Priorities

IMG_0009After people finish counting my children and comment on how I must have my hands full, the next thing they say is often along the lines of “How do you get everything done?” The honest answer is I don’t get everything done. I don’t work part-time, I don’t meet my girlfriends for coffee several times a week, I don’t attend MOPS, Mother’s Group, Toddler Jam, Jungle Gym and the local playgroup every week. I have to choose my commitments based on my priorities, knowing that it isn’t my list I need to get through, but God’s! I have enough time to do everything He has for me to do. Frustration kicks in when I try to take on more than He asks me to. Jesus reduces my responsibilities to those of today and today is all He asks us me to cope with.

We all have the same amount of time in our day and it is enough. If we start with God’s priorities we will be able to get everything that needs to be done and more abundantly than we expect. Perhaps we need to give up some good things to get on with the better thing of training our children?

So how do we choose these priorities? Because we do have to choose between the good, the better and the best – they won’t all fit in.

  1. PRAY
  • Give everything over to God – yourself, your home, possessions, time, body, mind, your children, your plans and projects, commitments, responsibilities – everything. Hand it all over and ask God what of these responsibilities He wants you to take back.
  1. TALK IT OVER WITH YOUR HUSBAND/WIFE
  • What are his priorities?
  • What is his/her vision for the family?
  • Remind yourself to be willing to hear the answer! Have a teachable heart that is open to the truth, even if you don’t see it quite the same way.
  1. PLAN AHEAD
  • Plan both short and long-term goals.
  • Make a routine. Routine is the key to it all hanging together. Our long-term goals of life are only met by the daily disciplines we follow. The daily grind is what takes us step by step either towards our goals or away from them.
  • Break large projects into day-sized chunks.
  • An immense “to do” list is overwhelming, day sized chunks helps us to see that eventually it will all get done.
  • Hold your plans loosely – be ready, willing and available for God’s plan B, acknowledging His right to alter your day.
  • What will it take? Time, money, mental or physical effort? All change will take a decision by you to make it happen and an investment of some kind.
  1. PREPARE
  • Your routine starts the night before. (Sleep, clothes, meal prep, clean kitchen, tidy space, gear at the door.)
  • Morning – get up early. Give yourself enough time for an orderly morning that includes time with God getting spiritually prepared for the day. We need time before the interruptions come to get God’s leading for the day and His perspective on what is most important, rather than letting the tyranny of the urgent take over.
  1. PROCEED
  • “Your success in life and work will be determined by the kinds of habits that you develop over time. The habit of setting priorities, overcoming procrastination, and getting on with your most important task is a mental and physical skill. As such, this habit is learnable through practice and repetition, over and over again, until it locks into your subconscious mind and becomes a permanent part of your behavior. Once it becomes a habit, it becomes both automatic and easy to do.” (Eat That Frog – 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time)

If we are honest with ourselves we know that we will achieve almost anything we really want to do and the same goes with our parenting. Sometimes the time, effort and commitment involved has us saying that we just “don’t have time” but really we do – we just don’t want to do it enough.

 

 

 

 

Revolving Focus

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If I had a job outside the home there would be an expectation that I continue to hone and improve my skills. I would attend training to keep me abreast of current findings and research, look for opportunities to develop skills in new areas or advance the skills I already have and be continually working to progress across the board. There would be a budget set aside for training and development and a certain number of hours nominated for this purpose.

Mothering and educating my children and running a household is my full-time occupation and as such I need to set aside the time and resources needed to improve myself in these areas. What does this look like? Reading and researching from bought books, books borrowed from friends or the library, scouring blogs, web sites and picking the brains of like-minded friends, praying, thinking and planning.

I do not have large blocks of time available so I use the time that I do have. I choose one area that will be my focus for the next week or even several weeks. Usually the area that I like the least at the moment is the one that I need to focus on. Hate cooking? Get out the recipe books and get inspired. Search Pinterest, blogs and websites for great ideas and print out a stack of new recipes. Write a weekly menu. Set up a shopping list. Sort out the pantry. List the contents of the freezer and the weird ingredients that are moldering in the back of the cupboard. Buy a new tool that will help you get organised. Take a class. Set up a recipe swap with friends. Research the latest health research and try some foods you’ve never made before. Make the changes to your own diet that you have meant to do but never got around to.

