"If an activity takes longer for me to prepare than they spend doing it, it’s not worth it."
This has coalesced from various advice and people. It has its origins in the question of who is doing the learning. Five minutes for me to spend setting out materials and thirty minutes for them to spend freely exploring them is a good trade-off. Thirty minutes of me tracing and cutting for them to spend five minutes gluing is not. (I’ll exclude clean-up time; they should help with that anyway, and it’s too much of a wildcard.)
Similarly, fifteen minutes to locate and read a good story together (note they are involved in the story part) which they then take and interpret in their own play for weeks is a good learning investment. Twenty minutes for me to prepare a learning activity from the story that keeps their attention for ten minutes is not.
This is probably too strict of a rule for many people. I once saw a blog of a mom who had created little bags for each letter of the alphabet with various hands-on items that corresponded to that letter sound. Very cute. Though not a good trade-off on my system, I’m sure she had a great time doing it and her daughter learned her letter sounds. And that’s a perfectly valid reason, if doing crafts like that is fun for mom.
But D1 learned her letter sounds just fine with my quick printout of family pictures for each letter of the alphabet. And D2 is learning his just as well with the even less elaborate method of me or D1 answering his questions when he points to a stray letter on a book, sign, or (this being the stage of life we are at) barf bucket.
So I like the reassurance that the ducklings are learning and can learn with very little time and energy invested on my part, because right now I have very little time and energy to invest. When I do have a little, we can do some things that require a little more investment of my time but still have plenty of bang for the buck: messier craft materials, muddier play outside.
When I have a little more energy than that, rather than burdening them with elaborate learning programs just to keep myself occupied, I’d rather read or write something for myself, or try out some project that interests me. And if they learn something from that, too, it’s all gravy.
Here’s today’s high-return learning activity.
Stack of poker chips
Each person rolls a die in turn and takes the corresponding number of poker chips from the stack. When the stack is exhausted, compare each individual stack to find out who won. They wore out me and two uncles playing this game; they probably stuck with it for forty-five minutes.