convention-busy toddler- boy flying wooden airplane

Preparing the Busy Toddler for the HEAV Convention

by Kyndra Steinmann

The annual HEAV Convention is one of the highlights of our school year. It marks the end of regular lessons (although we do usually continue some things through the summer) and the beginning of summer activities. 

It’s also the place and time when I purchase most of the materials for the next fall and we begin to build a sense of anticipation for what we will be learning in the new school year.  The children (ages 2 to 10) always attend with me, while my husband remains in New England, as we prefer to use his vacation time later in the summer. Since I need to shop and also volunteer at the Special-Needs Table in the lobby, the big children will attend the Children’s Program (the 5-year-old is so excited that he’s finally old enough this year!), but the toddler will hang out with me.

Two is probably the most difficult age for this. When we lived in Richmond, I usually got a babysitter for part of the time, and this year I’ll probably hire a mother’s helper for at least one of the days. Two-year-olds are still babies in a lot of ways, though, and helping her to have a good and non-stressed weekend is high on my list of priorities.

The very things that make the convention the wonderful resource that it is are also somewhat overwhelming to a small child, so I want to try to practice the behaviors I want her to use while we’re at home, long before we add in crowds and cool stuff to touch.

I remember reading once that the horses of the ceremonial guards for Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation spent many months learning how to walk together and so on, before they were introduced to crowds, noise, and automobiles. The trainer explained that when the horses were freaking out because of an automobile, they actually got calmer when asked to walk or stand because the commands and cues were so familiar. I can’t offer the toddler the stimulation of busyness and crowds in my kitchen, but I can help her be so familiar with a few basic skills that they will act as a familiar steadying influence when the stimuli are present.

There are three basic skills I want her to learn: how to hold hands nicely, how to sit in the stroller without trying to escape, and how to be in the stroller without reaching out of it to touch everything.

The first one is relatively easy to practice. We live in town and the yard isn’t fully fenced, so she gets a lot of practice walking with us, and then taking a hand whenever she leaves the sidewalk to cross the street. We also practice in parking lots and just for fun – especially with the five-year-old who loves to lead her about as they play. Since she’s two she wants to walk everywhere herself (just like the big kids) so we just have a rule of holding hands nicely or being carried and she generally chooses to hold hands.

Sitting in a stroller is a lot like sitting in a grocery cart, so that is one of the places that we work on stroller skills (staying seated nicely and not reaching out to touch stuff). She has no trouble wiggling out of grocery cart seat belts, so this one really is training in her choosing to restrain herself. I spend a lot of time repeating myself and reminding her that “big girls sit in the cart and keep their hands on the handle.”  I do offer snacks or other distractions if our shopping expedition has gotten long and offer a ride in the baby carrier if she doesn’t want the cart. Most of the time this works, and other times she loses her ability to restrain herself and I stick her on my back. Sometimes she falls asleep back there and other times the familiarity of the Ergo is enough to help her calm down and even ask to go back in the cart.

We’re also working on some more advanced skills. These are things that I expect her to be pretty good at by the time she’s three, but, as they all require a fair bit of self-control and restraint based on the ability to notice what other people are doing or how much time has gone by, I’m just introducing them now.

First, I will train her to wait and not interrupt when someone else is speaking. This is so hard for little children! Developmentally, toddlers tend to be pretty self-absorbed and their understanding of time beyond the immediate is somewhat hazy. Right now, I’m just working on “wait a minute” and patting her mouth to remind her to wait quietly. She kind of gets the concept, but her execution is sporadic!

She must also learn to stand or sit in a particular place or next to me without wandering off or climbing me. It takes practice to stay in a set of boundaries like on a rug or blanket.  I realized at church the other day that I need to start working on this. She’s really too heavy to hold for long, and she wants to stand, sit, and kneel like the big kids. She also has lots of energy and is always eager to explore, so it’s time to teach her to do her standing, sitting, and kneeling next to me. This was an easy lesson to teach when we had a kitchen with large black and white squares on the floor. I’m thinking washi tape will be the thing and that I’ll review the lesson with the five-year-old at the same time. He could use the practice and, if they each have their own designated square to stand in, it will turn into a pleasant learning game!

I’ll also take the opportunity over the next couple of months to lay her down for her nap in places that aren’t as familiar – my bed instead of her crib, a blanket on the floor, etc. She will need to nap at the convention and being able to lay her on her blanket near the Special-Needs Table will be invaluable!

Even with all this preparation, she will probably have a tantrum at some point or decide that she’s had enough and be very clingy. She is, after all, only two. I do expect to be able to enjoy our time together, for the most part, and to be able to provide her with a happy experience as she starts to build her own memories of “going to convention.”

Need more? Read a previous post, “Taking Preschoolers and Toddlers to the Convention.”

Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones and Chicken Bones about living in a houseful of young children, special needs, discipling hearts, and abundant grace! As a homeschool graduate, she has an especial burden to encourage mothers to know and enjoy their children. Follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.

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