Calendars for Kids

So anyone besides me feeling like they blinked and it is already mid-September?  Weren’t we all just reveling in the unscheduled hours of summer!?!  Well, now that our family has had a few full weeks of adjusting to the chaotic back to school grind, it felt like the right time for me to take a pause and do a quick inventory of what is and isn’t working well for our family in the new school year.  While doing this exercise I realized there is a small handful of valuable practices that just keep consistently working well for us and today I want to share one of those with you.  It is the practice of having my kids keep their own individual written calendars.IMG_1026I have long been a huge fan of a written calendar and I would venture to guess most adults managing a busy household are utilizing one.  I used to keep just my own calendar up to date and then when we held our family meetings (and this is another one of the practices that seems to consistently contribute to our family’s success.  Click here to a previous blog post I wrote on the topic if you are interested) I would share the upcoming weeks activities and we would discuss, but it was not like I could expect anyone to retain all that information for themselves.  Once I got each of my children their own calendar that they would bring to the family meeting and fill out with the activities and happenings that pertained to them for the week I started to see some big changes and awesome benefits.  A brief summary of the major benefits I see from utilizing this practice are below.

  1. Less morning madness.  When my kids have their own calendar filled out with their daily activities/appointments I spend less of my already rushed mornings with kids following me around asking, “What is happening today?”  In fact, when they ask that all I have to do is just calmly ask, “Did you check your calendar?”…and off they go.  Also, the kids can check their calendars at night and plan for the next day by pulling together sport/activity items they might need ahead of time.  It also has majorly reduced the household drama over clothing/uniforms they need clean being stuffed in the bottom of laundry baskets.  If they realize something didn’t get washed the night before they need it I can do something about it, 15 minutes before it is time to leave in the morning, not so much.
  2. Reduction of Homework Meltdowns. As a mama to middle-schoolers the calendar is a life saver when it comes to homework meltdowns. I think whenever kids hear that something isn’t due for a week or so they feel like they have all the time in the world to complete it, but as we all know that isn’t the case and Sunday night you have a stressed-out kid with an entire project left to do.  If they have a calendar where they can see that say Thursday and Friday their evenings are already packed with after-school sports or activities and they have a weekend basketball tournament then they are able to realize for themselves (and as an added bonus without parental nagging!!!) that they have to get that homework done earlier in the week.  This idea also works great for kids who have instrument practice, community service hours, AR reading points, or any of the other various things they may need to accomplish on a bigger picture deadline.  For my family specifically, all three of my kids play an instrument through their school music program and they have to practice for hours each week.  As soon as we complete our family meeting and they have all their activities recorded, they immediately then go back through their planner and write out when they will have free time to get their practice hours in.
  3. Cultivating Time Management Skills. One of the best ways you can set your child up for instant success in life is to help them cultivate strong time management skills and utilizing their calendar is a great way to practice. Just the simple exercise of writing out a week of appointments and activities helps them to understand and appreciate just how much effort is needed when keeping oneself on schedule.  When they plan and log scheduled times for tasks like homework, instrument practice, etc. this further enhances their personal organizational skills and teaches them to practice staying on task. Also, when they find themselves with days with multiple things that need to be accomplished they get to learn to prioritize as they figure out what the most important tasks are to accomplish each day.
  4. Teaching Personal Responsibility.  When you take the responsibility of filling out and monitoring the calendar off of you and transfer that onto your child it goes a long way in helping kids to realize that they are capable of learning to monitor and care for themselves.  I feel like there are so many ways children are micromanaged these days and micromanagement can erode their confidence in themselves. By showing them that as their parent we expect them to be in charge of filling out their own calendar, checking it often and take an active role in managing their time you are sending them the message that you trust and believe they have the ability to learn do things for themselves.  Of course it goes without saying that there are going to be mistakes and disappointments, but childhood, before there are grades going on official transcripts or jobs one can be fired from, is the perfect time for us parents to allow these to happen and then help them learn how to handle and adjust in the future.
  5. Comfort and Security Provided to Our Children. Without advance planning on how we are going to spend our time we can find our family living in a constantly reactive state. Living like this can increase anyone’s stress level, but it can be especially hard on children.  Kids are still learning to manage emotions and reactions and living with routine and structure gives them a sense of security and allows them to feel safe.  Utilizing a calendar allows them feel like they have been made aware of what is happening.  It allows time for upcoming events to be discussed and gives them ample opportunity to ask questions if they feel they need to.  Having advance notice of what is upcoming also helps all children, but especially introverted or anxious children, have the extra time they may need to get mentally prepared for things.
  6. Preservation of Family Time and Down Time. We live in a crazy, busy world and I feel like so often our families end up sacrificing things they really want to do together or downtime they truly need because they think there just “isn’t enough time in the day”.  If you are asking your child to keep a calendar for themselves, once they have entered all their necessary commitments, appointments, assignments they get to look at exactly what free time they have and make choices.  The calendar allows them to appreciate and understand prioritizing things that they want and need.  For example, a couple of my kids really like to get one weekend morning with a few hours of downtime to do some screens and avoid being rushed.  I know they have that in the back of their mind when they schedule their instrument practice time and try to add more in during the week to free up time on the weekend.  Also, our family tries to discuss and plan events that we all want to do together and get them into the calendar because that way if an invite from a friend, sports team or a conflict arises we feel good about the fact that we had this family time planned and we typically feel confident in saying no to whatever it is that is creating a scheduling conflict.

