I know from both a personal and a professional perspective that young children are better off without regular planned, parent-led activities.
I don't do planned arts, crafts or academic activities with my children. I also don't feel the least bit guilty about it. As I write this, my 3-year-old is building a parking garage out of Magnatiles and my 10-month-old is dropping a pair of fingernail clippers in a bucket (repeatedly).
Our days have a significant amount of structure, but they are largely unplanned. My professional background is in child development and I spend most of my days at home caring for my young children. As a result, my friends and readers commonly assume that I spend my days doing carefully designed, well-coiffed, Pinterest-worthy activities to enrich my children's lives.
This couldn't be further from the truth.
In our home, the parents are in charge of the big stuff–I direct bedtimes, naps, meals, baths, etc.
That's my job.
The kids direct how they spend their free time. Not me. #aintnobodygottimeforthat
I don't spend my free time scouring Pinterest for whimsical activities to occupy our time at home. Instead, I like to keep things simple.
It's not laziness. I promise. It's quite the opposite. I know from both a personal and a professional perspective that young children are better off without regular planned, parent-led activities.
Here are the nine reasons I don't “Pinterest" with my kids.
1. Children learn better in a natural, unplanned environment
Research shows that young children learn best through incidental learning. Incidental learning is learning that happens naturally in the environment. Like when I am folding laundry and I throw my kid of pile of socks and to match and fold. Matching games build early cognitive skills and folding is an excellent fine motor skill.
2. It doesn't make me a good mom
Back to that matching game. Crafting a glitter-covered-holiday-themed matching game makes me look like a really good mom on Instagram. But in #reallife, it does not make me a good mom.
Do you know what makes me a good mom? Exercising, meditating and generally taking care of myself. That way I can better care for the little people in my life. In this season of life, my free-time is at a premium and I need to use it where it counts.
3. I believe in unschooling
We are a child-led home when it comes to learning. I want my children to pursue their passions and interests. Which is why our time at home is not spent with flash cards and activity books. Unschooling allows children to go deeper into certain subjects that intrigue them.
The stuff I find on Pinterest is what intrigues me–which is very different.
Just because I fell in love with a super-cute-under-the-sea-themed-cut-and-paste-project doesn't mean my kid is going to be into it. If I demand he complete it, he's just going to be annoyed. Then I am going to be annoyed.
Nothing Instagram-worthy is going to come of this (isn't that part of the point of Pinterest-activities?). Based on what research tells us about how kids learn, I can also confirm that he's not going to be engaged and learning if it's forced on him.
4. These type of planned-activities often don't help kids learn
Case in point, I once observed for two weeks in a classroom of 18- to 24-month-olds. The teachers spent the entire first week trying to teach the color orange. They wore orange shirts, colored orange pictures, ate oranges and drilled “orange" into those little brains all week long. By Thursday, it seemed like it worked. The kids knew orange.
Until the next week when blue was introduced and the kids insisted it was orange.
Here's what I wanted to scream from the rooftops: PLEASE WAIT! By the time kids turn 3, they will know their colors. Color is an abstract concept that you can try your hardest to teach early, but it will take a frustrating amount of time and effort until their brains are ready. You could spend 10 hours teaching it now, or just wait a year and teach it in 10 minutes (actually by then, you won't need to teach it at all because children will have learned colors naturally through incidental learning, see point #1).
In the meantime those 10 hours could be spent doing things that actually are developmentally appropriate for 18- to 24-month-olds.
5. I want to encourage innovation and creativity
When I was picking a preschool for my kids, one of the first thing I looked for was the children's artwork. The first school I visited had a wall lined with beautiful snowmen. Each with wiggly eyes placed “just so" and carrot noses pointing the right direction.
This was not the work of preschoolers. This was the work of teachers. I want to see weird, crazy, innovative artwork. Not the same darn teacher-made snowmen. (Spoiler alert: we did not choose this school.)
6. I prefer them to go outside
One of my New Year's Resolutions this year is to get my kids outside more. I want them to embrace nature everyday—not just the beautiful, sunny, 75 degree days.
That means putting on boots and warm clothes in the winter and loading up on sunscreen in the summer. Instead of pouting about the weather and planning indoor activities we are going to enjoy the less-than-perfect days that Mother Nature throws at us. (Disclaimer: It's usually me pouting about the weather, not the kids.)
7. I'm over clutter and waste
Those six different colors of glitter glue? They will quickly turn into clutter in my home. Once they dry out they will turn into waste in the landfill. I am in favor of having plentiful arts and crafts supplies available, but I am not in favor of making shopping trips to seek out particular items to fulfill a cutesy project that I have been eyeing on Pinterest.
8. It's about the journey, not the product
The real lessons come in the journey and don't have a “finished product." When we play sound games, soothe a friend with a scraped knee and crack eggs to make breakfast–we don't have physical proof that learning occurred each day.
That is perfectly OK with me–because what goes on behind the scenes in their little brains is far more important than an Instagram-worthy final product.
9. I am not an entertainer
The truth is, as a grown up, my imagination isn't that good. Kids are much better at coming up with ideas and themes for play. Even if these ideas seem lame to us, like playing “puppies" crawling around on the floor for hours. Kids are the best at coming up with these ideas themselves. It benefits their confidence and creativity.
With Pinterest, there are literally millions of activities for kids at our fingertips. If you are a Pinterest-Mom, good on ya.
If you are not, that's just fine, too. There you have my 9
excuses reasons I don't do Pinterest activities with my kids and why I don't feel guilty about it (and neither should you).
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