Dr. Joanne Foster – www.joannefoster.ca
As thoughts turn to summer holidays in the wake of COVID-related restrictions, families are looking for exciting things to do. Something a little different, perhaps, or just plain fun. Not too pricey or complex. It would be ideal if children could learn at the same time, and engage in opportunities to explore and discover. Or relax and unwind.
The best experiences for optimal child development don’t necessarily involve lots of planning, or costs, or traveling about. There’s something to be said for the simple pleasures, the joys of unstructured play, and carefree curiosity. Nevertheless, in many families, there seems to be an emphasis on lots of programming and a focus on averting kids’ tedium or frustration. This is occurring alongside an apparent and increasing erosion of invent-it-yourself imaginative play. There are plentiful opportunities for playful exploration available in one’s own backyard or neighborhood. In the same way that pots and spoons can delight a preschool musician; or a ladybug and a magnifying lens can enthrall a budding botanist; or pails, shovels, and sand can inspire a young structural engineer—so, too, can other simple pursuits be found (and be foundational) for meaningful learning, enjoyment, and quality time spent together. Think about different age-appropriate play materials, across many domains of development, including physical, musical, social, linguistic, mathematical, and visual/spatial.
Around the world, and from generation to generation, down-to-earth, unfussy activities have served to promote self-awareness, skill development, exploration, and happiness. They’ve stood the test of time while enhancing cognitive stimulation, sensorimotor development, creative expression, social interaction, and the endless possibilities of multisensory discovery and learning. Here are some examples of simple pleasures for young children.
SUGGESTIONS FOR OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES “Sports, outdoor play, and other physically challenging activities (whether on land, water, or wheels), can strengthen your child’s body, develop their motor skills, improve their energy, health, and well-being, and stimulate their creativity.”
Colorful chalk art on driveways, and sidewalks—create a neighborhood showcase!
Blow bubbles—and chase them, too
Gardening—fruits, vegetables, flowers
Physical activities—games, tag, gymnastics, water play
Nature walks—any time or place (plus take pictures; collect rocks, leaves, and shells)
Fly kites or paper airplanes—build and beautify them
SUGGESTIONS FOR INSIDE ACTIVITIES “The key is to find a healthy balance that provides enough stimulation and also affords opportunities for relaxation and enjoyment.”
Crafts—woodworking, model-building, jewelry design, pottery
Skill-building—origami, shadow tracing, story-writing, baking
Recreational reading—all genres
Arts—dance, puppetry, painting, music
Role-play—dress-up, story-telling, improvisation
SUGGESTIONS FOR BUILDING CHARACTER STRENGTHS (as children get older…) “There’s a growing urgency to nurturing a generation of innovators, ready, willing, and able to contribute to finding solutions to the problems of the planet….Young people can use their strengths to become change-makers in a challenging world.”
Volunteer—interest-based, helping the helpers, see https://dogoodfromhome.com
Reflect—think about and tap into values (such as kindness, forgiveness, and honesty)
Exposure to leadership—through cultural, religious, or family activities
Encourage others—their initiatives, attitudes, efforts, resilience
Environmental awareness—ways to enjoy, care for, and protect the natural world
Strengthen community—make connections, acquire support and resources
LAST WORDS There’s an old adage, “Less is more.” Children who engage in imaginative play find outlets for their creativity, learn from their adventures, and experience feelings of accomplishment—which lead to more of the same. Children’s activities do not have to be complicated or dependent upon abundant finances or electronic gadgetry. (Check out the list of brain-building activities in Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, pp. 55-56.) Be resourcefully attentive to children’s ideas, questions, and preferences. Encourage them to pursue their interests, explore, and learn something new every day—and then do something creative or constructive with whatever they learn. Be inventive together, and share in the enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The quotes within this article are from Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. This 3 rd edition of the award-winning Being Smart will be released in fall 2021. For information, go to www.giftedunlimitedllc.com. To find out about the book Beyond Intelligence (also by Matthews and Foster, and referred to above)—and for additional resources on creativity, learning, productivity, and more—visit www.joannefoster.ca