So as you can see the practice of maintaining a personal calendar isn’t just a practice that should be reserved for adults.  It is an awesome way to help kids learn valuable time, life and self-management skills all while contributing to the reduction of stress and strengthening of connection for your family as a whole.

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New Year’s Family Meeting

HNY2I love the idea of the “new year.” It is an awesome opportunity to regroup and refocus on what it is that you want for yourself and your family. Today I want to share a simple, yet powerful way that you can use this opportunity to foster unity, positivity and teamwork in your home – A New Year’s Family Meeting.

If you have read earlier posts on our blog you know we are big fans of family meetings because they allow families to come together and work on valuable life skills like communication, cooperation, planning and organization. A New Years family meeting is simply a big picture version of a regular family meeting. It is a time to discuss what your family dreams to achieve in the New Year, and to focus on what each of you can do to support making those dreams a reality. Below we have provided some simple suggestions on how you can hold a successful New Year’s family meeting in your home.

  1. Do something to set this meeting apart from all your other family meetings. Hold it at a coffee shop and let everyone get hot chocolate or have it at a restaurant your family really loves. If you want to keep it at home, have it after serving a special meal or arrange an ice cream sundae bar to enjoy afterwards.
  2. Select a person to write down all the items discussed at the meeting. That way, when the meeting has ended, you can use the notes taken to make a poster of your family’s goals, dreams, etc. for the New Year. This can provide a constant visual reminder of what your family is focusing on for the year.
  3. Start the meeting off in an exciting way so everyone is engaged. Ask each person to share some things they would really like to see happen for your family in the New Year. Where would they like to go on vacation? What would they like to do more of together around town? Are there things that they want to do more of when you are at home? This is a great time to give feedback to your children to let them know you are excited about their opinions and grateful for their input when making plans for your family. You strengthen your family’s bond when you emphasize that everyone in your home, no matter their age, is valued and an important part of the family.
  4. Talk about the special family traditions that everyone would like to see continue in the New Year. These could be things you have been doing for years or things you did in the past year that you want to now make a tradition. Putting an emphasis on continuing special family traditions is a great way to give children a sense of security. Use this time to remind them that even though life can be unpredictable, you will always have special things within your family that they can count on to remain consistent.
  5. Ask for suggestions on ways your family can grow together. Maybe it is by trying an activity or by visiting a location that is new to all of you. Maybe you plan to research and learn about a new charity you can support. Whatever you choose, this is a significant exercise because it allows you to stress to your children the value of remaining open to new experiences and the importance of being a life-long learner.
  6. TeamworkEnd the meeting by discussing any new expectations, chores or responsibilities that each family member will have in the New Year. This is an opportunity to emphasize to your family that teamwork makes a dream work. Remind them that in order to be successful you all need to work together, not just when planning your fun adventures, but when accomplishing the everyday tasks that need to be done so your home runs smoothly.

We hope the suggestions above help your family to feel a strong sense of connection, collaboration and optimism as you embark on your journey into the new year!

DIY Family Meeting Bins

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As a follow up to our Monday post on Family Meetings, today we are sharing a simple idea that has helped us both to be more organized and prepared during our weekly meetings – family meeting bins. These bins serve as a central location for all the items we need during our meetings, and having them filled and ready alleviates the need for us to spend additional time and energy rounding up supplies or writing out an agenda before each meeting. As an added bonus, these bins only take a minimal amount of effort to make, and they are adorable enough to display proudly in your home.

Supplies needed

  • Storage bin (ours were magazine bins we found at Target in the dollar deals section for $3)
  • 3 Mason jars
  • One piece of 12×12 Cardstock
  • One to two sheets of 8×11 Cardstock
  • Craft tape
  • Double sided tape
  • Scissors or Paper cutter
  • Twine
  • Pens/Markers

Directions:

Family Meeting Agenda

  • Print (or handwrite) your family meeting agenda on a piece of 8 x 11 cardstock
  • If your agenda doesn’t take up the whole page, cut off the remaining blank part of the paper with scissors or a paper cutter.
  • Using craft tape, tape your agenda to the 12×12 cardstock.

Bin

  • Wrap a long piece of craft tape completely around the bottom of your bin

Jars

  • Wrap 2 pieces of thick craft tape around three of your mason jars
  • Write or print your desired text on a small piece of cardstock and tape it on top of the craft tape on the Mason jars (our family’s desired text included  “allowance” and “family fun questions” – but this can be customized however you feel works best for your family)
  • Cut a piece of twine and tie it in a bow around the top of the jar. Trim the bow edges as needed so they are even.
  • Using 2 strips of thick craft tape cover the lid of your jar

Assembly

  • Fill your jars with your supplies and place your agenda and mason jars into your bin
    • Note: For anyone interested the “family fun questions” jar is filled with slips of paper that have different questions printed on them. I found the questions I put in my jar by googling “family dinner questions”. For a simple bonding exercise during the family meeting, a question is pulled from the jar and each family member takes a turn answering it.

Variations

If you love the idea of having all your meeting supplies centrally located and stored, but are not interested in getting very crafty with this project, you can create a simplified version omitting certain steps such as the craft tape, bows, and/or stickers. Below is a picture of Christie’s simplified version of the craft.photo-87photo-86

We hope this craft helps set you up for success during your next family meeting!

Cultivate Calm and Connection with Family Meetings

Family Mtg TextWeekly Family Meetings

Today we are going to discuss a valuable tool for increasing your family’s happiness and solidarity – the family meeting. In our opinion, making a commitment to gather weekly is one of the most valuable things you can do for your family. In this post I will highlight the benefits of these meetings, and explain what our family does during our meeting time. I will then leave you with some simple tips for making your own family meetings as successful as possible.

Benefits of Family Meetings

There are numerous benefits to holding family meetings. First, they are a wonderful way to teach children important life skills because each meeting affords them the opportunity to practice communicating, problem-solving, cooperating, planning, preparing, organizing, and effectively managing their time.

Family meetings also help nurture a child’s self-confidence by allowing them to feel that their thoughts and opinions are valued by everyone in the family – including you.   When you involve children in discussion about things such as the week’s activities, chores, and outings, it reduces the feeling that parents are simply mandating or dictating what and when things will be done. Children are more likely to comply with plans and decisions they feel included in making.

Finally, family meetings are an excellent way to build family unity. Working through problems, coordinating schedules, and dividing responsibilities together serves to confirm for your children that every member of the home helps control the success of your family.

Our Family Meetings

fm1Our family begins every family meeting by discussing the logistics of our week. We tackle the logistics first because they are the most time and thought-consuming. In our home, every family member (kids included) has their own calendar that they bring and fill-in as we go along. As we go through each day of the week, we discuss what activities each person has and we coordinate how everyone will get where they need to go. We also choose who will be cooking dinner each night and what they will be making. This exercise has been especially beneficial for our family. By figuring out meals and logistics ahead of time, we avoid the stress my husband and I would feel if we waited until we were in the chaos of the moment to figure things out. It is much easier to figure these things out in a calm and collaborative environment.

