Getting Started: Choosing an Activity

This week I’m doing my best to answer some questions presented by a reader, to see the other posts in the series click here. Please feel free to share your own thoughts and advice!

Today we’re on part two of Getting Started: Choosing an Activity

Did you have specific expectations or goals for your son at this age or was it just a slow process of working on things and small concepts; more of a parent directed play?  (questions from a reader)

Yes to all of the above.

I do have a list of specific goals that I want to teach J through our day’s activities.  The list helps me plan our days rather than survive them and helps me evaluate if I’m spending my time wisely on what J needs (living up to my overall purpose as mentioned yesterday).  I am not a legalist about my list and I certainly don’t look at the list every day or even every week.  There have even been months that go by when I don’t open up my list (like during my first trimester!).  It is always nice though to have something to go back to that helps me reevaluate or even get back on track.  

My list is not a set of standards that MUST be achieved by a certain age.  There are actually no age expectations on my list at all.  It is also not focused mainly on academics (though they are included), because that is not my main purpose. Your list will reflect your overall purpose for these activties like I mentioned yesterday.   

Why no age expectations?  I honestly do not know everything a 34 month old should be able to do.  That’s ok with me.  If there’s a serious red flag I would look into it, but J mastering the skill of jumping a little behind the norm is not really a big deal to me.  We added some more gross motor play for practice and waited for him to get it down.  He did and now jumps everywhere.

I also do not know everything a 34 month old should NOT be able to do (per the experts).  I think this gives me freedom to think outside the box and to keep from underestimating J.  I don’t end up limiting him to what is “normal”.  I do my best to present new activities based on whether he is physically, mentally, or socially ready for them.    I learned to watch his individual signs that tells me something is too easy or too difficult for him.  The point is, I am determining the next step to take based on J’s current developmental  stage.  I assess that and take one small step forward. Trial and error tells me if that step forward was small enough.

To create my list of goals:

  1.  I first came up with categories (just to name a few: moral, academic, Biblical, safety, …).
  2. I then listed specifics that are important for J to learn in each category (ex: Moral – speak kindly; Academic – letter recognition). 
  3. I can then make sure our play, conversations, learning activities, discipline, etc. are working towards those goals. 

As I feel that J is mastering a certain item on the list, I move on (though we review A LOT).  But there’s really not a lot on my list that can simply be checked off as accomplished.  That might be possible for knowing letters or colors, but those are honestly the least important goals for J right now.  Most of the goals are continually practiced as he grows. 

Which activities do I choose?

Depending on your list, it is very likely that your goals will not all be covered by formal learning activities.  I choose activities that will help J practice a particular goal in as many ways possible. They are learning all throughout the day and paying very close attention to our interactions with them.  This makes play, discipline, conversations, stories, song,s and modeling a good example all equally important (if not more important) to formal, sit-at-your-desk learning.  So I try to think of many ways to get the message across and help J practice.

Example:  One of my categories is “Family”.  An expectation under this category is “Help each other (and eventually offer to help when you see a need)”.  I wanted to instill this concept and be purposeful about it. Activities that we do to put this into practice would include reading books, learning Bible verses, role playing, and singing songs.  My husband and I try to be present good examples and for the sake of our toddler, be obvious about it.  So he might make a point to say, “Mom, it looks like you’re tired.  I can do the dishes tonight.  That would be a great way to help you.” And we let J practice by clearing the table or emptying the dishwasher.  And yes, we require it.  I consider brushing his teeth important enough to require that and in my opinion, instilling a helpful attitude is just as important. 

Other examples are much more concrete (like teaching the letter A or the color green).  Even with the academic lessons, I try to find many ways to introduce and practice the concept.  Most of the “activities” we do are simply examples of parent-directed play rather than sit-at-your-desk activities.  When he was younger, ALL the activities were some form of parent-directed play. 

Still, determining which activity will be best for him can mean some trial and error.  But then trial and error has honestly been a big part of parenting since we brought J home from the hospital!   If an activity or conversation doesn’t go well, I evaluate why.  It may be because I chose the wrong time of day (close to nap or mealtime), maybe I’ve been lax in discipline lately so simple obedience was really the issue, maybe I expected too much from him and need to try something a bit more basic, maybe it was too easy and therefore boring for him, or maybe I didn’t present the activity well enough and need to find a better way to teach him. There could be many reasons something didn’t go well. 

Don’t give up.  There have been times simply placing an activity or concept on hold for another month was all that was needed.  There have also been times my husband came home from work to try an activity with J that bombed just hours earlier with me… and has great success.  My husband just found a better way to help J with it.  That’s a little frustrating!  It’s also perfectly understandable and just one more reason I’m grateful for my husband!

So far he’s still thriving despite the errors, so we must be doing something right.

You can also check out this guest post I wrote, called Value Learning.  It explains why I do what I do and helps with getting started.

To see the other posts in this series, click here.

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