I’ve bought several decks for my children and grandchildren and I’ve noticed that the alphabet flash cards always begin with ‘A is for apple.’ I like nothing better than to get stuck into a Red Delicious, but in terms of familiarity breeding contempt or at the very least, disinterest, apples are old hat. Just ask the snake and ask Adam who is well and truly over it. I think that the creator of those cards and those who came after could have chosen something more exotic to offer a budding mind; the Alligator Pear for instance. It would not only help children link the letter to the object but would also stimulate hours of conversation and further education.
‘Why is it called pear, mummy?’ Or: ‘What is an alligator?’
‘Well, hon, an alligator is a sort of politician who smiles at you, even as it’s getting ready to snap you up.’
‘What’s a politician mummy?’
See what I mean? There’s a lot of tasty meat on them bones to explore.
Between the ages of zero to five there is endless wonder and the need to know. And our children turn to us. They fondly believe that we know it all. We have a small window of opportunity to strike while the iron is hot, keep their interest up and expand their minds. Pretty soon they will be at school and will transfer their trust to their teachers.
A little imagination goes a long way and parents can (if like me they are unable to get past stick figures) print up images to match the letters and create their own flash cards or create a family tree that show the interesting characters inhabiting it and tell their stories. My son tells stories in which his children figure as the protagonists. They find it so enjoyable that they have no trouble making up some of their own. The point isn’t how good those stories are as long as they stimulate creativity.
I was checking out board games recently and while there seemed to be hundreds to choose from, I noticed that most were variations on a handful of original themes. Recreating the same sort of games to suit a particular family dynamic can prove satisfying.
Dot dominoes work on number recognition. They’re learning it at primary school, but you can start a child off at three and a half year old on dominoes, then introduce a dot dice game that puts a six piece puzzle together. Stick the dot numbers on each piece. Toys could be used to supplement a parent’s imagination.
Hold a toddler’s hand and climb stairs counting as you go. Hold both hands up and take away one finger or hold one hand up and add two fingers. My father used to talk about amusing himself for hours when he was a child by rolling a hoop with a stick. That takes agility and tests eye-hand coordination, so I guess that (sometimes) everything old can be new again.