Giving your Small Children Experiences they will Love

Kevin Gardner

Learn From Experience

As a child, the world is a wondrous place full of color and noise, and flavor, and smells. Everything is either right at eye level or just out of reach, and all you want to do is experience it all. You want to touch everything, taste whatever you can get into your mouth before your parent yanks it away, rub gooey stuff in your hair, squish your toes in the mud. You want to experience it all. This is how you learn. Learning that hot is bad (ouch!), and cold can be tasty. Soft is sometimes good, but then sometimes connected to a big thing with teeth, and makes Mom nervous. Hard is usually connected to tears, and sticky can make you giggle but sometimes makes Mom upset if it gets in your hair. Being exposed to these experiences in your everyday life, organically, is what being a child is, and how you develop into a functioning adult. Creating experiences that your child will love on a daily basis, not only promotes that organic growth, but fosters trust and respect between you and your child that lasts a lifetime.

Never Too Young For Books

Infants are calmed by the sound of their mother’s voices, both inside and outside of the womb, according to multiple studies. Reading to your child from birth can help calm your baby on those restless nights when nothing else may be working, and that bond will grow as you read with your child through his school years. Books are a gateway to many great things; language skills, listening skills, conversation techniques, patience, imagination, logic, cause and effect, colors, and on and on. The simple act of reading a book with your child cannot be underestimated! In fact, you’re building brain networks that will last a lifetime.

To make it a lovable activity for your young child, be sure to read to him at a time when you are both relaxed and comfortable. Bedtime is great for this. Books that are simple, colorful, with text that isn’t too complicated is perfect at this age. You're reading to engage, not for comprehension. Use your best silly voices! This is not the time to be shy, or to feel awkward. Plus, getting a giggle out of your child is magical. You’re trying to capture that attention span, and engage that baby or toddler imagination. If your child is old enough, ask questions along the way about the story, or ask what he thinks will happen at the end. Don’t worry about finishing or skipping around, this is all about the experience of reading, again, not for comprehension. Enjoy the moment.

When your child is old enough to head to the library and pick out his own books, library time is a fabulous time for development. Library time shows children that there’s a whole world of books beyond what exists in their home. Group activities at the library, like playtime, crafting time, or reading circle, can be an experience that will positively affect their development and growth, but may also just be a thing that they love.

Go Outside and Play!

To fully learn about the world, a child needs to experience the outdoors. Outside play is important in developing coordination, motor skills, and endurance all while learning so many other things about the earth, science, physics, gardening, ecology, math, farming, etc. Learning how mud feels, what bees do, how shadows work, what snow does when you throw it, what’s underneath the dirt holding the flowers up, where do the ants go in that pile of sand, how do the bricks make a corner of a building? Outdoor play also encourages a child to examine his limits, learning about his physical and emotional self. When they go higher and higher on that swing, or climb that tree; pushing themselves, and learning from that attempt is growth.

Outdoor playgrounds are a natural place for children to release energy and reduce stress. Unstructured play, having time to run around during the day helps give the child that space to ‘let things out,’ so when it's time to return to the quiet space he is ready to relax and listen, nap, do inside things. Outdoor playgrounds also allow a parent to sit to one side (depending on the age of the child) and be a home base for the child, while he explores independently, knowing he has that base to return to and get a snack or a hug.

Playing with your child as a baby or toddler at an outdoor playground can be an exciting and fun time. Helping them navigate the ladders, catching them as they go down the slide, pushing and tickling them as they swing on the baby swing, keeping wood chips out of their mouth, helping them hang from the monkey bars, making sure they don’t walk in the path of other swingers; all help create bonding time and memories with your child. Play time at the park is an experience a young child will ask for over and over again, especially if you live close to a neighborhood park and can walk there. Look forward to naps on the way home in the stroller or car seat.

Hiking is another outdoor activity that allows your child to experience the outdoors at an unstructured pace, and see as much nature as the hike allows. Hiking can be long, short, paved, dirt, remote, urban; essentially choose your own adventure! The benefits are immense and starting young, a lifelong love of hiking will be a gift your child will cherish.

Get Wet

Another priceless activity is swimming. Babies can start swimming from birth, although most lessons start somewhere around age three months. Swimming helps build muscle coordination, heart and lung strength, balance, and may also improve appetite and sleep. Swimming also gives your child the confidence, for a lifetime, to be in and around water. Another added benefit is the self confidence away from the water that swim lessons give, along with the ability to adapt better to social situations.

After the lessons are over, mommy and me swim time is, hands down, the most precious time with your child. One-on-one pool time holding your little nugget in a bathing suit, along with your focused attention, is the number one bonus of swimming. The skin to skin contact reinforces that parent bond, and the water helps stimulate the tactile receptors, so all of that touch-time is a win-win for both of you. Finding a swim lesson can be as easy as your local YMCA, your city pool, or local community centers, such as the JCC elc, a community center in Ohio, which has an early learning center for small children, and also offers beginner swim lessons.

Pre School

As hard as it is for any new parent to imagine, one day your child will be heading to school. Everything you do (or don’t do) with your child up until the point that they enter kindergarten, will prepare them for the moment they enter their first classroom. Learning how to share, follow the simple instructions, sit for a period of time and other basic skills, are some of the reasons preschool is recommended as a foundation for future academic achievement.

Young children can thrive in a preschool environment, becoming autonomous and learning new skills often gives a child a fierce sense of independence. Making new friends, going on playdates, attending birthday parties; preschool can quickly become a child’s new social calendar and his favorite activity, sometimes even fostering lifelong friendships. Allowing your child to spend time away from you, with trusted teachers, and letting the child build those connections to other trusted adults, promotes social and emotional development in the child as he grows into an adult.

Play is Growth, Play is Love

Young developmental years are the most important. Those times of playing, whether it be playing in the mud, or playing in the pool are key to childhood development and further, to adult development. Young children who are surrounded by fun and enriching activities with adults who are engaged, not only love the activity but love and trust the adult. The importance of finding activities that young children can be involved in and learn from, such as reading, while bonding with the parent or adult cannot be underestimated in the child’s growth. All activities don’t have to be structured or important, they just have to be done with a focus on the child.

Play comes naturally for children and it doesn’t take much for a child to just play. Experiences can be as simple as playing in the mud puddle that forms in your backyard after a heavy rain, or splashing in the puddles during the rain. Making cookies just to make cookies. Going for a walk when you really should be in bed, but the fireflies are out. Sitting under a tree and listening to the wind as it rustles the leaves. Create everyday experiences to balance out the structured experiences and your child will have a childhood filled with growth and most importantly, love.