One-on-one focus time – how do you do it with lots of children?

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Spending one-on-one time (focus time) with our children is important, but how do you find time to do it with a large family?

1 to 3 children:

Focus time for us has changed a lot along the way. When I only had a couple of children I had it planned as a set timeslot every day with each child. It’s especially important for the toddler of the family that they have some attention early in the day before popping them into playpen time or other independent play. We would read a story or play with the dolls house, toy cars, Lego or whatever toy was a favourite of the child at the time. This daily filling of their love tank early in the schedule set them up for success with room time and other alone times later in the day while my focus was on other children or tasks. Later in the day I would spend some time with the older children.

4 & 5 children:

Once we had our twins it became too cumbersome to fit one-on-one time into every day so we moved to having an “hour of power” one afternoon a week. Whenever the children asked me to do something with them that I could not accomodate then and there, I would tell them that that was a wonderful idea for our hour of power. We would add it to a running list that we kept so that we didn’t get to the special hour and have no ideas. The kids were happy that it was a delayed “yes” rather than a no and I was able to do it at a time that was suitable for me. The toddlers still had some focus time early in the day on a daily basis.

6 children:

As the older children were getting to an age where playing with toys at home was no longer suitable for focus time, we changed to fortnightly dates with Mummy or Daddy. The babies and toddlers in the family still had their focus time built into the daily routine early in the day and the older 5 were on a rotating schedule to go out on a Saturday for a couple of hours – 1 child per fortnight. Of course there were still plenty of incidental times along the way when we spent time with the children other than these special dates.

Some of the issues that we found with this was that 10 weeks was a long time to wait for the next special date and having these set times seemed to bring with it a sense of ungratefulness and entitlement rather than thankfulness that we were taking the time to do it with them. A lot of talk went into how long it was until the next date, with almost a depression after their turn as they realised how long it would be before they went again. It put a lot of pressure onto us to keep it up and not skip a turn and life tended to get in the way. The dates also needed to be something bigger which often came at a cost financially. We decided that as a long-term strategy it wasn’t working for us or the kids.

The next method we call date cramming. We would take a couple of days and take every child out on a date with either Mummy or Daddy all one after the other. We liked this because everyone got a turn very quickly and the children did not know when we planned to do it – we would just announce it unexpectedly and they were very excited and thankful that it was happening. We took the younger children first and then the older children as they had a better grasp of time and were able to understand that their turn was coming soon. All done and dusted in 2 or 3 days with no drawn-out waiting. We still do this as we find it works well for us – family holidays are a great time to fit it in.

7 children

7 children later we have settled into a very informal system. Except for the toddler, we don’t have it written into our routines (no expectations, no crummy attitudes) but are mindful that it is important to proactively build relationships. It’s different for every child and age. The holiday date cramming is still happening a couple of times a year, with the rest of the alone times balancing out informally in a a whole variety of different ways.

  • Our nearly 2 year old comes into our bedroom as soon as she wakes in the morning for some snuggle and tickle time with Mum and Dad before we start showers.
  • Homeschooling starts after breakfast and provides opportunities for the 4-year-old and our 6-year-old twins to have some individual attention as they have their turn to sit on my lap and do some reading or maths or other subjects I save for this time.
  • Our 8 and 11-year old girls are involved in a church dance group and the 11 year old in a girl’s choir. The trips to and from these events, plus occasional extra rehearsals etc. provide some one-on-one time connected with something that is special to them.

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  • Our 13 year old is up later than every other child and naturally gets lots of informal time with Mum and Dad as we chat while doing dishes, play board games, look something up on the computer or whatever comes up as a topic of interest. He will often accompany one of us if we head out to the shops in the evening or just sit about and chat.
  • Whenever my husband or I run an errand over the weekend we make a point of taking along just one child for some special time – usually the 4 or 6 year olds as they do not have as many other opportunities that naturally crop up without planning.
  • We have started some traditions connected to birthdays such as going camping alone with a parent when they turn 7 or horse-riding when they turn 9.
  • We occasionally have girls/guys day out – when I take all the girls to a special event or Daddy takes all the boys. Our next event will be a winter showcase concert that the girls are looking forward to seeing. While this is not strictly alone, it still gives us opportunities to focus on individuals within the group.
  • Daddy has been hiking with the older 3 children a couple of times in the last year which involves long walks (plenty of time to chat to individual children) and overnight camp-outs before hiking back.
  • Coming up to holiday periods I will sometimes get the children to make a list of all the things they want to do with me alone while we don’t have school work to get through. If something needs to be done like purchasing new sneakers for someone then we will turn that into a date opportunity and the occasional birthday invitation or other special event involving only one child also gives us some time alone. I frequently have a helper work in the kitchen with me to prepare a family meals and there are other times when we sit and simply read a story or work on a project with a child.

