You know when you go to the park and you see a mother laughing hysterically as she swings on the swing next to her toddler? Or when you go to McD’s and see a perfectly content mother playing with the Mini My Little Pony Happy Meal toy? Or when you drive by an ice cream parlor and spot a mother and her children enjoying multicolor ice cream cones, ice cream dripping from everyone’s chins and even some fingers?
I am not these women. I am the woman standing in the ice cream line insisting to my children that today is Root Beer Float Day; and in honor of that, we will be getting root beer floats with lids but they may choose their straws. I am the woman sitting at the table in the fast food play area, begging my children not to linger over their dollar menu nuggets but to go slide down the slide. I am the woman sitting with my eyes closed on the park bench next to a stroller, trying to catch a few seconds of sleep before the next catastrophe.
I am not a fun mom. Ethan is the fun parent. I am the one with the diapers, the hairbrush, and the sippy cups. You come to me if you need something wiped or buttoned. If you need a good laugh, you go to Papa. My idea of fun is getting to nap in a freshly vacuumed room.
But I have recently reinstituted something that does up my fun factor. This book is a terrific resource for those of us scrambling to come up with something to do that 1) doesn’t cost much of anything, 2) doesn’t require much work on our part, and 3) the kids actually enjoy. Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready: The How-To Book That Grows with Your Child by June R. Oberlander is a terrific book. From birth to age 5, it gives a weekly activity to do with your child. I have found the activities to be age-appropriate and cheap cheap cheap (I have never had to buy anything to do any of the activities, and the book estimates that the activities cost a penny a day). I first borrowed mine from the library, and then a good friend (Thanks, Mary!) gave me her copy. My friend Jamie recommends it to adoptive parents who want a guide for helping to develop age-appropriate skills.
But I love it for the way the kids love it. Preparation is at a minimum and enjoyment is at a maximum. For example, one of the activities was to demonstrate how to put a rubber band on and off a door handle. When they were 18 months old, my twins spent 45 MINUTES doing that. 45 MINUTES!!! And no broom, Formula 401, and paper towels were needed when they finished!
To give you a better picture, here’s what we’re working on this week (I am paraphrasing the activities):
Eden (Week 30):
Paper Noise: Take a bunch of pieces of paper. Holding one near the baby, crumple it and make as much noise with it as you can. Crumple another one close to her ear. Give her a piece and let her try (you can crumple another one at the same time so she gets the idea). Do until bored.
If the baby’s still happy, take a clean trashcan and show the baby how to put the crumpled pieces into the trashcan. Make it a game by you doing one and baby doing one. Praise any time she actually tries to get it in.
Another time, take a large toy, show to baby, and put it in a box with the crumpled pieces of paper. Close the box and have the baby open it and find the toy.
This activity develops small hand muscles, enhances listening, encourages the baby to copy or attempt a task independently, and develops an awareness of the concept “inside.”
As a side note, she had already mastered this crumpling technique on, ahem, church bulletins, but I figure it’s good practice anyway. Should she run out of bulletins or something.
Abraham and Miriam (Age 2-Week 15):
Put It in a Line: Take a yard of tape or string, etc. Lay it in a line on the floor. Have a few small items (block, key, clothespin, spoon, cup, etc.) in a can or jar or paper bag.
Start on the left. Place one item on line. Sweeping your hand from left to right, show that you are going to put the next item to the right of the first. Continue, always placing next item to the right of last. Have child do it. Repeat often, varying the items.
This activity develops an awareness of “left” and “right” progression, enhancement of the sense of touch in handling the objects in the bag, eye-hand coordination, skill in following directions and completing a task, further awareness of the concept “empty” and “on,” and awareness of “one” object to place at a time.
Lily (Age 3-Week 44)
Yes or No: The book gives 24 statements, to which the child is to answer “yes” or “no.” You can add your own. Some examples are, “Pages are in a book,” “Sugar is sour,” “Mother washes clothes in the dishwasher,” “A camera takes medicine,” and “Clouds are white.” While I would assume this would be boring, Lily thinks it’s a blast and cracks up hysterically at the ones like, “I can pour juice in a fork.” But then, having heard her jokes, she probably thinks each “no” statement is a great one-liner.
This activity develops listening skills, thinking skills, skill in making a decision, language enrichment, association skills, and confidence.
Ben (Age 5 and I don’t know how many weeks ‘cuz he’s too old for the book):
While he has “outgrown” the book, sometimes I go back and do some of the older activities that we missed (like clothespin toss, jumping distances, pattern repetition). But this week his “activity” is learning how to load and run the washing machine. I usually use the 4-stage teaching approach (You watch me do it, you do it with me, I watch you do it, you do it alone), and he’s on the third stage of this one. We’re almost all the way to washing machine independence – WOO-HOO!
This activity develops an incredible sense of accomplishment and freedom…in the mother!
OK. So it’s not going to win me the “Entertainer of the Year” Award. But it is a step up from “Let’s Play Tidy Up the Nursery.”
And the last time I tried to swing next to my toddlers, I about threw up.