Parents are often so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves.
Congratulations! You survived!
You survived the newborn stage, when you were afraid to let anyone hold your child for fear she’d be dropped. The stage when going to the mall with a baby, a car seat, a stroller, and a diaper bag seemed an insurmountable task. The stage when you couldn’t go anywhere in case your baby woke up and had to nurse!
You survived your child’s infancy, when you couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next: She smiled! She laughed! She rolled over (back to tummy)! She rolled over (tummy to back)! She sat up! She ate baby cereal! She cut a tooth! The stage when your baby’s cry would wake you in the dead of night, and your body felt like stone as it refused to get out of bed one more time.
You survived your child’s toddlerhood, when you realized that your child possessed absolutely no social skills: If I like it, it’s mine. If it’s in my hands, it’s mine. If I can take it from you, it’s mine. If I had it a week ago, it’s mine. If it looks just like mine, it’s mine. If I think it’s mine, it’s mine. If it’s near me, it’s mine. (If it’s broccoli, it’s yours.)
And you survived your child’s preschool years, when her determination, energy, and curiosity combined to create some truly memorable events: the haircut she inflicted on herself, the time she called 911 by accident, the day she decided to change the baby’s dirty diaper all by herself, and her unforgettable early morning refrigerator raid.
You survived it all, and now you get to enjoy a brief respite before your child’s adolescence begins!
Children of all ages bring their parents joy, and children between the ages of six and ten can be a true delight. Kids at this age have a newfound ability to take part in fun, interesting, and creative activities that even adults enjoy. A child of this age can easily learn a new card game, begin a stamp collection, read a novel, write a story, play marbles, learn to bake, and much more. Perhaps she can ski, swim, bike, or hike with the rest of her family. She can learn to sew, build, paint, garden, or share in the interests of the significant adults in her life.
Another thing that six-to-ten-year-old children usually do is go to school. Most children thrive as they learn many things from the new adults in their lives. A child of this age seeks acceptance from her peers and may develop a wide circle of friends with whom she loves to play. She certainly develops a sense of independence from her parents as she heads off to her classroom each day.
On the downside, the arrival of the school years means that a child has far less time for creative and spontaneous play and for spending time with her family. Going to school and after-school lessons, sports, and clubs; playing with friends; and doing other activities usually leave little time for a child to use her imagination, to think, to dream. Finding the time to play a game or take a walk, make crafts or bake, or even read and talk together is a challenge for a family with a school-age child. During the preschool years, the days seemed to have too many hours in them. Now, suddenly, the days aren’t long enough.
There are, however, wonderful lulls in a school-age child’s busy routine: weekends and holidays. These provide much-needed downtime for children, their teachers, and their families; time when children can pursue interests and hobbies; time when parents and children can reconnect; time when families can relax and enjoy playing games, reading, talking, walking, or just being together. Read on to discover ways in which you can make the most of your child’s school-free time, whether it’s a half-hour in the car, a rainy weekend afternoon, or your family’s two-week summer vacation.
PLANNING YOUR ACTIVITIES
You’ve probably heard it said that failing to plan is planning to fail. When my children were young, I learned that this axiom applies not only to big things like saving for your child’s education, but also to little things like reading a new book together, starting a stamp collection, or playing a game of cards with your child. Schools plan curricula very carefully to ensure that children have a variety of experiences, cover specific material, and learn or practice certain skills each day. Parents at home can be a lot less formal, but planning is still important. A book like this one is only valuable if you use the ideas it contains. If you don’t do a little planning, chances are that this book will sit on your shelf and gather dust.
Here are some guidelines to help you plan activities for your child:
1. Browse this book from cover to cover and make a list of activities you’d like your child to do alone, with you, or with your whole family.
2. Create a weekly plan from your list of activities. Be realistic—you likely won’t be able to do something every day. Choose just one or two activities for the week. Then choose an alternate activity or two for bad weather days or for days when what you’ve planned just won’t work.
3. If any of the activities you’ve chosen need special supplies, make a list of the items you’ll need and assemble or purchase them beforehand.
4. Make a list of anything you need to do ahead of time, such as mix paint, make a batch of modeling clay, and so on.
5. Plan special activities for your baby sitter (if you have one) and have all the necessary materials handy. This will let your sitter know that spending an afternoon or evening in front of the TV with your children is not an option.
6. Make a list of ideas that would be fun to do anytime you can fit them into your schedule. Have this list ready for when you have some unexpected free time.
