by Shelley Butler & Deb Kratz, authors of
The Field Guide to Parenting: A Comprehensive Handbook of Great Ideas, Advice, Tips and Solutions for Parenting Children Ages One to Five
Mainly for fun, of course. But did you know that in the process of building that castle with your child you are helping her or him develop some key cognitive or thinking skills like understanding the concept of space, the ability to experiment, as well as the motor skill of coordinating eyes and hands to work with materials? Beyond Dr. Spock’s sage declaration “You know more than you think you do,” you are likely doing more than you think you are, as well. Simple exchanges between caring adults and children add up to a lot over time.
When you tell a four-year a joke you are actually fostering the speech and language skills in which a child understands how to use words. When you ask a three-year to take a few steps on tiptoe or to play kickball, you are fostering the development of body movement, also called gross motor development. During a child’s first five years, the emergence of all of the typical traits and skills in such a short time is amazing. Parents and caregivers do much to foster these emerging skills and traits through play, talking, simple activities, and everyday experiences.
Most parents understand enough about children’s growth to know that a three-month old doesn’t have the capability to walk yet, but many may not know that most children can’t fully understand the abstract concept of right and wrong until sometime after age four, or about the hundreds of other skills that typically develop over time in common patterns, within typical age ranges, and in the usual order with each new stage building on the previous one.
Knowing something about child development, or what skills your child has mastered and which are still developing, can be a key factor in helping your child grow and develop with ease, and in reaching their fullest potential. If you know what skills most children typically master at which age or stage, then you can watch for and foster the development of skills at the best time and in the best way for your child. For example, even though children typically don’t learn to tell time until after they are seven years old, you can start to introduce them to the concept of time by simply talking about the days of the week and the times of the day that have activities attached to them: “On Mondays, we go to see Grandma,” or “At 1:00, we read a story and take a rest.”
Fostering a young child’s development is more about doing a wide variety of activities together and providing a wide variety of experiences that touch on all areas of growth and development than it is about intentionally teaching a child a specific skill. Simple things like building sandcastles, playing make-believe, reading great stories, stopping to look at an ant hill, explaining how the clothes washer works, talking about what feels good and what hurts, hopping over cracks, and listening to a child add up to a whole childhood of important experiences that achieve the greatest possibilities for growth and development.
Here are some more examples of simple activities for preschoolers and parents or caregivers that are fun but that also typically help children grow and develop:
|Opposite Charades||Act out a feeling or action or concept, and have your child guess what it is. For example, you could pretend to carry a very heavy object, or you could pretend to laugh. Then, have your child act out the opposite. To get him or her started, you could suggest that pretending to cry would be the opposite of laughing or that pretending to carry something very light would be the opposite of heavy.|
|Bag of Pairs||Collect several pairs of various non-breakable objects such as clothespins, shells, small cups, or buttons. Place the pairs in a bag. Ask your child to empty the contents of the bag and sort the objects into pairs.|
|Walking a Line||Use masking tape or chalk to create a straight line on asidewalk or floor. Ask your child to walk the line. When he or she has mastered that, add circles to jump over, squares to hop in, and more lines in between.|
|Name That Sound||Together with your child, look and listen for things that make sound. Talk about all the sounds inside and out: the hum of the refrigerator, the doorbell, a dog barking, and water flushing down the toilet. Tape-record some of the sounds, play them back and ask your child to name that sound.|
In short, build that sandcastle with your child for fun, to bring your closer together through play, AND because in exposing your child to a wide variety of experiences everyday, you help them grow and develop in all areas so they can reach their fullest potential. The next time you stop with your child to feel the petal of a flower or explain how flowers grow, remind yourself that you are fostering your child’s development and that’s a good thing!
Note: for more information on developing skills and activities for young children, see The Field Guide to Parenting by Shelley Butler & Deb Kratz; The Gesell Institute of Child Development Series by Louise Bates Ames, Frances L. Ilg, et all: Your One-Year Old,Your Two-Year-Old, Your Three-Year-Old, Your Four-Year Old; 300 Three-Minute Games: Quick and Easy Activities of 2-5 Year-Oldsby Jackie Silberg; The Lap-Time Song and Play Book by Jane Yolen.