Routines: Playpen time

What is playpen time?

Time when a baby or young child plays in a safe environment within a set boundary with a selection of age appropriate toys for a set amount of time.

Why have playpen time?

Playpen time is introduced as a regular part of a flexible daily routine. Independent playtime away from all other distractions teaches a child how to focus and concentrate on a few selected items, rather than flitting from one activity to another. It teaches them to be content on their own and to know that it is ok to be separated from Mum for a short time – that she will come back. It alleviates the separation anxiety many young children feel when Mum leaves the room because they know through experience that she will return and they will be ok.

Playpen time provides you as a parent with a period of time where you can take a shower, complete some of your own responsibilities or homeschool older children – all the while knowing that your younger child is safe and happily playing with their own toys.

How do I introduce playpen time?

Ideally, introduce playpen time from before your baby can even crawl. (See tomorrow’s post on starting late.) An emotionally healthy baby can lay or sit for a short period of time happily focussed on their own toys in a secure and safe environment. Make it a part of your daily routine, a couple of times a day for 10 or 15 minutes right from a very young age. If you wait until they can roll and crawl to get where they want and then suddenly impose a barrier, baby will be frustrated and let you know. If they are used to spending some time in a playpen every day it will simply be something they expect and happily participate in.

Obviously babies need lots of time with Mum and other family members, cuddles, attention and the like – I am not advocating using a playpen continuously throughout the day. It is for planned periods of time and for a reasonable length of time.

Where?

Somewhere that you can check on your child regularly, but where they cannot see you. Somewhere away from the traffic flow of the house. When siblings or others walk by, a child’s attention is diverted from what they are doing and they will swiftly become discontent with being there. If they see you check in on them, they will likely cry for your attention and want to get out, whereas once settled an uninterrupted child will happily focus for an extended period.

When do I use it?

When your child is well fed and well rested and at a consistent time each day. Make it a part of your routine so that the child begins to know what will happen throughout the day and is happily ready to go in when that time comes.

Toys

Choose a small selection of toys. Too much choice means that children will not focus on any one item but swap and change from one to another. Ensure that toys are age appropriate; not too easy or too difficult for them to use. If the toys are not interesting to the child, playpen time will be a struggle. Rotate toys so that there is regularly “new” toys to enjoy.

I sort my baby and toddler toys into several plastic crates – one for each day of the week. This way, I don’t have to go though wondering what to put in today – I simply put in the next crate. It also means they only see the toys once a week so they are fresh and interest stays high. When I only had one child, I didn’t have as many toys as I do now so rotating was harder, however I will be adding lots of ideas of toys to make for toddlers and babies so check out those blog posts for ideas. You could also swap toys with friends or join a toy library.

Toy storage

Do not expect children to pack toys in to bags or boxes, it is too fiddly and time-consuming. Open baskets and crates are best as toys can quickly and easily be plopped inside. Large toy boxes are also not a good idea as all the toys get jumbled together, pieces are all mixed up and it is very difficult to quickly pull out a good selection for playpen time.

I have a mental list of categories to help me ensure a good selection of toys which varies according to the age of the child:

(For babies) Something to:

  • mouth or cuddle (favourite teddy or any suitable baby toy)
  • look at (stimulating cardboard books, fabric books, photograph books)
  • listen to (music makers, squeakers)
  • feel (texture related toys)
  • kick or bat at (dangle toys, those that clip on the side of the pen)
(For toddlers) Something to:
  • read
  • push (vehicles)
  • stack
  • open and shut
  • touch and handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • build or construct with (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play with (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • post (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • practice with (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)
  • solve – puzzles (beginner peg puzzles)
  • make music or noise with (maracas, clappers, drums or other percussion, pots and pans or battery operated toys)
Toddlers plus:
See this post on room time.
Packing away

Teach your child to pack up right from the first use of the playpen. Initially it will be you packing away with them watching. Encourage them to help you put the toys away, perhaps placing a small item in their hand and guiding it to the basket and thanking them with a big smile for helping Mummy pack up. It won’t take long for them to understand what you want them to do and you can gradually pull back on the amount of packing you do until the child is completely responsible for this task themselves.

Several of my children have been heard to vigorously start throwing toys back in the crate without me telling them to do so – a very clear sign that in their opinion playpen time is done! While this is very cute, it is important that they realise Mum decides when playpen time is done, not them, or they will simply pack their toys away after a few minutes and expect to come out.


