As a parent, one of the dangers of winging it all the time is that you become a full time stress manager. Your child’s needs and wants are never ending, and everyday can feel like an emotional battlefield. That makes it very difficult to create a solid learning environment with great play activities.
Here’s a question for you: What’s the difference between a learning activity and a play activity? Answer: There is none. When your child is playing, she’s advancing her skills and understanding. Playing is learning. As proof, give your child something to do that’s beneath her skill level. What will happen? She won’t want to play anymore. Why? –Because there’s nothing to learn.
So, from your perspective, you can feel good about the fact that when your child is engaged in a play activity, learning is taking place.
The trick is to make the play activity feel special. In other words, you want to lift it out of the emotional battlefield so it feels fresh and new and exciting. When this happens, you dramatically increase the likelihood that your child will become fully engaged in the activity. This reduces your stress level and helps to promote a healthy learning environment.
Here’s the secret to changing the perception of an activity so that it feels fresh and exciting. It’s really very simple: Announce the activity in advance. For example, tell your child that at 11:00 today you’re going to have “a special activity–a super challenge of skill and will to see who can outwit their opponent once and for all.” Then when 11:00 comes, play Go Fish, I Spy, or a game of marbles. Or announce that at 2:00 you’re going to have a super science challenge, then when 2:00 rolls around try to locate ten different bugs with a magnifying glass, or float stuff on water.
I can assure you that, within reason, no matter the activity–practicing tying a shoe, counting beans, playing alphabet games, etc–if you announce it in advance it will feel special to your child.
Here’s the advantages of announcing an activity in advance:
- It builds your child’s anticipation.
- It removes the activity from the politics of the here and now.
- It reinforces your child’s confidence that you’re committed to fun.
- It improves the quality of the activity because you’ve planned ahead.
Of course you have to keep up with your child’s rapidly advancing skills. You can’t keep offering the same activities over and over. Rather–try variations on existing activities. For example, instead of just “playing blocks,” see who can build the tallest tower in less than thirty seconds, one minute, five minutes, etc. Instead of playing the same card games, introduce more challenging games like rummy or cribbage. You’d be surprised at how quickly your child catches on.
Best of Luck!