Saturday, February 7, 2015

On boredom

Boredom is not the enemy.
It is not the parent's foe.
It is the child's inspiration.
It is the goal.

Okay folks, let's talk boredom today.  Let me start by saying that I LOVE to plan activities for my children.  I plan them because they are fun/educational/interesting/fun/memory-making/fun, but NOT to "keep my kids busy."  That is their job.

I believe that we have seen a huge decline in the amount of childhood play for two reasons:

1) Overuse of Screens
2) Lack of boredom

I will address the screens issue in another post, but here I am going to discuss boredom.

In this uber-connected, Pinterest-perusing, ability-testing society, it is very easy to feel like your main parenting responsibility is to keep your child occupied and enriched at all times.  The years are short and time is already running out for them to master all the skills you'd love for them to have.  And so you fill their days to the brim with great things: school, gymnastics, piano, horseback riding, taekwondo (just to name a few of my family's activities).  Add in competitive sports and, heaven forbid, your child needs some form of therapy- PT, OT, speech- and your week is full to bursting.  When are our children bored (besides all that time we spend in the car between activities)?

When are they bored and not buckled in?!

It is when our kids are bored that become inventive.  They pretend, they scheme, they plan, they build, they problem-solve and occasionally draw murals on our walls.  They create worlds that delight them, scare them, intrigue them, and then they figure out how to deal with those emotions.  They care for one another, or argue.  They have fights, play separately, get bored all over again, and discover that playing together is worth getting over the fight.  They fall down, look to see if you noticed, and then get up and brush themselves off.  They practice being adults- they practice being just like us.

So please, oh please, oh please, leave time in your week for your kids to be bored.  When they come to you and complain that they are bored, nod your head and say, "huh" and then begin a mind-numbing task like picking lint out of the dryer vent.  Invite them to join you.  Offer to find them something to sweep out in the garage (but do NOT make them do their chores...see "chores should not be punishment if you actually want kids to do them.")  But most of all, just ignore them and be boring yourself.  Don't engage them and they will eventually tire of you and find something else to do.

When they come to you and request balloons, tape, help reaching the dress-up bin, get them what they need and then return to being boring.  You'll be amazed- their play will get better and better, and then one day you'll ignore your children while you work on a blog post (ahem) and you'll come upstairs to find that your daughters have planned a party- complete with balloons, party games, dress up outfits for the whole family, a calendar of events, handwritten signs (who says play can't reinforce academic skills) and wrapped up "gifts."  They are working harder than most employees on a good day.  They are conversing, compromising, problem-solving (because tying balloons is hard!), working together (not sure how they got the balloons taped so high on the wall, probably don't want to know), and demonstrating all the skills they need to be grown.  Demonstrating all the skills they need to continue to learn for the rest of their lives.

So if we run out of time for those bagpipe or fencing lessons, I feel confident that they will find a way to pick those things up in the future if they would like.  Of course, they might be too busy planning parties- or running the country.

Embrace the boredom!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Piano Recital

Lego performed his own recital where he played all 19 pieces in the Suzuki Piano Book #1.  We could not be prouder of the hard work he has put in, and how well he did. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

On Chores

Today I've got chores on my mind.  Let's talk chores!

My beliefs about chores:

1) Every child can contribute at home.
Even the youngest child can be taught to clear dishes or put laundry in a hamper.  Start small when they are small, and work up.

2) Every child WANTS to contribute and feel useful.
Have you ever had a job where you didn't have enough work to keep you busy?  Horrible feeling!  It is a myth that children hate doing chores- they want to feel useful just like adults do.  Be careful how you frame chores- you can certainly teach children to hate chores, but that is learned behavior, not inborn.

3) Children need to be taught how to do the chores.
Teach your child exactly how to do the chore.  At first it is going to take longer to teach and help your child with the chore than to do it yourself, but it is worth it.  Just like you don't carry your child all day long when he is learning to walk, don't take over the chore- let him do it.

4) Parents need to realize that they won't be done perfectly at first.  
Accept that the chores are going to be done to a kid-standard.  Get over that and praise the effort.  If you do your very best on a project at work and your boss nitpicks and criticizes, how much effort will you put in the next time?  Be encouraging.

