The first time my husband and I made gingerbread houses with our two young children, it ended in disaster. I am actually surprised it is a tradition that we have done year after year since. We didn't enjoy it. I don't think the kids enjoyed it. We were all edgy and intense and our picturesque activity went up in flames.
Since that day, I have learned some important steps to take to ensure our learning time and activities is a positive experience. Our time is beneficial and enjoyable.
Be Prepared--Have Stuff Ready
If you want to really torture yourself and your child, say, "Time to do a learning activity!" and then prepare the activity while your child asks over and over again when you can start. I know, any mom with experience with children is saying, "Duh!" but that is a lesson I had to learn. Have the activity prepped before you announce it is time to start. Announcing before it is ready is like telling your child dinner is ready 30 minutes before it is time. If you like whining, try it out. If not, wait until you are ready.
The only caveat is if you have a child who loves to help and/or is capable of helping to prep the activity, go ahead and have your child come early and help get things ready. Otherwise, be kind to yourself and your your child and be prepared before "starting."
If you want an easy way to be prepared every day of the year, get my eBook Babes, Tots, and Kids.
Choose Appropriate Activities
You don't want activities that are too hard, nor do you want activities that are too easy. If they are too hard, your child will get frustrated and you will do it all for your child. If they are too easy, your child will be bored and either balk at doing it or be done in under 60 seconds. Sometimes you don't know for sure what is appropriate for your child, which is why it is a good idea to have some back-up plans. Don't forget about your stash of puzzles, board games, or things like the peg-boards I talked about last week. They make great back-ups when your child finishes planned activities too quickly.
Choose a Good Time of Day
No one operates well when they are tired or hungry. Try to do activities when your child is well-rested and not hungry. Also, do it when you can have minimal distractions. If you have more than one child, either have activities for the other child planned or do the activities when the other child is sleeping or doing something like independent playtime.
Keep it Fun
Make this learning time at home fun. You are introducing the concept of learning to your child. Don't turn it into something to hate.
Have Expectations for Abilities
Part of the problem my husband and I faced that first gingerbread house experience was that we both wanted a picture-perfect gingerbread house at the end. We were making it with a 3 year old and 1 year old...so you can imagine how perfect it looked in the end. We both quickly realized our folly. Of course it wouldn't look perfect! Duh!
It is okay if your child's picture doesn't look like the picture on the blog post or Pinterest photo. Those photos are often taken of the project completed by an adult or older child, not a two year old. Be okay with things looking authentic for your child.
Have Expectations for Participation
While you want to make it fun, it is okay to require that your child sit and complete the project before moving on to the next phase of the day. Part of the benefit of doing these activities at home is that your child learns to focus, to sit still, to listen to instructions, and to get things done. If your child is burnt out, go ahead and help him finish the project up, or make the decision to set it aside and finish the rest tomorrow. Just make sure you are making the decision based on your best judgement, not that you are letting the child drive and dictate the schedule.