It’s a great pleasure for us to have guest mom Julie Osterman at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard today! Welcome, Julie–we’re so glad to have you here!
You are your child’s best toy.
A wise person once told me this, and I’ve made it my own mantra in raising my two girls. But let’s face it, we’re all busy moms. In a world of iPads, toddler TV, talking toys and other enticing entertainers, it’s easy to forget to just play.
As a music teacher who sings and plays with young children on a regular basis, you would think I’d have it all figured out. Yet on a recent four-hour flight (by myself with two little ones!), I experienced a wake-up call. After Little Sis (age 2 1/2), woke up from a blissfully long nap, she politely entertained my planned activities for a few minutes at a time… colored one picture, put stickers all over me (none for her, thank you) and watched about 10 minutes of “Curious George.” Then, she practically threw the iPad in my lap and said, “No more!”
I was taken aback (she loves George!), and quite frankly a little panicked about how to spend the next two hours en route… But I kept my cool and began to sing a song called “Clickety Clack” that both my girls learned in SongPlay! It is delightfully simple. You move your fingers along your child’s arm, over her head, down her leg, etc. as you sing the song, which consists of only two words: you guessed it, “clickety” and “clack.” The punch line is where the “train” lands, and, let me tell you, it is fascinating for little ones. I played this game joyfully with Little and her Big Sis (who’s 5) for close to 30 minutes. Then, we moved on to other repertoire until landing. We exited the plane with big smiles and high fives from our fellow passengers, who enjoyed the toddler concert in row 10 (or at least feigned enthusiasm).
The truth is, your child is yearning to just play… with you! The key is knowing how to play. I know it may sound silly, but in my experience of singing and playing with hundreds of young children (have I mentioned how much I love my job?), here are a few things I’ve discovered:
1) Repetition is the friend of learning. The only one who’s bored after the 10th rendition of “Ring Around the Rosey” is you, my friend. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to play it until your child asks to stop. My advice to you is sing a song, play a game, or re-read a book (if your child requests it) at least 5 times before moving on. I know it’s painful—I read The Napping House over and over at bedtime tonight and Little was still saying, “Do it again!” Oh, the neural connections she has made. (I could go on, but that is a topic for another blog.)
2) Your singing voice (no matter how skilled) is your child’s favorite. So sing out, with gusto. Oh, and if you want your child to sing with you, try to sing in his or her range, which is higher than you think (small vocal chords = higher pitch).
3) Think outside the box. Trouble getting your toddler to eat his veggies? Do a “green bean song & dance” after bites. The whole family participates, in a silly manner. Tired of whining on the way to bed? Give a choice: “Do you want to go to your room like a bear, or a frog?” Growl or hop with your child, in a silly manner. Can’t choose what to wear? Give your child a fashion show in her clothes, in a silly manner. The key here is silly, people. Young children have slapstick humor. Play it to your advantage!
4) Throw caution to the wind… sort of. As a society we have become overly cautious. When learning to ride a bike, kids wear helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, ankle pads, etc. We’ve removed the monkey bars and merry-go-rounds from playgrounds because, gasp, kids might get hurt! Do me a favor, and don’t be a helicopter mom. Allow your child some freedom to explore and learn to set his or her own limits, even if they skin a knee every once in a while. It builds character! (See photo of Big Sis climbing up the outside of a cool merry-go-round in Canada.)
5) Replace “screen time” with “face time.” Obviously interactive play with you and your family… But how about a live Children’s Theater production? Or a music class? Or a playdate? The options are endless.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to declare that all “screen time” is bad. (I can only imagine the comments!) I do believe there is some value to educational games and programming. The danger is allowing it to outweigh the live daily audio visual interaction that your child needs, with you! Okay, stepping off my soap box now… to go play with my girls!
Julie Osterman spends her days singing and playing with her two girls (5 and 2), as well as the children of her many wonderful SongPlay! families. She is also a freelance writer and editor, with articles published in magazines such as Southwest Art, Shape and Los Angeles Sports & Fitness. Julie is a California transplant living in Texas, and misses the dry heat and cool evenings of summer in SoCal. But she’s grown to love the Texas hospitality… and the brisket! She hopes her Texas-born girls keep their Southern manners wherever they go, and that they always dream big.