I have just finished reading a parenting magazine and I can’t help but be grateful to be reminded by the editor and their invited pediatrician about certain truths on parenting and spending quality time with our kids. What struck me the most is a line from the developmental pediatrician who said, “Your physical and emotional availability are what really matter to your child.” I also agree with the editor mom when she said that a child need not have too many toys to be happy. Just like what the paediatrician said, it’s not really toys that make our children happy. What really make our children happy are the quality times we spend with them playing together, laughing over stories or silly moments, sharing both regular and special family bonding moments and the like. These thoughts led me to look back at the regular bonding times I spend with my toddler son and I discovered that many of the things my two-year-old boy loves doing with me or with his Dad do not require fancy toys. The truth is, our little boy finds so much joy not so much in his toys that we sometimes use during our play time but more importantly on the fact that we take time to play with him or spend quality time with him. His toys are there to simply add fun to our time together or to be instruments in making our time together extra special.
1. Tickle Time and Funny Bones – Yanthy loved tickle time ever since he’s a baby. Lately, he’s the one who initiates it. He likes to be tickled and he likes to sneak in and tickle us in our bed, sofa or wherever we are. We started playing funny bones when we first taught him his body parts. We reinforced his new learnings by playing this game and it has stuck with him since then.
2. Playing Hide and Seek – This is a game we loved playing since he was a baby. He’d giggle a lot while playing this game and we have incorporated counting which made it also educational.
3. Running around – Yanthy loved running since he was around 7 to 8 months old. He runs tirelessly all day around the bedroom, house or our compound. When I can no longer run with him (because I get tired much faster), I just watch him on the sidelines and remind him to be careful so he doesn’t get hurt. He had his share of falls and scratches but he remains unfazed whenever given the opportunity to run.
4. Singing and Playing Musical Instruments – Yanthy likes music very much. We spend most of our day with music in the background. He tells me when he wants to listen to music and he would ask me to turn our stereo on. Sometimes, I would just see him trying to turn it on himself. Then, while listening to music or singing songs, we would play one or two musical instruments like his drum, xylophone or maracas. At other times, we play the piano. Yanthy loves listening to the sounds that he makes as he playfully strikes the piano keys. When we are not dancing and playing instruments while listening to music, we draw, color or play with his other toys. In my experience, songs have helped Yanthy increase his vocabulary and sharpen his listening skills. He has actually become so good in listening that we sometimes play name the next song. It was also through this activity that I have discovered that my son is music-smart.
5. Dancing – With music in the background, dancing is not far behind. Yanthy loves to dance and jump whenever he hears fast tunes. Then, we do the actions while singing when we hear action songs. This is one of the things I love doing with Yanthy the most. It also serves as one of the ways I exercise.
6. Playing Make Believe – I noticed that Yanthy has good imagination when he was still a baby playing alone on his crib. These days, he gets to articulate his imagination because he can already talk and he shares with me what he imagines. Yesterday, he turned his clothes hamper into a boat. He dumped his toys inside and he sat inside it. Then, I asked him where he’s bringing his boat. He said, “California!” Sometimes, he plays with his car or airplane and he says he will go to Surigao to visit his grandparents. There are also times when he gets some of his Dad’s things and he would act as if he’s going to his Dad’s office to work. It’s fun watching him playing pretend.
7. Playing with Building Blocks or Stacking Cups – We started playing this game before he turned one year old and he is still hooked until now. He loves building towers with his blocks and he takes pride whenever he finishes a tower. I saw how he grew in confidence and patience by playing with these toys. These are very simple and inexpensive toys but they can teach a lot to a child.
8. Reading or Storytelling – A day never passed that we did not read at least one book. He likes to sit on my lap while listening to me. I read the Bible with him when he’s already awake during my morning prayer time. During the day, we read storybooks or books on the alphabet, numbers, shapes or colors. Sometimes, we read his songbook while listening to music or while singing nursery songs. At other times, I use finger puppets or hand puppets while telling him a story. Reading and storytelling has helped a lot in instilling the love for books in our son. When he’s not busy running or climbing something at home, he’s usually busy reading a book or listening to me read him a book. He loves hearing stories so much. He has actually memorized some of his books including his book that we read to him at bedtime. He has also memorized some of the lines of the characters in the story like in the story of the three little pigs. Yanthy also learned to tell his own stories through these activities. You can ask him a story about one of the books we have read or a movie that we saw and he would tell you what happened in the story. With my son’s love for books at an early age, I’m confident that he will grow to be a learner and that he would find much inspiration growing up.
9. Swimming – Most kids love to play in the water and Yanthy is no exception. We exposed him early to swimming even before he turned one year old and he learned to swim without formal lessons before he turned two. This is one of his bonding activities with his Dad because my husband is the one who teaches him how to swim. My role here is cheerleader since I have not learned how to swim until now. This also serves as my husband’s exercise whenever he swims with Yanthy. We plan to enrol him next summer for formal swimming lessons.
10. Drawing or Coloring – I like this activity very much because I love to draw. Actually, I love anything related to the arts. In the beginning, Yanthy just loves to watch me draw. Then, he started to doodle. Now, he loves crayons and he loves using them not just on paper but even on different surfaces (like our walls, floor, and furniture including his high chair).One thing that I noticed and which was also pointed out by the pediatrician in the magazine is that kids spend more time playing with something or they complete an activity when parents take an active part in the activity. I’ve observed this in my own son. When he knows that I’m beside him while he’s doing something like coloring, doodling or building towers, he spends more time on the activity. But when he sees me doing something else, he gets impatient easily or he stops what he’s doing and he goes to me.
I’ve realized that these simple activities that we do together send positive messages to my son or teaches him valuable life lessons. Like when he’s trying to build a tower and the blocks fall and crash the entire structure he has built, he knows that I am there to comfort or encourage him or to help him rebuild it if he wants me to help him. He can bring this principle with him as he grows and starts to set goals for himself. He would know that his parents will be there to help him or give him emotional support. Pretend play can also lay the foundation for him to weave dreams for himself that’s why I encourage him to imagine. It also teaches him resourcefulness and thinking out-of-the-box. In life, he will not have everything he wants but resourcefulness and thinking out-of-the-box would enable him to make the most of what he has and use them to bring him to where he wants to go. And as we enjoy other activities, he can learn that he has family members who share his joys and supports him in discovering and developing his gifts.
I thank God for this opportunity to be reminded that the best gift I can give my son is my time and undivided attention. It can be very challenging especially for working moms but it’s possible. We simply need to be committed in making quality time with our families a priority and to be reminded of this commitment from time to time.