Counting Jumps: the Importance of Simply Giving “Time”

parenting time: the importance of giving time to kidsA catalog arrived recently, one of the few we still receive.  On its glossy front page was a family playing a board game together in their backyard.  I’d heard about this new game from a friend, one that’s fun for parents and kids, and additionally gives kids’ arithmetic skills a boost.

In the catalog the game-playing family seemed so calm, engaged, and connected.  I thought, “That does look like a great game,” as I put the catalog into my look-through-again pile.  But more so, it looked like a great family (those peaceful, math-minded children spending quality time with their calm and satisfied parents). I wanted “one of those”!

Luckily something must have distracted me from my imminent purchase, because a few days later, I was reminded that a child doesn’t need lots of cool (even if educational) stuff in order to flourish. Yet they can’t thrive without a solid connection with the main adults in their life.

In, The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish, T. Berry Brazelton and Stanley Greenspan say that time spent with our children allows us to see them for who they are. It’s this feeling of being truly known that leads to a content, fulfilled child.  One of the most important things we can do for our kids is to spend time with them each day doing something of their choosing.

Greenspan calls this “floor time” and says that with young children floor time is often simply sitting on the floor, or ground outside, playing with your child.  If your child decides that you should be a bat in the play, that’s what you are (perhaps after asking a few questions for clarification).

With an older child, floor time may be throwing the football together while you talk about whatever is on your child’s mind.  With adolescents, floor time may instead look like listening to the new music they’ve downloaded and hearing why they like it.

With all due respect, this is one of those suggestions that is easier described than achieved.  The other day I had set aside time to be with my 6 year-old daughter, Annie.  She’d recently learned to jump rope and desperately wanted me to count how many jumps she could do at one time.  I soon realized that counting Annie’s jumps was somewhat like counting sheep.  I was getting bored and more than a little sleepy.

In my attempt to wake up, I recalled that Annie’s teacher had requested we find ways to work on simple math and counting.  So I said, “Your jumping is great, Annie!  Can you add up the number of jumps you did the last two times?”  Annie’s smile faded.  She stopped jumping and stomped her pink sneaker.  “You were supposed to be watching me and counting!”  She marched away dragging her rope dejectedly.  With my one small question, I had terminated our floor time.

It all happened so quickly, but once I realized what I had done, I followed what seemed to be my only recourse.  I apologized profusely, groveling as necessary.  I’m pleased to report that Annie gave me another chance, only now she’d moved on from jump roper to bug and worm collector.  She told me I was to make a home for her wiggly bugs and worms with my hands, following her as she collected.  Although I now wished I was back to counting jumps, Annie’s huge smile and relief that I was “listening to her again” more than made up for my slimy hands.

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3 Responses to Counting Jumps: the Importance of Simply Giving “Time”

  1. virginia max says:

    I love your subtitle – Parenting with the long view. How true and also what a good reminder to us as we’re slogging away in the trenches. I do often ask myself (with regards to parenting decisions), “What is the end goal with this? What bulleseye am I aiming for?” Congrats on a great start to a great blog! I’m a fan!

  2. Heather C says:

    But what do you do when floor-time is, well…boring? Are there acceptable ways to move things along (so that you’re not just counting jumps but engaging in something more complex with your child)?

    • I know! This is the challenge of floor time. In some ways you know you’re doing it right if you’re bored, though boredom of course is not a requirement. It reminds me of watching a boring t.v. show with a young child. The fact that you are bored with it likely means it’s on target for them. Sad but true, parents. If you find yourself loving the show, for example Pixar stuff, it means you should at least question whether it is more than your child can handle. I still don’t know if I believe that movies can be made on two levels (one for kids, one for adults). Let’s just say I wish I believed this.

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