Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Keeping Mama Sane Oops I Mean Keeping Small Children Entertained

A friend of mine is struggling with keeping her 4-year-old entertained on the mornings her 3-year-old is off at preschool. Now, I'm no expert, and BELIEVE ME, I have plenty of days when my version of "keeping the children entertained" involves tearing out my own hair, threatening extra naps, and humming loudly while studiously ignoring the whining, but you may remember I did once write a weekly feature on this blog all about, uh, keeping small children entertained. So I may have a few ideas. And I'm sure my friend isn't the only mama trying to occupy a preschooler on at-home mornings.

I can't stress enough the brilliance of having your preschooler do your chores, housework, and cooking tasks with you. THEY LOVE THIS, PEOPLE. Now that Julia's in kindergarten every morning, on the days that Genevieve is home with me, we do this all the time.

Of course the key is presenting these activities in such a way as to make them seem Extremely Exciting and Helpful, and things that only Big, Important Children Can Do. A peppy, gleeful tone of voice is a prerequisite. Interestingly, pinning the idea on another mom that the child knows and loves seems to work especially well: "Do you know what great idea Lucy's mom does with her girls sometimes? It's SO neat." And then you describe something totally mundane that you need to get done anyway, like sorting out your children's summer clothes for packing away, and putting out the fall/winter clothes in their place. (Hint: let your child be in charge of emptying each dresser drawer for you, and have her sort out the summery things for storage ["Find ALL the tank tops and shorts, and put them in a big pile for me."].) Genevieve loves to help me dust. I give her a damp rag and tell her she's in charge of dusting her toys and anything low, and I can get the whole house done this way. Sweeping/swiffing is good too. I'm not saying preschoolers are especially good at actually cleaning, but if they can happily do their own version of whatever chore you need to get done, you can cross it off your to-do list and know that your kid has had fun, too. I give Genevieve our Swiffer (which is broken, so the handle is conveniently short and just her size), and I use the broom at the same time. She's just having fun, but I'm actually cleaning the floor.

But my personal favorite is cooking with my children. This morning I stood Genevieve up on a chair at the counter and together we made lentil-vegetable soup, cranberry biscuits, and super-healthy multigrain apple muffins, and voila!--my entire dinner is ready for tonight (the soup and biscuits; we have leftover steamed edamame from our CSA farm to go alongside), plus an entire week of breakfasts in the freezer. How sweet is that? To me, all that cooking was a necessary household task; to Genevieve, it was a special kid activity that she got to do one-on-one with me. Win-win!

(Hint: for potentially difficult recipes like homemade soup, put your child in charge of scooping up the chopped vegetables from the cutting board as you go--with clean hands, of course--and placing them in a bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup, for later dumping into the pot. This step isn't necessary, of course, but Genevieve didn't know that, and it gave her something to do besides the adults-only steps of chopping and stovetop cooking.)

It's amazing how much joy and interest small children can get out of simple household tasks. Sure, sometimes you'll be busy reading books, going for walks, and doing art projects with them. And sometimes you can set them up with an activity to do on their own, while you sip coffee and read the newspaper oops I mean wash the dishes and do the laundry, but sometimes you just need to get things done, and you also need to entertain your kid, and guess what? That can be the same thing more often than you might think.

Good luck, mamas!

1 comment:

donna said...

I think sharing ideas is always so useful in breaking the boredom of the same activities. That's why I loved your WTDW feature. :)