Routines: Introducing table activities

Table time is a valuable addition to any flexible routine. Simply put, it is a time when the children sit at the table (or desk or kitchen bench or wherever) and work on a quiet activity. It is a time set by the parent for this to happen and the activities used are those that are previously approved and designated as table activities.

I choose the activities for my toddlers and younger children and set them out, the middlies usually get to choose between a limited number of activities (“Would you like drawing or felt board today?”) and the older children choose for themselves from activities that they know are already approved table activities. I chat to the children while they play at the table and am able to get the dinner made and served at the same time.

While my routines have changed over the years, for the majority of the time I have used table activities after bath and shower time and just before dinner time. This allows me to get everyone finished in the bathroom and send them to their activities as they are done – no roaming about the house getting into mischief.

I find that it is the transition times, the few minutes here and there between activities, that cause the most trouble and produce the most accidents. Left to their own devices, even for just a few minutes at this time of day, a cranky, tired, hungry toddler or child will rarely make good choices with their time!

The possibilities for table time activities are virtually unlimited. I have a cupboard with shelves that is designated for table activities which makes it easy for the children to see what they can do. Anything you have that can be used independently while sitting at the table is a suitable activity. Some families like to use this time for homework. I’ll be posting some table time ideas soon and of course, any of the toddler, workjob or Montessori ideas I post would be suitable, as long as your child can do them without assistance.

Mat time on the go

In my previous post on mat time I wrote about how to use and introduce mat time to your little ones, including the benefits that mat time brings to you and your child. Mat time allows you to go anywhere and place a simple boundary on the ground for your child to play quietly in while you can relax knowing they are safe, quiet and happy.

How do you cater for mat time when you are out and about though? I like to keep an activity bag in the car or near the front door with some special toys inside that are used only for this purpose to keep interest levels high when I do pull them out. I don’t have enough commercial toys to put a whole bunch out of circulation so I like these toys to be simple hand-made activities or items that won’t be missed. I have a small mat that also stays in the bag, acts as the boundary and gives the children something comfortable to sit on.

I put everything into little bags, containers or boxes as this doubles the interest factor. Once we have finished with the toys I do have to spend a few minutes returning everything to its own container but as I don’t use them all the time, I’m happy to do that.

I use the following categories to help me come up with ideas of what to include:

  • books
  • vehicle (dinky car, Duplo)
  • stacking toy (plastic containers, cups, bowls)
  • containers to open and shut (bags, boxes, zippers, flaps, press-studs, drawstring, handbags)
  • something to wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • something textured or unusual to handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • construction (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • posting toy (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • household (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)

With a small amount of preparation and some training at home, you can have a toddler who happily sits down for an extended length of time to focus and play quietly with their own toys. Perfect for Grandma’s trinket filled house or a coffee date with the girls.

5 minute warning

Picture it: You are sailing in the ocean on your pirate ship, catching huge child-sized marlin as you go, just about to reach the treasure chest that is buried on the abandoned island and…Mum calls out “Bath time, come inside please.” Imagine the battle raging in a child’s heart between the desire to continue on with the game, to just find that treasure first, to whine, complain, tantrum and otherwise fail to display obedience in this situation and the moral requirement to obey.  When we put our children into this kind of siuation we set them up for failure.

Think about what it’s like as an adult to be in the middle of a project, or just about finished with something you are working on and to be called away. Frustrating!!

There are times when a child just needs to obey without a warning; first time, straight away, when Mum gives the instruction. Much of the time however, we can prepare their hearts to obey with a simple warning of the instruction about to come. Once the instruction is given, obedience is expected: immediately, first time, without complaining.

It may sound something like this:

Mum: “Pirates.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum?”

Mum: “In 5 minutes I’ll be asking you to put your ship away and come inside for a shower.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum.”

Mum (5 minutes later): “Pirates, put your ship away now and come inside please.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum”

The pirates have had time to find their treasure and prepare themselves to obey and the struggle that may otherwise have taken place inside the children has been much reduced. When a child hears themselves agree to obey, they are much more likely to follow through and actually obey.

Counting after an instruction has been given and ignored simply trains your child that obedience is not expected until the third or fourth repeat of the instruction or at “3” which is when Mum or Dad now actually require obedience. If your child can obey at “3” why not train them to obey when the instruction is given for the first time. It may even save their life one day.

The idea of giving a 5 minute warning comes from the book “On becoming Childwise”, available here.