Keeping love languages in mind is very important when thinking through focus time. The older children wanted help making Jedi capes to use for their home movies so this was a good opportunity to tackle a small project together – acts of service children all happy! A quick trip to the local shopping centre for some new socks has the “gift” child showing the world and overflowing with joy. Piggy backing my “physical touch” boy to bed and taking 5 minutes to tickle and cuddle before lights out each night fills his love talk. The “quality time” kids need just that – time and lots of it. They are the hardest to fit it and the ones we have to most proactively work to accomodate.

So yes, our children are not going on amazing Princess date with Daddy every weekend or heading out to expensive all day experiences with Mummy every other week, but they are well loved. I think we need to take a step back from the pressure to heap money and experiences on our children and ask ourselves what they need. Perhaps you just need to go and play a game of Monopoly or fix the toy you’ve been promising to get to. Filling their love tanks and letting them know they are special and loved is what its all about for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moveable art with loose parts – an invitation to play.

Moveable art with loose parts as an invitation to play has continued to be a hit in our house this week. The theory of loose parts in layman’s terms is that the more bits and pieces you have to muck about with, the more you can interact and be creative with the materials. I like it because it promotes creative and artistic skills while being easy to work into our daily lives. It’s quiet, (good for afternoon nap times) doesn’t require a lot of time to set up or clean away and children of all ages can participate once they are past the stage of popping everything into their mouths. The pieces can be used over and over again endlessly and the end product is a beautiful art work.

There are so many kinds of materials you can use to stimulate artistic play. Last week I set out pattern blocks, this week I pulled out all the glass and acrylic shapes I have collected over time. I find these in discount variety stores in the vase or candle section for a couple of dollars a bag and they are such an attractive material that the children just love to handle them. We use them for maths with my early learners who are working on basic counting skills with manipulatives and in sensory boxes with all kinds of accessories.

I present loose parts play to my toddler in a different way than the  older children. While she does at times have access to the table and loves the materials, she tends to frustrate the older children by messing up the designs they are working to create, or dumps the bowls on the floor and carts them around the house rather than creating art! So I simply pop her up for highchair time with a smaller mirror and a couple of containers of jewels to choose from. She loves copying the big kids and does sit there for a little while carefully arranging them on the mirror as she has seen the others do, before tipping out the entire bowl and just enjoying handling them for their own sake. The restraint of the highchair helps her to focus and develop self-control and concentration skills and gives her the opportunity to use the material in a way she would not have done had I let her wander about the house with them.

How do you encourage creativity in your children?

 

Coming of age ceremony; 13th birthday

Our eldest son turned 13 recently and to mark the occasion we held a coming of age ceremony. We wanted to set this birthday apart as a symbol of stepping into manhood. While he is by no means fully a man, he is a young man and as such, this is an important occasion. Endless adolescence (often considered by our culture as a period of expected rebellion, irresponsibility and generally having a good time without any ties) is not something we want to encourage in our family. We want our children to use their young years (their youth) wisely and to grow in Godly character.

If you would like more information about coming of age ceremonies, check out another  post I have written, with book reviews and links to useful websites and this one for a girl’s version. Ours was a simple evening, with Fathers and sons invited for food (make your own stuffed potato bar), a campfire and some time set aside for the men to share letters of wisdom that we had asked them to bring along for our son to keep and learn from.

My husband had chosen bible readings and words of wisdom of his own to correspond with special gifts that we presented to mark the evening. These were a bible (true wisdom comes from God), a Leatherman (be prepared for the future that God has for you) and a survival knife (because it’s cool because you are dangerous now – your strength can be used to protect and serve, or to harm.)

Needless to say, he LOVED the knives, as did the other young men, but has also shown us that he has the responsibility to handle them appropriately. We still had an element of “just for fun” with the Millennium Falcon landing on his Planet 13 cake (warning: uncharted territory ahead) and the ice-cream Sundae bar for dessert, as well as plenty of time just to hang out and enjoy his mates. While we could have gone all out, we chose to keep it simple, knowing that we have 6 more children coming along behind him who we will also be celebrating this milestone with.

If you have any wonderful ideas for blessing ceremonies or the like, I’d love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

Siblings as best friends

 

Sibling relationships and how to help brothers and sisters get along is something that we Mothers will be focussing on a lot as our children grow up together. The more children you have, the more opportunities there are for conflict to develop. In our family we talk about brothers and sisters being best friends and are constantly reminding the children that their friends will come and go but their siblings (their best friends) will be there for them always. When there is conflict, we ask the children if they would treat their friends outside the family in the same way they are treating their best friend (brother or sister.)  I have a couple of posts on this topic (see sibling relationships and spoilt walls) but today I wanted to give you some links and recommended resources for addressing conflict. The fact is, our children are sinners and will get into conflict; we as adults still find ourselves in conflict situations! The question is, how are they going to handle the conflict that IS going to arise?

Are they:

  • able to display enough self-control to talk calmly through the issue?
  • beginning to use negotiation and compromise in sorting out their problems?
  • learning what to do when disagreements arise in times of non-conflict; perhaps through role-playing various situations that they are likely to face?
  • re-playing a situation that has arisen from the beginning, practising saying and doing what they should have done in the first place? (This is essential for toddlers.)
  • playing with appropriate supervision? (Leaving a toddler and older sibling unsupervised for long periods is a recipe for disaster, unless the older child has the moral maturity to handle the toddler.)
  • being given direction as to what and where to play as part of a flexible routine, without too many choices?
  • speaking respectfully to their brothers and sister? Taking too many verbal freedoms?

