Ok…I am going to confess to something that will probably have the “Mommy-Police” knocking at my door as soon as I hit the “publish” button. But, I am not alone. My husband Jeramy is my accomplice, so if you find my actions reportable I am taking him along with me! Here is the truth: we let Simon play with things that are not age approved.
There. I said it. My toddler who is still about a week away from turning 2, plays with buttons, pom poms, colored pencils, pens, a bin of puree pouch caps, a rock collection, the occasional stick he brings into the house, small scraps of fabric, glue sticks, and so on, as well as several toys that said “For Ages 3 And Up” on the packaging.
Yes, he plays with age-appropriate toys too. Just this morning we played with wooden blocks, little people, a truck, an airplane, and a stuffed kangaroo, all of which are considered appropriate for a toddler by their manufacturers.
Now, I should clarify that we do not just let him have free reign of all the items I listed above, that some might deem too dangerous for a child his age. We supervise his play and we keep some items out of reach until he requests them. From a very young age we would say firmly “No Mouth!” when he would put something in his mouth that wasn’t appropriate. He learned pretty quickly to listen, and for quite a long time now the only things that go into his mouth are food. We are still trying to work on the concept that play food is only for pretend, but that is really the only thing that is still an issue. I can’t really say I blame him for his confusion on that one. (Infants should be allowed to explore their baby toys with their mouths though, it is part of how they experience and learn about the world. I am talking about the things that are not safe, like say, the vacuum cleaner cord.) I would also never give Simon anything glass, sharp, potentially toxic, or otherwise dangerous just because he seemed interested.
The reason I am writing about this is that I feel very strongly that children should be exposed to things, not along a manufacturer’s guideline but by their own readiness. I know my child and I know that he will play imaginatively with the large buttons rather than attempt to hoover them. I know that he is always itching to use Mumma and Daddy’s pens when we write, so I allow him to draw with them, and he enjoys it much more than crayons. I know that letting him try out the glue stick, even if he gets himself all gluey and sticky in the process, is totally worth it for him to learn and have the experience.
When I organize the Toddler Art Program at work, one of the things I encourage parents to do is allow their child to experience use of materials that they might not normally feel was “age appropriate”. Some kids really hate getting their hands dirty when offered fingerpaints, but pass them a paintbrush and they will happily create masterpiece after masterpiece. Some kids are more mechanically inclined and will appreciate the chance to try out Daddy’s flashlight, or toys with little working parts. My Simon likes to put things into other things, so the caps, buttons, fabric scraps, and pom poms are all perfect tools for him to engage in this kind of play.
So I encourage you, if you should happen to see, for example, a wooden puzzle with “Ages 2+” on the box, but you know that your little one would love to try it out at 18 months, go ahead and give it to your child. If your little one wants to hold your calculator, allow them some time with it. If your baby is just begging to get her hands on her older sibling’s bouncy ball, give it a go. (Just be sure they are supervised, that’s all.)
Giving children the chance to experiment a little will help them to develop their own strengths and interests. They will possibly even hone their fine motor skills in the process. Taking away some of the “recommended” rules that limit exploration can give little ones more room and opportunity in which to grow and learn.