Meals and activities are not the only things we plan in advance. We also discuss and decide on a fun family activity and we make sure to plan for some family down time. Both of these things may seem like they would be automatically included in your week, but it is so easy to completely overlook them when life gets busy. To avoid this, we make sure to take the time to schedule them in. I have noticed that everyone in our family is much happier when we have taken some time to reconnect during a fun activity and we have ensured that everyone has had time to recharge in a way they enjoy during some downtime.

After all the planning is completed we move on to the problem solving section of our meeting. During this time, we invite everyone to share things they may want to discuss and we ask if anyone in the family needs help. We have spent this time discussing all types of topics from ways to address our issue with being tardy to school and ideas for improving our family communication to appeals to revise our screen time policy and a request for help on a difficult rainbow loom project. I have noticed that taking time for this type of connection and communication during our meeting has really helped our children feel supported, taken seriously and included in the problem-solving process.

Tips for successful meetings

  1. Meet weekly and make it a priority. Let everyone in the family know that you all are committing to consistency with these meetings and that everyone is expected to attend.
  2. Set a written agenda. This helps you to keep the meetings short and well-organized.
  3. Remain Realistic. Consider the age and attention span of your child/children and go into your meeting with reasonable expectation of how much they can successfully tolerate. Also, be prepared for chaos from time to time, especially if meetings run a little long or are held at the end of a very busy day.
  4. When holding meetings with very young children, make some activities available to them to keep their hands busy (i.e. paper and pens for them to draw pictures, a snack, etc.).
  5. End each meeting with something uplifting and special to your family. Our meeting always ends with a family hug and affirming statement. My sister’s family does a family cheer. Make it fun and something that solidifies your connection to each other.

Clarifying Chaos in the Kitchen

About 18 months ago Kellie and I found ourselves burned out by the amount of work that planning and preparing meals was requiring each week. We both knew we wanted to feel more organized, efficient and inspired when it came to feeding our families. We experimented with some simple changes in our homes and today we would like to share three things that have helped us to plan and prepare meals that are both effective and enjoyable. These three items are; having a posted weekly meal plan, getting kids into the kitchen and finding fun ways to challenge ourselves when cooking.

Posted Weekly Meal Plan

MealPlanningBenefitsI love having a meal plan that our family discusses and posts weekly because it allows us to save time and money and it helps reduce stress. We try to plan our meals during our weekly family meetings. By doing this we are able to choose dinners that make sense with our family’s upcoming schedule. For example, if I am out late for an appointment, we choose a barbeque meal that my husband can start grilling before I am home. Or, if our whole family will be busy at someone’s sporting event, we select a dish that is cooked in the crock-pot and can be ready right when we walk in the door. Having a plan also helps us save money. With our meal schedule prepared in advance we can write and use a shopping list of the exact items needed for the week so our food waste is minimal. By using the prepared list we also cut back the number of trips our family makes to the store. This helps save money on gas and reduces opportunities for impulse buys while shopping. Finally, posting our weekly dinner schedule has played a role in reducing some of the evening insanity. Having a prepared plan eliminates the stress of trying to make a last minute decision about a meal. When evening rolls around and everyone is starting to feel worn out and hungry, it is calming to know we have a plan in place.

Kids in the Kitchen

IMG_9432In the last two years I have made it a priority to start inviting my daughters to come and join me in the kitchen. Though cooking with my girls often requires more time and creates more messes to cleanup, there is so much we gain from the time we spend preparing food together. I enjoy all the learning opportunities my children have during their time in the kitchen. Cooking teaches math as they measure ingredients, reading as they follow along with step by step directions and chemistry as they watch things like water boil and butter melt. Another great benefit to having them cook with me is they have an increased openness to trying new foods. When they have helped me make it they are always interested in giving it a try. I love seeing them gain a genuine appreciation for the person who has prepared the food they are enjoying. It warms my heart to see my 5 year-old give unprompted thanks to the cook. Finally, my favorite thing about the time we spend in the kitchen is that it is a part of our day where we can enjoy conversation, have some fun, strengthen our bond and simply soak in some quality family time.

