Anyone else struggling to get everything done in a day? There’s kids to dress and feed, educate, have fun, go to the park, run errands, work, and all the rest.
It can all seem overwhelming. But we all get the same 24 hours in a day, even the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the world. And we can choose how we spend them.
For our children, allowing more time is of such great benefit. Here is a list of things, most children could have more time for:
1. for movement
2. for conversation/language/books
3. for meals together
4. for sleep/rest
5. for independence
6. for exploration/discovery
7. for nature and outdoors
1. For movement
From birth, babies may spend a lot of time in car seats, carriers, and baby chairs.
Give them as much time on the movement mat as possible – they can reach for their feet, practice rolling, or just watch the world around them. I even took a little blanket for when we ended up at the playground – trees make the most beautiful mobiles for babies to observe.
Most toddlers have seemingly boundless energy and need many opportunities to move. Telling them to sit quietly in a cafe for an hour while you have lunch is not an option for most toddlers.
When planning my day with a toddler, I would try to balance things out with maybe a trip to the supermarket followed by a playground visit. I’d say, “First we are going to the supermarket, and then we are going to run around at the playground.” I would never withhold it or bribe them with the playground visit. It’s just part of being a family: we do some things for mum, and some things for the kids.
As kids start school, movement remains very important. It is easy to keep kids quiet inside with an iPad or another screen.
Try spending some extra time at the school playground at pick up time before heading home, install a climbing wall in the backyard or on a bedroom wall, or hang some swinging hoops for kids to practice monkeying about. Living here in the Netherlands, I think their general good health here has a lot to do with most kids (and adults) cycling every day to school (and work).
2. For conversation/language/books
It’s easy to get so caught up with everything we need to do, that a lot of our conversation is about getting places, organising and cajoling children. Sometimes we forget to just sit on the steps and watch the street activity together. To look out the window and count the trucks. To look out for birds and other nature in our neighbourhood together. There are conversations to be had right under our noses.
The only thing often stopping these conversations is time.
If you work full time, you can have a special part of the bedtime ritual to talk about your day together. Ask open questions like “what animals did you see at the zoo today?”, even with young children. There’s time over breakfast and dinner to share conversation. And at bath time there are fun conversations to be had during water explorations.
Some of us love books and we read a lot. Other children take longer to get into story time. Mem Fox is an Australian children’s author who also promotes children’s literacy. Her advice is to read 3 books a day from birth. This wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes and was always my favourite part of bed time with my kids right up through primary school.
And, I know I struggle with my mobile phone being a distraction to this one too. You cannot have a real conversation and answer email, check Instagram or post to social media at the same time. I have started hiding my phone from myself, and switching it off when it is time for the family.
3. For meals together
There is strong research showing the long term benefits of eating meals together as a family (for example, http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/upload/Family-Mealtimes-2.pdf).
Eating at least breakfast and dinner together as a family starts and ends the day checking in with each other. Let’s replace lots of the snacks with fruit, and keep meal times as occasions to eat together. You model eating together, children can help prepare food and set the table (even toddlers), and it provides increased opportunities for conversation (see 2 above).
4. For sleep/rest
Parents can play protector to their kids’ rest. Young babies and children thrive on a regular routine. It doesn’t have to be a fixed schedule but a consistent routine of Eating, Playing, Sleeping helps them know what is coming next.
Give them just-as-much-help-as-they-need to rest. This might be sitting next to them while you read without engaging with them. This might be moving your chair to the door. This might be sitting outside their room while they fall asleep. Or perhaps popping in to keep reassuring them. Or your child may like to look at their books in bed until they sleep. Whatever works for you.
5. For independence
When children are learning new skills like getting dressed, allowing enough time is important. Practising getting shoes and socks on and off may be better for a rainy indoor day when you aren’t even planning to leave the house, rather than a day when you need to rush to get older children to school.
Allowing time for your child is critical as they struggle to master other skills of independence like unscrewing a lid for themselves or pegging up their painting.
Of course it is quicker for the adult to do it for the child. But in the long term, when a child is able to take the time to master these skills, they are so pleased with themselves, and they will (mostly) then be able to do it all by themselves.
For those of you who have not seen how to put on a child’s coat the Montessori way, you have to watch this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELppa8jKgmE
6. For exploration/discovery
I hope children never stop playing and discovering with their hands. They are born to explore and learn so naturally with their hands.
Dr Montessori said, “Never give more to the brain than we give to the hand.”
It is a concrete way for children to learn. And for making discoveries for themselves.
Children don’t need to be filled with answers provided by adults. Rather than asking children, “what colour is this?”, there are many other ways for children to explore colour. This could be through arts and crafts with various colour paints, crayons, paper. Or matching colours, finding shades of the same colours, and grading colours from light to dark.
Provide opportunities for your child to explore, at home, or outside, with friends, or just the two of you.
7. For nature/outdoors
I love to watch children at the beach, in the sand dunes, at the mountains, in the forest. A day in nature is like refuelling the soul. So if you have had a difficult period with your child, consider getting at least a day out in nature to reset yourselves.
I hope you see the value in these activities and can allow more time for them.
And if you are too busy, here are a few last tips for making some more time:
* switch off technology and consider having a 24 hour technology-free day in the family
* schedule less activities – allowing children more unplanned, unscheduled time
* live consciously and only include things that you value – sometimes this may mean saying no to “nice” things, but that have lower priority right now
* include your children in the daily activities around the home – they can help do the washing, prepare for visitors, set the table rather than feeling like you have to entertain them all day
* simplify and live with less – this isn’t for everyone, but less things can mean it is easier to tidy up, to clean and to not spend as much money on “stuff”
* look at why we hurry and how we can change to a slower pace most of the time – children are also more accommodating if we need to rush only now and then, rather than every time we leave the house
I’m curious to hear from you. Do you think you could allow some more time in any of these areas? Are there any tips you would like to share? I am sure you all have some wisdom to share.