A couple of posts ago, I lauded the meditative allure of rock scrubbing. The Springtime sparkliness outside, I’m sure, is a testament to legions of unplugged children working/playing away, from pebble to boulder to the moon. And one among many cool things about young children is that they love this kind of work. Non-teens that they are, they don’t even view it as work. It’s play.
Thus, the refrain: …play is how they learn, aoooom…
A critical thing that young children learn through play is how to feel good about themselves. Praise and reassurance are important, but in the first few years the most robust lessons are through actions: what they are shown (e.g. consistent affection) and what they are encouraged to do. All of the cheery videos and apps in the world heaping praise for being smart and wonderful just don’t work. For example:
There are reasons for this. Renowned psychologist Erik Erikson (see nice man below) described critical stages of child development and accompanying challenges faced during each. No matter how fast technology advances or how amazing it gets, these happen in a gradual, predictable order – as they have for eons – with no upgrades allowed.
Birth to age 2 is when a child hones not academics, but his/her sense of basic trust vs mistrust. This is a time for feeding, cuddling, and stories on laps, the latter more for togetherness than to become a genius. From 2-4 they enter a critical phase of autonomy vs shame and doubt. This is the “I can do it” stage – getting dressed comes to mind – a fraternal twin of the “look at me” one.
This is rock scrubbing, hole digging, block stacking, page turning time.
For both of these stages, the critical relationship for the child is with parents, their first provider, teacher, and audience. Key questions for them involve love and acceptance - of self and by others. These questions are only answered in any enduring way in the real world, through real experience, with real people. No matter how flashy or well-reviewed, no e-book, Disney Princess, nor trip to the Baby Cafe can address them:
This is a big reason electronic media fails the constructive activity test for this age range. Despite brilliant marketing, it mostly spoon-feeds children tweedly blobs of programmed stimulus from the confines of a screen. There’s not much left for the child to do. The lion’s share of “I can do it” goes to the developer and marketing team. Compounding the problem, caregivers are rendered optional, cartoons offering empty messages of love and devotion that mostly foster dependence. Thus, children can beam that they made Elmo laugh or gawk as lights flash when they press the right button, but this is a poor surrogate for genuine experience, conveying neither trust nor confidence. A child gains more from banging an iPhone with a hammer or scribbling on a DVD with a crayon.
Which brings us back to rocks. Rocks are iconic playthings. Such playthings are iconic for good reason. They endure. They are adaptable. They don’t need recharging. They invite a child to apply the magic of their imagination in concert with their evolving skill set, transforming them into something else. Others include boxes, books, blankets, blocks, pots and pans-
Did I just write pan? After an impassioned case for the need for children to work/play to show off their skills and make parents and themselves proud? Indeed I did. And so, with a nod to Erikson, a new activity from our friends at Productive Parenting. Read (and play) on!
- small amount of soapy water
- large pot (or pan)
- scrubber with a handle
- bath mat
What to Do: Your child enjoys helping you in the kitchen. The next time you have a dirty pan, let your child clean it! Sit next to your child on a bath mat and demonstrate how to scrub the pan. Move away and watch your child become engaged in this activity. (editor’s note: engagement, as in focus, learning, happiness, Zen, letting magic happen…) Praise your child’s effort. Your child will love pleasing you!
- upper body strength
- gross motor
- eye-hand coordination
Visit http://www.productiveparenting.com for more fun, free activities.
Thanks for reading. Go have fun and make the world sparkle, then come back and share your experience!