When it comes to spending time with children, do you spend your time engaging them, entertaining them or doing a little of both? Before you can fully answer that question, you may need to explore the difference between the two.
When caregivers engage children their time is spent being actively involved with the kids. Engaging children requires active participation from both the caregiver and the child. When caregivers actively play with children, they are engaging them. Caregivers might engage children by playing blocks with them, dancing with them, playing a game with them, or being involved in dramatic play with them.
When caregivers entertain children their time is spent passively involved with the children. Entertaining children is not interactive. In fact, it’s mostly one-sided with the child fulfilling the role of audience. Entertainment requires observation. When caregivers take the children to the movies or put on a television show for them to watch, they are entertaining them.
The purpose of engaging children is to help focus their attention so that learning can happen. The purpose of entertaining is to create a pleasurable experience. Engagement involves children being creative and solving problems, while entertainment involves children watching others be creative and solve problems. While some entertainment can be educational, that’s not its primary purpose.
For many caregivers, given the integration of technology in everyday life, it often requires some entertaining to get the children interested before you transition to engaging them. And while some learning may come from entertainment, when children are engaged, real and lasting learning occurs.
As you consider how you spend time with the children in your care, ask yourself:
- Am I actively interacting with the children?
- How does the entertainment I offer deepen or enhance their learning experience?
- Is the activity the children are doing designed to benefit them or me?
- Am I nurturing the children’s sense of curiosity about themselves and their world?
- Am I providing tools for hands-on learning?
- Is technology trumping your relationship?
- Are we going places more than doing things together?
If your answers lead you to believe the children would benefit from more engagement and less entertainment, consider spending more time engaging the children by:
- Playing play-dough
- Building blocks
- Doing arts and crafts together
- Playing board games
- Having a tea party
- Rolling a ball back and forth
- Taking part in fantasy play
- Playing outside
- Putting on a puppet show
- Baking cookies.
While having fun is certainly important, providing opportunities for interaction, hands-on learning and problem solving can create an environment that promotes active learning, which will yield lasting results.