"There is no reason that everyday activities should not be the best education your "little Einstein" can receive.
If you are a stay-at-home mom with young children, then you know how hard the winter can be when your kids have to spend most of their day indoors. When your two-year-old is clamoring for your attention all day out of sheer boredom, it is hard not to let him spend the majority of his time watching television so you can get the dishes, laundry, and cleaning done. Most of us cannot afford to buy our children new toys faster than the old ones lose their attraction; and even if we could, do we really want to teach our kids that the way to relieve boredom is to get new things? There must be better ways to get our younger than school-age children to play on their own sometimes so we can get our chores done.
Experts suggest that children who are able to play well both alone and with others are more likely to develop the creative and educational skills needed to be successful adults. Alone time is often the best time for children to exercise their creativity and learn to stretch their thinking beyond what their parents would teach. For example, if a parent is directing a one-year-old who is playing with a shape-sorter, the parent would likely guide the child to put a square in a square hole every time. However, the child playing alone might learn not just that the square fits in the square hole, but also that it doesn't fit in the circle hole.
So, while it is important for our children to get one-on-one playing time with us and with other children, it is equally important for them to be able to play on their own. And, aside from the benefits of alone time for our children, we need for them to be able to play alone for our own sanity and peace of mind. After all, it is difficult to clean toilets and fold clothes with miniature people clinging to your arms and legs. With both of these ends in minds, we have come up with a few ways to help you urge your children to play constructively and creatively on their own.
Recycle Their Toys
If you look in the back of the closet or the bottom of the toy box, you will probably find a smattering of once-beloved dollar store plastics, broken cars and Barbie dolls, and toy sets that are missing at least half of their pieces. In truth, your youngster has probably already forgotten that these toys even exist anymore. Pull out some of these obscure things for playtime one day and let your little one re-discover their old favorites.
You can also suggest new ways of playing with old toys, if your child doesn't seem interested. For example, let them dress dolls or stuffed animals in their own clothes; throw different sets of blocks and legos together; or put that mismatched collection of dinosaurs, ponies, and one-armed army men in blobs of non-toxic play dough. With your child's nearly limitless potential for imagination and creativity, it will not be long before he is absorbed in a different way of play.
Most of us have been told since childhood not to play with our food, and with good reason! No parent wants to have to clean up messy cheese pasta, overturned bowls of soup, and ketchup swirls. However, a child's desire to play with food is only natural and stems from his want to do what Mommy and Daddy do. To him, cooking and serving food looks like fun! While eating time is not a good time to play with food, you can let your child satisfy his culinary curiosity in a playful way without the gooey, sticky mess.
Even as young as one year old, your child knows the difference between plastic toy food and the real thing when it comes to play time. Fake food is a great toy, but sometimes it just will not do. Pull out a few of your pots and pans for your chef-in-the-making, hand him a spoon and a spatula, and give him some dry ingredients to cook with. Dry pasta, rice, and beans make great cooking material. You can also throw in some healthy munchies; a handful of dried cranberries, whole-wheat cereals, and shelled pumpkin or sunflower seeds turn playtime into snack time as well. Make sure, of course, that you use age-appropriate foods; if your child still has a habit of putting things in his mouth (as most little ones do) then give him large pastas that he is unlikely to choke on, such as jumbo shells or rotini, and keep chewy foods to a minimum for babies without all their teeth. If you let your child play on a hard surface, such as the kitchen table or floor, cleanup is as simple as a sweep of the broom when his nutritious masterpiece is completed.
Many experts agree that allowing even young children to play dress-up is essential to their creativity and in helping them define their sense of self. They can choose whether to be a beautiful princess or a hip modern dancer, a businessman in suit and tie or a powerful cape-wearing superhero. Even babies love to run around in Mommy's hat or Daddy's tee-shirt. Dress-up is a junction between choice and pretend; children love to have the self-esteem boost of choosing how they will look and the creative rush of pretending to be someone exciting.
Allowing your children to play dress-up, whether with your clothes or their own, is not the only way to help them reach this creative sense of self. Sometimes a much simpler grown-up activity will accomplish the same goal. Depending on the age of your child, you may let him organize his movies as he has seen you do, pile clothes in and out of the dryer, or make his bed the way he wants to make it. These simple chore-like tasks give children the power of choice, allowing them to choose how they want the movies organized or the bed made; and the fun of pretend, when they can act like they are as grown up as Mommy and Daddy.
The Right Balance
One of the hardest aspects of being a stay-at-home mom (or dad) is balancing alone time with family time. Young children need both to grow up as healthy, successful individuals. There may be days when it seems that your kids want your attention from sunup to sunset; not surprisingly, these are often the days that you have more chores on your hands than time. A good rule of thumb is to split your time into thirds; play exclusively with your little ones for a third of your time, allow them to play alone for a third of your time, and let them help you out with some of your chores for a third. True, it may take a bit longer to fold laundry if your three-year-old is consistently unfolding, but the time your child will enjoy spending with you is worth the extra twenty minutes.
With the boundless imagination and endless creativity that exist in the minds of children, combined with the potentially limitless capability for learning, there is no reason that everyday activities should not be the best education your "little Einstein" can receive. And, with only the gentlest push from Mom or Dad, part of that education can come from alone play time that will let you keep your home in order with less stress and no hair-pulling.