I was talking with a friend from college the other day, and she really got me thinking (unintentionally, I think). She is in the middle of a very exciting and successful career, and is working on her masters at the same time.
We talked a little about how our paths had diverged since our college days hanging out in the physics lab, and she innocently asked the question, "So, what do with your kids all day?" She quickly clarified, "I mean, I play with my nieces and nephews all the time. We play dress up, I give them pony rides on my back, we read 4 stories, we have a snack, and then I look at the clock and only 15 minutes have passed! How in the world do you keep your kids occupied all day every day?" What a great question.
I have a 2 1/2 year old and (almost) 1 1/2 year old. They are both pretty fantastic at finding things around the house with which to amuse themselves (like spreading basket-fulls of clean laundry around the living room), but they very much appreciate a little (lot) bit of mommy-intervention in their busy days.
A few months ago, I got really inspired. My mom is a daycare teacher who writes weekly lesson plans, complete with songs, crafts, books and activities, all for her little classroom of one-year-olds. "I could totally do that," I thought. We'll go to the library every week, I'll find songs and coloring pages and activities and have a weekly theme that pertains to the season or upcoming holidays. It'll be amazing!"
Well, apparently my 2-year-old missed the "amazing" memo. What? He'd rather go stomp in the snow outside than sit quietly at the table, coloring pictures of policemen? And my 1-year-old must have slightly underdeveloped "being quiet at the library while mommy picks out books" skills. She'd much rather toddle through the shelves, grabbing every spine and tossing it on the floor. I gave up for a while. And now we are revising our carefully laid plans.
Turns out, my mom's daycare kiddos think her lessons are totally fantastic (I'm sure they are really good) because that's the only way they can experience the world while staying within the confines of their little classroom. Most of them are there every weekday, sometimes from 6 a.m. 'til 6 p.m., in the same room, same playground, same toddler gym. Their teachers have to be armed with a barrage of fascinating activities to help the kids stay active and engaged in learning new things. But as a stay-at-home mom, I have an incredible advantage: I can take my kids anywhere I want, to see the world first hand! This means, instead of being confined to a book about ducklings, we can head to the park any day to feed the ducks for ourselves. We can linger at the grocery store as long as we want, learning the names of all the vegetables. We have half a dozen local playgrounds to choose from, as well as a huge forest right behind our house to romp through to our hearts' content. What an incredible privilege!
So my focus has shifted a little bit in this whole toddler-teaching game. For the time being, we are spending a little less time at the table coloring, and a little more time outside
chasing the chicken around the yard feeding the chicken. A little less singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and a little more looking for bugs in the yard. I know as the kids get older and more able to sit down and focus on abstract lessons, our plans will change again. But for now, it's refreshing to all of us to be able to go out and experience our big world.
I know I am just getting started with raising and teaching kids, and I would LOVE to hear some ideas from those of you who are old pros in this area. When do you think kids are able to sit still and learn abstract ideas for reasonable periods of time? Do you have any fantastic suggestions for toddler-engaging activities or places to visit?