When my daughter was 2 ¾ she told me she wanted to ride a merry-go-round. I never figured out where she got the idea, but she loved books and must have seen a merry-go-round somewhere in one of them.
We picked a day to visit the classic carousel on the Santa Monica Pier and talked about it for days ahead of time. We imagined the experience – choosing a horse, the music, fastening seatbelts, riding up and down, round and round, holding onto the shiny brass pole.
When the day finally arrived and we parked in the beach lot near the pier, I unfastened her car seat and she stepped outside. We looked towards the carousel building a good hundred yards away she murmured wistfully, “I hear the music from here”. Stunned, I heard nothing. It wasn’t until we entered the building a few minutes later that I finally heard the music too.
This began a magical day that only got better. The merry-go-round was everything my girl had hoped it would be. Since she had initiated this idea herself and had spent time imagining every detail, she embraced the experience completely.
The carousel confirmed lessons I’d learned through infant specialist Magda Gerber…
Wait for readiness.
Sharing the activities we loved as children is one of the joys of parenting, and naturally, we can’t wait! We don’t always have the patience to hold off on the carousel or Disneyland, movies, the zoo, whatever… But when we are able to postpone an activity until our child has the opportunity to initiate interest, or at least say yes and be old enough to actively participate, i.e., walk Disneyland, choose rides, recognize characters, and fasten seatbelts rather than be carried or strolled, the rewards are great.
Generally, the longer we can hold off, the more our child will gain, because the more participatory and “on top of things” toddlers feel, the richer the experience. We are inclined to forget how easily our toddlers become over-stimulated and overwhelmed.
Prepare…perchance to dream.
Preparing our children for new experiences encourages them to participate as actively as possible. When children have the opportunity, for example, to read the book and/or hear the music before going to a show, they eagerly anticipate the event and are ready to savor every aspect. It’s literally a dream come true. Toddlers love to predict what will happen and then be “right.” And the preparations for any activity are usually as enjoyable and educational as the event itself.
Balance outings with home time.
I envy the energy and organizational ability of parents who manage to schedule lots of special activities with their children. But I believe children gain more from experiences when they do them less often and have more time to assimilate them. Toddlers need plenty of time to “do nothing” at home so that they can absorb, reflect and learn from the events in their lives. They need time to invent play that helps them understand and process the things they’ve been exposed to that might confuse or disturb them. I’ll never forget my 3 1/2 year old scrubbing the floor for days — just pretending, unfortunately — after watching her first Disney movie: Cinderella.
Never underestimate the power of imagination. When we do less and wait for readiness, we encourage it.
I share more about this approach in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting