My wife and I have a son that’s nearing nineteen months of age. For those of you not intimately familiar with raising a child, this means he’s walking well, running a little bit, and has a vocabulary of about 75 to 100 real words with about that many more words he’s apparently made up himself. He eats the same table foods that we do (for the most part), but he also has very little grasp on what’s appropriate behavior and what is not. Everything is about playing and exploring and figuring out the world, all the time, and this means that meals are playing and baths are playing and attempting to be quiet and still during a church service is not going to happen.
Along the way, we’ve picked up a lot of techniques for not only allowing him to express himself and explore his world, but also save money in the process.
Odds and ends around the house make the best toys for him, not purchased toys. Most of the toys he’s received as gifts are largely forgotten in favor of playing with many of the types of objects we play with. He’d rather play with pots and pans on the kitchen floor or talk into an old cell phone or stack up canned vegetables than anything else. The only toys of his own that he plays with much at all are two small stuffed animals, his crayons (he loves drawing), his MagnaDoodle (which he plays with when emulating my laptop), and his books (he reads a lot, again, emulating us). The rest of the toys he has could probably go to the dumpster and he wouldn’t notice. The lesson here is don’t spend a bunch of money on new toys for a toddler, because most of them will be ignored while he emulates you and is creative with other things.
He has a select few “favorite” books that we read over and over and over and the rest scarcely get read. 90% of the time, if a book is read to him, it is Brown Bear, Brown Bear (which teaches color), From Head to Toe (which teaches body parts), or Go, Dog. Go! (which teaches colors, low numbers, and object relationships). He used to be really into My Many Colored Days, and there are a couple of new ones that he’s starting to like a lot. The real truth is don’t buy a lot of books for a toddler – just buy a few sturdy board books that teach basic concepts.
He’s learning dietary lessons from us, so we lead with the good stuff – and the relatively cheap stuff. Fruits and vegetables are inexpensive, especially in the quantity that he eats, so we make sure he stocks up on them. By doing this, he’s really learned to like most vegetables, especially carrots and green beans, instead of rejecting them. We usually feed him in courses, with the vegetables first, followed by something with protein (meat, eggs, cheese, etc.), then some fruit, but most of the volume is in the veggies and fruit. Really – we just get whatever’s on sale in the season. We almost always eat the same exact things as he does, though often his are more steamed or prepared a bit differently. In other words, don’t sweat what to feed your child – keep your own diet simple and eat the same things as him/her and lead with the healthiest portions of the meal.