How to Stimulate a Child's Mind


Parenting Image Gallery Reading a book together is a tried and true way to stimulate a child's mind. See more parenting pictures.
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Parents want to provide the best for their children. But there will always be a debate about what's best -- which toys are the most desirable, what books are the most educational, which television programs are appropriate. Although you can find dozens of expert opinions, ultimately the choice is yours. In this article, we will look at ways for stimulating a child's mind and promoting his or her development with toys, books, music, games, and more. Here's a glimpse:

  • Choosing the Right Toys for Babies Many toys available today promise to bolster child development, enhance intelligence and promote learning. But which claims are true and which are exaggerated? In this section, we take a close look at the role toys play in a child's development. We evaluate the cost of a toy versus its effectiveness and recommend alternatives to high-priced fad toys. You'll also find a list of household items which make excellent toys that will entertain a child for hours. Finally, we focus on the specific needs of babies (up to 12 months old), and which types of toys are likely to be the most beneficial -- and fun.
  • Choosing the Right Toys for Toddlers By age one, your child's hand-eye coordination has improved considerably. Consequently, more challenging, interactive toys will be more appealing. In two categories (12-24 months and 24-36 months), we list the most age-appropriate toys for toddlers. For instance, in the 12-24-month section, you'll read about blocks, sorting toys, shape-recognition toys, riding toys, push-pull toys, pounding toys and dolls. For the two- to three-year-old, toys that allow adult imitation are favorites. You'll learn about different types of talking toys, trucks, trains, kitchen equipment, realistic tools, puzzles, play scenes, and quiet-time toys.
  • Reading to a Child There are so many positive effects reading can confer that the only question is when to begin. We provide helpful suggestions on implementing storytime in your child's routine in this section. You'll find a discussion of the types of books most appropriate to various age groups as well as the kind reaction and interaction you can expect from your child from infancy onward. We also talk about investigating your local library, which may offer story hours in addition to a selection of children's books.
  • Encouraging Creativity in Children Creativity is an essential problem-solving tool, allowing the ability to "think outside the box," and enabling new solutions to be imagined. This page deals with nurturing creativity in its many forms, including coloring, painting, playing house and having tea with an imaginary friend. Find suggestions on triggering your child's imagination and encouraging new ideas. Read about art projects, too -- and low-cost alternatives to art supplies like paper, paint and clay. We discuss make-believe games and how you can contribute ideas and props to your child's play. And finally, we talk about imaginary friends and their role in your child's life.
  • Music and Television for Children It is believed that a fetus can hear music from the womb and may even recognize songs he heard in utero after he emerges. In this section, learn about the benefits of early exposure to music. Plus, read about the different types of music your child may enjoy, from classical to folk to world music, and where to look for each. In the second half of this section, television for children is addressed. You'll find a discussion of the negative aspects of TV, advertising and voilence, and how to avoid them. And you'll read suggestions on incorporating television as a valuable educational and entertainment resource.
  • Exploring Nature With Children You could spend years in your backyard and never notice all the flora and fauna teeming there, so just imagine how many opportunities for exploration your child will find in the great outdoors. Read tips on nature walks, like what to bring and how to make it fun. Learn about the highlights the four seasons offer: water and sand in the summer, snow and ice in the winter. We provide instructions on planting seeds so that you and your child can watch the growing process together. And you'll also find some tips on introducing your child to wildlife.
  • Gifted Children Children who display a particular ability to concentrate or memorize, or who begin reading by age 3 or 4, may be gifted. Other characteristics like a particular ability to draw or an interest in and talent for music, drama and dance, could indicate the child is exceptional. This section outlines some of the signs to look for to determine whether a child is gifted and talented. There is detailed information on having a child's talents assessed by a professional. And finally, read about maintaining a balance between providing enough stimulation and pushing your child too much.
  • Children's Learning Programs and Preschool There is no definitive research on the benefits of academic learning before school age, but parents often want to teach their children skills like math, reading and foreign languages. In this section, read experts' opinions on imaginative play and academic readiness. Find suggestions on enhancing your child's thinking skills with simple, informal exercises and questions. You will learn what benefits attending preschool may provide -- like socialization -- and why some parents decide against it. Finally, read guidelines on choosing a preschool that will meet your child's specific needs.

Choosing the Right Toys for Babies

In their efforts to supply the best for their children, parents sometimes buy many toys and learning devices proclaimed by their promoters to aid the development of a multitude of skills. But the most creative, colorful, and expensive of these devices are helpful to a child only if her basic needs for food, warmth, and nurture are being supplied by a loving adult. The development of skills that toys encourage is only a part of the total picture; children must develop as total human beings -- body, mind, and spirit. Your child senses your values by the quantity and quality of time you devote to her and by your attitudes toward imaginative play, reading, and music. Your interaction with your child is more important than material goods.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on the Infant and Preschool Child, parents may be wasting money if they buy educational toys with the specific intention of increasing a child's IQ. Similarly, learning devices do little to advance social behavior. Developing a few deep relationships with people does more to advance your child's social skills than does any object you can buy.

Granted, toys are important. All play is learning, and your child's toys are her tools. The best way to use toys is to be aware of their limitations -- while they may enhance development, they can never substitute for contact with the parent. You are your newborn's first, best, and most amusing learning device -- you have an expressive face with changing expressions and moving eyes; you make sounds your baby likes; you have ten fascinating fingers to grasp and hold and pull. This section provides general tips for finding and buying the right toy and describes some age-appropriate toys for babies.

Finding and Buying Toys

Household toys for babies. Many of the best toys are homemade; others are household articles in general daily use. For example, a child younger than one year old loves -- and learns from -- dozens of perfectly safe objects in your kitchen: measuring spoons, nesting plastic bowls or cups, and pans and kettles. When the baby is mobile, store some of these entertaining supplies in a lower cupboard where she can get at them without your help. For several minutes' amusement any time, put a new four-inch rubber ball onto the high-chair tray. Don't throw away any clean, sturdy box, including cylindrical oatmeal boxes and those that hold store-bought toys -- your baby will often find the boxes more interesting than their contents.

