I think one of the greatest challenges that the modern parent faces is the "pressure to perform." Because of social media, the Internet, and the presence of sites like Pinterest, we are constantly bombarded with messages about parenting. Everyone seems to have creative ideas, phenomenal kids rooms, and brilliant educational activities that fill every day. It can create a feeling of pressure--pressure to perform, pressure to be the best parent, pressure to raise the most intelligent, social, and well-adjusted child.
I think it's wonderful that we have so many resources at our fingertips, yet I think it can also do a detriment to both us and our children. If you've ever watched a child open a gift, you know that they often find the packaging much more enthralling than the present inside. Their little minds can create wonders and worlds out of our adult trash. They don't need much to explore and invent, and, when left to their own devices, they find a way to entertain and educate themselves.
I am definitely not advocating a lack of parental involvement. Quite the opposite, actually. I think that the presence of a parent can be enough in and of itself. Take away all the activities and simply be together. Mimic each others' sounds and faces. Talk about the day. Discuss the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around you. Stare into each others' eyes. Snuggle, cuddle, and embrace each other. Hear and follow your child. Take turns sharing the unique wisdom each of you have to offer.
Lately Henry and I have been spending hours sitting in our ball pit reading and playing our "quiet/noise" game. We rarely make it through a book but Henry loves to help turn the pages and then point to the bookshelf when he wants a new one. Sometimes we spend a lot of time on one book and other times we quickly change to a new book.
During our game, I put my finger up to my lips and whisper "shh, quiet." After a couple seconds of silence we start kicking the balls with our legs to make "noise." Henry has even started putting his finger to my lips to signal it's time for quiet.
What I love about these activities is the control and self-regulation they teach Henry. Aside from the obvious of learning words and the importance of reading, he's learning that he has a voice with which he can communicate. By flipping the book over for me to read it again or by pointing to the bookshelf for a new book, he's learning that he can use his voice to express his needs and wishes. Similarly, in our "quiet/noise" game, he is learning calm, patience, patterns and commands.
Remember that even the smallest activities can be opportunities for both learning and connection. Trust your children to lead you and don't worry that you need elaborate plans to entertain and educate them. Let go of the pressure to perform and instead practice presence.