I find that after a period of time of focusing, organising and up-skilling in an area I get excited about it. I look forward to implementing all the new ideas I have found and no longer dread it. I don’t want to sit around resigned to the fact that I’m just not that good at …… (fill in the blank.) If I’m not good at it, I want to get better!

After a couple of weeks fully focused on cooking for example, other areas start to scream out for my attention. The kitchen is now running well, the pantry is organised, the shopping systems are in place, the freezer is stocked with meals and snacks and I have a menu for the next week or two. Time to change the focus to the next area and use all my little minutes to make progress there.

In the business world there is a phrase “eat that frog” – from the book of the same name. The basic premise being that the tyranny of the urgent will always crowd out that large long-term project that needs doing (the frog!) and it just never seems to get started. If we spend a little time each day focused on our goal we will see progress and the frog will eventually be eaten! Now go eat that frog!!

The dumping rule

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When there are 7 children in the house (or even just 1 or 2!) it doesn’t take long for a trail of destruction to threaten to take over. I do have systems in place to make sure it doesn’t get too out of hand but even with pack-up times built into our routine throughout the day there are certain areas that just seem to get cluttered with a pair of shoes here and a hairband or two there, plus a towel on the floor and a pair of knickers decorating the door handle… and so on.

I asked my worst trail maker what consequence they thought was appropriate for people who left their belongings laying about for others to pick up. They responded after some thought that they should pick up twice as many things as they had left behind. This was a brilliant answer as this happened to be exactly what I had been thinking of doing anyway (I love it when that happens), so I promptly instigated it as our consequence on the spot. One item left on the floor equals a consequence of picking up 2 more items, plus the original one you left in the first place.

It is amazing how quickly you can get the house tidied when there are a couple of bits and pieces strewn about. I just start at the front of the house and pick up the first item, identify the owner and point out it plus the 2 other items they will be required to put away. It a minute or two everyone is zooming about collecting stuff and the house is back to ship-shape. After a few days of this, I simply let everyone know that I will be conducting a dumping check in the next little while and they go scrambling off around the house madly putting their stuff away without me having to do anything.

It goes great with the 10 times rule for those who can’t remember to hang up a towel or shut the door.

A new year with 7 children

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Christmas is a time that I look forward to – making memories, continuing with traditions from previous years, special outings, celebrations, events and family times.  As I have found every year though, this special time comes with it’s own negatives. The freedom of unstructured days, lack of routine, too many choices, plenty of special events, junk food and late nights (this year coupled with sickness) has predictably resulted in tired, cranky children who are not getting along so well and are not using their free time wisely. What to do??

A new year begins, the celebration cycle eases off and ta da – enter ROUTINE!

I know from experience that the start of our homeschool year will solve many of these problems very quickly. The children’s days are filled with a balance of structured and unstructured times, responsibilities appropriate for their ages (chores) and a predictable flow of daily activities that allows me to get everything I need to do done in a timely manner as well. Less time together means that the children start to appreciate each other again and everything starts to run so much more smoothly. Life feels easier, the days are happier and we all benefit.

 

toddler school cupboard

Here is a peek into the newly sorted out activity cupboard for our 2 1/2 year old. We use these activities for table time straight after breakfast for around 30-45 minutes. In that time he will use 3 or 4 of the trays before heading off to room time for around an hour. It takes time, consistency and commitment on your behalf to teach a little boy (or girl) to sit and concentrate but it absolutely can be done. I do not have babies and toddlers who are/were just “naturally” able to sit and concentrate, it took work!

I have posted heaps of ideas for activities that work well for young children who are learning to sit and concentrate. Those pictured above are:

1. Do-a-dot printables with stickers to place inside the dots (or wherever!)

2. Beginner cutting tray (See my free Montessori style printable cutting patterns and how to teach a toddler to cut.)

3. Duplo ice-cream making set – a new Christmas gift

4. Textas, pencils and colouring books and paper

5. Potato head parts and playdough

6. A fine motor transferring activity tray (Small rocks, tweezers and a variety of bottles and containers to open, shut and fill)

7. Wedgits – another Christmas gift that I have had on my wish list for a while now. (See photo at top.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homeschooling with toddlers – independent learners

Monday is crunch time for me – my husband heads back to work and I am managing 7 children on my own, one of whom is a newborn. We have stayed with our usual homeschooling routine and daily rhythm while he has taken holidays and our newest arrival is slowly getting into a steady routine, so the transition shouldn’t be too drastic . Here is a glimpse into my toddler’s activity cupboard to show you what will be keeping him occupied in his highchair after breakfast each day while I feed our baby.