Choose toys wisely. ­Your shopping preferences, your budget, and the amount of time you have determines where you buy toys -- in exclusive toy stores, gift shops, or children's shops; from catalogs that come in the mail; or in department stores, supermarkets, and discount outlets. One of your first considerations may be price. "You get what you pay for" is often true, but it's not necessarily a good guide in buying toys. You may pay a high price for a big name or to follow a fad, when a toy that costs considerably less is just as good and would give your child as much satisfaction. Or you may buy something well made and worth the price, but your child never plays with it. One way to look at the real value of toys is to consider the amount of pleasure they give in comparison with their cost. For example, it's worthwhile to pay a substantial price for a teddy bear that your child will drag around the house and sleep with every night for several years. But the cute jack-in-the-box that breaks after a few minutes of play is a bad buy at any price.

You should have other considerations besides cost. One is fun; your child should like the toy you buy. Every child should have access to certain classic kinds of toys: toys to build with, to love and cuddle, to work with and operate. But you should also consider a child's preferences, which start to show up early and continue to grow and change. One baby may like balls better than another baby does; one likes soft dolls best of all; another turns again and again to the mirror fastened inside the crib. On the basis of those preferences, you may sometimes buy a fad toy you suspect is overpriced simply because your child wants it and you like it.

Ask yourself a few questions when you select a toy: Will you have to supervise its use? If you have to teach your child to use the toy, are you willing to find the time? Is the toy so fragile or so expensive or so noisy you will curtail your child's use of it? Does the toy suit your family's lifestyle (farm or city, big house or small apartment)? Do you have storage space for the toy? Does the toy promote sex stereotyping?

Age appropriate toys. A very important question is whether the toy is appropriate for your child's age. Manufacturers give suggested ages, but you must use your own judgment, too, and your knowledge of your child's ability to manipulate, maneuver, and solve problems. The age range listed on toy packages is often so wide that you may be tempted to buy a toy too soon. Remember: You want to challenge and intrigue your child, not frustrate and anger her. A toy that requires the skill and experience of a two year old will be wasted on your one year old.

Make sure it's safe. Above all, toys must be safe. First, be sure what you buy is a toy. Some ornaments and decorations, however colorful and attractive, are not meant to be used as toys and are not manufactured in accordance with standards for toys. Do not assume every toy you see is safe, no matter how reputable the store that stocks it. Every year the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) directs the recall of many kinds of toys that can't take the normal use and abuse young children give them. Watch for notices of these CPSC recalls in magazines and newspapers, inspect toys carefully before you buy them, and check them often as your child plays with them.

Your child's toys should be nonflammable, non-breakable (remember that brittle plastic may break as easily as glass), and nontoxic, of course. They should be washable and should have no sharp edges, no splinters or nails sticking out, no traps in which small fingers can get caught, no pins or buttons a child can pull off. Infant toys should not be small enough that they might be swallowed, and they should not have detachable parts that could find their way into your baby's windpipe, nose, or ears. No infant toy should have a cord longer than 12 inches that could become wrapped around the baby's neck. If you have older children, it's important to be aware that many of their toys may be dangerous for a baby or smaller child.

To list and evaluate every kind of toy available for babies and toddlers is impossible. We discuss here the classic groups of toys all children enjoy. Many can be homemade, some can be shared by two children close in age, and some can be passed down from one child to another. However, children often become so attached to some belongings, such as dolls and books, they can never let them go. Some of the toys listed here for babies will start collections you and your child will add to with more sophisticated or complicated items over the years.

A Baby's First Toys

Your baby's very first toys should be those that awaken and sharpen his senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Look for bright colors, melodic and appealing sounds, and interesting and varied textures. The youngest infants are fascinated by moving objects and are eager to touch, hold, and manipulate. Between three and six months of age, your baby is able to grasp objects. By six months, he enjoys putting one object inside another, banging and hitting objects, exploring them, and opening and closing doors and drawers. Do remember that during the first year, and often for some time after that, babies tend to put everything in their mouths. So in addition to making sure toys or other objects your child plays with cannot be swallowed, make sure they are clean.

  • Rattles will probably be your baby's first gifts. They range from sterling silver keepsake models to those made of plastic.
  • Stuffed animals and soft dolls are also among a baby's first toys, and they remain favorite gifts for many years. Your baby's first ones should be brightly colored, lightweight, and small enough so he can hold and cuddle them.
  • Mobiles, some of which are musical, are excellent for developing your baby's attention to specific objects and ability to track objects visually. Attach them to the crib or playpen or hang them from the ceiling.
  • Mirrors delight all babies. Safely constructed of unbreakable, polished stainless steel, they come in hand-held models to shake and rattle and in large sizes to attach to the inside of the crib or playpen.
  • Balls of every description are among the best toys for babies. Try to have some of different textures -- soft, rough, fluffy, smooth. Some are of cloth, with grips for little hands; some are of heavy plastic, weighted, and embedded with chimes or figures.
  • Activity boxes are usually made of plastic and can be mounted on crib or playpen sides or nailed to the wall. They usually include a mirror to look at, wheels and dials to turn, buttons to push, doors to slide open, and objects to slide along built-in tracks. Manufacturers often recommend activity boxes for infants aged three months and older, but until your baby can sit up well, chances are a box won't be much fun.

As your baby develops physically and cognitively, his ability to manipulate and understand the toys he plays with increases. By one year of age, some of the toys which fascinated him as a baby will no longer hold his attention. Click to the next page to read about toys that will captivate toddlers from age one through age three.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Choosing the Right Toys for Toddlers

By one year of age, your child's large motor skills are developing rapidly. Progress in toddlers' eye-hand coordination is noticeable. They are interested in moving objects. Toys to pull and push, especially those that make sounds as they move, are often favorites. Activities for toddlers that involve opening and closing, putting in and taking out, and playing peek-a- boo will delight them. Below we describe age-appropriate toys that are most fun for your toddler.

