In the fug of the early years it can be difficult to know if you’re getting it right or just getting by. Use our handy checklist of things to do with your child before they turn 3 ¼ and you can feel happy that you’re ticking all the boxes.
1. Read Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This is the progenitor of children’s bedtime books as we know them today. The simple story of kittens, mittens and bowls of mush has stood the test of time.
2. Play Peekaboo. This simple game teaches object permanence, helping your baby understand that you still exist even when they can’t see you. Helpful for going to the toilet occasionally.
3. Go rockpooling. Give them the sea and a bucket and spade, and you give them the world.
4. Read The Hungry Caterpillar and anything else by Eric Carle.
5. Play Pooh Sticks.
6. Watch a Punch and Judy show by the sea, with a giant Mr Whippy in hand.
7. Invest in a good paddling pool.
8. Make mud pies.
9. Lego, Lego, Lego.
10. Build a blanket fort and fill it with cushions and jam sandwiches.
11. Go camping – even if it’s in the garden. It’s just SO EXCITING.
12. Keep a pet – even if it’s a stick insect, the point is looking after someone or something else.
13. Grow a sunflower, or a cress head or anything that lets nature play out in your kitchen.
14. Take a nature walk and make a sketchbook of all the things you see.
15. Make a holiday scrapbook. Pack a notebook and some Pritt Stick and collect all the labels, tickets, interesting things you find on your travels. You may build up quite a library over the years.
16. Play Pie Face. Everyone should play Pie Face.
17. Read Oh Dear and Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell.
18. Go to the safari park. Not all days out are equal – amusement parks are amusing, but coming face to face with a chimpanzee will stay with them forever.
19. Read them the classic fairy-tales. These stories of good vs evil are great life lessons (although maybe not the princess always being rescued by the handsome prince stuff – that’s all a bit last century.)
20. Have a tea party with all your teddies. Get your child to pour the tea and be the host.
21. Let them choose. Sometimes.
22. Hang out with the olds – studies show over and over that children who spend time with a variety of adults develop better language and literacy skills.
23. Visit your local civic art gallery and see who can count the most bare bottoms/willies/boobies. Winner gets a present from the shop.
24. Go to a giant music festival so you can prove having children hasn’t stopped you being cool. Then never, ever do anything so silly again.
25. Go to a small, family-friendly festival that’s near your home so you can sleep in your own bed and costs 3000 times less than the giant music festival you went to last year.
26. Go swimming. Drowning is still one of the major causes of accidental death in children. Learning to swim could literally save their life one day.
27. Take them to London and go on a big red bus and in a black taxi and on the Underground. The rest of London can wait until they are older. Transport is where it’s at for the under-fives.
28. Read Burglar Bill, Cops and Robbers and anything else by Janet & Allan Ahlberg.
29. Go out in the rain. No such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Or something like that.
30. Stay in all day and wear your pyjamas. The joy of being under no pressure to go anywhere can never be underestimated.
31. Fly places while they can still sit on your lap. It gets a whole lot more expensive once they need their own seats and the appeal of long hours spent in airport lounges wears thin.
32. Trust in CBeebies.
33. Go on a ferry and a train. See: transport.
34. Mess about on the river. Catch little fish and frog spawn and inspect them in jam jars (before returning them.)
35. Get those old wooden blocks out. Construction with blocks is absorbing and requires focus and attention as they work out what goes where.
36. Have a disco in the kitchen.
37. Baking. Even very young children can get involved in whisking eggs and mixing with wooden spoons. The process of making your own cakes is an early chemistry lesson. And licking the bowl is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
38. Go to the fair. The lights and sounds, smells and flavours (candy floss is obligatory) are a sensory delight.
39. Drawing/painting/leaf rubbing/chalks. Fix a line with little pegs in your kitchen and rotate their masterpieces (then you won’t feel so bad recycling them afterwards.)
40. Sing to them and play music. Not only is it soothing for small babies, music helps babies develop listening skills and even to recognise patterns. Music + music = good at maths.
41. Make your own pizzas – they might actually eat their tea for once.
42. Start a collection. It could be rubbers or pebbles, train tickets or marbles.
43. Hit YouTube and watch the Clangers, the Wombles, Bagpuss and the Flumps. Stop-motion animation is rare in today’s kids’ TV, but they love it because it shows real textures and physical qualities it’s not possible to achieve with computer generated imagery.
44. Give them responsibilities. Whether it’s washing their bowl after breakfast or watering the plants, children love to feel like an important member of the team.
45. Read Spot by Eric Hill and Miffy by Dick Bruna.
46. Dress up your dog/cat/rabbit. Few things are more hilarious than a dog in a dress.
47. Did we mention reading?
48. Brush their teeth. You know that, right.
49. Ignore them. The confidence to spend time independently and make their own decisions is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
50. Give yourself a break. They’re great kids and you’re doing fine.