This post was a request from a friend that follows my blog and answered my call for blog topics. She has a six-month-old baby and wanted to know what activities I did with the twins at each level to facilitate their development. My initial response was, “Lol, nothing.” I have this annoying habit of downplaying everything I do and convincing myself that any good fortune in my life is purely serendipitous. I always feel like I’m not doing quite “enough” to teach Alex and Nathan how to be smart, functional, well-adjusted human beings and that any cool new turn in development is merely by chance, not because of anything I did. So I was apprehensive to write a blog post about this. But after talking with a loved one who reassured me that I actually was a pretty effective parent, I decided to give it a try. Here are the things I did with the twins for the first year and a half of their little lives that I think might have a bit to do with how they are today.
The one thing that’s most pervasive is TALK, TALK, TALK. Narrate everything. Tell them what everything is and what you’re doing. Talk to them like they’re a friend of yours – skip the baby talk, and talk to them in plain English. I tried to do this from day one, and now they have a great vocabulary and are saying some whole phrases and tiny sentences at 17 months. We also pull all the learning we can out of things. If we’re reading a book about animals, why not tell them what color the animal is and what sound it makes too? It might seem like they don’t understand, but eventually, it clicks, and you’ll be amazed at what they repeat back to you.
So, this is a tough one, because Alex and Nathan spent 2/3 of this time in the hospital. But I did the best I could with our circumstances. I sat by their bedsides, hugged and held them whenever I could, read to them, and talked to them. Even though they weren’t home with me, I gave them a happy face and a familiar voice to learn to respond to. I talked, talked, talked, told them all about what was going on around them even if they didn’t understand. I also showed them a lot of pictures with stark black and white contrast to support their developing vision. It’s hard to say what all helped them develop in these early stages, but I did the best I could do, and they turned out okay, so I guess something was going right. Even in those rocky circumstances, they were surrounded by love, and I know that had an effect.
This was about when I decided to stay home with the twins instead of going back to work. In those early months, I followed a pretty strict baby schedule, and the purpose of it really was to help me figure out which way was up while I tried to take care of two infants. I made sure to allot time for play in between every nap, even though there wasn’t much they could do. Much of it was shaking toys and rattles in their faces or blowing bubbles around them to visually stimulate them, placing things around them or in front of them to reach for, and tummy time – as much tummy time as they would allow. I also continued reading and talking to them and narrating the world around them, and we’d work on sitting up in tiny increments using the Boppy or Bumbo seat. I played lots of music, clapped, sang, and danced for them even though it felt silly. I’m glad I did that, because they love music, singing, and dancing now – they’ve always been exposed to it. I also placed a toy mirror in front of them while they played, and would often catch them gazing at themselves. This was also about when we introduced solid foods (after having to be cleared by an allergist – preemie problems) and they started learning how to eat off of a spoon as well as hold their own bottles.
This was a fun stage. This is when I started taking them different places for their benefit. We started going to Kindermusik classes and Baby Storytime at the library. That taught them to be in different places around others that weren’t family and immersed them in music, singing, different types of play, and reading. I’d put them in their strollers and we would go for walks in the park, so even before they could walk, they were seeing the world around them and getting exposed to different environments. Again, I narrated everything around us. They started crawling around this time, so I moved all the furniture in the living room, laid out a comforter everyday and let them have at it. They moved a little more each day. Their pediatrician expressed some concern about their fine motor development (more preemie problems) so I let them practice picking up and manipulating small but safe things – mainly snacks like puffs or Cheerios. Also, and this might be controversial – this was about the age they started showing interest in things I’d show them on YouTube. I used educational kid songs in my autism preschool classroom all the time, so I didn’t have a problem playing them for the twins. I can’t even stress how much they’ve learned from YouTube videos. Words, songs, animal sounds, numbers – YouTube gets a bad rap. It’s not all mindless junk, and when used appropriately, it works incredibly well for little people. I also started showing them Leapfrog’s The Letter Factory, one of my favorite educational videos that introduces letters and their sounds.
This is when they started showing an interest in walking. They were pulling up to stand and taking little steps here and there, so I bought them a pair of hard-soled shoes, ditched the crib shoes, and started encouraging them to take steps. When they did physical therapy for torticollis, the physical therapist suggested against holding their hands above their head and walking them, so I tried not to do that too often. We started going to Monkey Joe’s and baby gymnastics, which was right up their alley as they could crawl around, pull up, and toddle around safely – everything was soft. I also started letting them crawl around at playgrounds. I had to facilitate a lot of that play to keep them safe (and not covered in dirt) but it was a great way to help them kinesthetically. We’d practice rolling, kicking, and throwing a ball. Also, in here is when they actually started talking and repeating some of the words they’d been hearing! It was so exciting the first time I heard them tell me the duck says “quack, quack” and caught me so off-guard. But they’d been hearing it for so long, I’m not really surprised looking back.
They’re 17 months now and talking up a storm. I still try not to use baby talk, even if they’re using it. They call water “wawa”, but I still try to call it “water” because it won’t be wawa forever and I want them to learn the right word. We run, play, and climb together (but I also try to prevent them getting hurt – they want to jump off the furniture.) I correct their language whenever possible. They started generalizing, calling every fruit a banana, so I make sure not to let anything slide. An orange is not a banana, it’s an orange. Eventually, they started calling it an orange. They love books and will bring me books to read, and even though I get tired of reading the same books over and over, they’re learning from them – last week Alex paraphrased a line from “The Very Busy Spider” to me totally out of context (FYI, it was “Whooo built the web?”). At meal times, I sit them at a kids folding table with real chairs instead of high chairs or just letting them graze like I used to. We’re working on using utensils, but that’s still in its beginning phases.
I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of things I did for them, and I’m sure I’m blurring some months together. I don’t see myself as a super mom at all. In fact, I follow a lot of moms on Instagram who are constantly doing such awesome developmental activities with their kids I actually feel kind of lousy. But looking at my boys is a reminder that I’m not doing too bad. They constantly surprise me with something new they’ve learned, and watching them grow is a great adventure.
If you have developmental tips and activities that you do with your kiddos, please share! Use the comment section below.