Toys for Toddlers (12 to 24 Months)

  • Blocks are ideal toys, all-time classics, because they are toys children can use in more than one way, and you can adapt them for use by children of different ages. Blocks for your toddler should be fairly large, with rounded edges and corners. Start with just a few made of cloth, foam or foam-filled vinyl, or molded plastic. As your child gets older, add to the block collection, including all the variations on this classic toy that appeal to you and your child.
  • Sorting toys help your child learn colors and develop manual dexterity. The most popular of these consists of four or more colorful rings in varying sizes that stack on a cone set into a solid or rocking base. It is best to save the ones in which the rings fit on the cone only in decreasing order for older toddlers.
  • Shape-recognition toys are suitable for toddlers closer to age two than age one. They are composed of bright wooden or plastic cubes or other geometric shapes the child drops through matching holes into a box or other holder. These toys help your child develop eye-hand coordination, matching skills, and shape recognition. They provide challenging learning activities, but if too many pieces are involved, a child may become frustrated.
  • Riding toys are for children who can walk by themselves. A child should be able to climb on and off without difficulty and maneuver the toy capably. Look for sturdiness, ease of movement, and secure seating. Your child's first riding toy won't have pedals, and it may come in molded plastic or wood in the shape of a horse or other animal, a wagon, or a car or truck.
  • Push-pull toys will be among your child's favorites when he can walk independently because of their movement and noise-making characteristics. Be sure the handles are covered with large safety balls. Your child can load wagons or trucks with other toys -- some even come equipped with block sets. More elaborate push-pull toys for older toddlers are called action toys. Favorites are such toys as school buses and airplanes outfitted with small wooden passengers that fit into color-coded seats. Younger toddlers need to be supervised when they play with toys with small accessories -- or you may want to keep small people figures put away until your child is beyond the mouthing stage.
  • Pounding toys are benches with pegs or balls to pound through holes. Some are large enough that your child can sit on them as he develops eye-hand coordination and both gross and fine motor skills. Wooden hammers present safety hazards for a child whose pounding action is still uncoordinated, and they can be dangerous when two or more children are present, so this is not a toy you want to buy too early unless you're willing to supervise its use.
  • Dolls are a good example of toys that have moved out of the arena of sex stereotyping as the needs of boys, as well as girls, to cuddle and love have been recognized. Boy and girl dressing dolls are outfitted in special clothes that offer practice in the skills of zipping, buttoning, snapping, and tying.

Toys for Older Toddlers (2 to 3 Years)

Your child's imaginative play skills are beginning to develop at this age, and you may often hear him talking with a toy or with an imaginary companion. Children this age enjoy imitating grown-ups by using adult-like tools and appliances. The more realistic the toy, the more apt it is to stimulate the creative play skills developing at this stage.

Other favorites are large-size riding toys with pedals and toys and equipment that call for throwing, jumping, climbing, and running actions, which strengthen the large muscles. Your child is able to concentrate on a quiet task and finds the small-muscle activities required to paint, put together puzzles, and use interlocking block sets enjoyable because of his increasingly improved eye-hand coordination.

  • Talking toys and dolls have a great appeal for children aged two to three and older. Talking boxes and books describe a picture to which a pointer is directed, and talking dolls repeat short, clever phrases. The strings on most talking toys must be pulled out all the way to hear the entire message, but most children don't seem to mind if they don't get it all. When buying a talking toy, it is important to make sure the phrases are distinctly spoken and clearly enunciated.
  • Trucks are especially good for outdoor play in sand. Those with movable parts, such as dump trucks, fire trucks, and cement mixers, are favorites. Be sure metal toy trucks do not have sharp edges and are rustproof. They should be easy to operate so your child won't become frustrated. Check trucks for stability, easy maneuverability, and securely attached wheels.
  • Trains may be of the push or the wind-up variety. Some of these trains have tracks an adult must assemble. A child should be able to easily place the train's cars on the track. In wind-up models, the winding mechanism must be easy to operate, and the train must move smoothly along the track without getting stuck.
  • Kitchen equipment is a favorite of both boys and girls. Durability is an important feature, and compactness may be a consideration for storage. Some appliances come separately; some are attached in models that include stove, sink, and refrigerator, all with intriguing details. The most expensive separate appliances are of molded plastic and very realistic, with doors that open and knobs that turn and click. Accessories may be included. At least some assembly by adults is required on most sets and single appliances.
  • Realistic tools and toys help children imitate adults. In selecting tools, which range from play drills and saws to complete tool chests, look for safety, durability, and manageability. Some tools can be made to run by pulling a cord and pushing a starter button, and some make realistic vibrating noises. Check stability and maneuverability in toys such as baby strollers, shopping baskets, and wheelbarrows. Metal toys should be rustproof, and wheels should roll easily. Among other popular realistic toys are telephones, both talking and nontalking. Talking phones are battery-operated, and some have viewing screens on which characters appear as they speak. Dashboards, reminiscent of the activity boxes babies love, are also popular. They may include such features as steering wheels with horns, clocks, windshield wipers, ignition keys, rearview mirrors, glove compartments, gear selectors, and speedometers.
  • Puzzles strengthen and enhance a child's eye-hand coordination, matching skills, and shape recognition. Be careful to match the intricacy of a puzzle with a child's development; a puzzle with too many pieces frustrates a child and discourages future attempts. Good first puzzles are sturdy, of plastic or wood, with only a very few large pieces, sometimes with small plastic knobs attached to each.
  • Play scenes provide children with opportunities to use their imaginations. Available in addition to regular dollhouses are such settings as garages, farms, and nursery schools. Accessories include family figures, cars, furniture, animals, and play equipment. The more familiar a child is with a particular setting, the more appealing it is. Play scenes should be easy to assemble, provide storage for their own individual pieces, and have moving features. The structure should be sturdy, and the number of pieces should not overwhelm the child.
  • Quiet-play toys encourage children around age three to concentrate as they develop motor and manipulatory skills. Children of this age can understand and enjoy simple games and can use fairly complicated realistic toys. Some toys for this age group help children understand money, tell time, or count. They should be challenging enough to maintain interest but not so difficult as to be frustrating. If a toy seems beyond your child's capability, put it away for a while and try it again when your child is a little older. Some quiet-play toys are interlocking blocks, play boards with adherent plastic or felt pieces, cameras, realistic household toys, puzzles, play scenes, and simple games a child can play alone.
  • Art. Now is the time for a variety of art materials, too: washable colored markers, crayons, paper, and finger paints. Artwork requires your supervision at first, but it is an important and necessary part of your child's development. Art fosters imagination and encourages creativity.

