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Kudos to you for being the type of parent who takes an active role in educating yourself in how to make a difference in your child’s long-term development. You really are your child’s first teacher and, while this is often a very fun and rewarding role, it certainly is not always easy. This article is one of the most important ones to read in the entire 0-3 section of Skillforkids.com. We cannot express more vehemently, that no matter what activities you are trying out with your kids, nothing is ever more important than enjoying the time you are spending together and having fun. However, like anything that is a truly worthwhile endeavour, it won’t be purely easy sailing. This article outlines some of the challenges you may face along the way. It also equips you with a “bag of tricks” to help maximize your success and enjoyment with our activity suggestions. It is our hope that you can both effectively and joyfully engage in all that Skillforkids.com has to offer.

The aim of the game

FUN, FUN, FUN!! That cannot be emphasized enough. Obviously, you are also attempting to teach your little one a new skill too, but this is always second on the agenda. If at any time you or your child are not having fun, then abort mission – but don’t give up – just give it a rest for a while and pick it up again later when the time is right.

Your role as “teacher”

Being a teacher is not an easy job….just ask any school teacher you may know. Your advantage is that you know your child intimately, and this naturally makes you the best person for the job. As your child grows from a baby into a toddler, you will get to know her own individual personality and learn to read all her signs. Instinctually, you will know when she is hungry, tired, unwell, bored, energetic, happy, mischievous and more. This allows you to read situations and guide playtime experiences to best suit your child.

Other huge factors in being an effective teacher, is learning how to:

•             Manipulate variables of an activity to make it easier or harder

•             Follow your child’s lead and go with their flow of activity

•             Incorporate learning outcomes into imaginative play scenarios

•             Maintain your child’s interest and attention `

We encourage you to read our article, “How To Facilitate Motor Skill Development in 0-3 years” for more specific details on these topics. Our aim is to empower you with the tools to begin making up activities yourself that will suit your child’s likes and dislikes. Additionally, we want your experience with your child to be truly playful rather than just “following instructions” from the activities we show on Skillforkids.com. We want to provide you with enough knowledge and teaching strategies, so you have confidence to “wing it” and make it up as you go along – because that is the best way to keep your toddler engaged.

For additional information on this topic, check out “Parents are Physical Educators” at www.skillforkids.com

Your child’s perspective

Maintaining your child’s interest is likely to be one of your biggest challenges. Young children have incredibly short attention spans – especially if an activity is:

•             Too easy

•             Too hard

•             Too repetitious or boring

•             Something they don’t find FUN or PLAYFUL

•             Or they are hungry or tired

It will be essential to clue into what motivates and interests your child. If they love strawberries, turn the red balls that you are teaching her to throw into “massive yummy strawberries!” You get the picture I’m sure.

Problem shooting and your bag of tricks

In playing and helping my two boys develop their skills, I’ve gained a huge amount of insight into the potential difficulties that may arise as you try out some of the activities on offer. Listed are 3 of the biggest challenges you may face and a few tips on how to avoid or deal with them.

1. You are trying too hard to get it “right”

I remember one day in particular when things just weren’t working out as I had planned.  I was doing some little games to help my eldest boy throw.  He was having one of those, “I’m doing what I want when I want” days.  He would start playing the games and then do something completely different.  So trying to look after him as well as my other younger boy and play the games I had planned was all becoming a real struggle.  But this was just one of those days and other days are much easier.  In time I have learnt more about my boys as individuals and how to go about play time.

What to do if this happens:

•             Just go with the flow and take the pressure off yourself

•             Follow your child’s lead

•             Simplify the activity as much as possible

•             Take a break and come back later

•             Remind yourself that even if you don’t succeed in teaching her the activity this time, all is not lost

•             Change your focus from getting the activity “right” to just having as much fun as you can the way your child is choosing to do the activity for now.

2. Your toddler is being a real toddler

So what happens if your child refuses to do everything and anything that you encourage him to do? What if he is purposefully playing up the entire time. Many parents of 0-3 year olds are lacking in the time and energy required to deal with this kind of resistant behaviour. You feel like giving up, frustrated at your child and at yourself for getting frustrated with him and feeling like a complete failure. You end up walking away thinking ‘what a waste of time, nothing was achieved, it wasn’t worth it – free play is much easier’.

What to do if this happens :

•             Remind yourself of why you were doing this in the first place – for the benefit of your child’s long-term development

•             Remind yourself of the many benefits of structured play (read “Structured Vs. Free Play” here at Skillforkids.com)

•             Give your toddler some power to make decisions – “Freddy you can choose, do you want to kick the ball to mummy or into the net?”

•             Focus on what motivates your child – if she likes oranges use an orange as a ball instead of a real ball

•             Look at the activity from your toddler’s point of view – why could she be refusing? Is she bored? Is it too hard/easy? Is she hungry or tired?

•             Ask him what he wants to do and then modify the activity you were planning on teaching him so it gets incorporated into the activity he wants to do

•             Try showing your toddler how much fun YOU are having doing the activity and he might be enticed to join in at his own pace

•             When setting up an activity, have a few options up your sleeve on how you can move fluidly from one activity to another as your child loses interest.

•             Join a few activities together to make a game.

•             Check that you have made the activity into a playful scenario for your child to become engaged in.

3. Time management and organisational issues

You really want to try the activities but you have 3 kids under 5 years and getting them all washed, dressed, fed and watered for the day is a task bigger than Ben Hur – how can you possibly fit all this in too?

What to do if you feel this way:

•             Remind yourself that the hardest step is the first one – it gets easier the more familiar you and your children become with the activities

•             Try planning one day ahead and take 5 minutes to set up an activity the night before

•             When setting up an activity, have a few options up your sleeve on how you can move fluidly from one activity to another as your child loses interest.

•             Start by trying the activities for 10 minutes once a week, this is a very small percentage of your overall time and you will be surprised how much you may achieve in this time

The challenge

Teaching your little one new skills is not always easy (especially during the “terrible-twos”) – but it can be great fun and so very rewarding if you are patient and positive. Just like any job you may have had, you will experience successful days and not-so-successful days. The challenge for you in this “job”, is to make the most of those not-so-successful days. Just because your child didn’t learn what you set out to achieve today, I guarantee 100%, that through the experience of giving it a go, both you and your child actually did learn something important. It may not have been exactly what you had in mind, but the time was not wasted.

Surprisingly, even when your child may seem like they have been on a mission to do the exact opposite of what you have been encouraging them to do…no doubt they have still taken on board what you were demonstrating. By seeing you do it, by hearing your words of encouragement and mixing it in with a lot of laughter and mischief, the activity will register in your child’s brain and the next time you try, it will be that much more familiar, and you may be surprised just how much he actually did listen and take on board last time….he just didn’t want to show you that at the time!

So we at Skillforkids.com challenge you to stay on board and not give up even if your child appears disinterested. We understand that parents are often short of time and energy, especially in those early (often sleep-deprived) years and it is so easy to file things into the “too-hard-basket”. While some of our activities do require a little forward planning and preparation we encourage you to persist with the little bit of extra effort because it really will make a massive difference to your child’s long term development. Besides…you’ll get a lot of good times and laughs for your effort if nothing else!

You may also want to check out the following related articles here at Skillforkids.com

•             Structured Vs. Free Play

•             Making Play Time Fun

•             Encouraging Fundamental Perceptual Motor Skills in Early Toddlers

• Early Purposeful Play Leads to Early Fundamental Perceptual Motor Skills Development

• Playful Fundamental Perceptual Motor Skill Sessions

• Introducing Fundamental Perceptual Motor Skills in Play for Toddlers

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