On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years

Highchair time: home-made toddler activities – pasta play

One of the easiest “home-made” toddler activities for high-chair time is pasta play. Raid the pantry for some interesting pasta shapes and gather a bunch of little containers of different varieties and you’re done. While most toddlers will have the self-control not to put the pasta in their mouths, keep an eye on them simply because of the choking hazard it could pose. As far as them having a bit of a chew though, there’s really no problem – it is just pasta!

If you start simply, changing materials as interest wanes, there are unending ways to extend this kind of play. Some ideas are:

  • a cup of pasta and cake tin to tip it into. (Tipping out and refilling a cup is surprisingly absorbing for a toddler and a good introduction to dry pouring.) The tin also makes a satisfying  sound as the pasta is poured.
  • a cup of pasta, cake tin and scoop. The child now learns how to scoop the pasta back into the cup from the tin.
  • a container of pasta and a second container to transfer it into. Transferring is another practical life skill that develops fine motor control. Vary this by changing the kid of tool used for the transfer (spoons, scoops, tongs, ladles etc.)
  • a jug and something to pour into.
  • a variety of different sized containers
  • glass containers (It is interesting for the child to be able to see the container filling up from the outside.) Think about the floor underneath – glass and tiles do not mix!
  • add a teddy with a plate and spoon
Pasta play is an open ended activity that can be independently accomplished and will keep a toddler’s interest for a significant length of time, particularly if you are regularly training them to expect high-chair time throughout the day. Use the time to wash the dishes, make the dinner, homeschool your older children or whatever it is you need to get done.

Routines: Commercial activities for highchair time

Following on from this weeks posts about highchair time and highchair time activities for babies, here are some pictures of commercial toys I use with my babies and toddlers for highchair times. Go for a walk around the house and see what there is to collect. If you have older siblings, you’ll be surprised what you can borrow from them to keep a toddler happily playing.

(Home-made practical life and other toddler activities will be posted individually from time to time under workjobs and Montessori activities.)

Routines: Highchair time activities for babies

After the post about highchair time yesterday, I thought it would be timely to follow-up with some suggestions as to what to give an older baby or toddler in a highchair to hold their attention and promote the concentration and patience we are working on.

I like to think of toy types in phases of development:

1 to 12 month old babies love toys that are good to mouth and sensory based toys that make sounds, feel interesting and look visually stimulating. Obviously within this age range there is a big difference in the kind of baby toy they are interested in, but in essence they are all “baby” toys for holding, touching, pulling, sucking, crinkling etc.

12 to 20 months olds enter the transition zone. Over the next few months the baby toys begin to lose their appeal and imaginative play has not yet kicked it properly. This means that the shiny red car is looked at, possibly mouthed for a minute or two, shaken, the wheels are spun around a couple of times, possibly pushed along and interest is gone. It doesn’t DO anything exciting and the child does not yet identify it as a small version of a car and drive it around making car noises because the pretend play element is not there yet. What they do like are toys that respond to their actions – that DO something. Pull a lever and an animal pops out, pop a ball in and music plays, tap the pegs and the turtle’s head pops out. This is the hardest age to supply toys for, because interest dies very quickly and those bright, colourful and interactive toys are expensive. You can join a toy library, swap with friends or make your own. (Lots of ideas coming soon.)

20 to 24 month olds and up are beginning to use their imagination, especially if they have siblings or a willing parent to show them how to play. They will begin to have tea parties, feed a teddy, set up the train tracks and create their own pretend play situations. The possibilities open up enormously and this age is so much easier to cater for.

In general, there are some great baby and toddler toys that can be purchased, however interest in most is short-lived as the child moves on to the next developmental level or simply has seen it enough to no longer be attracted to it.

Why not capitalise on the toddler’s natural attraction to learning new skills, copying Mum and Dad and using “real” things around the house to put together your own activities. They are cheap to make and can be disassembled once interest has passed. Important practical life skills can be introduced that will be used every day, many of them developing fine motor skills that will be vital for pencil grip and general hand control later on.

Here is my list of activities to make for babies with instructions for each. Practical life and general toddler activities will be posted individually from time to time and categorized under workjobs and Montessori activities so keep an eye out for them.

Routines: Highchair time

Do you want your baby or toddler to be able to sit and focus for an extended length of time? Do you want them to be able to sit and wait patiently during an unexpected delay in a public situation? Do you want time to tidy up the kitchen after meals, clear and wipe down the table and move to the next activity of the day without leaving a trail of devastation that needs to be cleaned up later?