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Colour sorting. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that the younger children pick up so much from their older siblings just by being around to hear and see them doing their schoolwork. Basic skills like colour identification, counting and reciting the alphabet almost don’t have to be taught – they are “caught” from the constant exposure. Our two year old is a good case in point. He loves to count, constantly asks me if the squiggle he has just drawn is “an A that says a?” and holds up crayons while checking to see if it is indeed orange? This sorting tray was almost too easy for him but he quite enjoyed fiddling around with it and sorting and resorting the pieces.

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Gluing. We also find that the toddlers want to do the same kind of activities that they see their siblings working on so gluing is always in demand. I give him one piece of paper and 1 envelope filled with an assortment of paper shapes to glue. More often than not he uses the glue more like paint and sticks and peels off the paper pieces over and over again, leaving nothing but a soggy page at the end, but it keeps him going for ages.

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Threading beads. Good for fine motor development and also for sorting and colour matching activities. Make sure the string that you provide has a nice long stiff end to make it easier for little hands to poke it through the holes.

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Drawing with vibrant textas is a satisfying experience. While I don’t encourage heaps of colouring in book type drawing (I’d rather they free created) the little ones love the idea of drawing on a picture they recognise.

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Montessori style dry transfer with tongs. Pincer grip is important for writing later on. These golden rings are wedding favours from the local discount store.

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Basic puzzles. Matching two picture halves is an easy way to start with puzzle skills.

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Good quality wooden puzzles will last for years.

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Duplo is a versatile construction toy and one that our whole family enjoys. Even the older children will still sit down and build together. This little set was a birthday gift recently so it is of special interest to our two-year old because it is his own set. As the big kids all have their own Lego sets in separate crates it makes him feel like one of the gang to have his own crate of building blocks, separate to the family collection.

Mega list of table activities for school aged children

Here is the last post in a 3-part series of table activities for babies to school-aged children. Today’s chart of ideas is for the older group. By this age, my children are usually free to choose their own activity (within reason) as long as they display a good attitude on the few occasions I do choose for them. (See choices.) Much of what is on this list are items that are owned by individuals (birthday gifts etc.) so they are not out for public access, but having them on a list prompts them to get out items they may forget for a while.

As with the baby and toddler ideas and preschool children’s ideas, this is a large file and will take some time to download.

table activities for school age children – click here for free download

table activities for school aged children

How do you store children’s jigsaw puzzles?

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The “after” photo. All those melancholy organisation junkies out there say aaahhhhh!

After unsuccessfully searching for a suitably priced storage solution for our woefully disorganised jigsaw puzzle cupboard, I decided to come up with my own system. I have been frustrated at constantly having puzzle pieces mixed up, missing and the whole lot in an untidy jumble and sorting the mess out had finally risen to the top of the project priority heap! After looking at several different options that were going to be way too expensive for us, (we own a LOT of puzzles) I settled on clear plastic containers from Kmart.

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The “before” photo. The really scary thing is that I had already taken out about 15 puzzles when I thought to take a photo of what we started with.

We had a marathon puzzle session where the children completed every puzzle we owned and I photographed the finished result. I threw out any that had been missing pieces for years and were unlikely to suddenly be found and those that were broken or very tattered. We gave several of the least loved away to friends and that still left a rather extensive collection, gathered from secondhand stores and markets over the years at a dollar or two each.

I taped the photo of the finished puzzle to the front of the boxes so the kids can see which puzzle is in the container and choose what they would like to do. I also photographed the base boards from puzzles that had a back and attached these photos to the lids of the boxes so they knew to look for the matching board when they took the pieces out. The boards are now standing at the end of the bottom shelf.

I separated the puzzles into three age or difficulty groups so that I can simply direct the twins for example to take any puzzle that has a white dot on the front. (Very frustrating for them to tip out and start a puzzle they have no hope of completing.) Finally, each box is numbered and every piece inside the box is numbered to match so that when a stray piece is found we can easily see which box it belongs in.

I cut the pictures off the boxes of the more difficult puzzles, folded them and stored them in the box too so that the children can use them as a guide if they need to. (The pictures on the front of the box do the job for the simple puzzles but are not large enough for the very complicated ones.)

