One of the best things you can do with children is … well … to DO with children. Children–like all of us–learn through experiencing. Even more than us adults, they are wonderfully open to new learning. Their brains are literally forming as they grow. They are shaped and influenced by what they see, do, hear, feel, perceive, experience, understand, sense, have opportunity for.
Doing with children is not measured by how many classes you sign them up for, how many play-dates you arrange, the kinds of electronic gadgets or software or toys you have, how many flashcards your child can recognize by age one or how early they can recognize letters or write their names. Academics are important (though maybe not as early as some seem to push for), but they should not come instead of making memories. Of taking time to do together.
It is not about school or homework, either. It is about playing with them, spending time with them, reading to them, acting out the stories, building with blocks or constructing castles from cardboard boxes together, making forts from couch cushions and blankets, being silly, going on backyard adventures, telling jokes.
Feeling too short on time? Incorporate doing into household chores. Yes, the children may slow you down, and there may be more messes to clean up or some doing over to complete after their eyes close at night. However, your children will learn, and they will learn from you, and with you: spending time doing things together can be some of the best memories you can give. Children of all ages can benefit from ‘coming along’ or ‘doing with’ (oh, sure, preteens may make a face, but secretly they crave more time with parents, especially if that time is not for formal instruction or ‘grilling’ about school … and you’d be surprised how many conversations happen when hands are busy with a task together).
Every task can be adapted to a child’s age and ability. Baking cookies or making dinner? Depending on your child’s level, you can measure ingredients (cup, ounce, pound, liter, gallon, teaspoon, pinch, dollop …), list items, sizes and order, read or write down a recipe, watch the clock together to learn time, plan a meal, research unusual cuisines. Going for a walk? Pick leaves of different colors, count cars of various colors of identify specific vehicles and the occupations they serve, stare at a pigeon pecking on the sidewalk and compare birds to bugs to mammals to reptiles, compare views and favorites, discuss endangered animals. Folding laundry together? Sort by color, size, material, season, types of fastener, talk of fashion and media, of fitting in and being fit. Empty the dishwasher (silverware, dishes, saucers, bowls, serving platters, large-medium-small, glass, plastic, ceramic, good china, the best meal and the worst experience, school lunch, social tensions in the cafeteria …). Grocery shopping? A bonanza of options: food groups, colors, shapes, containers, ingredients, numbers, top-middle-bottom, left-right shelves. Write down list, read it aloud, check off what you put in the cart, learn about coins’ value and paper money, budget, making choices, sticking to a plan.
Make memories. Your child may not remember how many flashcards you read to them or the name of all the tutors you got for them or even all the places that you took them to … but they may well remember the time you spent teaching them how to sew a button or built a tent in the living-room, helped them bake their first ‘from scratch cookies’ or let them make a mess in the kitchen while you listened to the conundrum they had about a friend and did not judge. Want to reinforce a memory? Take a photo, write a caption, make a book together: “Michel’s First Cookies”–document the process, print the photos, tape them onto paper, write the story of them underneath. Read and have the child ‘read’ it to someone else who was not there with you (grandparents make excellent captive audiences …). Enlist older kids to make photo books or edit images into a video together.
Find wonder in small things. See and seize opportunity. Snowing? Research the unique shapes of flakes, make cutouts, hang them from the ceiling for some ‘indoor snow’ (extra memories credit for glitter …). Raining? Re-create the water cycle, demonstrate gravity, check out about steam and condensation. Grow avocado plants, sprout potatoes (learn of more than one meaning for ‘eye’ and get curious about other multiple meaning words–spring, trunk, bark, nail, key, slip, pen …). Learn together. Try new things. Fail and err and laugh and try again.
Make time for making memories. It’s hard, I know, but find the time. You don’t have to take off from work or travel to a different country. You can pluck time from the tasks you are already doing and turn them into time spent in building your child’s connection with you. You’ll also enrich their brain, skills, confidence, know-how, and sense of worthiness.
Time flies. Kids grow. Before you know the mess is gone and they are flying solo. Give the gift of sensitive, involved attention. These memories will be what they can pack along ‘to go’.