Challenging Yourself in the Kitchen

ChallengeinKitchenI have made a conscious effort to see cooking and meal planning as experiences to be enjoyed instead of chores I cram into my schedule. I did this by challenging myself to find ways to feel inspired, creative and empowered in my kitchen. To feel inspired I like to try to find one new recipe to make each week. Browsing food blogs or cookbooks at the local library or bookstore is something I have become so fond of that it is now a hobby to me. When expressing my creativity I enjoy putting together themed meals and treats during holidays and birthdays. I also appreciate using my imagination to think of ways to add personal touches to recipes. Cooking up new and creative dishes helps me to feel empowered in the kitchen. I experience a huge sense of accomplishment when I conquer a new recipe and I take great pride in presenting my family meals that they all enjoy.

Now that we have shared what has helped us to feel organized, efficient and inspired when planning and preparing meals in our homes, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment below with what has worked well for your family either in the kitchen or at mealtimes!

Collaboratively Creating Morning and Evening Routines

DSCN49732Earlier this week we shared our love of routines and now we are excited to begin sharing the details of the ones we are most fond of with you! We knew we wanted to kick things off by discussing morning and evening routines. We feel that by implementing a basic structure for our children to follow when beginning and ending their day we have helped them feel comfort and security, seen them master basic life skills and become more independent. Even better, is the fact that this all came while we decreased battles and reduced chaos during what are usually two of the craziest times of the day. There is a lot to love about that!

When implementing these routines in our homes, we felt there were two things that really helped contribute to our success. The first was a visual, i.e. a chart or checklist, and the second was a plan to ensure our children knew their feelings and opinions were considered and included as the new systems were put into place. So today we are sharing a simple idea that incorporates both of these things…routine charts that you create collaboratively with your children. These are an easy and straightforward way to get the routines for your family established and displayed so you can start reaping the benefits we mentioned above. Below Christie wrote up 4 different variations of this activity based on the age of the child you will be doing it with.

Ages 0 – 24 months

I want to make sure we included this age group when discussing posted routines. Obviously children this young won’t be referring to the documented schedule, but I found it beneficial to have a written record of the sequence of events my babies relied on for comfort prepared and printed for the times I was away. I felt better knowing this would help them avoid unnecessary stress from having their routine interrupted while I was gone.

I also want to ensure the importance of considering and respecting the feelings and opinions of children this young is not over-looked. There are some simple and wonderful ways I feel you can collaborate with your baby as you move through your routines together. Consider asking their permission before doing things like massaging them or changing their diaper. Try calmly talking them through all the steps of your routine. For example, before placing your baby in a bath, simply let them know that is what is going to happen next. Finally, try to verbally acknowledge their different emotions. If they seem fussy while you change or dress them, let them know you hear their protests and are moving quickly so you can pick them up and comfort them.

Ages 2-5 years

photo-55For children in this age group, I have found a printed routine sheet with photos of the items they need to do each morning and night works best. By using pictures you create a chart that gives them the opportunity to see for themselves exactly what needs to be done each day. This eliminates the need for a grown-up to help read the chart so children do not feel they are being “told” what to do. The other thing that I feel is important for the routines used with this age is that they include a few basic and age-appropriate chores like putting clothes in the hamper and dishes in the sink. I really believe that the younger you begin to have children help with simple household chores, the better. It is never too early to begin to instill in them the message that it is required for all members of your family to help with the tasks that are needed for your home to run smoothly. It is also a great way to help them realize they are important contributors to your family.photo-56

There were several simple ways Kellie included her 2 and 5 year-olds in the routine making process. First, after discussing with them the tasks that they were going to be responsible for, she asked them to help demonstrate exactly how they would do each of them so she could take a photo. After she printed the photos she allowed the girls to tape them on themselves. Finally, she had them personalize the charts by decorating them however they chose. By having children help assemble and decorate the routines it helps them feel like this was something that you created together instead of leaving them to feel like this was a routine that you created for them.

