Explore at a Snail’s Pace: Encouraging Deeper Play With Your Kids


“Come on.”

“There’s more to see, so let’s keep moving.” 

“We didn’t come to the aquarium to watch a duck in the pond all day, let’s go.”

I get it. Many of us feel the pressure to make the most of family time and outings with our kids. We want to expose them to new and interesting things, and help them learn…well, everything. We want to give them the world, all crammed in to day trips to aquariums, zoos, museums, and other events. 

The flaw in this plan is that our kids aren’t built for this breakneck pace. They don’t have the internal checklists we carry, they don’t have the perspective that seeing penguins is a more rare and valuable experience than seeing ducks, and they have no concept that you just paid $100 for your family to be here for the day, so we better see ALL OF IT.

Remember that the child you bring to the museum is the same child who wants you to read the same book six times in a row and prefers to watch the same episode of the same show on repeat for weeks before moving on. Also remember that this trait is a good thing. Reading the same book over and over again encourages fluency with language, deeper comprehension of the plot, and nuances of characters that they can’t get on one pass. Watching the same show helps them understand conflict and resolution along with subtle details of expressed language and humor. 

In a similar way, watching a single snail attached to the inside of a fish tank at the aquarium for several minutes helps them learn how a mollusk uses its “foot” to move, and brings to the surface all sorts of questions about snail diets and speeds and where their brains are, and why snails are helpful to live alongside fish. Watching a duck in a pond helps them understand how webbed feet work well for moving through water and how an animal with no teeth can eat a fish – even if their verbal capabilities don’t yet allow them to discuss these things out loud. Standing at the sand table and creating hills and valleys and watching how the sand moves through their hands is a hands-on lesson in physics.

Beyond the learning opportunities, take a step back and think about how it feels to be constantly called away from something interesting to you. Imagine you are sitting on the couch with your partner, and they have the remote. Just as you start to get intrigued by the show that’s on, they switch channels. As soon as you become immersed in the new show, they switch again. Repeat again a dozen times. Where’s your frustration level at that point? 

Outings are a good opportunity to allow your child to immerse themselves in the things that capture their attention, and for you to join them in that deeper exploration. It’s a relief as a parent to free ourselves, even for a few hours, of the mental checklist that propels us through morning routines, grocery stores, and errands. It’s a needed change in the parent-child dynamic to flow in the same direction for once, instead of the normal push-pull that we feel when prodding our children on from one thing and on to the next. These experiences of feeling ease and agreement as you enjoy things together help to solidify the foundation and connection that makes all of the “must dos” in life easier to navigate with your child.

We can’t always throw out the checklist, and our children won’t always be interested in the things we planned, but recognizing those chances to turn off our “go go go” impulse and get into our child’s world brings so much satisfaction to both of you. The next time the “let’s move on,” impulse strikes you, take a second to pause, ask yourself why, evaluate what your goal truly is in that moment, and make a more mindful decision.

Encouraging Kids to Explore written with picture of a hand and snail in the background. Words www.providencemomsblog.com

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A transplant from southeastern Massachusetts by way of Wells College and Bridgewater State University, Alana has been in Rhode Island long enough to feel the loss of 95.5 WBRU and Benny's, and to give directions based on where things used to be. After living in Providence, Woonsocket, and Lincoln, she happily planted her toes in the sand in Narragansett almost a decade ago with her husband Eric, a Rhode Island native. Two sons and a daughter came along afterward, and she transitioned from working full time at an intensive behavioral health clinic in Providence to her own private practice in Peacedale, Essential Parenting of Rhode Island, in 2010. As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Alana focuses on helping parents navigate the transition to parenthood, supporting families with young children, and assisting people across life stages with anxiety and other mood issues. To further her mission to get families off to the best possible start, she also leads groups for new moms and developmental play groups for babies and toddlers at Bellani Maternity in Warwick. (As a mom, Alana tries to take her own advice at least 85% of the time). She is an avid reader, totally addicted to podcasts, never says no to trying out a new restaurant, and is always DIYing some type of home improvement project. She would also like to say she enjoys running, but believes it's important to be honest. Along with her family, Alana loves exploring Rhode Island's many public parks and natural areas, gardening, cooking, and - to the surprise of many who know her - going to visit a certain mouse's house on the regular.