STOCKING UP ON SUPPLIES
Most of the activities in this book require some basic supplies. You can easily find many of the following items around the home, but you will need to purchase some of them. Store your supplies in a cupboard in the kitchen, a shelf in the garage, a box in the basement, or in your child’s playroom.
art smock (or old T-shirt)
balls: golf, tennis, Ping-Pong
bed sheets (old)
book club fliers
calendars (old and current)
ceramic tile (various sizes)
children’s dictionary and thesaurus
clear acrylic spray
clear nail polish
clothes and costume jewelry (for dress-up)
coffee cans with lids
dry pasta (different shapes and sizes)
empty jars and lids
film canisters (empty)
greeting cards (used)
ice cream buckets (empty)
kitchen timer or wind-up alarm clock
lids from plastic gallon jugs, baby food jars, frozen juice cans
markers (dry-erase, permanent, and washable)
modeling compound (Fimo, Sculpey, or other)
paint (acrylic, fabric, tempera)
paper lunch bags
paper towel and toilet paper tubes (empty)
photographs of friends and family
pill bottles (empty)
plaster of Paris
plastic bowls, lids, bottles
plastic jugs (empty)
playing cards (mismatched and complete decks)
shallow box (the kind a 24-pack of soda comes in)
shoeboxes with lids
stationery and stamps
stickers of all kinds
Styrofoam cups and trays
tape (transparent, masking, colored)
terra cotta pots
phone books (old)
thin elastic cord
tin cans (empty)
wine bottle (empty)
“BUT THERE’S NOTHING TO DO!”
No matter how busy your child is with school, music lessons, sports, friends, or other activities, there will always come a time when she’s bored or restless. Children whose time is always rigidly planned for them and those who spend a lot of time with TV or computer games often find it difficult to be creative and imaginative with their free time.
When my children were young, I organized our home to help reduce episodes of boredom. If you’ve read either The Toddler’s Busy Book or The Preschooler’s Busy Book, you may recognize some of the following ideas, which have been modified for older children.
Keep a baker’s box in the kitchen.
Fill a plastic crate or storage box with a collection of unbreakable kitchen tools: cake pan, cookie cutters, baking sheet, bowls, measuring cups and spoons, mixing spoons, rubber spatula, muffin pan, and so on. Store it in a spare cupboard that’s low enough for your child to reach. She can use her tools for playing with play dough, modeling clay, or dry pasta or for helping you with cooking and baking projects.
Have a busy box handy.
Fill a small plastic crate or storage box with things your child can use on her own anytime. A school-age child will appreciate many craft items in her busy box: crayons, markers, coloring books, paper, tape, stickers, scissors, glue, ink pad, rubber stamps, play dough, and so on.
Set up a tickle trunk.
A tickle trunk full of dress-up clothes and props will not only foster your child’s imaginative play, but it also will likely hold her interest throughout her childhood. Fill a trunk, toy box, large plastic container, or cardboard box with adult clothes, shoes, hats, scarves, gloves, and costume jewelry to use for dress-up. Old suits are great, as are Hawaiian shirts, vests, baseball hats, bridesmaid dresses, nightgowns, wigs, boots, slippers, and purses. Look for tickle trunk items at garage sales or local thrift shops, or stock up on princess gowns and animal costumes at post-Halloween sales.
Make a rainy day box.
When the weather is bad, or when your child is sick, a rainy day box full of surprises can help break the monotony. Good things to put in a rainy day box for a school-age child are:
• New art supplies (pad of paper, markers, paint box, stickers, or play dough)
• A new toy (or one that your child hasn’t played with in a while)
• A new book, CD, or DVD
• Special dress-up items
• Cookie cutters and a new or favorite cookie recipe
• Supplies and directions (stored in a Ziploc bag) for a new game or craft
Don’t overuse your rainy day box; your child will find it interesting only if its appearance is somewhat extraordinary. Hide your rainy day box in a safe place and bring it out only when the day seems unusually long.
Make a job jar for your family.
Instilling a sense of responsibility for household chores is something that can be started at any age. Make a job jar for your family using an empty jar, coffee can, or small box. Cut out strips of paper and print a small job that needs to be done on each one. A toddler will enjoy wiping a floor or refrigerator with a damp cloth or sponge, stacking towels in a cupboard, or picking up toys and placing them in a basket or container. A preschooler can straighten bookshelves, wash a bathroom sink, put away towels, or wash vegetables. Six-to-ten-year-olds can sweep, vacuum, dust, wipe counters, set and clear a table, load and unload a dishwasher, and so on. Older children can fold laundry, clean bathrooms, wash floors, and more. You know best which jobs your child is capable of doing with minimum supervision and assistance.
Whenever you do your household chores or your child whines one too many times about being bored, have her pick a job from the job jar. If your child is normally an unwilling helper, letting her choose her own job may reduce her reluctance.
Rotate your child’s toys.
If your family is like ours, your kids have received many wonderful toys as gifts for birthdays, holidays, and other occasions. While parents appreciate the good intentions of the givers, most children have more toys than they can possibly play with. Also, even the most creative toys will fail to hold your child’s interest if they’re always around. If you rotate your child’s toys every four to six weeks, they’ll seem new to her and will be interesting and exciting all over again.
