Outdoor activities: Hopper races and obstacle courses

We are blessed to have a great backyard. Plenty of space and very child-friendly. We still however hear the occasional moans about not wanting to go outside and having nothing to do. While that doesn’t wash in our house and the children are sent out anyway, I am finding that they are not sleeping at night as well as they should be and I suspect it is because of lack of physical exercise. In the heat they tend to gather in the shady sandpit and while it is lots of fun, doesn’t give them the exercise they need.

My usual response to the “I have nothing to do” complaint is to tell the kids to sit on a chair and think of something. I let them know that in 5 minutes I will be coming back and if they don’t have a plan will be giving them something to do. The children all know this is code for WORK so usually they will quickly re-direct themselves. If not, a corner of my garden gets some weeds pulled out or the sand around the sandpit gets swept up. Good exercise for them and great for me!

One outside activity we have done together that was enjoyed by everyone was hopper races. We set out hoses, broom handles, ropes, sports equipment, mats and a bunch of items from around the backyard and arranged them into an interesting obstacle course. The children then hopped through with their hoppers, circling some items, jumping over others, hopping backwards in some sections and weaving through other parts. They helped design the course and decide on the level of difficulty. Handicaps for the younger and slower members were decided on and the races began. Lots of hot sweaty fun was had by all and what’s more, they were totally exhausted by the end of it. Mission accomplished!

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The marble jar is full!

342 regular marbles and 36 tom-bowlers have been earned and the marble jar is finally full. Our marble jar has been going for about 3 months (it’s bigger than it looks!) and has helped to change the unkind tone that had been developing around here. We put it in place as a reward system for kind and unselfish behaviour. Whenever a child displayed the kind of behaviour we wanted to promote and was noticed by a parent or sibling doing so, the behaviour was rewarded with a marble in the marble jar. Particularly outstanding acts of kindness received tom-bowlers. When the marble jar was full, a whole family reward is given.

Before I continue; a quick aside. There is a difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives. A bribe is offered BEFORE a BEHAVIOUR is demonstrated and is used to “buy” the child’s cooperation and display of the behaviour you are bribing them to get. A reward is given AFTER a BEHAVIOUR is displayed and is not previously discussed – it comes as a pleasant surprise to the child after the fact. A goal incentive is offered BEFORE a SKILL is mastered (not for behaviours) and is received by the child after they have mastered the particular skill.

Here is an example of each:

“If you are good in the shops today, Mummy will buy you a lollipop.” (Bribe)

“You showed such diligence earlier today when you helped Mummy clean out the pantry; let’s go and have a treat.” (Reward)

“When you learn all of your catechism questions, Mummy and Daddy are going to buy you a new bible.” (Goal incentive.)

Obviously bribing our children to get the behaviour we want from them is not a helpful parenting strategy and will not improve a child’s character. It does in fact promote a selfish attitude and teaches the child that it is only worth displaying good character when the bribe is big enough. Practically speaking, they are difficult to maintain because the bribe the child expects will generally need to get bigger and bigger to keep their cooperation.

Now, back to marble jars. These operate as a reward for kind behaviour that has already been displayed. The child who is acting in a kind way is not allowed to report their own good behaviour, it must be noticed by others. Obviously to begin with, while the marbles are very fresh in their mind, there is a lot of kind behaviour that is happening only for the promised reward. Because of that, it does in some ways operate as a bribe for a couple of days. It isn’t long however before the initial interest wears off and the marbles are forgotten about. It is then that the true reward part of the system kicks in as behaviours that are naturally being shown without thought of reward are reinforced with the nice surprise of a marble.

One of the biggest challenges when trying to change the “tone” of sibling interaction is to get it lifted out of the negative and niggling mode it has sunk into and into a positive and building-up tone where we want it. Once the positive tone is reached, it is a lot easier to keep it there. The marble jar gives a quick method of changing the tone (yes, in a “fake” sort of way for the first little while) but once lifted, it can be kept there and become a more natural expression of “how we treat each other in this family.”

Oh, in case you were wondering, the reward was a trip to Sizzlers for dinner. It was thoroughly enjoyed and the children have now been introduced to the joys of the ‘all you can eat’ dessert bar and never ending drink refills!

Chores and responsibility

Every child who is old enough to participate in even the smallest way has chores in our family. We view chores as a way of fostering an “others centered” attitude, rather than a “self-centred” one. Chores are seen as a way for children to be involved and invested in our family and to understand that we work together to serve and help each other because we are Pascoes and we are blessed to have the family that God has given us.

