he element of ‘pretend’ is quite essential while growing up and is integrated in several aspects of a toddler’s life. It is easy to pretend that a stick is a magic wand, or a disk is a UFO in a pretend situation which has ‘pretend’ consequences.
‘Play pretends’ could be considered a healthy activity as long as the toddler is able to distinguish between the real world and the pretend world. The problem with pretend in virtual world is that it blurs the line between what is real and what is imaginary. The visually fed inputs of visual media leave no scope for imagination leading to passive screen time which diminishes the ability to think, learn or create.
Preschool children have proven to demonstrate more spontaneous creativity to external stimulus than children above the age of six. This leaves a larger scope for cognitive development and the development of five senses. This spontaneous creativity occurs when a child is exposed to sensory rich activities at home or in their nursery. There are four principles which guide spontaneous creativity:
- Freedom to choose
- Fun and Enjoyment
- Cellular Learning – integrating the five natural senses
- Element of Risk – exercising good judgement
- Sensory rich activities need not involve highly processed toys and can be played absolutely anywhere.
A kitchen is the most intriguing part of the house. Different sounds, aromas and colours of vegetables and fruits keep everyone in the house distracted. Items found in kitchen can be used to creatively engage kids for hours. It is easiest to indulge all the natural senses in kids in this environment.
One such activity involves the parent grouping vegetables and fruits of different colours and making toddlers taste them. The kids would associate the taste of the fruit with its colour, shape and texture. The veggies can be further segregated on the basis of taste. For toddlers who are not verbally able to choose their favourite fruit or vegetable would do so by expressions or by pointing at things that interest them. This activity is fun and indulges all five senses in toddlers.
A kitchen is also a source of various sounds. Toddlers explore sound and communication in their own way. A glass half full or half empty makes the same sound and would turn into a musical instrument if a toddler has anything to do with it. You can engage the toddler with sounds made by different utensilsfilled with various volumes of water. Give them a spoon, and they would be off composing their own songs. This activity is fun, engaging and is often used in nurseries and preschools to teach kids about sound.
In the book ‘The Mathematical Brain’, neuropsychologist, Brain Butterworth argues that we are born with a portion of a brain behind our left ear which he calls ‘the number module’ and is responsible for our innate sense of numbers. It is thus, never too early or too late to start counting. One could argue that children between the ages of two to four could be too young to understand quantity. The child might count from two to three and move four objects, but that is the process of learning and exposure to counting could help them learn faster. Toddlers have the freedom to choose from various objects or even movements such as stirring of the food being prepared. This activity involves the adult counting out loud and slow and the toddler counting after them.
The kitchen is also the best place to teach kids about shapes. Recognizing shapes help in learning numbers and alphabets. The chapatti roller is helpful in activities involving identification of shapes. The roller can be used to make chapatti of different shapes. Parents can name the shape and have the kids repeat after them. Over time, toddlers would learn the name the shape they want the chapatti to be. This is a fun activity and would bring the toddler a lot of joy. Other activities on the same concept include counting the number of spoons or tallying the number of people in the family to the dishes they would need.
Spoons, pans, steel or plastic mugs are great building blocks. They can easily keep a child occupied. They are like kitchen Lego. A box could go inside a box which goes into another box and so on. This is a great activity for cognitive development. It teaches toddlers about shapes, sizes and balance. Kids could pile bowls over one another and form a building.
A study published in developmental science about associating names with the food a toddler eats, found out that they can remembers names of food better if they play with their food. Activities which involve pretend are helpful in this case. Parents can pretend that a bite of food is an aeroplane waiting to land. The rising concept of alphabet shaped cereals can also be the base of various activities. Kids can be asked to eat all ‘A’ shaped cereals or so. This can be fun and prove to be a learning opportunity for kids.
Above are few of many activities you can indulge your kid with in the kitchen. Sponge, toothpicks and paper can also be used in an activity of creating shapes made by poking holes on paper with a sponge which is placed right under it. Kitchen sponges dipped in water colours can be used for painting. The patterns created look great and do not require much effort. The time they spend to feel the texture of the sponge before painting is a sensory experience. A sponge dipped in the mixture of granulated sugar and water acts like nectar that attracts butterflies. Don’t kids just love butterflies?
These activities are educational, fun, enriching and will keep your toddler away from the digital media. They would help in sensory and cognitive development. With all its positive sides, one must also always keep in mind the safety of kids as the kitchen is also full of potentially harmful objects.