Whilst living in London, I sampled most of the baby, and then young toddler, sensory classes in pram pushable distance. Tot in tow, I tootled off to different combinations of Baby Sensory, Whizzy Wonders, Hartbeeps, Monkey Music, or Gymboree classes each week from 6 months of age until 20 months. It got us out of the house and gave me peace of mind that, if I was lacking in energy and/or creativity some days (or weeks), she was getting a variety of interactions and experiences.
So one of the things I worried about when we toyed with the idea of leaving London and making our way to Thailand was whether I’d be able to make a new rich and stimulating home environment for her, especially since I wouldn’t have all her toys to hand.
It’s always hard to picture what life will be like when change is imminent, but now that I’m here in Thailand, with an immensely cheerful tot, who gets so much attention from so many different people that come across our path day to day, I realise how silly I was to worry. Strangely, while London is a big city with lots going on, and somewhere I’ve known and lived in for 13 years, I had to attend organised classes to ensure regular interactions for us both. Otherwise, unless meeting up with friends on maternity leave or others at the weekend, you could go through a day with just a few short hellos from shop tellers and maybe a nod or half smile from fellow parents pushing prams in opposite directions. Not so in Thailand. Here children are adored – by everybody – and absolutely never ignored. We have yet to come across someone, even the grumpiest or most hardened of men or women, who don’t say something to Maddy, and most often also reach out to touch her – something she’s still getting used to. (And that’s even before she whips out her “sawadee ka” (hello in Thai) or “khob khun ka” (thank you), which elicits palpable adoration!)
So, needless to say, the mere experience of travelling to somewhere new is so far offering our little tot heaps of varied stimulation, and her social confidence is growing day by day.
But we aren’t out and about all the time, and we still need to find engaging activities for her to do at home – both to keep crankiness at bay and to give us parents time to get chores done, or have a cup of coffee and catch up on Instagram in peace.
So I’ve started to become one of those ‘sensory play’ parents! And witnessing the intrigue and sense of exploration as I lay out each new activity makes my heart swell, and entices me to plan the next one.
Toddlers and pouring (water or anything from one thing to another) seems to be akin to cats and boxes! Of all her bath toys, mine has spent the most time amusing herself with 2 little jugs. So with suddenly having access to a pool (and a desire to spend lots of time there to escape the heat and humidity we’re still becoming accustomed to), the first exploratory activity I set up was a pool pouring station. I scoured our rental apartment for a bowl and jug, added in the bath pouring toys I’d brought along, a couple of empty bottles, and some little water tubs we’d got on the flight and saved, and voila – the perfect toddler water park.
The only downside is trying to convince her that she cannot spend forever pouring in the pool! And we can never go to the pool without the pouring equipment coming out! But, while the first few times she was too absorbed to want to consider doing anything else, she now flits between pouring and paddling and jumping to Daddy and chasing a ball.
And it’s also proved to be a great icebreaker when making new friends, despite their age. A 5 year old girl and 7 year old boy came to the pool one day and asked to play with Maddy, and (after getting over her initial possessiveness) once they started filling up cups she was holding and holding out bottles for her to fill, they were firm friends. And then the view from the sidelines became interesting, watching them interact with the items in such different ways – the little girl throwing bowls full of water over everyone, the boy sky writing with water spraying from bottles, sinking bottles and diving to fetch them, and swimming under the bowl and lifting it onto his head. Needless to say, our little tot was in awe of the bigger kids with their new activity and welcomed it with lots of “more”s (and, in true toddler form, expected this each time they joined us at the pool).
Those kids have since left and, while Maddy reminisces about “friends”, she still looses herself in her pouring, and still does it her way, systematically filling one item at a time and pouring the water into all the others, before choosing a favourite few to focus on for a while. I’ve been watching this for weeks and still get sucked in!