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I was hoping to wait until eighteen months before we introduced any kind of screen time to my daughter, but we only made it to sixteen. One day my daughter crawled into my husband’s lap while he was surfing YouTube and pointed at the screen so sweetly he caved and showed her a short, 2 minute video of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
After that one viewing, my toddler wouldn’t go a day without pointing to Daddy’s computer whenever she would see it. She loved that video, and I must confess I loved the way her face would light up when she would see it.
It wouldn’t be fair to blame the screen time epidemic that ensued entirely on my husband. I was the one who realized it would be safer for Daddy’s computer if we just streamed the YouTube video on our TV, and I was the one who started letting her watch more than she probably should have once she got started. It’s hard to say no to TV time when you think about how much you could get done while your kid is occupied with it!
In the summer, when it’s too hot where we live to play outside and the days feel extra long, the television is a super tempting diversion. But ultimately, screens are not something I want to be a big part of my daughter’s life, so I had to make some changes—and fast. So I started getting really intentional about how I structure my daughter’s day, starting with creating a predictable daily routine centered around educational activities.
Organizing these activities felt overwhelming at first, and I wasn’t sure where to begin. Planning a week’s worth of activities sounds like a lot of work, I know, but here’s how you can make it quick and easy:
1) CONSIDER YOUR AREAS OF “INSTRUCTION”
Depending on your kids ages, you’ll want to come up with activities that involve movement and coordination, social and emotional development, language, mathematics, music, art, science, and social studies.
That sounds like a tall order, but don’t get bogged down by feeling like in order to do this, you’ll need to buy a curriculum or create one from scratch. When you think about it, elements of each of these different areas can be found in most activities you plan. Thinking about the skill sets each activity touches on just makes it a little easier to come up with different ideas and helps remind you to emphasize the applicable elements of your child’s play.
Play is highly educational, especially for toddlers and young children. In other words, you don’t actually need to do a lot for the activities you plan to facilitate learning. Sometimes your job is to just sportscast (“That’s a blue ball!”) or, depending on your child’s age, ask questions (“What do you think will happen when we leave this ice outside?”). And boom! Your activity just got more educational.
2) CHOOSE A THEME
I’ve found it can be easier to come up with interesting activities when you plan them around a theme. Themes don’t have to be complicated. Last week, the theme of my daughter’s activities was simple: “summer.” I emphasized the color yellow, we learned about the sun, we played at the splash pad, we talked about the difference between hot and cold, and we did water-related sensory activities. Easy!
And of course, not every activity you plan has to be centered around your theme, so don’t worry if you have trouble coming up with things to do that are directly related. Last week during our “summer” theme we cut up a pool noodle and put the pieces on a rope (like giant beads) to work on motor skills. I think that barely qualifies as being “summer” related, but it worked for us and Little Bo was entertained with this simple activity for about 30 minutes!
3) KEEP IT PLAYFUL AND CHILD CENTERED
Sometimes the activities you plan will be a flop. It’ll happen. Your child might not be developmentally able to appreciate the activity or it may simply not spark his interest. That’s okay.
When this happens, you can always fall back on simple, child-led play. Research has shown that play helps children develop critical cognitive, social, physical and emotional skills, and it aids in brain development!
In other words, don’t feel like you need to plan a full day of totally structured activity. Instead, you can facilitate play by simply providing specific toys, objects or experiences that emphasize particular skills or concepts you’d like to highlight and see what your child does with them. You can join in the play as full participant or “scaffold” play by encouraging further exploration, sportscasting, and asking questions.
In order to reap the greatest benefit from play, it should be fun for the child and primarily child-directed. “Owning” their play experience helps children stay engaged and be intrinsically motivated to learn.
4) RELY ON PINTEREST
Pinterest is teeming with awesome ideas for educational activities and play! A quick search will even yield ideas you can DIY, which are themselves are activities you can share with your child.
For example, last week I built my daughter a sensory table made from PVC pipe and a plastic storage bin. If Little Bo was a little older, it could have easily been a lesson in counting, numbers, measuring, building—even physics! For now, we just use it to play with water, rice and sand.
My daughter is too little for imaginary play, but since I see her getting closer I’ve started to make her felt food. She loves the pieces I’ve made for her and it has the added benefit of keeping me occupied on slow days at home.
If you’re looking for great ideas for kids, be sure to follow me on Pinterest!
5) USE AN ACTIVITY PLANNER
This right here was the secret to making planning activities for Little Bo REALLY easy. Being able to see your week on paper really helps keep things organized, visually keep track of how many activities you’ll need for the week, and set up your week in a way that makes sense.
And because I love you, dear reader, I have made you a FREE activity planner! You can download it below as a bonus for subscribing to my email newsletter—which you’ll want to do, because I make and offer freebies like this all the time!
This activity planner has space to plan two structured activities a day in addition to an outing and space to plan the week’s snacks. But I think the best part is it is two-sided! Use the back to keep track of the supplies you’ll need for the activity and to create a shopping list for supplies you’ll need to buy. Easy peasy!
What are you best activity planning tips and tricks? What are some of your favorite educational play ideas? Share them with me in the comments below!
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