5) Chores teach appreciation.
Your child is having a rough day, so you decide to let her play instead of doing her chores.  If she is used to doing chores, she will appreciate the chance to have a lazy day.  If a children has never done chores, they can feel very entitled to being lazy or doing what they want.  I'll take appreciation over entitlement any day!

Why chores are awesome:

1) Running a house full of people is a lot of work- it is nice to have help.
At first, doing chores with children takes longer than doing them yourself, but all of a sudden one day that switches, and you're so thrilled that you took the time to teach chores.  Kids truly can be helpful.

2) Chores give children a purpose and meaning at home.
Nobody wants to be the non-contributing member of the team.  There is satisfaction in a job well done.

3) Children who do their own chores appreciate the time and effort others spend doing theirs.
Something magical happens when children do chores- they start to appreciate hard work.  "Wash that toothpaste out of the sink, I have to clean that sink, you know."  "Hey, I just put away all those books and you left them on the floor again."  "Please don't eat that popcorn on the floor I just vacuumed."

4) Chores provide a framework from which lessons on generosity and kindness can be taught.
THIS IS THE BIG ONE. Doing chores offers families a type of currency.  When my son is running late for his bus in the morning, I can say to him- "you brush your teeth and feed the fish and I'll do your other chores."  When you demonstrate kindness and helping, soon your children will follow.  So often I hear, "You're not feeling well today, I'll make your bed."  or "You're going to miss the bus, so I'll finish emptying the dishwasher for you, and you can set the table for me tonight."  They especially love to help Mommy and Daddy when we need it.  Without shared responsibilities, a family is missing out on huge opportunities to cultivate compromise and caring.

5) Chores provide a sense of belonging.
As a Safe Family, we frequently have new children in our home.  Right away we give them their own chore chart and jobs to do.  I truly believe that this makes them feel like an important member of the family, not a visitor.

Practical tips:

1) Chores are not competitive.
Please, please resist the urge to pit siblings against each other.  "Can you make your bed faster than your brother" may seem like a great way to motivate, but it is a recipe for discord.  Instead say, "let's see how fast the two of you can get all your chores done!"  Then give high fives all around when they are finished.  If you MUST use competition, have the children race the parents.

2) Chores do not require payment or reward.
When chores are completed at our house, the kids run to Mommy for hug, which lets me know that they are finished (and really, any excuse for a hug!).  When you first start, you may offer a sticker when all the chores are complete, and maybe the stickers can add up to a family reward- a board game, a later bedtime, popcorn for dinner...whatever your family enjoys.  I suggest holding off on the reward until all the children earn it, so it can be a group celebration.  Avoid tangible rewards- trinkets and Happy Meals send the wrong message...the reward should be a celebration that you all worked together to keep your household running smoothly- not payment.

3) Chores are not a form of punishment.
Want your kids to hate chores and never want to do them?  Use them as a punishment.

4) Give kids chores they can do.
My older daughter is in charge of making her bed AND her sister's bed.  The little one, however, is in charge of putting both of their laundry in the hamper, because that is something she can do.  The goal is not for everyone to work equally hard or for it to be fair- the goal is to accomplish all the work together.

4) Chore charts are temporary incentives, and you'll go through a lot of them.  That is fine.
I hear a lot of people say, "we tried a chore chart, but after a month or two, it failed."  Chore charts are temporary motivation for an ongoing job.  When we as adults start a new diet or exercise routine we know that it will be motivating for a time and then we will lose interest and need a new strategy.  Chore charts will invigorate the efforts for a time, and when they stop working, try something new.  They don't need to be Pinterest-perfect, they just need to hold interest for a while.  Magnets, white-board markers, chore cards...use whatever floats your boat, they can all work.

5) Give chores that require teamwork.
Carrying a heavy laundry basket requires two kids.  Little ones can't reach the top shelf to get the plates.  Blankets are much easier to fold with two people.  Be a little sneaky and design the chores to promote teamwork- and then notice and praise your children when they work together.

Linking up with:
Hip Homeschool Moms
Things I Can't Say
Teaching What is Good