The peg puzzles are stored in plastic bags that zip or press-stud together that I have kept from blankets, grobags and other gifts that come in suitable packaging. If they get accidentally tipped off the shelf, at least the pieces will stay in the correct bag.

It cost a total of $62 for the containers which was more than I had hoped but a lot less than some methods I came across. It also means that the children are now regularly choosing to sit down and do a puzzle which had not been happening at all in their jumbled state. Plus, every time I walk past I give a little sigh of satisfaction at that organised shelf! One more thing to cross off my list. Now for project 982….

Other posts you may find useful:

Overview of several chore systems; House tidy and spring clean continues

Chores and responsibility: Suggested chores for every age

Fussy eaters and 2 plate dinners

Making pack-away time fun

Junior spy!

We do have chore systems in place and regular daily responsibilities but some days the house just looks like a bomb has hit it and needs a concerted family effort to pick-up and tidy away; a “house sweep” as we like to call it. (A house sweep is also useful when visitors call unexpectedly to tell you that they are just around the corner and will be dropping over in a couple of minutes.)

A house sweep is when we all start at one end of the house and sweep through every room one at a time, picking up and putting away everything that is out of place. Little ones are sent off with simple objects to deliver, middlies are given a specific task in each room and adults and older children work on whatever else needs to be accomplished to get the room looking good. It is not deep cleaning or vacuuming/mopping type of stuff, just tidying, straightening and delivering until it looks good at a glance.

It is quick and easy and with everyone working together it is not too tedious or difficult to do. Some rousing music to sing along to while we work helps to make a positive atmosphere.

A while back though we tried a different variation on the house sweep which was lots of fun and we must do again sometime soon. After a spy birthday party was attended there was lots of talk about spy missions and spy-type activities, so I capitalised on this interest and held “the spy games.”

First mission: Collect ammunition for subsequent missions (aka pack up time.) I had the children wait around the corner while I hid their ammunition (Nerf bullets) all throughout the mess in the games room. The rules were that every item they touched while searching for bullets must be returned to its proper place regardless of whether ammunition was found or not. The spy with the most bullets when the room was tidy was promoted to head spy. The room was picked up in record time – amazing!

Second mission: Defuse the bombs. Moving on to the next mess; the toddler toys, which after mat time were spread half way around the kitchen and dining area and had not yet been cleaned up by said toddlers. (2 toddlers = 2 mats = 2 times the toys to clear up.) Although we usually require the twins to pack up their own mat toys, it can be a long process and as mat time comes just before dinner, we sometimes skip it in favour of everyone getting up to the table while dinner is still hot. The spy mission was to collect all the bombs (toys) in each spy’s designated area before they detonated and place them inside the super strong bomb proof boxes (The toy crates and/or shelves.) The egg timer came out (counting down to detonation) and the bombs were set. Again, clean in record time.

Third mission: Couriers. Spies are given top secret information disguised as ordinary household objects and must deliver it to contacts in a variety of locations before safely returning to the collection point. The contacts of course must remain anonymous so the top secret info has to be delivered to it’s usual place for collection at a later date.

Fourth mission: Bug sweep. You never know where enemy agents have left their listening devices. Areas must be meticulously clean in order to spot the tiny bugs left  for spying on the spies. Blue glass jewels hidden throughout the room provided the impetus for tidying up with the same rules as mission number 1 – if you touch it you must put it away regardless of whether there was a bug or not. The spy with the most jewel bugs is rewarded with a spy knighthood.

Fifth mission: Under attack. This one was just for fun but with a devious purpose. These rainy winter days and coughs and colds mean that no one is getting much outdoor time and excess energy always seems to show up just around bedtime. This one wears them out so we can get them into bed early to catch up on much needed rest. Out came the beanbag missiles (small, hand-held bean bags like you used to use at primary school.) Your mission; to make it from the lounge to the kitchen door in safety while Mum and Dad launch beanbags in all directions. We moved couches out from the walls to create some cover and had at it. The kids giggled uncontrollably the whole time and we had a ball bombing them with beanbags as they crawled, ran and weaved their way through the furniture to safety. We will definitely do this one again, it was a blast.

