So remember that 2×2 square we started with? Yeah, all you wise mommies were right–way too small for an active 18 month old. So we graduated (or demoted?) to the 2×6 foot exercise mat. This has been good for all involved. J has been much, much better at obeying the frequent “stay on your mat” commands from mommy than he was at the corresponding command for his square. I think he understands the rules, though in his ingenious sinfulness, he’s already looking for ways to break them.
For instance, see those cards that he’s thrown off the mat? He’ll make sure to keep his knees or toes on the mat as he reaches across the floor for discarded cards, trucks, books, etc. He knows the rule and is doing his darndest to keep the letter while breaking the spirit. But we’re up to 15 minutes on a timer (thanks for the idea Jamie!) and as soon as that little alarm goes off, he understands that he’s all done. One fun thing that I’ve done is put together a very small collection of items for each weekday just for quiet times on the mat. So he’ll get a book, maybe some crayons and a special notebook, some blocks to sort or other small things like that that are just for Monday’s quiet time. As he grows and he can do more and more, we’ll expand to other things that will help him build skills like a lacing card or sort-by-color activities and whatnot.
As a part of our day, this is a good staple. Mat time is usually in the morning around 9/9:30 following free play and followed itself by mommy reading books. Structure, even as little as this is, has been really helpful for building a sense of accomplishment for me and (hopefully) a sense of stability for J that will be wonderful when our little one comes and his world is thrown upside-down.
My goals for mat time are to increase J’s time on it from 15 minutes to 30 minutes and to help him be more independent while matting it up. He still addresses me frequently with “Read it?” trying to have me read the books to him on the mat, or to show me what he’s playing with. I’d also love to be able to leave him alone on the mat instead of playing hall-monitor. Even though the time and energy on this side of mat time seems rather heavy, I think that in a few weeks (months?), it will pay off big time.