Of course, there are other activities you can do with your child to stimulate the senses, like reading, listening to music and playing games. On the next page, we address the subject of reading to your child. Included are tips on selecting age-appropriate books and information on the benefits reading imparts.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Reading to a Child

By reading regularly to your child, you will aid the development of his reading skills and cultivate his love of books.
By reading regularly to your child, you will aid the development of his reading skills and cultivate his love of books.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Besides providing hours of enjoyment and a storehouse of knowledge and memories of story time that last a lifetime, reading helps your child develop four basic thinking skills: the ability to pay attention, a good memory, capability in problem solving, and proficiency in language. The single best way you can encourage your child to love books and reading is to read aloud to her. Where reading is concerned, you can't start too early; you can't continue too long. Reading experts recommend you start reading to your child at birth and continue into the teenage years, perhaps in family sessions.

Your infant does not understand the words you read, and indeed, you need not even read children's stories. A parenting book, the daily newspaper, or a new novel are equally enchanting to your baby, who loves the sound of your voice and the concentration of your attention. If you love poetry, read it to your infant and continue to read it as the child grows. Many children love the rhythm and cadence of adult poetry long before they can understand it.

Thirty minutes a day is a reasonable amount of time to spend reading to your child, probably divided into a few short sessions for a small child. Any time of day is good for reading. Most parents like to make it part of the bedtime ritual; it's a way to help a child relax and get ready for sleep. Morning, at the breakfast table, is another favorite time for many parents and children. The main point is to take the time for reading and to make it an important part of your daily routine. By reading regularly to your child, you will aid the development of his reading skills and cultivate his love of books. On this page we will provide suggestions on reading to your child: when and what to read, where to find books, and how to avoid some reading don'ts.

Introducing a Child to Books

Thousands of children's books are available. Many of the best children's books have been around for years. With so many books on the market, it makes sense that only the best ones survive over time. One way to sort through them is to ask your local children's librarian for suggestions and get the name of the local retailer who has the best selection of children's books. If you're fortunate enough to have access to a university library that has a noncirculating children's collection, you'll be able to read the latest and most popular children's books before you buy them. Though your local library will have these, too, they will often be circulating and unavailable.

Your child's first books should be short, simple picture books, brightly illustrated. They should be small enough for a baby to handle, and toughly constructed of cloth or cardboard because children will chew them, pull them apart, and throw them. Your child will be two years of age or older before she begins to take care of books; until then she'll treat them as toys, so you may want to buy inexpensive editions of most. Be sure the books you buy for even the youngest child are well written, not artificial sounding, and well illustrated. Otherwise, they bore you, and your child catches your feeling.

Read it again! At about two years of age, your child begins to appreciate books. Besides beginning to take good care of them, she has figured out how they work -- from front to back, from left to right -- and has learned to turn the pages one at a time. Your toddler has memorized some stories and nursery rhymes, can recite surprisingly long sections or whole verses, and can "read" along with you. She insists you read the same book over and over and over, and she catches you if you don't do it justice every time or if you skip a word or change a name.

Comfort yourself with the knowledge that when you read these stories over and over you are fulfilling a necessary function in your child's development: Experts say repetition is a stimulator of interest and important to the process whereby brain cells make connections. When children are between the ages of two and three, they enjoy stories that involve some kind of confrontation, such as "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." At this age, children also like stories about holidays and seasons because this helps them understand family traditions.

Tell your own stories. One way to stimulate your child's interest in reading and to supplement the reading material you have on hand is to tell her your own stories. A story can be as long or as short as the time you have to tell it, and you can tailor it especially for your child. It can be about a toy or the family pet, a picnic or a walk in the woods, a little boy or girl just like yours with a parent just like you. Whatever the topic, make your story lively: Have something happen right in the beginning, and keep the action moving. Don't be afraid to use some words your child doesn't understand because hearing new words is the way she expands her vocabulary. It's fine to have your main character struggle against fierce odds, but be sure to give your story a happy ending. Until your child is older, fairness must prevail; the good must win, and the bad must lose.

Books From the Library

Your child will probably own ten or more books of his own by age two, and it is at about this time you need to supplement the supply with books from the library. At first you may find it easiest and best to visit the library alone so you can take your time selecting the books that best suit your child's interests and level of understanding. But take your child with you sometimes; the weekly or biweekly library habit is one you want to start early and encourage forever. Continue to choose some of the books you'll read to your child, but let your child pick some out, too, even if they don't seem appropriate to you.

Unfortunately, not all libraries allow children younger than school age to have library cards; if yours does, help your child sign up for his own -- having one's own library card is a sure sign of growing up. Check into other privileges and services the children's department of your library offers. At toddler story periods of 30 minutes or so (to which a parent accompanies each child), librarians sometimes read very short stories and lead the children in finger plays and action singing games. Regular story hours and other programs are often available for children two or three years old. Story hour also offers an opportunity for your child to interact with other children.

Reading Don'ts

  • Don't continue to read a book once it is obvious your child doesn't like it.
  • Don't use reading as a reward or punishment. It should be an activity you do every day, whether your child has been an angel or something less.
  • Don't start reading a long book when you know you won't have time to do it justice. Every book deserves a good reading, and children aren't ready for continued stories until they are four or five.
  • Don't feel your child must sit quietly beside you or in your lap while you read. An active child may be able to listen better while she colors or strings beads.

Selecting the Best Books for Your Child

You'll want to expose your child to a variety of books, but you will notice before long she develops definite preferences. One child likes exciting stories with true-to-life characters, another loves anything silly, and still another prefers fantasy. Of course, tastes change as a child is exposed to different kinds of books and to different experiences in daily life. For example, your three year old, who understands perfectly the difference between being naughty and behaving well, enjoys books about mischievous children for a while. If you're expecting a new baby, your toddler or preschooler will want to see a lot of books about how babies are born and what it's like to have a little brother or sister.

