Becoming a tangy couch potato
“Activities for kids” – a modern day phrase, which is scary enough to send parents in a tizzy. Engaging kids in productive activities these days usually means a trade-off between spending a lot of money and spending a lot of metaphorical money, i.e. parents’ precious time. I present an alternative perspective to engage your kids in ways that may sound counter-intuitive in the classical parenting sense. However I have found these activities enjoyable and effective over a period of time. Some of these are of course a function of age and gender, but in my experience, any kid between four and ten years in age – girl or boy – should find these rewarding. These suggestions also promote healthy parent – child interaction, providing an opportunity for parents to closely understand what interests their children and what they are best at in terms of individual skills.
Whether it is on internet, or games installed on your computer, or nifty apps downloaded on a tablet, virtual gaming can be fun. There are several gaming resources, which engage kids productively, and challenge them to think on their feet. The idea is to find games which are not explicitly crafted for teaching and learning, but rather challenge the players to stretch their mental faculties. The learning is tacit and implied.
My top favorites include:
- Four Elements: One of the most popular all-age internet games, this requires the player to navigate through complex mazes to save an ancient kingdom. The player unlocks four books of magic and several mystery cards using resources and aids within the game and a lot of common sense. The game also requires the player to make spot decisions on which aids will be most effective in a given situation and helps the player understand the importance of trade-offs and making choices. This is a free version on Yahoo! Games and if you use an iPad, an enhanced version is available on the AppStore.
- Cross Fingers: This game requires the player to complete puzzles on a tangram game board (a Chinese geometric puzzle). The player is required to assemble various shapes in one cohesive design. The game offers about 400 levels across different levels of difficulty. Successful completion requires not just a lot of strategizing and thinking, but also sharp motor reflexes. The game is addictive and is available on iTunes AppStore. The more difficult levels can challenge adults too.
- Cartoon Network India: On the Cartoon Network India website, one finds several games involving all their popular cartoon characters. Traditionally the cartoon and kids’ channels either did not have an Indian website, or their content was not localized. However, Cartoon Network India website now offers indigenous content in the form of news, videos and games, in the everyday context that kids grow up in. The games are updated reasonably frequently, and there’s always something new to look for.
One work of caution when opting for internet gaming. Several websites or apps will require creation of user ids and ask you for email authentication. The registration process should hence be closely supervised.
Another alternative to engage kids is to expose them to the interesting and never-ending world of applied science. Concepts of optics, motion, energy and other disciplines in physics can be easily understood through conducting simple home experiments.
While there are popular television shows like Backyard Science, which promote children taking interest in day to day scientific phenomenon, another way to promote kids to try new things is through self explanatory books. I have found these books interesting and lucid: 101+10 New Science Experiments by Ivar Utial and Entertaining Science Experiments With Everyday Objects by Martin Gardner. Both books are readily available in Indian bookstores and on the online stores. The Ivar Utial book has a translated Hindi version as well.
These home experiments again promote implied learning, without getting in to the rote details of theories and corollaries. Kids can best learn science by knowing not just what works, but also by knowing the how part of it. Also getting their hands dirty (sometimes literally) helps them understand the value of research and the patience it takes to draw valid scientific conclusions. Most of the experimentation will require adult supervision, active involvement and guidance.
Story Telling and Creative Writing
While it is always possible to get kids trained formally in several arts disciplines, what is important for any parent to know is what their child is best at. Children of all ages however love stories and expect their parents to regale them with new ones every day.
It is possible for the parents though to turn the table, and have kids do the story telling. Putting kids in a situation and asking to construct a simple narrative on how the events unfold to a logical conclusion can be a fun and stimulating exercise. If you believe in keeping your kid up to date on mythology, try giving such a situation and asking the kid to tie the loose ends. Once the child comes up with a creative version, you can complete the discussion with what “actually” happened in the mythological context. A more participative mode of storytelling allows the kids to open their often untapped sources of creativity.
At a more ripe age, kids can also be asked to write a story based on a situation, or a set of unrelated events or pictures. This will help not just thinking through ambiguity, but also tacitly improve language skills.
Every child has a set of innate abilities, which come to the fore at different times. Parenting should not be about force feeding what you think is right, but rather about providing children the right environment to hone their innate abilities at the speed which befits them individually. The individual rate and direction of growth will vary widely, and day to day engagement with the kids should provide enough variety for them to explore what suits them best. It is not always about supplementing academics, but rather guiding the children through a natural decision process at a speed they are comfortable with. Using the settings with which kids relate best makes the process enjoyable.
Last but not the least; it is important parents spend time with the kids through these activities and engagements. Nothing is more encouraging than having a parent doing what the child likes, alongside the child. So go on – lose that close game of table hockey, help your child get to that personal best time of sending Dora to her school, create those hand shadows on the walls. That is your real investment in your child’s upbringing.
Aashish Chandorkar is a father and management consultant; he used to maintain a popular blog but is now more active on Twitter at https://twitter.com/c_aashish where he holds forth on pet subjects like politics, Bollywood, cricket, technology and economics. Here, he writes about his favourite subject: keeping his two young daughters entertained.
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