Between all the technological advances over the past 10 years, it has never been easier to keep a kid occupied (side note: I did not say it is easy, just easier!). There are smartphones, and tablets, and Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video, and an infinite number of fancy new toys that are tailored to entertain our children. Can anyone honestly say they haven’t plopped their child down in front of the TV in order to get some adulting done? Didn’t think so. The problem is that we adults have so much on our plates that we feel as if we have to rely on these babysitting tools to just keep our own heads above water. Sadly, our lives have become so busy that it actually seems like a chore to spend quality time with our children! I find myself needing to take a step back every so often to remember just why it is so important that we carve out time to actually sit ON THE FLOOR and play with our two little girls.
Probably the most important and yet little discussed aspect of child rearing is simply that time together playing builds a relationship between us and our children. Kids are often either unable or unwilling to just tell us about their day. While your spouse might use words to tell you about the funny thing that happened at work, our kids use play to express what’s going on in their lives. If you really pay attention, you’ll be amazed at what you learn from being actively involved in your kids’ play session. And while they won’t tell you, “daddy, thank you for playing with me,” trust me when I say they notice and appreciate that time spent together. Time on the floor with your child lets them know that they are important to you, and that you are willing to meet them at their level. Think that feeling might pay off when they are older and have something serious to discuss? You bet it will! My daughter, Mary, is nothing if not persistent with her, “Daddy, come here!” requests. There are many times when I would like to ignore them in favor of work or relaxing on the couch, and plenty of times I do find ways to occupy her while continuing what I’m doing. However, I try to make a point of at least once a day not brushing her off, but letting her lead me into her world. Whether it’s making pretend cupcakes, putting her into princess dresses, or having a dance party, I find the time together is always rewarding. Just the other day I took Mary to the park for the first time in a while and discovered she is now able to climb the rock wall. She loved showing off all the new skills she’s developed (little monkey), and I loved seeing them.
This is one area where our public school system doesn’t do as well of a job as it could. Young children are not built to sit in a chair for hours listening to someone lecture them on whatever topic they are learning that day. Children learn by doing, by playing, by experimenting, by getting their hands dirty (and boy do they manage to get dirty). If you have ambitions for your child to excel academically, playing with them at an early age provides ample opportunity to teach in a way they can understand. Every play session doesn’t need to have a specific learning goal, but chances will constantly arise to teach colors, letters, spelling, increase vocabulary, as well as develop an understanding of concepts like sharing, morals, religious beliefs, handling frustration effectively etc. Learning does not have to be boring, and in fact, being actively engaged in a play activity makes children more receptive to your lessons! Children are little sponges that soak up far more than we adults know. We usually take notice when they start repeating phrases we say without thinking, “oh my goodness!,” for our daughter… it may be cursing in some families (whoops). An example of finding a learning opportunity is on one of our family walks, we taught Mary that the scientific name for thunderhead clouds is “cumulonimbus.” That’s right, we are turning our 2 year old into a nerd already, but it is adorable to hear her say it! The point being that childhood is intended for learning how to be a human, and so it makes sense to take advantage and teach the lessons WE want them to learn through play, rather than leave it up to TV/society/friends to teach things we may not agree with.
This post is getting quite long, and I still have several reasons to go, so I will leave you hanging here in anticipation for Part 2 of Get on the Floor.