Your librarian and the clerks in bookstores can lead you to the books virtually all children appreciate. Some are brand new, some relatively new, and some so old your own parents knew them as children. Among the latter, and probably some of your own favorites, are the classic fairy tales -- beautifully illustrated stories about unforgettable characters such as the wicked witch who tries to cook the children and the dragons that threatened the castle. Some parents believe fairy tales are too violent for children at any age, but librarians and reading experts recommend them for children six years of age or older who can understand the difference between reality and fantasy.

No periodicals specifically for children three years of age and younger are available, but your child will find the adult magazines and catalogs that come into your home interesting. Look through them with your child, pointing out pictures of babies, grandparents, animals, foods, and toys. With those pictures, you can make up scrapbooks your child will cherish, and when the child is about three years old, she can select the pictures and help you with the cutting and pasting.

By experiencing stories at an early age, your child will develop a lifetime appreciation for the magic of the written word. In addition, kids acquire memory, concentration, language and problem-solving skills that will serve them well in school and beyond. Encouraging creativity will also enhance their problem-solving skills, and you'll find different make-believe games to do with your child in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Encouraging Creativity in Children

Your child displays creativity when she shakes a tambourine or bangs a drum to the beat of the dishwasher or makes something where nothing was before -- a drawing, a finger painting, a clay animal. Creative children also are at work when they put on your old shoes and play house, insist that you set a place for an imaginary friend at the dinner table, tell you a tall tale about how the milk really got spilled, or beg you to get rid of the monsters that inhabit the bedroom closet.

Nurturing your child's creative abilities involves a bit of a paradox. You need to let go a little, to back off and leave artistic and inventive decisions up to her. However, you can trigger imagination by asking thought-provoking questions concerning the whys, hows, and whats of objects and situations. It's very important that you be available to provide reassurance when creative ventures don't go right and praise for trying as well as finishing.

Some concrete help is required. For example, it's your job to offer your child experiences from which to take off in creative ventures. Without having seen and heard and participated in many of the wonders of the world, she does not have a base upon which to build or play. Offering these experiences does not mean a tour of Europe; it means, for example, long and careful looks at everyday objects and places and people, picnics in the park, and visits to woods and streams. Encouraging creativity in art projects and make-believe play are discussed on this page.

Art Projects

Sometimes actual instruction is called for. You need to teach your child how to use the art materials you supply; your suggestions will help in first efforts at drawing and painting, and your supervision is definitely required in many situations. Art supplies are fun to buy, and you may be surprised at the number of them even a baby can handle and enjoy. Before the age of one, a child loves to scribble on a big piece of paper with a fat graphite pencil. She can move up soon to colored pencils, jumbo crayons, chalk, and, by age two, water-based felt-tip pens.

When your child is ready to paint, probably at about two years of age, think first of protection -- one of your old shirts to cover the child and newspaper sheets or a special mat to cover the floor. A two year old can help you make finger paint (see recipe to the right). For easel painting, poster paints are a good choice.

Paper for drawing and painting can become expensive in the quantities some eager artists require. Consider using plain newsprint (which you may be able to buy from the newspaper office or art supply store in a roll), shelf paper, scrap paper or used computer paper you bring home from the office, and the white insides of cut-open disposable diaper boxes. Beginning painters sometimes do better with pastry brushes or trim-painting brushes from a paint store; they hold more paint and are easy to handle.

From the age of two, your child loves to pound, roll, and flatten whatever kind of clay you supply as her sense of touch develops. The most practical first clay is a plasticized variety you can buy at the store or a flour or baking soda and cornstarch clay you make yourself (see the recipes in the sidebar).

Coloring books. Should you let your child use coloring books, or do they discourage creativity? They're fine, say educators, as long as you also supply plain, blank paper and don't insist your child stay inside the lines. They say coloring books help a child develop dexterity with crayons and offer a chance to explore color and color combinations. With a coloring book, a child can turn out a creditable picture, perhaps on a day when she hasn't the energy to start from scratch.

Imagination at Work

Make-believe play. You'll see your child's first attempts at make-believe before he can walk, when the two of you play peek-a-boo with a handkerchief. At six months, your baby pretends to groom his head, bald or not, with a hairbrush. Your early walker imitates your floor sweeping with a push-toy, if no little broom is handy. Your child will amaze you with his inventiveness finding props -- a receiving blanket becomes a swirling cape for dancing or a knapsack for carrying supplies to a hiding place blocked off with a pile of books under the dining room table. You can contribute props, too, including such castoffs as hats and shoes and other clothes, costume jewelry, and a briefcase or small suitcase. You'll learn not to discard big cardboard boxes, the cores from rolls of toilet tissue or paper towels, the plastic containers strawberries come in, or almost anything else that is clean and intact.

Sometimes your child brings his dolls, stuffed animals, and puppets into imaginative play. Long conversations may take place as your child reenacts interesting or worrisome situations. You are also likely to see and hear versions of punishments and scoldings you recognize as originating with you.

Imaginary friends. Other times these dramas may include an imaginary playmate who comes and goes or who is with your child day and night. Only children are more apt than others to have these imaginary friends, but many later siblings have them, too. The friend may cause you some annoyance when your child insists upon a good-night kiss or a seat at the table for him or her, but there are advantages, too. The most important is companionship, whenever and wherever your child wants it.

Your child can develop creativity through drawing, painting, sculpting and playing. There are plenty of opportunities for expression in music, as well. On the next page, read about integrating music and television into your child's life.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Music and Television for Children

In many households, the sounds of the television or stereo can be heard for hours every day. So when you bring a baby into the home, you may have to reconsider what's playing when. Experts agree that children should experience music as early as possible. But what about television? On this page, we discuss integrating both music and television in positive ways.

Music for Children

Early development specialists believe the youngest of babies should be exposed to music, and not only lullabies and children's songs. It has been well established that fetuses can hear, and some researchers say infants have shown definite signs of recognizing music their mothers heard before giving birth. A French obstetrician, interested in knowing just what a fetus hears, inserted a hydrophone (an instrument for listening to sound transmitted through water) into the uterus of a woman about to give birth and tape-recorded the sounds. Besides the mother's heartbeat and the whooshing sounds of the womb, the voices of the mother and her doctor and the strains of a Beethoven symphony were clearly heard in the background.

