Try Simple Recreations to Enjoy Quality Time With Preschoolers

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES. Mary Laine Yarber teaches English and journalism at Santa Monica High School. Her column appears weekly.

Spending quality time with children is likely to be a popular New Year's resolution for many parents.

It is important in the educational and personal development of children of all ages, but it is probably most crucial for those in preschool.

Unlike older students, preschool children aren't very likely to be dating, visiting friends or studying at the library. That means they are generally at home more, and need more of their parents' time and attention.

Many parents aren't clear about how to spend this time, or when to do it. Some think that quality time must consist of some spectacular event, such as a day at Disneyland or the zoo.

In truth, the time that you and your child spend together each day after school is just as high quality, if not more so, because you are better able to communicate and focus on each other.

There are many inexpensive and simple ways to create quality time.

First, consider carefully the time of day when it will occur.

Kids are often tired right after preschool and, like many adults, they need time to rest before moving on to the evening's activities.

Allow the child some "private time" to do something alone for a while, whether it's coloring, looking out the window or napping.

Once the child has gotten his or her second wind, the togetherness can begin.

I think that quality time should always start with meaningful talk between parent and child, particularly about his or her school day.

This is a snap with some children: Ask them one general question, and they'll talk at length about all their activities and classmates.

Others are quieter and may need to be coaxed with pointed questions, such as "What games did you play?" or "Did you read a story?"

Reading together is, of course, tried and true; I've never met a child who couldn't stand being read to.

It allows you to form a bond with the child and to teach him or her something about language and the joy of reading.

To enhance the experience, ask questions as you go along. Point to objects in pictures and ask their names; ask which characters are most likable and why, or what might happen next.

Playing together is another good use of time. In fact, I suspect that parents may benefit more from its calming and creative aspects than does the child.

When choosing a playtime activity, consider the time of day. For example, an energizing game of ball is not good right before bedtime.

I'm reluctant to suggest watching television together because there is always the temptation to just sit silently and not communicate.

When used properly, however, TV can be a great catalyst for learning and talking together.

Much of this depends on the program you choose. "Sesame Street" is a safe bet, but it might be difficult to derive much educational value from most sitcoms or from MTV.

After watching the show, discuss the characters, plot and other components.

Going somewhere new together now and then adds a little adventure to your parent-child bond, and the destinations don't always have to be educational.

Just being together outdoors, for example, is wonderful--whether it's lying in the grass at the park or watching volleyball at the beach.

Try preparing for the next school day together too; it's both utilitarian and educational.

Asking the child to help choose tomorrow's outfit, for example, will help you save time in the morning and help the child learn names of colors and clothing items.

Have the child choose which toys, stuffed animals or books to take too.

If the child takes a lunch, get him or her to help you make it.

Finally, in planning activities for quality time with your child, consider this last hint: Children get tired of routines pretty quickly, so maintain a good variety of activities from one day to the next.

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