1. Prepared plates.
My kids’ school serves up each meal on little sectioned plates. The meals are planned. They are pre-scooped and served to each child.
What if they don’t like peaches? Do they get to throw a fit and get something else? No. The main point is, most kids aren’t throwing fits at their little table. They just pick around what they really don’t like.
So why were mine throwing fits at home? Over everything. I noticed that I would make a meal. Serve it. I don’t want that! So I would get up, go to the pantry, and ask what else do you want?
Same with snack time. At school, snacks are served up in bowls or little coffee filter liners.
What did I do at home? Lift up a little toddler, open the pantry, and ask what do you want for snack? *toddler points to large marshmellows* No. *toddler points to m&m’s* No. *toddler points to beef jerky seasoning packets* No.
We didn’t really win when I “let them pick.”
I wanted to give them choices, but I wasn’t happy with what they picked.
Now I copy-cat what their school does. I serve up their pre-planned meals on sectioned plates. I give them a main course, fruit, veggie, or grain. I pour them a 1/3 cup of milk at a time.
You want more? Eat what you have or try everything first, then you can have more.
Snacks are picked by me as well. Pretzels and a scoop of peanut butter in a bowl. Set on the table. What do I have? Two kids who climb up to their chairs excited to see what they get for snack.
I have a lot less I don’t want that’s and a lot more can I have some more’s.
2. Clean as you go.
It’s so easy to “relax” in the evenings and weekends and let the kids trash the house. Not put their shoes where they go. String clothes down the hallway on the way to bath time. Clean up the sticky messes later. Later. Later. Later.
What ends up happening? It’s time to go somewhere and the house is a disaster. Where’s her other shoe? I can’t find this. I can’t find that. Digging in piles of laundry for shorts that match an orange shirt.
Now we’re late.
At school, they clean up everything as they go. Toys get put away before moving on to the next activity. Lunch gets cleaned up as the kids finish eating. Tables are wiped. Floors are mopped while kids are playing at centers. The only mess you see is what the kids are currently doing.
The same habit is totally worth it at home. As soon as we finish dinner, the “big helpers” walk their plates to the sink. They “help” wipe down the table. During bath, one of us will stay in the kitchen and wash the pots and pans.
Laundry gets folded and put away that day.
Do I “keep up” with the cleaning as I go all the time? No way.
I know for a fact that when I do “keep up” with the cleaning I am less stressed. Less frazzled. Less cranky. Less chaotic. Less snappy. And we tend to show up to places on time.
If I “let the house go” the opposite tends to happen. We pile in the car, late, after bickering about something usually caused by the chaotic mess.
When I keep up with the cleaning (with my kids involved) I find that I end up with more quality time playing in the floor rather than digging through mountains of mess.
Let me throw in one amazing idea my kids’ school does for older toddlers. Take an old toddler t-shirt, usually one size up. Cut it straight up the back. Put it on the toddler at meal times as a “bib” and throw it in the wash. No more messy/stained shirts after meal time.
3. Planned activities.
How many times do we really do activities at home? Educational trips as a family? It’s rare that we get out the paint and make a sweet card for their great-aunt.
However, the times we do are precious memories and their little masterpieces are still hanging up in other people’s houses. I think I don’t do these as often because I look at the mess that I might have to clean up, rather than the bonding that it will build.
If I don’t “plan” at least one little activity on a weekend, I find myself looking back at hours of television watching and toy bins dumped and scattered without much play time.
So what does a planned activity look like?
Building with play dough. Coloring a card for someone’s birthday. “Writing” a letter to a relative and driving to the post office to mail it.
Meeting up for a play date at the park. Water play in the back yard. Stacking up wooden blocks to make a giant domino train. Going outside to play pirates on the flat bed trailor, blasting the “cannon” hitch at cars that drive by.
Doing chores like emptying all the waste baskets in the house. Going to a pond to feed the fish. Invite yourself over to someone’s farm and bring the t-ball equipment (warning: adults may have more fun than the kids on this one).
Go to the local high school football game, even for just the first half. Pick weeds as a family and ride in the wheel barrow around the yard.
I purposefully try to not be too busy with obligations. Why? So I have time to do the fun things mentioned above. It doesn’t have to be super scheduled and jam-packed. Just one fun activity before and after nap time is usually the highlight of our Saturday.
My favorite activities are the ones that get us outside and out of the house. We get pretty grouchy if we just “do whatever” around the house all day on a Saturday.
4. Toy rotation.
Most daycares have a toy closet. They also have a time called “centers” which is basically stations that each have a toy or activity and the kids rotate around to each center. Teachers will set out anything from puzzles, to blocks, to farm animals.
I’ve seen another daycare have toys of the month. After the month is up, the toys in the basket get rotated out with new ones.
While I’ve gone a little “minimalistic” in my own house (that’ll be another blog post) I still have plenty of toys for my kids to play with. I typically keep them up on the shelf, or in their closet. This morning I got out all the play food, baby dolls, and stuffed animals.
What did my kids do?
They prentended to feed the babies and animals. They “cooked.” My daughter fed each of the babies and pushed them around the house in the play stroller. I didn’t tell them what to do or how to do it.
I simply got out a “center” for them to play with and they used their imagination from there! (Meanwhile, I emptied the dishwasher and switched over loads of laundry). When it came time for lunch, we did #2 and cleaned it all up and put it back on the shelf.
After nap we got out the cars and the same thing happened. Kids playing happily with a toy they hadn’t seen in a while.
No toy bins dumped.
No random toys scattered around the house. The toys that were out were being used.
One last note about toys: when we get new or new-to-us toys, we try to pick one to pass on or donate to make space for the new ones. This way we aren’t hoarding things and someone else gets to enjoy a new-to-them toy.
This one is tough. Especially on the weekends when we go out of town, go to a party, or have a day full of church and family.
The daycare is amazing at keeping on schedule. I learned my kids’ schedule after working at their school this summer.
Their schedule looks something like this on a “non-preschool” day:
8:00 breakfast – 9:00 potty/diaper – 9:30 play outside on playground – 10:30 potty/diaper – 11:00 – centers – 11:30 lunch – 12:30 nap – 2:30 potty/diaper – 3:00 snack – 3:30 centers
The kids know what to expect and their bodies get used to the eating and sleeping times.
I haven’t done much research on eating and sleeping times, but what I know from experience, if we miss the eating and sleeping times, then I see more fits and crankiness.
Sometimes it’s near impossible on a weekend to stick to the same times as their school schedule, but I try to hit it pretty close.
Even in the evenings, you can make a schedule for dinner (we eat at 5:00), play time (6:00-7:00), bath (around 7:30), snacks/tv/books (8:00), brush teeth (8:30) and bed time.
Again, we miss these times quite often, BUT if we hit them close, I have an easier time at night, and I have happy kids the next morning.
These tips are not fool proof and they may not work for you, but I’m always looking for ways to be a better parent, so it’s worth sharing since it’s worked for me.
If you are struggling with your kids at home, it’s okay to ask your child’s teacher at daycare or school what they do each day. What works at school may just as well work at home too!