Teri Maxell of Titus2.com has 2 sets of posts on the subject that are excellent. Here are the links to the first article in both series. Follow her links to find the other articles in each set.

Carla Link has also produced a brilliant resource with her Mom’s Notes. They are all well worth a listen, with the Dealing With Sibling Conflict part 1 and part 2 messages available as MP3 recordings that you can download immediately or purchase as a hard copy. While not free, the talks are reasonably priced and well worth the investment.

Teaching our children how to give and receive love while they fill each other’s love tanks is also important, as is a good understanding of the different personality types. Learning to give each other the 5 A’s will help us all nurture each other and above all else, a solid relationship with God will be the foundation on which all else rests.

 

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Invitations to play

Do you have unused resources taking up space in your cupboards? Perhaps there is an amazing educational set that your children just never seem to choose? Maybe it is time to try an “invitation to play.”

These pattern blocks have been available to my children for table time and room time for years and I can’t remember the last time a child voluntary took them out of the cupboard to play with. As our pretend play area was also laying dormant, I decided to pack the home corner equipment away for a while (toy rotation is a wonderful thing) and set out something new.

I originally started with 1 large mirror and 2 lids full of jumbled blocks, with the idea of giving my almost 2 year old something she could use while in the games room without getting into other areas that she does not have the freedom to access. The moment I unveiled the new attraction though, it immediately became obvious that I was going to have many children interested, not just one toddler! After the addition of another smaller mirror and a couple of wooden trays, most who were interested could join in, however I even had to pull out an old picture frame as another base so that everyone could be in on the action.

My 13 year old hasn’t touched a pattern block for years and yet there he was, busily building the Millennium Falcon, while his almost 11 year old sister methodically sorted the blocks into separate shapes and colours before commencing her building plan. The nearly 2 year old chose to pick out every single yellow hexagon during her first attempt (shape and colour recognition anyone?) and the little boys made random sculptures or bunches of Tie-fighters!

So what’s the point?

  • If toys are not readily available, then children won’t use them. Sets that are upended in toy boxes or buried in the back of a jumbled cupboard will rarely see the light of day. Store toys in sets in containers that make it quick and easy to set out and pack them away.
  • Toy rotation keeps things fresh. When a toy that has been out of sight for a while comes back out, it is like a new experience all over again.
  • Use toys that are not favourites in new and different ways to spark interest. These pattern blocks come with puzzle cards that I usually set them out with. This time the focus was free creating.
  • Free play time and age-appropriate choice as part of a flexible routine needs to be handled wisely. It is also important to teach children to play with what you tell them to play with, when you tell them to play with it and where you tell them to play it. A parent-directed routine will help you to raise obedience, self-controlled children who are not addicted to choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your schedule – how do you stick to it?

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For some, writing a schedule is easy but they never seem to be able to live according to their schedules. So, what to do about it?

It takes mental and physical skill to learn a new habit and that’s what your schedule needs to become – a habit. The effort at the beginning to get the ball rolling is hard, but the longer you keep going, the less effort it takes to keep on going, until the schedule practically runs itself. Daily repetition is the key.

Here are some pointers that may be helpful as you go about implementing a routine that will serve all the needs of your family and not drive you crazy in the meantime.

  • Keep in mind that interruptions are just an extra step to be taken before going on with the next step on your routine. If we plan for interruptions they are mentally easier to deal with – they become part of the plan rather than a hindrance to the plan
  • Dealing with behavioural issues/conflict/matter of the heart/character is our priority. Be prepared to put the routine aside and spend LOTS of time on this, it is more important than the what the routine says should be going on at that time
  • Task orientated people need to put quality time/focus time with their children into their plan or they may feel like they are wasting time – if it’s on the list it feels more like a legitimate use of the time. Task orientated people may also need to schedule some time each day to achieve a measureable project – 15 minutes on a task that you can point to and feel like you have accomplished something TODAY. We know in our heads that the day-to-day parenting is helping us work towards very important goals for the future but we can lose sight of that in the every day sameness of it all. Somehow when I can point to the pantry and say “I cleaned out a shelf today” if helps feel like I am moving forward.
  • You may need to have what I call a revolving focus. I can’t do it all with everyone all the time but I can get to it over time. This week I may be focusing on deep cleaning the house in my little minutes, next week on reorganizing my menu plans and recipe selection, the 3rd week everything is set aside to deal with a character training issue, the 4th week toilet training takes up all the available minutes. Over time though, with a revolving focus you eventually get to it all. Use those small increments of time throughout the day – the little minutes – while you wait for the kettle to boil, while the kids are packing up and coming to the table or whenever, to work on something small.

Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. We are not parenting for the here and now or for our own convenience. We are training up children of God and there is nothing more important a Mother can be doing.