We also assign chores to develop personal responsibility which we value as an important character trait. What parent does not want to raise a responsible child? Chores are one way to foster this and it is for this reason that we refer to them as responsibilities. Children are asked “Do you have the freedom to come to the breakfast table” or “Are your responsibilities complete?” to keep the awareness on the character that we are developing.

 The children are not paid for the chores that they do, they are simply an act of service that helps our family and are completed because we all work together. Children tend to value what they spend their time on and we want them to invest in this family and value being a part of it. They also do not receive pocket-money. Now, I can hear you all exclaiming that they need to learn to manage their money and how to be good stewards and how will they do that if they don’t get paid?

                                                  (Yes, she is using a dirty floor cleaning cloth; but it’s the thought that counts!) 

It is our opinion that children will value and manage their money responsibly when they have earned it themselves through labour. They need to understand that if they want something they need to work for it and that there is a direct correlation between the amount of work they do, the amount of money they earn and the amount of “stuff” they can then buy. A child who has cleaned windows, vacuumed out cars and pulled weeds to earn enough money for the latest Lego set, will in turn place a high value on that Lego set. They will also then have some idea how much work goes into purchasing the items that they already own or are given and will have a greater respect for their property and the property of others. Money that is earned is shared into 4 money boxes titled tithing, wealthing, saving and spending. 10% for tithing, 10% for wealthing, 10%for saving and the rest in spending or whichever one they choose.

When a bucket of weeds equals $1.00 and the doll they long for costs $30.00, a child who has worked to earn their money will be doing quick addition sums in their head as they place a value on that doll. Hmmm, that doll equals thirty buckets of weeds; perhaps I’ll be content with the 3 dolls I already own. Wise money management!!

Jobs to earn money are always available and are given what we feel is a reasonable rate of pay. Enough so that they can feasibly save up for an item, but not so much that the effort required is negligible. At the moment, the jobs that are available for earning money are collecting snails from the garden, weeding and washing and vacuuming out the car. I accidentally overpriced the snails at 10 cents each the first time, thinking that the children would have to really spend time hunting them down and it would be quite an effort to gather a large amount. In only 20 minutes, the three eldest collected enough snails to cost me $15.70!! Ouch! Snails were subsequently re-priced the following day.

Below are some ideas of the kind of responsibilities (chores) that children may be assigned, remembering that these are the day-to-day acts of family service that do not have a monetary value attached to them. When you are assigning chores, there must be a training process for children to be able to successfully complete their tasks to an acceptable standard. More on that another day.

Obviously all the chores listed below in a younger age category can be given to an older child, although I haven’t repeated the same ideas in each older age group. These ideas are just a start; you will be able to think of others that suit your unique family situation. You may also need to introduce certain chores at a later age or could introduce more difficult chores at an earlier age, depending on your children.

Responsibility (Chore) Area

1-2 yr olds

bedroom/play areas help Mum pack away toys after play, beginning with play pen
bed (once in big bed) PJ’s under pillow, pull up sheets & doona with help
dressing  
dirty Clothes put dirty clothes into hamper
washed laundry pass wet clothes to adult to hangPut pegs away when taking washing off line
folding find matching socks, deliver simple items (eg bibs to kitchen drawer)
food preparation share given items between plates
setting/clearing table put out placemats, coasters, cutlery, unbreakable cups and dishesClear own dishes, push chair in
dishes empty cutlery from dishwasherdry unbreakable dishes (towel system)
rubbish put rubbish into bin on request (not without permission)
bathrooms put out fresh towels & face washer
toilets nappy in bin
floors pick up for person sweeping/mopping & replace items afterwards
outdoor/garden tidy outdoor toys
deliveries deliver given items to their place (e.g. bib to dirty clothes basket)
misc open curtains

