This week in my toddler classes we’ve been playing and singing “Monkey See, Monkey Do….the monkey does the same as you.” In this fun game, the toddlers get to choose the action facing their grown-ups, and Mommy monkey copies them. (It helps for you to give them some ideas the first few times: pat your head, rub your tummy, clap your hands, blink your eyes, etc.) Children love to be the leader and be in charge of you for once. Any chance you have like this to let your child choose makes a deposit in their little “control” box so that you can take back some of the control when they do NOT have a choice. “Look at my silly little Monkey Ellie. She is wiggling her tongue like this.” You could also play this game holding a hand mirror and child in your lap making silly faces at each other, or standing in front of a full-size mirror to get your whole body moving.
With your baby, remember that your face is their favorite toy, and the best “educational” toy in your house! They are born with “mirror neurons” that are activated when you engage them in loving “face time” play. Imitation is central to basic skills like learning to talk and interact appropriately. They watch your mouth to learn how to speak, they watch your expressions to learn how to read emotions, and gain empathy. Research shows that a 1-day-old baby will stick her tongue out to mirror Mommy. But to add a little fun, you can add a hand mirror – make faces together, saying “happy”, “sad”, etc. and make sounds together, focusing on one sound at a time (“b”, “b”, “b”…”ma, ma, ma”…”oo”, “oo”, “oo”.)
With your pre-schooler, make it a little more challenging by actually being their mirror, reflecting your partner’s movements, or vice versa. Slow movements work best for this game, and it helps to have one partner stand against a wall. This is great for building internal control and focus, and can be a quiet game to take anywhere – waiting for a table at a restaurant, standing in line at the grocery store…I like to narrate what I’m doing, externalizing my internal speech which is a helpful skill for pre-schoolers in building their own internal speech and activating their executive functioning skills. “I’m slowly raising my arm, and then I’m going to lower it half-way.”
“Everything that I do, you do, too. When I look in the mirror, I see you!”
This little rhyme reminds not only makes for a fun game, but reminds us as parents that our young children do what we do, not what we say. We must be the people that we want them to be, and act like good “little monkeys”, too. (Hmmm….was Ellie mirroring me yesterday when she threw herself on the floor kicking and screaming? I don’t think my fits are quite that bad. I do know she was mirroring brother yesterday at the dinner table, as he squished his bread down with his elbow. All kinds of great learning happening in my house!)
Let me know…How does your child respond to “mirror” games?