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!

The new year organisation and tidy-up continues…

Christmas has come and gone and left behind lots of new toys and belongings to store and old ones to be sorted out and passed on. The spring clean and cupboard empty continues throughout the house. (My husband thinks I’m nesting – I think I’m just getting the house under control again before school starts up and a new baby makes these projects all but impossible!)

The previous year’s projects, papers, drawings, paintings and crafts need to be sorted, chucked or saved. Some of the methods we use to keep precious projects under control are outlined below.

Desks/Ledges: Each child has a designated ledge, windowsill, shelf or desk for displaying models, junk modelling and any other bulky items they have built. When the area is full, they have to decide for themselves what comes down. No mean Mummy throwing out things they love, they make all the culling choices for themselves.

Digital photographs: To make the transition to the bin easier, we photograph the models with the digital camera and print them out to be added to their scrapbooking albums or personal homeschool diary writing books so they have a permanent record.

Pinboards: The children’s rooms have pinboards for displaying their artwork and other projects. When they are full and they want to add a new item something must go into the bin or move to their workboxes. A limit of one item per child is displayed on the fridge at any one time otherwise the forest of paperwork on there gets quickly out of control.

Workboxes: Each person in the family has an A3 box with lid that we long ago covered and decorated with coloured contact. Throughout the year, all paperwork that is not on display (other than homeschool work) is placed here if the children want to keep it. Even Mummy and Daddy have a workbox for all the pictures, paintings, crafts and cards given to us. We show they are valued by keeping them in our special place and try to remember to date them as they go in. As the children’s boxes get filled, they empty them out and only put the most precious items back in again, throwing out the rest. After some time has passed it is easier for them to be more objective about what is and isn’t precious. EVERYTHING is precious when they have just finished it!

House Tidy and Spring Clean Continues…

Sorting the cutlery is one of the first responsibilities we give to our children, usually just after the age of two.

As part of our spring clean week and before the new year really takes off we usually sit down and take a look at our responsibility (chore) system and evaluate how that is working for us. This year, with the twins not yet ready to take on any formal responsibilities, nothing will be changing and our job allocation will stay the same.

We have used several different chore systems over the years, all of which have worked well for a time. (See this post on chores and responsibilities for  more information on chores, which chores to give what ages and much more.) Here are a couple of chore system ideas:

Index cards: Digital photographs of the chore to be completed are stored in a flip box (photo storage container, lunchbox, Tupperware container or similar.) The child starts at the first card, completes the job and puts the card to the back of the stack. Occasionally a “reward” card will be randomly included and a small treat given.

Upside:

  • Photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • Easy to update with new chore cards.

Downside:

  • Children flip through entire box every time before starting to see if there is a treat card included and mope when there isn’t.

Scrub the toilet chore card.

Chore packs: photographs or descriptions of the chores are clipped to the child’s clothing (a lanyard could possibly be used) and the child carries this with them as they work, taking out the finished chore and putting it to the back of the pack until they are complete.

Upside:

  • Photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Child doesn’t have to come back to a central area to see what is next.
  • Easy to update with new chore cards.

Downside:

  • Mum can’t see what chore they are up to and if progress is being made.
  • Easy for cards to get tipped out or out of order.

Folding chore card.

Velcro chore picture cards and chart: The child moves the velcro backed picture cards from one side of the chart to the other as they are completed.

Upside:

  • Pictures give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • Motivating to the child as they can see their progress.
  • Easy to update with new chore cards.

Downside:

  • Older children can’t be bothered moving the cards after each chore is complete.
  • With larger numbers of children, these charts take up a bit of room on the fridge.
  • The velcro backed cards make a great sound when they are ripped off and are very attractive to toddlers who like to rip them on and off and lose them in the process!

    Doing the folding??? Jock and knicker hats are all the rage.

Laminated chore charts: These have spaces next to each chore for the child to cross off or tick that each job has been completed.

Upside:

  • Photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • Children enjoy seeing their progress.