Responsibility (Chore) Area

2-5yr olds

bedroom/play areas pack away own toys/equipment after play, tidy own bedroom
bed make bed & strip bed sheets (take to laundry)
dressing get dressed into clothes chosen by Mum
dirty Clothes take all dirty clothes baskets to laundry & empty, sorting dirty clothes into light and dark loads
washed laundry peg items onto clothes horse & bring in dry washing from clothes horse
folding learn to fold all washing, starting with simple items such as t/towels and face washers. Put away own folding
food preparation kitchen helper (e.g. measure ingredients, stir mixture, wash salad veg, peel veg etc.)fill water glasses
setting/clearing table set table with crockery, clear all table items, wipe table, place mats, scrape plates, stack dishwashersweep under table after meals, wipe backs of chairs, spray & wipe kitchen cupboard doors, splash backs
dishes wash unbreakable & sturdy dishesdry all dishes (bar sharp items etc.) unpack dishwasher (barring large breakable items)
rubbish empty rubbish bins from bedrooms and bathrooms
bathrooms wipe bathroom sinks/benches/bathreplace towels
toilets replace toilet roll, restock spare rolls, spray and wipe toilet seat and button
floors dust bust small areas, moving on to sweeping & vacuuming floors
outdoor/garden water pots & garden plantspull weeds (supervised)
deliveries empty delivery basket daily
misc feed pets, wash and refill drinking waterspray and wipe door knobs, light switches, fingermarks off walls

Responsibility (Chore) Area

5-7+ yr olds plus

bedroom/play areas tidy assigned areas/rooms of the house
bed strip & re-make bed
dressing choose own clothes as directed by parent (e.g. put on round the house shirt & shorts)
dirty Clothes load washing machine (check pockets)
washed laundry hang out and bring in full load of washing
folding fold and put away all kinds of washing
food preparation full meal & snack prep under supervision (barring hot areas)independently bake a cake, put bread on in a bread maker etc
setting/clearing table sweep/vacuum/mop meal areas
dishes wash and dry all dishes (bar sharp knives etc.)
rubbish take kitchen rubbish out & replace bin bags
bathrooms full bathroom and shower clean
toilets full toilet clean
floors sweep/vacuum/mop floors (divide house into zones)
outdoor/garden sweep sandpit spills, patiorake leaves, yard work, water larger areas
deliveries  
misc clean up after animals wash pet bowlsclean windows, mirrors, TV & computer screens

Mel Hayde’s Book “Terrific Toddlers” at  US Book Depository has some information about introducing chores with toddlers and the excellent book is “What Every Child Should Know Along The Way” at  Amazon or Growing Families Australia is another great resource.

Terrific Toddlers: Tantrum Free Two's-Almost!: Tantrum Free Two's-Almost!

Beanbag Wars

We think it’s really important to make a deliberate effort to build our family identity, to invest in relationships with our children and to foster a “we-ism” rather than “me-ism” attitude. That takes time and means that we have to plan to spend time together as a family. Saturday is often the day of the week that we make this happen.   

We had our first beanbag war on a Saturday morning a few months back. Surprisingly, it was really great fun. I have to admit, the idea of heading outside to play family games in the backyard didn’t interest me in the slightest, however I was very glad I did in the end. It turned out to be a really enjoyable family bonding time with the added bonus of getting some exercise while we were at it (something I am not particularly fond of normally!)

Who can play?

All ages – it’s a family game. Our youngest ones are a little lost but we simply assigned them to “guard the fort” and call out to warn us when a foe was approaching. They could also collect beanbags for other team members or just have fun randomly throwing their beanbags at anyone in range. My husband and I had a ball chasing after each other (it’s good for your romantic life too!) and if you had teenagers they could really get some strategic plans happening.

What you need:

Two flags (tea towels will do, or home made are fun and each team can design their own)

Ammunition – in the form of small beanbags or newspaper balls. (Scrunch up sheets of newspaper to form tennis ball sized balls and tape together.)

Two forts (we use a plastic kiddy slide at one end and a water trolley on its side at the other – anything will do.)

Game objective:

To snatch the other team’s flag and return to your own fort

How to:

Each person begins with a set number of beanbags (how many depends on the age and number of children playing. In our house, adults get 2 or 3, older children get 3 and younger children get 4.)

Once the battle charge is raised, team members simply have to get to the other team’s fort and grab their flag, returning it to their own fort before the opposing team captures theirs.

Team members are able to throw their beanbags at the opposition at any time and when hit, players must return to their own fort and touch it before beginning their approach again.

Rules:

If you are hit by a beanbag, you must return to your own fort before rejoining play.

If you have been hit and have not yet touched your fort, you are unable to participate (You cannot throw your beanbags at an opposition player)

If you are carrying a flag and are hit, you must drop the flag wherever you are before returning to your fort. Beanbags must not contact above the shoulders

Once bean bags have been thrown, you may collect any available beanbag, but not more than you had to begin with – extras must be left for other players to collect.

Rough play is not part of this game – it is a non-contact activity.

Good sportsmanship must be displayed at all times. All team members will congratulate the winning team after each round.

Poor sportsmanship will result in players being barred from participation and given further consequences if deemed necessary by team captains (Mum and Dad.)