Ages 6-11 years

For this age group I think a printed chart that gives a basic but clear description of items they need to complete is ideal. In addition to simple self-care tasks and daily chores, I feel children of this age are now ready to learn the skill of thinking ahead about what they need to do to be prepared and organized. It is beneficial to add a few simple things for them to do each evening to help better prepare for the morning rush.

DSCN4949While creating this year’s edition of our morning and evening routines with my 10, 9 and 8 year-old kids, I wanted to help them feel like the process was something they were a part of and not just subjected too.  I did this by providing the list of activities I felt should be included in their routines, but I had them decide the order in which they wanted to complete the tasks. They also really enjoyed getting to personalize their charts with stickers and markers.

Ages 12 years and up

This is an age group that neither of us have experience parenting just yet, but since I have only about a year until I get there with my daughter I put some thought into how I will want to help update her routines next year. Once children reach this age, it is important to focus on the fact that you are in the final stages of helping them prepare to completely care for themselves as adults. As they make more and more of their decisions independently from you, I feel that it would be advantageous to add some specific healthy habits focusing on sleep, exercise and nutrition to their routine. Simple examples of things that can be added are; specific waking and lights out times, monitoring daily water intake or fruit and veggie consumption, or getting some form of physical activity daily.

With children in this age group I think it would be beneficial to give them a large sense of ownership in establishing their routine. Instead of providing them a written list of the tasks you would like them to complete, you could sit down for a brainstorming session together on the items that each of you feel should be included. While you are meeting you could also briefly discuss what they hope to achieve for themselves during the year and the items that could be added to their routine to support this. By this age they can fully grasp the concept that they are really taking control of their own life, so it is important for them to realize their routine can help them accomplish the things they desire for themselves in terms of health, athletics, academics, etc.

We hope the information provided in this post has given you some age-appropriate ideas on how you can collaborate with your children to implement morning and evening routines in your home.

Reducing Chaos With Routines

Today I was looking at my calendar and I realized there were exactly 4 weeks until school starts for our family. While I fully intend to soak up every single second the less scheduled, homework free, outing filled summer has to offer; the rapidly approaching start of a new school year gets me excited to share about one of our families most valued tools for clarifying our chaos…routines. Honestly, I love routines all year-long, but there is something I find especially comforting about examining and adapting our most important family management systems as we transition away from the relaxed pace of summer into the busyness of the school year.

Over the next few weeks, Kellie and I look forward to sharing more detail on the routines that have benefited our families. We plan to post on child directed routine sheets, meal planning and preparation, discussion points to talk with your children about the importance of routines, chores and more!!

RoutinesOne of the things I love about routines is that they have been instrumental in helping my children successfully master necessary life skills. Creating morning and evening routines revolving around self-care, proper nutrition and simple organization has increased their personal sense of competence in each of these areas. Also, I feel reassured knowing our current routines are helping me raise children who will know how to properly care for themselves as young adults.

Routines have also helped alleviate power struggles in our home.   For example, my husband used to have a very difficult time getting the kids to choose snacks other than crackers and yogurt after school. They would want to eat only these items and would complain when directed to other choices. So that led us to create an after-school snack routine. They could choose one “non-produce” item and after that it was two fruits or veggies before they could have another. Once this family policy was put into place we kept it clear, predictable and enforced. It was just a short period of adjustment before our children began, for the most part,to quit protesting and accept that this is just how afternoon snack time works in our home.

Another benefit of routines is that they help my children feel a sense of security. There is so much that happens in their daily lives that they have no control over… will they have their regular teacher or a substitute at school, will there be conflict between kids in their class or at daycare, will we have an unexpected errand to run after work or school, etc. Having regular routines in place at home allow my children the opportunity to predict exactly how certain parts of every day will go. For example, my kids and I start every weekday morning eating breakfast together. This provides a reliable moment of closeness between the four of us before we all go out to deal with whatever the rest of our day may entail.

Finally, everyone in our house has profited from having routines in place for things like chores and meal planning. Involving my kids in these activities has helped teach them responsibility and the valuable lesson that in order to help family life run smoother, a little preparation and a lot of teamwork go a long way.

After reading the above I am sure you can see why I am excited to spend the next few weeks posting on routines. Kellie and I look forward to sharing ideas with you to help instill a sense of order and clarity in the midst of everyday chaos.