Downside:

  • Not easily updated as chart must be re-made for chores to be changed.
  • Children soon loose interest in ticking them off although they can still follow the chart regardless.

Also "helping" with the folding. Singlet hats are the latest thing!

A simple picture and description list: This is what we are using at the moment. It is simply an A4 piece of paper divided into three columns (one per child) with labelled thumbnail sized pictures representing each chore. It is slid into a plastic sheet protector on the fridge.

Upside:

  • photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • It is small, covering 3 children’s chores on one A4 page.
  • Easy to update as it is stored on computer.

Downside:

  • Uses ink to reprint every time you need to update.
  • Not as interesting to use as some of the other systems.

    Dustbusting is another easy job for a toddler to do.

New Year House Tidy and Re-vamp: Kids Bedrooms

This week our whole house spring clean has begun as the new year approaches and bedrooms are the focus. With twins soon to go into big beds, we have had some major room overhauls and re-arrangements to our previous systems, but I thought I’d post how we previously managed room cleaning as it has worked well for us for many years.

Tidying their bedroom is one of our children’s morning responsibilities and must be completed along with a couple of other chores before they come to breakfast. (Nothing like food as a motivator!)

One of the best tools I have found for assisting children to tidy their rooms to the standard I am expecting is to photograph every single part of the room as you want it to look in it’s tidy state. Each child has a poster of these photographs in thumbnail size (plus labels for those who can read) pinned on their bedroom doors.

They simply start at the top of the list and work their way down, making each part of the room look exactly as the picture does. It gives those who struggle to know where to start a specific order and system which helps them not to be too overwhelmed and the older children simply use it as a check after they think they have finished to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything.

When you make your poster, break down the room into the smallest parts or jobs you can think of and photograph each one individually, it’s as simple as that. Our door posters end up with around 12 or 14 pictures which sounds a lot but really helps the little ones to break a large job into smaller parcels that they can easily tackle. The same system works well for any room in the house.

If children come out and report that they are done when they have not completed areas, all I have to say for example is “Does your desk look like it does in the picture?” The child is forced to admit that it does not, which eliminates whining and arguing. I couldn’t begin to count how many times before we started this system a child has come to me and said their room was done (and fully believed this to be the case) when I could immediately see a dozen things that still needed to be put away. Children just don’t see mess through the same eyes we do!!

A few of the photos we have used are included below to give you some idea of what you may choose to photograph in your own child’s room.

A picture of their fully made bed with teddies in place is included, along with a picture of dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and pyjamas under pillows.

Tidy desks and a picture of the inside of drawers too as certain children who shall remain nameless like to tidy their desks by simply sweeping everything into the nearest drawer!

Shelving and contents as they should look.

Yes, this is a picture of the carpet, or in this case a mat on the floor. How else do you show a tidy floor?

Empty bin. The children do not have to empty their waste paper baskets until they are full but before they are overflowing!

What’s for lunch Mum?

We’ve all heard it before; get organised and menu plan! Save time and money and get rid of the daily headache of thinking about what we are going to prepare for dinner half an hour before we should be serving it.

I have menu planning systems (weekly, monthly, shopping) and I do use them (most of the time!) but I was finding lunch particularly difficult to wrap my head around. I wanted it to be quick and easy but not just bread, bread and more bread. There were also occasions when I needed to pack lunch boxes and I didn’t want them to be nothing but sandwiches either.

My favourite lunch is what we call a ploughman’s plate. Sounds fancy, but all it means is that I pull out all the fruit, salad, veggies, cheese, left overs, cold meats or anything else I can spot laying about the fridge, cut it into pieces and arrange it on a plate. That works great when the fridge is stocked, the fruit bowls are brimming over and there is plenty of choice, but by the end of the week this is not a good option.

I decided to sit down and make a list of as many lunch ideas as I could come up with, barring leftovers and hot meals. Much of my list came from the excellent resources at Meerilinga plus a few ideas of my own.

I have printed it out, laminated it and taped it to the pantry door for inspiration at the last minute and to use when making up my shopping list for the week. You will find a printable version here.