As children exposed to books generally grow up enjoying reading, those exposed to music will almost surely appreciate it all their lives. Many of your infant's favorite toys are probably musical, and he will enjoy whatever music you listen to on the radio or stereo, the music you play yourself on any instrument, and the humming, whistling, and singing with which you accompany your work. Don't worry: It doesn't matter to your baby if you don't have perfect pitch.

At about one year of age, your baby tries to accompany the music you provide by clapping his hands and bouncing to the beat. By age two, he enjoys going to outdoor concerts with you. Provide short pieces of music your child can listen to from start to finish sometimes. Use soothing chamber music at night to induce sleep and patriotic songs and marches to get the morning routine under way. Try folk songs and some of the music of other cultures. Shop carefully to try to give your child the best of whatever kind of music you select.

If your favorite stores do not stock a good selection of children's recordings, you may be able to borrow them from your library. Also, a number of mail-order catalog companies carry children's tapes and compact discs, or you can download music -- either for free or available for purchase -- from the Internet.

Toddlers enjoy folk songs, music from other cultures, records that call for activities, such as exercises and play-acting, and stories read aloud. Some recordings come with accompanying storybooks.

Make your own music. Children enjoy nothing more than making their own music, especially if it involves making up a band and parading around the house or the yard with another child or two. You can buy toys that make sounds, such as a toy piano or a children's guitar, but simple, real instruments are better. Some very suitable for toddlers are bongo drums and tom-toms, marimbas, cymbals, triangles, bells, and tambourines.

Television for Children

Television, some say, is responsible for a new and different kind of American child: a little TV addict who is pale, listless, and apathetic, whose fate is to become a passive adult who has serious gaps in language, reading, and communication skills. These critics believe TV is all bad; it destroys family life and discourages reading and conversation. Some go so far as to banish television from their lives altogether in an effort to pretend it does not exist. At the opposite spectrum are homes where the set is on from early morning until late at night and children are allowed to watch television for hours and hours every day. At its worst, it is used as a pacifier, a convenient babysitter parents don't have to pay.

Many parents are convinced, however, that at its best, television is superb in its capabilities as both entertainer and educator. They believe TV is so much a part of society today that children should start early to learn to use it wisely and get the most out of it. Five hours a week is suggested by some of these parents as a reasonable amount of time for a child age two or three to watch television. Before that age, your child probably watches only fleetingly, if at all, noticing only movement and color and not following a plot. As well as controlling the hours of viewing, you should select age-appropriate offerings on public, network, and local television, choosing topics to which you want your child exposed.

Rather than using TV as a babysitter, watch at least some programs with your child. Watching together can be a little like reading a story. As you cuddle in a big chair, you can point out aspects of the action or characters you want her to notice, as you would if you were reading a story. When a program is over, you can talk about it with your child, answering questions and asking some of your own about her perceptions of the action.

Violence and advertising. Two of the main criticisms of television for children concern violence and advertising. Statistics tell us by the time they graduate from high school, the average American child has watched 350,000 commercials and has seen 18,000 murders on television. For toddlers and preschoolers, the Saturday morning cartoon programs are probably the worst offenders. One study has shown that some 18 violent acts occur during a given hour on these programs; another, that only about 3 percent of the characters injured in outlandish and unrealistic accidents ever require any kind of treatment. Physical and verbal aggressiveness have been found to increase noticeably among three and four year olds who consistently watch the cartoons; it seems the more they watch, the more accepting they become of aggressive behavior.

In the area of advertising, the plain fact is the foods advertised most during children's programming are among the least nutritional -- heavily sweetened cereals, candy, and chewing gum -- and sometimes the most costly. Ads for toys are accused of warping children's values and suggesting all children need and must have certain objects. Recent programs have featured stories with characters drawn directly from toys, so, as some say, children cannot possibly distinguish the ads from the program itself.

Parents of small children can control the least desirable aspects of television to a high degree simply by not allowing the children to view programs they dislike. Say no; parents have the right, and the duty, to pass on their values. Many parents join forces with groups that put pressure on advertisers and children's programmers and lobby for the passage of suitable regulatory laws.

Although television can provide some positive experiences for your child, it's a good idea to get off the couch and get outdoors as often as possible. Being outside provides a different kind of entertainment -- plus fresh air and exercise. On the following page, you'll find some fun ideas for outdoor activites.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Exploring Nature With Children

Your baby will probably take her first really good look at the wonders of nature from the seat of a stroller. She can see, hear, and smell a lot from that vantage point, but that's not enough -- don't discount a child's curiousity. Children need to touch, prod, poke, and fondle, too. The best way for that investigating to take place is from ground level, during walks, which you can start taking as soon as your baby can walk reasonably well. Here are some ways you and your child can explore the natural world together.

Family nature walks. Your first excursions into the natural world may be in your own backyard, where an attentive parent can help find a great deal to explore, but soon you'll want to go farther afield. At the changing of the seasons, if not more often, try to take walks in the woods where there is a stream, where plants and animals you don't see in your neighborhood grow and live, and where there are few, if any, people around.

When you take the baby for a ride in the stroller, you can decide just where you'll go and how long you'll be gone, but walks are different. You can't set time or distance goals because your toddler won't necessarily keep to the straight path you choose and alternates bumbling along at a good clip with stopping completely. Every leaf and twig requires inspection, every insect and every object on the ground, appropriate or not. Everything in the world is new and interesting and needs minute investigation. You'll ruin the whole experience if you try to set a steady pace and accomplish anything at all.

Take along a few simple supplies on your nature walks: a small pail for pebbles and other finds, a magnifying glass to examine the ground and everything in or on it in detail, a jar with a lid for a bug or a worm, and perhaps even a pair of garden clippers, if you'll be where taking a blossom or a branch is allowed. The items your child brings home from a walk are very important to her, at least for a little while, and some may be the beginning of collections of a lifetime interest. When you get home from any woodsy place, bathe your child, in case she has managed to get into poison ivy or poison oak. It is best to launder clothes, too.

