This past spring I woke up to the realization that my kids were acting up more and more because they were bored. Sure they have plenty of toys to play with and DVDs to watch, but that isn't what makes them happy. Leave them alone playing for long enough and they will start fighting (sound familiar?) So when were my kids the happiest? When they were doing something meaningful with one of us. I fell into the trap that thinking by being in the same room as them we were spending time together, but that's not true. If I'm on the computer and one of my kids is playing cars and another is drawing we are being near each other, not being with each other.
I started to think about what I knew about child development, what I knew about my own children's needs and personalities and what I had originally imagined my ideal time of what raising my kids would look like. It didn't match what we were living. Time to re-focus.
It sounds silly but I started to plan. I started to make a schedule. I knew that I couldn't just wait for things to happen, I had to make them happen. Here's what our week structure started to look like in the afternoons:
Monday - craft
Tuesday - baking, swimming lessons
Wednesday - community play group
Thursday - craft
Friday - community play group, movie night
Saturday - family outing
Sunday - church, family lunch outing
Writing down an outline simply wasn't enough. I brainstormed craft ideas (inspired by an old Mr. Dress-up book). I thought about recipes the kids would enjoy. I looked up placed that we could go. None of it was particularly expensive. Once you have basic craft materials (scissors, markers, paper, crayons, stickers, paint...) you can do a lot of things. We hit up Michael's and found some deals too (a few little wood airplane sets for $1.50 each, small clay pots for painting, iron on patches and aprons to personalise...). We bought a large paper roll at Ikea for $5.00 to make life size drawings. I had the kids go through the Mr. Dress-up book and star what they wanted to do the most. We dug out the collection of coloring books for the depths of the closet for afternoons to simply color. And it worked. They love spending time like this together. We've baked muffins, cookies and cinnamon buns. They look forward to what we are going to do each day. Just this morning my oldest told me that he loved our family because we do things together. A big change from the bored boy getting into trouble. He really has brightened up a lot.
As the spring programs are starting to end, I'm looking towards our summer schedule. Life will be much different. Our oldest will be home full time. We will be spending some time travelling. The routine will change. But now I really value the importance of having a routine, having a plan. Does this mean all my weeks are the same? Not at all. Things come up, so we change it a little, vary it a little, but we have a plan. We spend intentional time together, that's the important thing. Since I now know, really know, how much my kids thrive on having a routine, I make sure to go over the week ahead with them so they know what's going on. I'll let them know the plan for the day. If we have places to go, errands to run, they balk less because they know the whole plan.
Does all this routine mean that there is no room for spontaneity? Absolutely not! Not every minute of the day is planned out. We take impromptu detours along the way, but the schedule gives us a way to go. And I have happier, more secure kids because of it.