Like all behaviours and character traits, we must actively work to build patience and concentration in our children. Highchair time is a practical way to achieve this goal with our little ones. It is easy to consistently implement and work into the daily routine without having to change much at all.

After each meal is finished, simply wipe up your child and hand them a book to read or small toy to play with. Around 20 minutes is a good time to aim for and if put into place after breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives you three daily training periods to work on these skills.

Initially, your little one may not be thrilled with Mum’s new plan and a common response will be to cry, complain, whine, throw the books and toys down and other such behaviours. If you ignore this kind of behaviour and simply go about cleaning up the kitchen, you will find that over the next few days, your child will be showing great strides towards happily sitting and concentrating on whatever it is you have chosen to give them.

If you pick up toys that are thrown down, then a very amusing game of fetch will be instigated. You may leave a child for 5 minutes and then return a dropped toy, instructing them that they need to stay in the highchair until Mummy is ready to get them down. If it is dropped again, leave it there. They will soon come to the conclusion that it is better to have something to do than nothing at all and keep what they have been given.

You may need 3 or 4 little toys or books and change them over every 5 minutes or so to keep their interest,  however this should be in Mum’s timing, not the child’s.

If you have heard about the 4 personality types, you will know that a choleric child loves to be in charge. A lot of the battles you have throughout the day and at bedtime with any child, particularly the choleric child, will be eliminated by instigating a parent led routine throughout the day, rather than allowing your young child to plan their own day or giving them large blocks of free time to fill.

An excellent resource for routine planning is Terrific Toddlers by Mel Hayde. It is my “must have” toddler and young child training book and I have gone back to it over and over. It is an easy read but is full of wisdom and excellent advice that will enable you to love the toddler years and eliminate the “terrible two” syndrome that everyone talks about. I will be posting ideas of activities to give your little one during highchair time over the next couple of days.

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!

The 10 times rule

Our children all have them. They drive us crazy, but they’re not a big deal. The children in our family provide us with several of these little annoyances on a regular basis.

What am I talking about you ask? Leaving shoes in the middle of the doorway, forgetting to flush the toilet, leaving the back door open, forgetting to turn bedroom lights out when they leave, leaving bandaid wrappers on the bathroom bench, leaving hats on the floor under the hat rack, taking dirty dishes to the kitchen and leaving them on the bench right above the dishwasher but not in it. I could go on and on. And I know that you have a list too. Take a moment to come up with one little thing that the children in your house do that drives you batty. Now, the answer to your problem;

Ta daaa…. The 10 Times Rule. A nifty little solution (care of Meredith and Patrice– thank you) that will abolish these little bad habits in no time, with very little effort on your behalf. How does it work? Very simply. Gather the children together. Point out the offending habit. Inform them that from that moment on, anyone who persists in that bad habit will be repeating the offending action correctly 10 times.

This is what it looks like:

Child A leaves the back door open as they run out and jump on the trampoline. Child A is informed that they have not completed the task correctly (i.e. shut the door behind them) so will need to re-do the task 10 times in the correct manner. They are then required to run to the trampoline and come back to open and shut the back door (quietly) 10 times before they are free to continue on with their play. The door must be opened and shut properly and quietly and the trampoline touched each time or it does not count.

No need for a lecture, no raised voices, nothing other than supervising and counting that the 10 times has actually been done is required from Mum.  It’s kind of fun for the child the first time, but then it gets old really quickly. Family members will very soon be yelling out “10 times rule” to remind a child to shut the door because they do not want their playmate to be taken away for the time it takes to re-do it. In the same way, the child who is actually guilty of forgetting will soon start to remember as their play is held up once more. Most of these problems occur in the first place because the children are intent on getting to something they want to do, so being held up to repeat something they didn’t want to do in the first place is a great incentive not to forget the next time.

One more example; the children persist in placing dirty dishes on the bench, rather than in the dishwasher. All children are warned about the 10 times rule applying to this behaviour. Child B forgets and leaves their dirty dish on the bench. They are then required to place their dish in the dishwasher, remove the dish and take it back to the table, take it back to the dishwasher and place it in and so on, until they have repeated the task 10 times. It works and I love it!

We also have developed an extra consequence for behaviours such as leaving bandaid wrappers on the bathroom sink. Children who do this are considered to have immediately volunteered to clean the entire bathroom sink. The bathroom gets cleaned, bandaid wrappers are no longer left lying about and everybody is happy. Well… I’m happy anyway and the children are learning responsibility for their actions 🙂