Summer. The toddler who lives in a climate where she can experience all four seasons is fortunate, for each season has its special attractions. Two of summer's most enjoyable aspects are water and sand. A small plastic swimming pool with about six inches of lukewarm water in it or a backyard sandbox with a supply of sand, plus an assortment of unbreakable cups, bowls, and utensils for pouring and measuring, keep the most restless toddler occupied for long periods of time. For safety's sake, a child in any amount of water must, of course, be closely supervised. Since a portable pool must be emptied every time it's used, a small one is easier. For a very small child, a plastic bathtub is suitable. And for your own convenience, use fairly coarse sand in the sandbox; the beautiful and more expensive white sand is very difficult to brush off damp skin. Sunburn is a real danger for delicate skin. Put a hat on your child, use a sunscreen appropriate for a child, and reapply it frequently, especially if the child is playing in water.

Winter. Fluffy new snow is as attractive to a toddler as a pool of water. Show your child how to make angels in the snow and roll up snowballs big enough to make snowmen, then give a little science lesson. Pour a very little water in a flat pan outdoors on a cold day and watch it freeze. Continue to add just a little more and see it freeze, layer by layer. (If you like, you can add a little food coloring to the water so the layers are different colors.) Let your child prove each snowflake is different from every other by examining flakes with a magnifying glass. Melt some snow to see how little water it makes and how dirty that water is. Your toddler probably won't be out so long you have to worry about frostbite, but you can prevent chapped lips and cheeks by applying a coat of petroleum jelly. If it's too cold to go out at all, bring a big pan full of snow inside and let your child stand at the sink on a sturdy chair to play in it.

Plant a seed. Most children like to watch plants grow if they grow quickly. You can almost see a tablespoon of birdseed sprout on a wet sponge in a dish. Mung beans begin to sprout in 48 hours in a screw-top jar of water, and they are edible in a week. If you roll up a dampened paper towel or piece of blotting paper inside a glass jar and put a lima bean between the paper and the jar, your child can see roots reaching down and shoots growing up. When your child has developed a little more patience, let her watch the top of a carrot grow in a dish of water or a grapefruit seed grow in a paper cup filled with potting soil.

It's alive! Living creatures of all kinds are endlessly attractive to children. When yours can understand some pets aren't meant to be cuddled and none can be eaten, you may wish to try some pets other than dogs or cats: fish, gerbils, or birds from a pet shop; an ant farm you can order through the mail; earthworms, hermit crabs, or even crickets from outdoors. The best feature about those you bring in from the yard or garden is you can return them to their natural environments when your child tires of them.

Always supervise your child's investigations of animals; undomesticated creatures could hurt your child -- and your child could harm them! Teach your child she is a part of -- not master of -- her environment. Show her how to smell, feel, look, and listen to the world around her. Teach her to respect living organisms, plant and animal, and never to destroy them intentionally (don't stomp on the flowers, never pull the wings off insects, don't pull the kitten's tail). Some accidents happen -- but explain that, in general, one should try to be gentle and careful.

The wonders of the great outdoors will fascinate children for years, so encourage them to explore nature from an early age. Take advantage of the learning opportunities in nature and enhance the experience with books on nature or museums with wildlife exhibits. On the following page, we will discuss various learning opportunities for gifted and talented children.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Gifted Children

It used to be said that if the membrane enveloping the head of a fetus remained intact through a delivery, the baby was born wearing a caul, and would be lucky, or gifted, or both. Now we know this is only a superstition. On this page, we will talk about what actually makes a child gifted, how to have his special talents assessed, and what to do to encourage him to develop his talents.

Who is Gifted?

It is difficult to determine precocity of mental development in a child by any means at all, and it is particularly difficult to assess in very small children. Educators recognize two kinds of giftedness, intellectual and creative, and programs for gifted children today are labeled "for the gifted and talented." Intellectually gifted individuals are logical thinkers, capable of heavy inner concentration, and they have IQs of 130 or higher. Most creatively gifted people are imaginative, adaptable, and likely to be involved in artistic pursuits; they have IQs of at least 120.

Bright and healthy children from stimulating environments often show signs of falling into one of these classifications. They are typically very inquisitive about the world around them, often creative with words as they learn to talk and with their toys as they play. Some especially love books and teach themselves to read long before they are old enough to go to school. They're eager to learn, and many show early indications of special interest in and talent for music, art, drama, or dancing. The world of fantasy appeals strongly to some, who use their imaginations creatively.

Assessing Gifted Children

If you are the parent of a child who may be gifted, you are probably delighted -- we all like to think of our children as well above average -- and at the same time worried. You may feel as if you are caught in a bind between pushing too hard and providing enough stimulation to challenge your bright child. Formal assessment is the most reliable means of determining whether a child's development puts her into the official gifted and talented classification. A child who can read at age three or four years is considered ready for testing, but parents should be aware that an assessment at this early age is probably not as accurate as one made later.

An assessment for a gifted child should be performed by an individual or service experienced with young children as well as with appropriate tests and methods of interpretation. It involves the use of certain standardized tests that measure ability levels and skill development, but assessment almost never involves the use of intelligence tests because of the instability of IQ at young ages. The results of the assessment indicate which areas of learning a child may begin to master at an early age and the child's appropriate reading level. Once you know the results, you can consider options such as early entrance to school and enrollment in special programs. Parents who are interested in having assessments made may be able to work through their child's doctor or through social agencies or gifted programs. One such program is The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. For information about the program, write to McAuley Hall, 5801 Smith Avenue, Suite 400, Baltimore, MD 21209; call 410-735-4100; or e-mail ctyinfo@jhu.edu.

