As we enter the Holiday Season the stores, internet and advertisements in the newspaper and magazines are all vying for your attention – and money. Buy this or that and your child will be bigger, better, smarter! We want to give things to our children but as the poem says, the things we give our child that are truly the most meaningful may not cost a lot of money. Two gifts that I found to be everlasting treasures for our sons: books and boredom (yes – whiney, annoying boredom!) One does not have to cost a lot of money and the other is absolutely free!
First – Read, Read, Read.It is so important to expose your child to the written word in books. Let them experience their very own books, check them out from the library, make their own story books and have them witness the grown-ups in their life reading books. Teach your child the responsibility of book ownership. They can learn to respect books. If they are prone to tearing pages, get them board books, buy books that are inexpensive or give them cloth books. If they are sitting on your lap, you can model how to turn a page or how to “touch the book gently”. Set their books on a shelf they can reach so they can read when they want to. Put the special books up and out of reach if you are concerned for their safety (both the book’s and the child’s!). Set aside specific reading times during the day. I read to the boys whenever they wanted to read during the day but the “special time” was when Daddy read to them at night. He read them their bedtime stories ( I was never sure who would fall asleep first -- Curt or the boys!) Their first chapter stories were short and simple. He worked his way through Curious George, Charlotte’s Web, Beezus and Ramona, the Redwall Series, and The Chronicles of Narnia. The boys own many (!) books of their own that mirror their personalities but the books that Curt read them as they grew up are in both of their personal libraries. They are treasured for the memories as well as the book itself.
How old is too old to read to them? Never! One of the traditions in our home was to buy Curt a new Christmas book to read when Joel and Nick came home for the holidays. We would all snuggle up with something hot to drink and a little snack to enjoy as we listened to Curt read. This year we will have a change in that tradition. Ansel will be added to the listeners and Papa will start the reading cycle again … first simple board books and then chapter books that he read to Joel and Nick as little ones.
Books are a gift you give your child and reading to them is a gift you give yourself. It is a time to bond, to share thoughts, to snuggle, to dream, to cry and laugh. Be sure to take the time to share literature with your child. It is a gift you will never regret giving.
Second is a gift that does not cost any money at all. So when you are thinking of gifts, think of something to give your child that you cannot buy – boredom. Yes, “I’m bored” is something I liked to hear – (no, I didn’t like the whining part of it but that is another story for another day). When they would come up and say they were bored I would answer them with -- Fine, you’re bored, what are YOU (not me) going to do about it? Allowing your child to figure out how to entertain him/her self is a gift you give your child that money cannot buy. There are many times during the day that you cannot always be your child’s sole source of entertainment. Let them go outside and dream, look at clouds, dig in the dirt, watch an ant or a spider in a web. Give them some “open ended” item to play with and let them discover ways to use their imagination. Old socks can make great puppets. A Cool Whip container is a unique hat, a boat, a bed….what else? Water, plastic animals, a little garden space and you have your own Animal Kingdom. Mr. Roger’s said the best toy you can give your child is a sand box. It is open ended in its approach and ever changing in the ways your child can use it. My boys, and the neighbor kids, actually used our sand box well into grade school. Of course, Curt’s idea of a sand box was a 6-foot x 6-foot square that must have been 4-feet deep. They could flood it with water, dig for buried treasure or just sit in it and watch the world around them.
If you allow your child to figure out “what to do” he/she will learn to problem solve, engage their imagination, develop creative thinking skills and be more self-reliant. We are so busy giving them opportunities for structured learning that we forget to give them opportunities for un-structured learning. It is not bad to be bored. They can relax and day dream, they can explore new ideas, try new thinking skills or they can whine and do nothing. Give them a chance to determine how they want to spend the time. Joel and Nick were not always successful – in my view -- in finding appropriate ways to entertain themselves. One time Joel and his friend decided to “switch the brains” of their two younger brothers – creative, yes, but electricity and metal pans on heads was not the way I wanted them to express their creativity! But there were many science experiments in the back yard that did meet my criteria for safety and their ideas for exploring their world. We had mud monsters, assorted “brews” in buckets, collections of roly-poly bugs, slugs and worms. They built forts, boats to float in the gutter after a rain and buried treasure to find later. Give your child a chance to be bored, let them figure out what they can do to entertain themselves, plan for un-structured time in their day as well as structured time. It is important to give them both structure so they learn how to interact in the world and to give them time to manipulate their surroundings so they can learn how to problem solve and express themselves in a positive and successful manner.
Two important gifts to give your child: Books to open the world to them and boredom to allow them to manipulate and explore the world around them.