I’ve got a couple of ideas that I used when babysitting my 3 yr old niece, that incorporate music, healthy eating, and creativity in a DIY work ethic.
I was eager to avoid a cartoon marathon and I needed a strategy. The single most powerful weapon I know of to keep a kid focused and happy is using their natural tendency to pay attention when you ask their opinion and their love of being asked for their help by an adult. I had a pile of heirloom seed catalogs with lots of colorful pictures. Just as I suspected she was psyched to be asked what we should pick and how we should design the collage. She’d point to the flowers she liked, the colorful fruits and vegetables, and she’d identify and describe them. Some of the catalogs show little kids in the garden, holding a squash or standing by towering sunflowers. I’d cut those out, and I had blank paper and glue sticks. At first I would ask her where we should paste the little girl or the flowers, and she would point and I would paste them, but then I realized, she can probably do pretty good at the gluing with some guidance and a reminder to flip the sticky side down.
Given full creative control at that point, she made really nice compositions. The kid has good aesthetic instincts that I can only assume comes from her favorite aunt (moi). She loved putting them on the ‘fridge and was proud to show her mama when she came to pick her up.
I thought it was important to try to make vegetables and gardening, a desirable thing for her so that that message would continue through her life against all the temptations for junk. I wanted her to see the connection, between the families in the pictures, growing the fruits and veggies, and what she gets at the grocery or roadside fruit stands.
While at the table, I had some music going in the background (Bob Marley and Frank Sinatra set an upbeat, funky tone) and I asked if she’d want to help me bake some bread from scratch.
A three year old can be surprisingly awesome at cracking eggs (use a separate bowl of course, in case you have to fork from shells out). You can have the dry and wet ingredients measured out, and if they’re in a calm mood, they will try very diligently to pour the ingredients in. They can also start stirring with a big wooden spoon. Although the batter gets really thick, there’s nothing a determined three-year-old does like to hear more than encouragement of how mighty strong they are getting. I had a pair of children’s scissors and although her motor skills weren’t fine tuned enough for precise cutting, I supervised as she practiced using them, making a bunch of little snips to the shredded catalog leftovers. Yes, it was messy but she was in such a good mood she was happy to help me pick all the pieces afterwards, like it was a game.
It’s a wonderful memory, all the sensations of the music, the visual of the bright flowers and fruits, the smells of the bread baking, the hands-on creation of working together, it doesn’t get any better than this. Confidence, dexterity, visual composition of the collage, autonomy in her choices, all of these wonderful enhancements to her learning, plus the conversation–new words to expose her vocabulary as we talked about our project and what we should do the next day.