Characteristics of Gifted Children

Many gifted and talented children do not read before they go to school; early reading is not the only criterion for exceptional mental or creative ability. If you are interested in having an assessment made of your child, and he or she cannot yet read, it is a good idea to accumulate informative evidence: Keep a written record of your observations of your child's advanced behavior. Use examples, and note such characteristics as these:

  • Early talking, with adult-like vocabulary and unusually clever or perceptive questions or observations
  • An excellent memory
  • Special ability in drawing or other artwork
  • Ability to concentrate on an activity for a long period of time

Educators also suggest you continue to encourage your child's natural inquisitiveness into the whys and hows of objects and activities, without pushing or forcing. Offer whatever enriching experiences you can, particularly those your child enjoys. Take advantage of local opportunities in libraries, children's museums, and such. Try to find another parent or two willing to join you, and share your knowledge and enthusiasm as you take your children on suitable field trips together. Look around your neighborhood for opportunities: a construction site, where your child can see trucks, machinery, and building materials; your local fire station, where personnel are probably willing to arrange a real tour if you call ahead; a bus trip across town, which can be an exciting experience for a child who usually travels with you in a car. Learning experiences are available almost everywhere you go with your child.

Do remember that the most gifted of children are children first, gifted second. It's easy to treat a gifted child as if she were much older; however, they are undoubtedly immature in some ways. While your bright 3-year-old child may have the cognitive ability of a 5-year-old child, they may also have the bodily coordination or the emotional and social development, or both, of a child of only 2 1/2 years of age. All children, whatever their potentials and capabilities, are in need of the love, attention, and guidance of parents who do not try to make miniature adults of them.

If you have a gifted or talented child, you may be exploring the idea of beginning an early learning program. Click to the next page for information on early learning programs and preschools.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Children's Learning Programs and Preschool

Aside from all the toys, games, books and music your child experiences at home, some parents wonder if they should provide an outside environment for different types of stimulation. When is a child ready for preschool? Should you begin teaching math before your child begins school?

Pre-School Academic Learning

Should you follow one of the various programs available today that urge parents to help their children's mental development by teaching them to read, do math, and learn foreign languages while they are still babies? The controversy may never be definitely resolved. In fact, some eye specialists have warned that visual skills needed for working with print do not fully evolve until a child is about six years old, and such early activity may heighten the possibility of vision problems. Other experts do not see a link between early reading and vision difficulties.

Most educators say imaginative play is far more important than academic learning for any preschool-age child. Programs designed to educate your child or raise his IQ probably do no real harm to a child who is either only bored and confused by them or who seems to enjoy them, but they probably do not do a great deal of good, either. Much research suggests that most children read at age six or seven, when real lessons are started.

Skip formal lessons at home. Pioneer researcher Arnold Gesell recommended that as much flexibility be used in matters of academic readiness as in those of walking readiness. The conviction that it was actually harmful for children to learn to read before they went to school is outdated now, and there are children who, in effect, teach themselves the skill. This is a heady, delightful boost to a child's ego, an accomplishment as great as the first independent steps she took. If your child is full of questions about numbers and letters, by all means answer them. Give the child as much information as she wants, but do not waste time for either of you in formal schoolroom lessons.

Teach your child to think and remember. What you can do is help any child -- gifted or average -- to learn to think and to remember, both skills she needs. Give your toddler practice in comparing and classifying by sorting laundry, arranging a collection of pretty stones picked up on walks first by size and then by color, and stacking pans in the cupboard. Ask your preschooler to conjecture about situations. For example, why is the dog across the street limping? Are the children in the picture happy or sad? Ask the child for her reasons or observations. Is a rejected food too soft, too crisp, too sour, too sweet? Why does it seem as if it will rain today?

Your toddler won't be able to remember what you say will happen a week from Tuesday, but what's coming after nap time presents no problems. Stretch out the time lag, a little at a time. She won't remember a series of instructions, but she can handle two commands, such as, "Pick up your book and put it on the shelf." Give three commands next time.

The Question of Preschool

Another question about early education often bothers parents of toddlers: Is nursery school or preschool necessary, advisable, or even good for very young children? Some parents don't consider it; their children will spend plenty of time in school later, they say. Others believe the social experience is important for their children, and learning to perform such tasks as forming a line, sitting still for a period of time, and paying attention to a teacher gives a child a good start in regular school.

Working parents often choose the preschool experience for their children instead of babysitters or ordinary child care for a variety of reasons, ranging from convenience and expense to the conviction that the experience is valuable. Some researchers have said children do not have the minimum level of socialization necessary for successful experiences in any kind of school until the age of three. At that age they begin to relate to other children as helpmates in carrying out such activities as building and destroying, playing, and getting into mischief.

Choosing a preschool. In choosing any nursery school or preschool, it is important first to decide just what it is you want from the facility and what you think will most benefit your child. Is it simply the opportunity for socialization with other children? Preparation for academic education? An atmosphere that concentrates on imaginative and creative activities? Ask yourself, too, if your child is more apt to thrive in a school where the program is very structured or in one where the children are given some leeway in choosing their activities. Your child's personality should be a major factor in your decision about the type of school he attends.

Visit alone. Visit any school alone at least once, so you can talk with staff members and observe them closely as they interact with the children. Stay for several hours, so you can see how the program works. If the school is a large one, find out how the children are split up (strictly by age or in groups of all ages) and into what size groups. Determine the teacher-child ratio and question the director or teachers about the school's policies and theories of discipline. Watch to see how staff members handle the inevitable conflicts between children. Look carefully at the school's facilities. Is play equipment safe and in good condition and is there enough of it for the number of children enrolled? Are the toys and art supplies adequate? Ask what they serve for snacks or meals.

Visit with your child. When you have found the school you think best, take your child to visit. If you have decided he will definitely attend, do not ask questions that give your child an opportunity to say no; make them open-ended, for example, "What area of the big playroom do you think you'll like best?" rather than "Do you want to go there every day?" Be prepared to be put on a waiting list. When your child starts attending, try to keep your home environment very stable. The first weeks your child first attends school are not good ones for you to move, start a new job, or make other big changes in your family life.

Whether or not your child attends preschool, you can help him develop thinking and memory skills with informal practice sorting, reasoning and following instructions. There's no evidence that academic learning like math and learning to read is beneficial before your child begins school, so don't frustrate yourself and your child by trying to implement formal lessons. As you read in this article, there are hundreds of ways to stimulate your child's mind with fun, educational experiences -- no formal training necessary.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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