Separate your child’s toys into piles. (If your child has a favorite toy, keep it out all the time.) Keep one pile in your child’s room or play area and pack the others away in boxes, marking dates for when they are to be brought out. If you have friends with children the same age, why not try a toy exchange? Keep a list of what’s been exchanged and be sure to agree on the terms beforehand (how long, who’s responsible for breakage, and so on).
Make a crazy can.
Someone once referred to the dinner hour as “arsenic hour.” Perhaps you’ve worked all day, driven the car pool to ballet or hockey practice, and are now faced with a tired, hungry family to feed. Or maybe you’ve been home all day with preschoolers and toddlers whose naps were too short. Whatever the case, the dinner hour is usually when you’re busiest and your children are crankiest. In the midst of the chaos, you yearn for a distraction to keep them busy. Since you’re probably not feeling at your most creative or your most patient, this isn’t a great time to brainstorm activities. Planning ahead with a crazy can may be the answer.
Make a list of on-the-spot activities that require no special materials, no time-consuming preparation or cleanup, and no serious adult participation or supervision. Write these ideas down on index cards or small slips of paper and put them in an empty coffee can. If you like, cover the can with cheerful contact paper, or cover it with plain paper and have your child decorate it using paint, markers, or crayons. When things start to get crazy or when there’s just nothing to do, choose a card from the can for an instant remedy. See Appendix B for a list of activities appropriate for a school-age child’s crazy can.
Bring a busy bag.
A busy bag will help prepare you for those times when your child just has to wait—at a doctor’s office, hairdresser, or restaurant; in the car; on the bus; and so on. Turn a drawstring bag or backpack into a portable busy bag that can be filled with special goodies to keep your child amused. School-age children may enjoy Barbies, Legos, dolls, books, audiotapes, CDs, Matchbox cars, puzzles, special snacks, stickers and a sticker book, paper and markers, magnets and a small metal cake pan, and so on. You can make the contents of the busy bag a surprise for your child or have her help you fill it before you go.
WHAT ABOUT TV?
TV may not have been much of an issue during your child’s toddlerhood and preschool years. Maybe she has enjoyed watching several programs during the day or maybe she hasn’t been interested at all. Whatever the situation, it’s likely to change when your child starts school. First, her free time will be drastically reduced by the time she spends at school. Second, influence from her classmates may prompt your child to ask permission to watch more TV or to watch programs you feel are inappropriate.
The influence of television on children has been much debated over the years. As I stated in The Preschooler’s Busy Book, the crux of the children-and-TV issue is not really what children watch, because parents can control that. I am more concerned about how parents use TV and what children do not do when they watch TV. It’s easy to use TV as a baby sitter, but TV can be habit-forming for both parent and child. The little free time that school-age children have is better spent playing, reading, walking, talking, painting, and crafting.
But TV is here to stay. It’s up to parents to use it in a way that will benefit their child’s development and their relationship with their child. How should parents do this? First, be selective about what your children watch. Good TV programs can make learning fun and can expand your child’s knowledge of the world. Look for programs or DVDs that instruct, entertain, and reinforce the values and principles you wish to develop in your child.
Second, limit your child’s viewing time each day. Time spent watching TV is time that your child does not spend on other more valuable activities like playing games, reading (or being read to), or using her imagination in countless other ways. Children who spend a lot of time watching TV may be less likely to use their own imagination and creativity to entertain themselves.
Third, watch TV with your child when possible. Many programs move so quickly that it’s almost impossible for children to stop and ponder what’s happening. Parents can provide connections that children miss. By reminding your child of related events in her own life, you’ll help her make sense of what she sees.
Finally, set an example for your child. Show her that you’d rather read a book or play a game or talk to her than watch TV. Don’t expect your child to limit her viewing and choose programs wisely if you do the opposite. Remember: Children learn from our actions more than from our words.
A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Parenting is a tough job and one for which you don’t often receive appreciation or praise. But as Dr. Benjamin Spock said, raising children, “seeing them grow and develop into fine people, gives most parents—despite the hard work—their greatest satisfaction in life.”
Raising children also brings more than just satisfaction. As your child has grown from a newborn baby through the various stages of early childhood, you’ve grown, too. You’ve been stretched in more ways than you ever thought possible, you’ve made new friendships and learned new things about yourself, and you’ve probably developed the patience of a saint along the way!
Keep a positive outlook on life. Don’t compare yourself to others unless the comparison gives you incentive to improve. Enjoy your children and accept them for who they are. Show them unconditional love. Give them lots of hugs and kisses while you can, because the “last time” may come any day: the last time you cuddle together for a bedtime story; the last time she’ll let you hold her hand in the mall; the last time she’ll let you pick out her clothes. Don’t be influenced by what others view as success. If your children love you, if they look up to you, if they enjoy spending time with you, you’re succeeding at life’s biggest job.