Little people’s lives are a daily stream of fun new experiences. And you, the parent, are the one with the key to this exciting world. Between the ages of three and five, your child is primed to pick up new skills, with the heaps of enthusiasm unique to tot-dom. So, whatever your most adored pastimes, whether that’s getting outside and cycling, or watching the alchemy of flour, eggs, butter and sugar become something delicious, now’s the time to share it with them.
“There’s a golden time between the ages of three and five, as your child learns to have a clearly defined sense of self and before they become increasingly interested in their peers, when your child is entirely receptive to you,” says psychologist Linda Blair, author of The Happy Child: Everything You Need To Know To Raise Enthusiastic, Confident Children. “Enjoy the adulation, Sadly, it won’t last.”
Linda adds that it’s not what you teach that matters so much, as how you teach – enthusiastically and with love. “Do things you love doing – kids have a radar for that – and it will be doubly fun for you,” she says. “It’s also important to be consistent with limits so your child learns impulse control, whether it’s tidying up or sticking to the same bedtime routine. Don’t waiver on the boundaries, so they can learn to set their own rules when they’re older.”
You don’t need to take your child to a constant stream of organised activities (although some can be fun) or buy special toys and games; just spending one-on-one time together is what matters. By hugging, kissing, listening and talking, your child will grow up feeling special and knowing how much they matter to you. Take every opportunity to read with your child, not just for cuddle-up close time, but to help expand their vocabulary and spark their already fertile imagination and own storytelling skills.
Here’s some ideas for you to get playing on, together.
Number one it's fun to mix ingredients together and see the magic of, for example, cakes emerging risen and transformed. Plus your child will be developing their fine motor skills with all that mixing, pouring and measuring. And best of all, you both get to tuck into those delicious, decorated fairy cakes as the culinary reward.
Riding a bike
Thanks to the advent of balance bikes, the days of unwieldy, back-agonising stablisers are over for parents and children are learning to ride bikes at a younger age. Applauding your child when they finally 'get' it and ride away from you on a proper bike is one of those 'Yes!' moments of parenrhood. Your child is learning lots of life skills like not giving up, that learning to do something new feels fabulous and (quite literally) to get back up again after a fall. Now you've got years of happy cycling and exploring together to look forward to.
Singing and dancing
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It doesn't matter whether it’s nursery rhymes with all their actions or Beyonce’s back catalogue, but twirling around together with your child copying your every move is one of the best bonding experiences for parents and kids. Your clubbing days may be over but you can still throw shapes in your living room without your children cringing. That comes in a decade or so.
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Helping your child have confidence in water - and eventually learn to swim without aids - is a joy for both of you. Like riding a bike, it's a developmental milestone and ticking it off brings 'I can do this' resilience to your child. Plus, it's something you can enjoy together for years to come - unless they get so good they want to swim competitively, in which case you're destined for years of standing on the sidelines and driving/depositing in the early hours.
Painting and drawing
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Again, this is a great way for your child to fine-tune their fine motor skills - the muscles in their hands and fingers. Painting and drawing together is also fun - who else is going to think your princesses are beautiful and monsters amazing? It's well worth asking your child what their painting is, so you get fabulous descriptions like 'mummy on a skateboard with a monster inside her head' that you can write on the back for extra nostalgic joy.
Throwing, catching and chasing a ball
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This is the age when your child begins to learn hand-eye coordination, a skill that is a big bonus for later life. And of course, running around giggling with your child is a lovely way to bond.