Have you ever heard a parent say, "Our three-year-old realizes how hectic my lifestyle is, therefore we try to plan really big projects once or twice a month. That’s why I believe quality time is more vital to parenting than quantity time!"” Ridiculous! Does a young child know the difference? For this child and others, a few minutes several times a day is much more important than a special event every few weeks. If you are still wondering, ask a child.
Quantity Versus Quality
The dictionary defines "quantity" as a property of anything that can be determined by measurement, an exact amount of a particular thing. Practical application of quantity time means that a parent finds teachable moments throughout the day with their children. Teachable moments happen without planning when your child shows interest in learning more about a specific task or activity.
"Quality," on the other hand, is defined as any character or characteristic which may make an object good or bad, commendable or reprehensible, or a degree of excellence. In reality, quality means doing something well, or showing high expectations.
Making Time for Your Children
In the mid 1970s, two educators in the area of child psychology developed basic parenting beliefs and ideas that continue to be used and implemented in early childhood education programs today. Robert Strom (1978) discussed the tendency of some parents to give children toys and spending money without interaction. Parents who work all day are tired when they get home and may put off playing with their children until the weekend. Strom suggests that parents should try to play for at least two ten-minute periods a day with the children. This could involve such simple activities as doing household chores together, reading a story, or tossing a ball.
Thomas Gordon (1975) developed the Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), which involves a variety of methods, designed to enhance communication and understanding between children and parents. His method of "active listening" is still being used in parent training sessions. Active listening means that you help your child find the words they need to express how they feel and communicate with others.
Parent Sharing Ideas for Quantity and Quality Time
Maria Montessori, an early childhood educator in Italy, (1870-1954) realized the way to facilitate learning is to set things up in such a way that a child can find, reach, and select whatever he needs to help him in his learning -- as much as possible on his own. Looking at the home as a learning environment, it is helpful to keep two objectives in mind: 1) access and invitation and 2) freedom and order. The parent or teacher acts as a guide, observing, but allowing the child to make choices. As you spend time with your children, think of simple projects and get into the habit of discovering spur-of-the moment activities. Turn off the television and video games and talk as you work and play. The following ideas will help you make the most of the time you spend with your children.
1. Make food shopping a learning experience. Instead of stopping by the grocery before picking up the kids, plan to occasionally get them first. As you shop, point out the difference between lettuce and cabbage? Ask, how many potatoes equal a pound? How many colors of apples are available? When you sack the groceries, why do you place bread on the top of the bag?
2. Involve young children in food preparation. Even toddlers can set the table and measure simple ingredients. Do preschoolers know food terms like stir, beat, sift, and pour?
3. Make laundry a task that involves the whole family. Teach children how to sort laundry by color. Provide color-coded baskets for each individual. Remove clothes from the dryer and place each person's clothing in the appropriate basket. Demonstrate folding washcloths, matching socks, or placing linens in a closet.
4. Be selective when choosing television programs for the family. Watch television with your children and talk with them about the show. Ask them, "What happen first, next, and last? What was your favorite part? Did you like the way the story ended? Could we have a different ending?"
5. Save grocery coupons. Preschoolers enjoy using safety scissors to cut coupons from magazines and the newspaper. Perhaps you can use the savings for a special treat.
6. Place an outside thermometer within easy view for your child. Check the degrees in temperature and record on a chart for the week or month. What days had the highest temperature? The lowest?
7. Chart weather activity using a calendar. On a calendar draw simple pictures indicating the type of weather for that day. At the end of the week or month, count the number of sunny, rainy, snowy, windy, and cloudy days.
8. Use a calendar for special events in each child's life. You may include family birthdays, holidays, child care events, vacations, and other important events that make up your child's life.
9. Make exercise a family affair. Instead of piling in the car to visit a neighbor, ride bikes and tricycles (within a safe walking area). Park your car at the far corner of mall parking lot and walk to the shops. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Count the steps. How many landings are involved?
10. Involve children in family finances. You can help teach children the value of money by explaining basic needs and wants. Basic "needs" for the family include: house payment or rent, utilities, food, health insurance, clothing, taxes, expenses for child care, and automobile expense. "Wants" cover eating in a restaurant, toys, unnecessary clothing, movies, entertainment and others. Demonstrate how you divide income for monthly bills, savings, and for charity or religious contributions. Include budgeting your money as a weekly and monthly activity. It's a project that allows a family to spend time together. Young children can develop a responsibility of having money by allowing them to work for special chores. Refrain from paying children for family chores that should be a job for everyone.
Carolyn Ross Tomlin is a former kindergarten teacher, day care director and assistant professor of education at Union University. She contributes to numerous education publications.
Berends, P. (1983). Whole Child/Whole Parent: A Spiritual & Practical Guide to Parenthood. New York: Harper & Row.
Gordon T. (1975). PET: Parent Effectiveness Training. New York: Plume.
Strom, R. (1978). Growing Together. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.