couple more steps and reached a Y-junction in the park. I asked her if she wanted to go left or right, she chose left. A few workers were busy cleaning and fixing the beautiful mosaic water fountain and as she couldn’t view the scene entirely, she requested to be picked up. We observed the mason do his fine work in fixing up the cracks. As he was working, I mentioned the appropriate language of the activities and items she saw.

I let her down once she decided to move on. As we were walking, her eyes fell on the ladybird that was walking in front of us. Suddenly, my daughter went on all fours and started following the poor thing. When she put her hand next to it, the bug started crawling up her fingers and eventually fell. My daughter followed the terrified bug for a good 10 – 12 minutes and while she was at it, her hand gently brushed a small branch of leaves. Immediately upon her touch the leaves started folding; “Touch-me-not” plants I said. However, fascinating as it was, she was more intrigued by the smell of the lemongrass bushes behind them. She ran away with a piece of lemon grass and with a big smile on her face, she started to smell the leaf. 

Playing with the ladybird.

After her smelling exploration, her eyes fell on the small steps that led to the manual outdoor gym in the park. Up she climbed and down she came, “weee” she glided on the steps until her need to master it was satisfied. 

What was that noise? She heard a noise overhead and quickly gazed up at the sky. “It’s a jet” I said. Without a cue from my end she simply decided to lie down on the cobbled stones and observe the jet. While she was at it, she used this time to implement her grandma’s yoga lessons! I was getting major stares from all the strangers who were walking by and I simply smiled back at them as they gave a look of disapproval at my daughter’s dirty state of clothes, hands and legs. 

After about 15 minutes, she was finally ready to go to the play area. She made a few friends on the merry-go-round. As she was going down the slide, she noticed a slightly older boy running and playing on another slide repeatedly. Something about the action fascinated her and she was content sitting there and observing him. “Ahhhh” came a yawn, that was my cue to take her home. 

P.S: Today was one of those days where she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the bed! 

Pottery for toddlers – Clay play on the wheel!

The child does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” – Maria Montessori 

Even as adults when someone places a piece of clay in front us, we cannot help but dive our hands into it and explore. The artistic ones give it a beautiful form and the not so ones, simply enjoy making an attempt. 

Now imagine a child who is still in the process of acquiring movements explore clay. A quick google search can give you the zillion benefits of children working with clay, so yes, all the squeezing, pinching, pulling and rolling helps in developing the large and small muscles of the hand. And yes, it also definitely helps in eye-hand coordination, helps the child to make patterns but it also brings the child together. When the child is immersed in the play s(he) is not only concentrating but it can also spark joy. The best part, just like art, is that this is also a wonderful open-ended craft form that each age group explores differently. 

There are two main techniques in pottery, one is hand-building and the other is on-the-wheel. Each technique is a world of its own and apparently, the more you learn the more there is to learn! I am not a potter, but I wish to acquire the skill one day; until then, exploration with the basics it is for me.  

Knowing the therapeutic wonders of pottery, I equipped myself with the information to be able to offer it to my 16-month-old daughter. She is still actively in the mouthing phase and I was quite skeptical to introduce it to her. She already has an edible play dough station set up and observing the way she explores it, I felt it might be a good time to introduce her to the world of clay and add an extra layer of challenge. After watching her play with clay, I am so glad I did!

How I Introduced the clay and the wheel

I placed down our multipurpose vinyl mat and set the materials in the order of usage – apron, clay cutter, potter’s wheel, bowl of water, sponge and terry cloth (not seen in the picture, kept on the side is a small bucket of water and a mop). After setting up the materials, I invited my daughter to work with it. Usually, while introducing a new work, I would do a presentation. But today I wanted to keep it an exploratory, open-ended activity. I gave her a piece of clay and simply said “This is clay”. This is the first time she is seeing and feeling clay. She was engrossed in exploring it with her hands by pinching, squeezing, pulling and squashing it. Since the clay was sticking to her hand, she constantly kept checking them. When the clay dried on her hand, she wanted her hands to be cleaned. That’s when I introduced the word and the object “sponge”, dipped it in water, squeezed it and with gentle, slow movements rubbed her hands from top to bottom. She was keenly observing the clay coming off her hands. 

Although I am more inclined towards the hand-building technique for young children, I set up the child sized potter’s wheel anyway, to offer her an opportunity to explore. While working with the clay she suddenly chose to put the piece of clay on the wheel. I stated, “Potter’s wheel” and turned on the switch and once it started rotating, I invited her to watch. I poured a little bit of water onto the clay and continued to cup my hands around the clay to form a dome. I used my thumb to make a hole in the center, but it went horribly wrong (lol); nevertheless, it served the purpose. I managed to make a sad looking vase/cup/bowl. Once I was done, I used the clay cutter to cut my article and transferred it on a piece of paper. I placed another lump of clay on the wheel for her to explore. She was interested in pouring water on the clay. The more she put the stickier it became, and the more she worked without watering, the drier it became. As the clay was spinning on the wheel, she was trying to put her hand on the clay and slowly observing the change in shape of the clay. The first time we did pottery together she was only comfortable in touching the clay while it was spinning. (The second time we worked on it, she was keener on pinching the clay between her fingers to give it some shape)

Once she decided she was done, we started winding up. The thing about clay is that over a period of time it tends to clog the drainage pipe, so instead of washing the tools in the sink, we washed the tools in a bucket of water and used the same to water our plants. We transferred our clay creation onto a piece of paper and left it out in the sun to air dry; the article usually takes about 4-5 days to dry up depending on the weather and the amount of water used. Based on the uniformity of articles thickness you can choose to fire it up. 

Things you will need

  • Clay (Terracota)
  • Child sized apron
  • A thread for cutting the clay
  • Sponge
  • Terry cloth napkin 
  • A small bowl for water
  • A small bucket of water in hand
  • Suitable surface to work on – Oil mat (Vinyl)/granite 
  • Newspaper
  • Child sized potter’s wheel (optional)

Things to Keep in mind before introducing this activity 

  • Ensure your’ and your child’s nails are clipped, as it can be quite difficult to remove clay from underneath the nails. 
  • Clay stains are hard to remove; either clothe your child in some banal clothes or have them work in their diaper. 
  • As mentioned, as far as possible, do not throw the clay water in your sink as it can clog the sewage. 
  • For young toddlers, try to offer this activity after they have had a proper meal so that the need to put things in their mouth is reduced.
  • Ideally, it would be easier if there is more than one adult with the child while doing this activity. 

Tips

  • Once you cut a piece of clay to work with, ensure that your big lump of clay is still covered in plastic, as it tends to dry up and become hard really quick.
  • Wash the tools right after usage. 
  • Having the activity set up as accessible to your child, can lead to independent choice of working with it. Just like how we are in the mood to do a particular thing, so are they too. 

Based on your child’s age, as they acquire skills and interests, you can introduce the usage of various tools and other hand building techniques such coiling, pinching, scouring etc. to them. It is always nice to look for inspiration around to nurture the interest further and provide an opportunity to observe. If there are any potters, pottery workshops or pottery studios nearby, to your place, it would be wonderful if you can arrange for a visit.  

What I love about working with clay is that, when something goes wrong all you need to do is simply make a lump and start again. Pottery is one of the beautiful forms of craft that requires precision and with frequent opportunities, young children are capable of building precise movements. It is a wonderful open-ended activity that almost all children love to explore. Hope you can too.