Most of us want to encourage our children in the habit of helping around the house, and there’s plenty they can do from a very young age. Here are some fun ways to get your kids stuck into some chores, while providing opportunities for learning and development.
Squirt some of Dad’s shaving foam or some child-friendly bath foam onto a mirror, window, shower door or sliding door. Let your toddler stand or sit in front of it. You can both smear the foam over a surface to make a “page” and then use your fingers, a paintbrush, an ear bud or any stick to draw. Once you have drawn a picture you can wipe it away and create a new ‘page’ with the foam. Give your toddler a window cleaning tool and a spray bottle of water to clean the shaving foam off the mirror or window afterwards using two hands. Once he tires of that give him a hand towel and ask him to dry it off again using two hands. Hopefully the mirrors and doors are slightly cleaner after the task is complete!
This activity is great for sensory stimulation (the smell of the shaving foam, the feel of the bubbles, the sound of water and so on), and as a shoulder strengthening activity. It also aids the development of bilateral integration (the use of the two sides of the body in a coordinated way), says Nubabi occupational therapist, Carly Tzanos. Stimulating bilateral integration will aid crossing the midline and hand dominance, helpful for tasks such as cutting, tying shoelaces and riding a bicycle when he is older. Develops: Gross motor skills, sensory stimulation, bilateral integration.
Get your baby or toddler to help you in the kitchen. From helping to mix his cereal (you can even use your hands over his hands to guide the action) to baking some cookies, he will love to pour, mix, roll, collect, pick up small pieces and of course lick the spoon! He can use the salad tongs or some small scissors to cut up and collect small items (e.g. lettuce or baby carrots for a salad). Even small babies can help pick up and pack raisins, cheese cubes, popcorn and so on into a small container when packing a snack ahead of his outing. This will strengthen the pincer grasp (using the thumb and index finger to pick up a small item), says occupational therapist Lourdes Bruwer.
Many fine motor skills are strengthened and refined while baking and cooking or preparing food. Babies and toddlers will also be more likely to try some new foods if they have helped to prepare them with you. This is thus a great activity for fussy eaters (many toddlers eat while preparing the meal). He can even help to dish the food onto his plate at meal times. Develops: Fine motor skills.
Speech and language skills do not evolve on their own; they are part of a bigger picture involving social interaction, play, observation, manipulating objects, listening and attending, says Carianne Vermeulen, Nubabi speech and language therapist. Creating daily, fun opportunities for learning is, fortunately, not difficult - every activity can be a language-learning opportunity. On a trip to the shops, for example, point to items and name them, sing a nursery rhyme as you go, or ask questions. Let children hear an item on your list and then point it out on the shelves. They can put the items in the trolley as they identify and name them to help reinforce the word’s meaning. Develops: Speech and language skills.
When children can make their own snacks, that’ll be one less task for you. Offer them some ingredients to assemble, and let them take over. Older toddlers can spread toppings on their bread or crackers using a small butter or jam knife. Be prepared for some mess initially, which can evolve into another activity. ‘Oops, there’s a mess. Let’s clean it up’ says Nubabi clinical psychologist, Claire Toi. Toddlers can be invited to pour their own drinks using a jug and a sturdy mug (a heavier stoneware mug is less likely to lead to spills than a light plastic one).
Even the tiniest toddlers can plop their favourite nibbles into the spaces in a rectangular ice tray. Later this activity becomes a visual discrimination and cognitive game, where you make a pattern in one row of the ice tray (for example: raisin, cashew nut, grape, almond), and they must copy it in the next row. Develops: Emotional facets of self-esteem, independence and bonding with the caregiver, thinking and reasoning.
Using a low clothes-horse or a piece of rope strung up, allow your helpful toddler to assist you with hanging up the washing. Give him some smaller items (like socks) to hang on his line and show him how to pinch open the pegs. Different types of pegs will be easier or more difficult to squeeze open so perhaps try out a few (wooden versus plastic and so on) to see which ones are best for his little fingers to manage. Peg activities are great for fine motor development as your little one will be using all the muscles in his hands that are needed later on to hold his pencil crayons correctly without getting tired too quickly. Develops: Fine motor skills, confidence.
Toddlers love to use adult tools! Give your little helper a brush and pan and let him scoop up dust. If you don’t want him to get dirty you can empty out some pretend dirt e.g. shredded paper, packing chips, beans, ping pong balls, pom-poms and so on. You may need to place your hands over his hands to help them to work together initially. Watch that he doesn’t ‘eat’ any of the pretend dirt! This bilateral task will help with cutting, tying shoes laces and riding bicycles later on! Develops: Fine and gross motor skills, co-ordination, bilateral integration.
While you might need to allow a little (or a lot of) extra time when your tiny helper assists you in domestic tasks, it’s well worth the investment seeing the skills development, fun, laughter and bonding these activities produce!
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