Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Entertaining Children 101

One of the most challenging aspects of my Life As Mum is entertaining three little girls all day long (and occasionally all NIGHT long, too). My girls are at very different stages-- they are aged 10, 6 and 2, and so naturally, no one book or craft or toy or even SNACK will satisfactorily entertain all three of them at the same time. The act of dreaming up, and then juggling the supervision of, three separate activities for three very busy little people often overwhelms me. It is also hard for the girls to learn to be patient and wait for their turn... More often than not, the act of watching a sibling receive attention from me makes a little girl CERTAIN that what the OTHER kid is doing is far superior to the thing that SHE is supposed to be doing... And then the "IIIII want to do that TOOOOO..." whining begins, and eventually all the wheels wind up falling off of the little red wagon that is my daily life.

We really try to do things together as a sort of tag-team as often as we can. For instance, when gardening (one of our most favourite activities), I do the heavy digging, the 2 year old pokes her tiny finger into the ground to make a hole, the 6 year old drops the seed in the hole, and the 10 year old covers it with dirt and smooths everything over. Sounds great in theory, doesn't it? And it IS great, until the 2 year old wants to hold the seeds and spills them all over the place, the 6 year old gets mad and squirts her with the hose, and the 10 year old starts yelling because we're not supposed to be turning the flowerbed into a giant mudpie. I'm telling you, THAT scenario secretly videotaped would make a GREAT clip to endorse a paving company. And a laundry detergent manufacturer, too, for that matter.

Something that I think we often forget is that when it comes right down to it, the simplest things are the best things to do with children. It constantly amazes me the things that we as parents feel we "need" to do with, and provide for our children, in order to "successfully" see them into adulthood. We are so completely programmed with the idea of creating the EXCEPTIONAL, GIFTED CHILD, we wind up overprogramming and overwhelming our kids. Not only are they overprogrammed, the wealth of toy material we accumulate for them is downright astounding.

Now, before we go any further, I absolutely confess that my kids have a playroom that rivals Mastermind Toy Store for its stock content. And I also confess that I bought most of it myself. You name it, we've got it-- from Peek-a-Blocks to Playmobil, Thomas Engines to Hotwheels, Baby to Barbie dolls... Don't get me started. We Have A Problem. We are Toy-A-Holics. But luckily, my girls are also GREAT at playing with all the stuff. I often charge into the playroom with giant clear plastic bags, fully intending to FILL those bags with unused toys, and either Freecycle or consign them. But do you know what? Because my kids are at such different ages, there is actually very little in there that doesn't get a good workout by one of the girls on a fairly regular basis.

However, as I started out saying, it sometimes shocks me how effectively the very simplest things and activities delight all three girls at the same time. It's a wonderful, eye-opening moment for a mother to watch her children take pleasure IN one another, WITH one another.

Here are a few of the things that we do together on a regular basis:

1. SING AND DANCE. And I don't mean just the Skinnamarinky-dinky stuff (with apologies to Sharon, Lois and Bram, but let's face it, guys, even YOU can't stand singing that stuff anymore, can you??!). Don't get me wrong, nursery rhymes and nonsense verse is fantastic stuff, but KIDS CAN TELL if mummy is bored out of her gourd!! We put on stuff that mummy likes on a regular basis, too. The kids LOVE IT when we put on Aerosmith, I grab the vacuum cleaner, and we dance around the kitchen. One of my best friends and extraordinary mother of 2 boys has been enlightening our kids on the joys of Disco-- she does a MEAN rendition of "Play That Funky Music, White Boy", and the kids now do a great shimmy-shimmy (a baby diaper shimmy is a joy to behold). One should never be afraid of looking or sounding silly in front of kids when singing and dancing . Silly is grossly under-rated, in my humble opinion.

2. GET DIRTY. Garden! Finger paint! Roll out a LOOOOONG roll of paper and dump every single crayon in the house on the floor and make a banner! Play water games in the sink or pour dried noodles into tubs on the floor! Coloured chalk on the patio! Home made PLAYDOUGH!

3. BOXES. I can't BELIEVE the great things the kids have made out of the cardboard that other stuff has come in. There have been dollhouses and cars and puppet theatres and... One of my kids once just put a box over her head and giggled herself silly whilst trying to navigate her way around the house without knocking herself out. This burned up some time, but required heightened supervision.

4. GO FOR A WALK. Ignore the whining and get their little behinds outside. And no, they don't need to take their bikes and trikes and scooters and pedal cars and... Just WALK. They have a great time once they're out there, and if you make a scavenger hunt-type of list to take with you, it's even better-- they don't even realize they're exercising.

5. CLEAN UP. Sometimes cleaning the house with kids turns out to be a treasure hunt. It's incredible the things they re-discover as we sort stuff out. My girls call it "Going Shopping in the Playroom"... which is great for me, because it doesn't cost me a dime, and we've bought out the real toy stores anyway. Warning, however-- don't expect things to actually STAY clean, because the point of re-discovering toys is to PLAY with those toys.

6. BAKE. I recently Freecycle-d an "Easy-Bake Oven" that somebody gave us a few years ago. It had been collecting dust in the cupboard for TOO LONG. Why on earth would any kid want to fry a cake mix under a lightbulb when you can make cupcakes in a real oven? We Bake. A Lot. My 2 year old can't get enough, in fact, she's becoming a regular Julia Child. We do cookies and muffins and squares and bread... The pantry is always full of good stuff, and it's great for school lunches. The only warning I have is that THIS is what keeps that extra five pounds on me; that five pounds I can't seem to shake. Because I'm sorry, Baking is Better with Butter, there's just no denying it.

The best thing, I find, is when you can combine several of the aforementioned activities all in one day... It goes without saying that Baking and Getting Dirty pretty much go hand-in-hand, and if you could follow those two things with Walking, then mummy's behind has a lesser chance of becoming the size of the back-end of a city bus.

Sometimes I have to MAKE time to take time out to play and be silly. And I have to force myself to realize that it will be OKAY for me "not to get anything done" in a day (meaning bed-making and dish-washing and returning phonecalls, or even getting dressed before noon for that matter). Every now and again, I throw up my hands and declare what we in this house call a FERRIS BUELLER DAY. We skip school and lessons and appointments, and just take a day off. Usually by about 2pm, I'm wondering WHY I ever imagined that it would be a "day off" for ME, but the kids have a riot. Literally. And quite frankly, sometimes it's exactly what they need. Happy kids are the most gifted, exceptional kids, after all.

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