Routines with a newborn

We now have a lovely updated colour-coded routine on our whiteboard. Of course, the 8th person included in this routine is a baby that hasn’t actually been born yet so things may need some tweaking once the reality hits 🙂 It is however, a very useful exercise to look over my current routine and to plan ahead for the multiple breastfeeding sessions I will need to fit into my day and the interruptions that will invariably come with a newborn.

We will be (and have done with all our children) following a flexible  feed, wake, sleep cycle with our little one which allows me to make a rough plan of approximately where the daily feeds will fall. Of course, some days will not go as planned and we will often have to switch activities that are side by side around to fit a feed in earlier or later than planned. That is where the routine serves us and our family needs, rather than the other way around.

For anyone who is interested, I would be happy to email you a copy if you thought it would be of any help to you and your family. I have been trying to upload it here without success and am sick of fighting with the computer!

Other posts you may like:

Surviving new babies, sick kids and interruptions

My child, who is normally a very light sleeper, slept on and off throughout the day on the couch in the middle of the gamesroom surrounded by siblings. He must be sick!

The larger your family grows, the more important it is to have some standby plans for managing those days when you have a sick child, the baby cried all night or unexpected interruptions take away all your usual “keeping things running” times in the day. It requires some preparation and planning ahead, but that investment is well worth it when one of “those” days arrives. Many of these tips are also useful if you are preparing for a new baby.

Here are a couple of my ideas to get our family through a day or two when life is just too difficult to even think about what you are going to cook for dinner.

Meals

  • Meals should be healthy – avoid takeaway if possible or sick children’s already overloaded immune system will be fighting off the effects of bad food on top of everything else.
  • Keep a supply of freezer stock meals to defrost for “those” days.
  • Make an emergency menu – meals that you or older children can put together in minutes and ingredients that are always on hand.
  • Put the crockpot/slowcooker on in the morning when sick children may be less likely to need your attention.
  • Have your regular menu already planned so that the meals do not require thought.
  • Teach your children to cook. In a pinch, my 6 year old can put together a salad, the 8.5yr old can prepare a simple main meal and the 4 year old can get the table set and water glasses set out. If your emergency meals are simple enough and you spend some time teaching your junior cooks how to make them without assistance, they will be well prepared and love to step up and help Mum out. It gives a child a great sense of accomplishment to be able to announce to Dad and the family that they cooked dinner all by themselves. (Obviously there are safety issues to consider – Mum may need to be the one who slides the casserole into the oven.)

Toddlers/preschoolers

  • Have a list of suitable toddler activities that can be pulled out from an easily accessible place with a good storage system (Ziploc bags, shoeboxes, crates etc.) Set it up so that an older sibling can get them out for your younger child.
  • Create a flexible routine that includes activities such as playpen time, table time, mat time and highchair time so that you know you will be free to attend to the children who need it. Implement it on a daily basis so that it is a usual part of your day and well established before “those” days hit.
  • Today it is ok to watch TV.
  • Today it is ok to play outside a lot (the well ones!)
Homeschooling
  • Teach your children to work independently.
  • Leave the subjects you absolutely must teach yourself for another day or a suitable moment throughout the day.
  • It generally works better if we go ahead with school regardless of sick children. Well children mixing with cranky sick children without a lot of structure is a recipe for a bad day.
  • Have systems in place so that all children, regardless of age, know what they should be doing on a daily basis and in what order, whether you are there or not. (Workbox systems, a shelf of activities per weekday, Ziploc bag tasks, workjobs in a shoebox, Montessori style tray activities, pictorial or written timetables and schedules or whatever system suits your children.)
  • Read aloud a lot while children colour/play quietly/fold laundry or simply rest.

Housecleaning

  • Train older children to help out with regular daily chores.
  • Do only what is essential (if today is washing day – skip it or use the dryer. You don’t have time to hang out those loads.)

Afternoon quiet time

  • This time is precious to me – older children have room time, younger children nap and I can then have a nap too (assuming the sick child does not require attention at this time.)
Remember that every day will not be like this and it is ok to just let it all slide and simply survive! Routines and schoolwork can all be quickly re-established, especially if your children are used to having a fairly structured day. With a new baby, you may be tired and lacking the drive to get things started, so perhaps putting in the preparation and endeavouring to keep things ticking along will be more successful than allowing it all to fall into a great heap that needs a lot of time and energy to get back out of later!
Mat time was uneventful this week – too tired to sit up, let alone play!