My husband and I try to be mindful about the types (and amount) of toys that our daughters have access to at home. We’ve been fairly minimalistic in our approach, particularly regarding how many toys are available at any given time. (I have a toy and book rotation in place so that they only have a few things to focus on.) We’ve favored experiential toys like musical instruments and art supplies, and we make time each day to use them. Our approach might feel a little militaristic — especially to the grandparents 🙂 — but we believe in the importance of using toys to help our children learn new skills, use their imaginations and teach an appreciation for their belongings. This already feels like an uphill battle amidst the commercialism of the U.S., and our oldest is barely a toddler.
With those goals in mind, here are a few things from our 18 month old’s Christmas list that I’m really excited about:
Books about emotions. I’m a believer in the gentle parenting approach, and I’ve seen firsthand that young children have big emotions that they need help processing. The Color Monster by Anna Llenas helps kids identify and categorize their emotions (fear, sadness, joy, etc.) so that they’re better able to recognize and talk about them. Little Monkey Calms Down by Michael Dahl begins with a monkey who’s having a bad day and then offers suggestions for how he/she can calm down (breathing, singing, cuddling, etc.). Both books emphasize that emotions are normal and that it’s okay to cry. I can’t wait to introduce these to Aurelia during calming corner time.
Calming corner. In the spirit of helping children regulate and express their emotions, I’m in the process of creating a calming corner in our nursery. A major feature will be the Generation Mindful Time-In Toolkit. The toolkit includes tools that help teach children lifelong skills about emotions and how to regulate them in the safe space of a calming corner.
As the name implies, a time in is the opposite of a time out — sending a child to be alone as punishment for “bad” behavior. My parents never used time outs with me, so I honestly hadn’t given them much thought in my parenting journey. But after reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham (CHANGED. MY. LIFE), I was sold on the concept of time ins. Dr. Markham makes an incredibly compelling argument for radical empathy and the vital importance of actively helping your child learn to embrace and regulate their emotions. She explains (and demonstrates through case studies) that children act out due to their inability to manage big emotions on their own. Casting them out away from the family during a time out only further reinforces whatever emotion(s) they’re struggling with and sends the message that emotions are bad. If you’re interested in creating your own calming corner, I highly recommend also reading the book; it will provide a really sold foundation and understanding when it comes time to put the calming corner into practice.
The Time-In Toolkit includes posters that share information about emotions and techniques to help children calm their bodies. It also includes an activity mat and a set of positive affirmation cards which Generation Mindful recommends pulling first thing in the morning . You know I love a daily ritual, and these cards totally sold me on the kit. If the toolkit is above your price point or you’d rather start smaller, this poster set is a great alternative.
Side note: I’m also planning to make a glitter jar — a concept I first heard about on Sesame Street — with Aurelia to include in the space as another calming tool to try.
Cleaning tools. A major tenement of the Montessori approach is to empower kids, respect them, build their confidence and teach life skills by allowing them to become more autonomous. This is reinforced through daily practices like allowing them to set their place at the table, feed themselves, select their outfit for the day and even help with cooking and cleaning from a very young age. At just 15 months, Aurelia started trying to use our hand-held broom and dustpan to clean up after her meals. A couple of months later, she started wiping the table down after she ate. We didn’t teach her to do this; she learned by observation and seems to enjoy being able to contribute to our household.
To help facilitate that interest, we’ve added the Teamson Kids Little Helper Cleaning Set to her wish list. Having access to tools that are her size should really help her learn new skills and curb the frustration that comes with trying to use adult-sized supplies. We’ll keep the set in our kitchen for ease of use. I love this particular product for its pastel colors and the fact that it’s made by a small business.
Cooking tools. My husband recently built a toddler tower to give Aurelia access to our kitchen sink and counters so that she can begin to help with cooking and cleaning up after meals. She’s used it help me make muffins and watch my husband cook on the stove since she’s always intrigued by our meal prep. So far, I’ve only asked her to dump ingredients from measuring cups into a bowl, but I think she’ll be ready to try other skills soon. We’ve added a toddler-sized (and safe) wooden “knife” to her wish list so that we can start to incorporate cutting soft foods into her daily list of activities. Etsy is an incredible resource for wooden cooking utensils for kids like cutting boards, more advanced knives and whisks and scoops, spoons and tongs.