Why overstimulation can be harmful
Right from the get-go parenting feels like a race to the next 'stage' or 'milestone'. One Kidspot editor remembers taking her 9-week-old to a playgroup only to realise there was very little for the baby to do and left feeling pretty deflated. In this article, we will look at the types of activities both you and your kids can benefit from according to their age. We will touch on how it's important to not over-do it, but going along to fun, stimulating classes can really enhance your bond and peace of mind.
Right from the get-go parenting feels like a race to the next milestone. As parents, we want to expose our children to all the fantastic experiences life has to offer. But while stimulating experiences are important for helping kids grow and learn, introducing our children to activities too early or providing them with too many experiences can overstimulate them1.
“Inappropriate activities or too many experiences can overwhelm children. They then don’t know how to deal with their distress and start acting out. That’s why choosing age-appropriate activities and balancing these activities with adequate downtime is important,” explains Caddie O’Hare, Early Learning Director at Mirrabrook Early Learning Centre in Sydney.
Then there is the additional challenge of finding an activity that your child actually enjoys doing. According to Amber McCook, Learning Specialist from Armstrong Creek School in Victoria, it’s important to empower your children by giving them the opportunity to choose the activities you do together2.
“Balance and control are key. We need to ensure we are providing kids with as much controlled-choice and freedom as we can. Asking them something like “Would you like to read a book now or later?” is a great way to do this,” Amber explains.
To make selecting suitable activities easier, we have some fun ideas for you and your kids.
Infants (0-1 years)
At this beautiful age your infant uses their body to explore the world. They gather information through touch, taste, smell, sight and sound, so for parents and caregivers this time should be about interacting and exploring your child’s world with them3.
Read, dance and sing with your baby. Shake rattles, stack blocks and play peekaboo. Simple household gadgets make the perfect tools for keeping them amused says Caddie.
“Fill empty jars with stones and use them as rattles or spoons and saucepans for home-made drums. You don’t need expensive toys to amuse your bub.”
If you are looking for something more structured, programs that offer you and your bub the opportunity to sing, dance and play together are great. Some offer free online programs so you don't even have to leave the house to keep amused.
Toddlers (1-3 years)
This is the age where your child will love to explore their environment so make sure you get messy together4. Fill up a large tub with sand or water and dig, pour and scoop with your child. Teach them new things, copy what they do and talk and sing to them5.
Toddlers love the outdoors so let them climb, run, leap and discover creatures along the way6. Talk to them about the creatures you find, about the trees and any sounds you hear. Let your child dictate the play and enjoy the beauty of her imagination.
“Being outside and reconnecting with nature provides an invaluable sensory experience for our kids and opens a wealth of learning, which is more beneficial than sitting in front of a television or tablet,” explains Caddie.
For this age group, there are also plenty of fun structured activities like music classes (Mini Maestro), language classes (Bonjour Babies), dance classes (Tiny Tutus) or fitness classes (Little Kickers). All programs now offer online versions for home, but for your child to benefit you will need to take part too.
“How you the adult engages with your child is more important than the activity itself so make sure you are attentive and engaged. Be completely present - it’s the key to helping them learn and develop,” says Caddie.
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Preschoolers are fascinated by the world around them, making it the perfect time for exploration and fun for you both7. Ride bikes or take scooters to your local park. Collect leaves, pebbles, sticks, flowers and feathers then make a collage together when you’re back at home. You could also make jewellery out of household items like plastic lids or draw, paint, colour and create masterpieces together.
An outing to the museum or zoo is also great for this age group. While you can’t physically attend at the moment, you can have a virtual experience with Taronga TV, which live-streams the animals 24/7. Your preschooler will have lots of questions, so be interested in what they have to say and take the time to reply.
Preschoolers also love to be spontaneous, pretend and dress up. Set up at tea party with their teddy bears or build a lego city and play superheroes through the streets. Read to them, teach them to recognise letters and numbers, cook with them, practice pre-writing skills by encouraging them to trace shapes – the list of fun activities is endless.
Primary School-Aged Children (5-12 years)
Children of this age crave interaction with their parents and caregivers, and time-in plays a crucial role2. “They want acceptance and recognition. They are learning how to respond to others and situations by observing our behaviours, so we need to make this count,” says Amber.
Puzzles, board games, card games, colouring, drawing, reading, cooking and Lego building are all great indoor activities for you and your child. If you are looking to spend some time outside together, why not go for a bike ride, garden, walk the family pet, kick a ball or even camp in the backyard.
Choosing activities that you and your child both enjoy is key to developing a positive and enjoyable experience8. “Be present, listen to what they are telling you and provide controlled-choices for your children. Quality time always outweighs quantity time,” adds Amber.
A great way to involve your child in the choosing process is to write all the activities they would like to do with you on post-it notes and place them into a jar. Activities could be anything from reading a chapter of Harry Potter to going for a bushwalk. Your child then choices an activity out of the jar, you enjoy it together and make memories you both can cherish.