Here’s one of my favorite tips for the parents of little kids:
Present a chore or a task at hand as a game, especially to the children between the ages of two and four.
You probably noticed that, at that age, kids process the world largely through their imagination, often without being able to fully differentiate between the real and the imaginary until they are six or seven. Observe a three-year-old at play sometime, notice how absolutely, utterly absorbed she is, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Because I know this, when it comes to getting my three-year-old to help with relatively boring household jobs, I often try to come up with a scenario he can hold in his mind as his hands do the actual physical task. Like the world of imagination itself, the picture you present them with doesn’t need to be perfectly realistic – it just needs to be vivid and easily understandable, preferably incorporating their current area(s) of interest. For my son, it pretty much means pretending to be either a machine operator or a hunter-gatherer.
With this in mind, here is what I told him when I was recently teaching him to button and unbutton his shirt on his own (a work in progress, I might add):
“Pretend that the hole is a lake and the button is a fish. The fish slipped away from the fisherman and wants to go back into the lake. Quick, quick, help the fish dive into the hole and get away!!”
Although simple, this “role-play” was highly effective in fixing his attention on this basic manual task because I choose an image from the natural world (its primal drama, as it were) that my son was closely familiar with.
Here’s another: when I wanted to involve him into folding the laundry, I sat him down on the couch next to me and dumped a pile of clean clothes we needed to fold by our feet. Then I said: “Pretend that we are two fishermen in a boat, fishing.”
I then reached into the pile and pulled out a pair of pants. I swung it wildly in the air, imitating a fish fighting the hook (boys love action!). I then slapped the pants onto my lap, exclaiming “We caught it! We need to butcher it quick so it doesn’t go bad!” We then proceeded to “butcher” the “fish” by folding the pants.
While my six-year-old daugther still enjoys the imaginary, she is also starting to awake to the material world as described by the laws of chemistry, biology, and physics, often looking for basic scientific explanations for things. With kids like this you gonna wanna appeal to their curiosity and wonder. Because she is currently into stars, planets, and all things having to do with space, I came up with the following game to accompany coring tomatoes:
(Which she did with this tool my mother-in-law gave me after reading this post).
“Look, look, it’s a meteorite flying through space!”
“Bang, it crashed into a planet and made a big crater!”
And I illustrate:
It’s nothing complicated, but it does make a difference in the tone and the atmosphere between you (the labor-commissioner parent) and your “work force.”
Especially because of the space theme, I knew I couldn’t finish today’s post without saying goodbye to Neil Armstrong. Incidentally, prompted by a particularly bright half-moon, my husband and I spent most of the Friday evening watching the videos and looking at the pictures of the original Moon landing, less than a day before the astronauts’ death made the headlines and permeated my friends’ status updates. I will never cease to marvel at the heroic nature of manned space missions – a triumph of human curiosity, courage, and will.