After being confronted with the reality that my young children spend far too much of their free time on iPad either playing Minecraft, Tap Zoo and Surfer Run, or watching YouTube videos, I decided there must be better things for them to do, because they become quite irritable after playing online games for too long. There are four big ideas I would encourage them to do during their free time.
Active play is great for young children. Gifted children may have asynchronous development physically, so spending time outdoors could help them with their gross motor skills. Unstructured play is important for their development. We also go to the playground occasionally. Gar loves to climb and he becomes braver each time. I used to hover around Gar, but now that he is older and more skilful, I can let him have more independence. My son’s preschool teacher also mentioned that negotiation skills are best observed at the playground.
The boys love to jump on the sofa. The younger one loves to jump from the piano bench, tables and beds. We have lots of playmats to cushion his jumps. Someone mentioned that having a mini trampoline would be a great idea. I haven’t had time to check that out. In the mean time, my 3-year-old sofa looks bad.
The boys also love to play with balls. They could throw it, kick it or roll it. Gar loves to put on his father’s soccer gloves. Sometimes I will even join in, but I think I am far from bending it like Beckham.
Apart from active play, sedentary play is important too. Gar loves to play with Batman and Joker at the moment. My husband had bought Duplo Batman, so the brothers love to play with them.
Recently, we started playing Twister, a game that ties you up in knots, as El loves to say. What I can say is my children can’t seem to tell left and right apart.
Charades is another game that we have played before. It is no ordinary charades. It is dinosaur charades. El would act out various dinosaur species, and get me to guess what they are.
Not too long ago, with his latest Minecraft obsession, and some Citiblocs tiny wooden blocks, he made me guess various items, such as tree, treehouse, heart, and other things that look exactly like how they do in Minecraft.
Let children come up with something. Sometimes they could create their own games, or sometimes they could recreate drawings or other handicraft.
El creates drawings filled with dinosaurs or Ben 10 aliens. Despite nearly 2 years of art lessons, he is still not so good at drawing. However, I still love his drawings. I have tonnes of unused exercise paper, so he just takes them and draw. He fills them up with maps of various continents and countries. He writes a lot of information on those papers as well.
Gar has learnt how to use a pair of scissors through practising cutting those cute pictures from Kumon books. He can use a normal pair of scissors. Sometimes I just let him cut coloured paper. This helps him with his fine motor skills. He does this when he is bored.
We used to do painting, but I usually ended up painting most of the time. Gar likes to watch me paint more than he paints. If he does paint, he uses a lot of yellow.
Now that we have finally bought a piano, I would also play songs for them to sing. Gar loves Skidamarink at the moment, so I play that and he will sing along. He loves to sing. It is also a tactic by me to get El to the piano so that he can practise the piano.
It is good to have down time. They could think about anything. It is also good when they are in cars and have nothing to do. Simple games can be played.
Sometimes El sees me reading newspapers and he would join in. Last week, I saw an news article about a basketballer named Curry, and it tickled El greatly because he likes to eat curry. He was so inspired he came up with a song/rap (can’t really call it a song because he cannot carry a tune) about curry. All I did was to give him a piece of paper and a pencil.
There is a cartoon with a character named Mabel. In an oft-televised advertisement, she says, “My name is Mabel. It rhymes with cable.” The boys are also tickled by this. El started thinking about rhymes.
“My name is Ace. It rhymes with ice,” he said, while we were in the car.
“No, they do not rhyme,” I replied, and made the vowel sounds for him.
It was only when I wrote it down I realized he had rhymed them via spelling. To provide him with more examples, I showed him a video on Michael Learns To Rock, about star/car, and stay/anyway as part of rhyming pairs. Think he wasn’t keen on the music.
Other thinking games include thinking of as many animals/birds/dinosaurs/countries, depending on their current obsessions, starting with a particular letter.
Boggle is another interesting word game.
We have plenty of books at home, so sometimes Gar will request us to read the books to him.
Dreaming and thinking are not exclusive, but I would like to think of dreaming as something that is more abstract and allows more room for creativity.
I like to throw random questions to El. If you were a tree, what would you be? He replied he would be a shelter for animals.
What is your ideal school? He said it would be a nature school. He told me that his school would be situated in a forest, and surrounded by trees. They will study about nature. He went to check out images of nature schools, and then drew his own school.
Sometimes we need to give our gifted children time to dream. If they have too many packed activities (which I am sometimes tempted to do), they are just going through the motion, and may soon lose their zest for learning.
You could check out creative journal prompts and get some questions to ask your children. They do not have to turn this into a writing activity. They could just verbalise their thoughts, and you could encourage them to dream. You never know when their ideas could crystallise.
I had bought a book on The 7 Habits for Happy Children and read a story to El. It was about a character feeling bored. He was encouraged to take charge himself and not depend on others to relieve his boredom. The habit was about Being Proactive. When El mentioned that word to me a few days ago, I reminded him of the story, and immediately he went to find something to do. I hope my boys will take charge of their own free time and find something to occupy themselves, or just use the time to dream. El will be going to school next year, and with the stressful Singapore education system, I hope he will have free time to play, create, think and dream.