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EDUCATION

Quality Time With Preschoolers Can Be Simple to Schedule

August 05, 1993|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spending quality time with children is likely to be a popular summer plan for many parents.

It is important in the educational and personal development of children of all ages, but probably most crucial for the youngest.

Unlike older students, preschoolers don't date, play summer league sports or visit friends by themselves. That means they are generally at home more, particularly in the summer, and need more of their parents' time and attention.

Many parents are unsure how to spend this time, or when to do it. Some think quality time must consist of some spectacular event, such as a day at Disneyland or the zoo.

In truth, the time that you and your child spend together each day is just as high quality, if not more so, because you are better able to communicate and focus on each other.

There are many inexpensive and simple ways to create quality time.

First, consider carefully the time of day it will occur.

If your child is attending a summer preschool or day-care program, bear in mind that he or she will probably be tired at the end of the day. Just like many adults, kids need time to rest before moving on to the evening's activities.

Allow the child some private time to do something alone for a while, whether it's coloring, looking out the window or napping.

Once the child has gotten his or her second wind, the togetherness can begin.

I think quality time should always start with meaningful talk between parent and child, particularly about what the child has done earlier that day.

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This is a snap with some children. Ask one general question, and they will talk at length about all their activities and playmates.

Others are quieter and may need to be coaxed with pointed questions, such as "What games did you play?" or "Did you read a story today?"

Reading together is, of course, tried and true. I've never met a child who couldn't stand being read to.

It allows you to form a bond with the child and to teach him or her something about language and the joy of reading.

To enhance the experience, ask questions as you go along. Point to objects in pictures and ask their names; ask which characters are most likable and why, or what might happen next.

Playing together is another good use of time. In fact, I suspect that parents may benefit more from its calming and creative effects than their children!

When choosing a playtime activity, again consider the time of day. For example, an energizing game of ball is not good right before bedtime.

I'm generally reluctant to suggest watching television together because there is always the temptation to just sit silently without communicating.

When used properly, however, TV can be a great catalyst for learning.

"Sesame Street" is a safe bet, but it might be difficult to derive much educational or conversational value from most sitcoms or from MTV. After watching a show, discuss the characters, plot and other components.

Going somewhere new together now and then adds a little adventure to your parent-child bond, and the destinations don't always have to be educational.

Just being together outdoors, for example, is wonderful--whether it's lying in the grass at the park or watching volleyball at the beach.

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Try preparing for the child's next day at preschool or camp together too. It's both utilitarian and educational.

Asking the child to help choose tomorrow's outfit, for example, will help save time in the morning and teach the child the names of colors and clothing items.

Have the child choose which toys, stuffed animals or books to take too.

If the child takes a lunch, get him or her to help you make it.

Finally, in planning activities for quality time with your child, consider this last hint: Children get tired of routines pretty quickly, so maintain a good variety of activities from one day to the next.

Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School.

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