Toy cars and a toy baby carriage which have all run into each other.
The challenge of avoiding accidents and traffic jams while getting your kids ready to leave the house.

My partner and I needed a way to help our kids focus on getting ready for kindergarten. We took a page from project management and tried to make it just a little bit more fun.

The challenge

Oh, no it’s not. Where in the world is it? Ah, right, you put it in your backpack last night so you wouldn’t forget it…

With kids, it’s often helpful for them to have a clear and easily repeatable schedule to follow. Meal-times usually need to be particularly regular. We’ve also had a sort of “going to bed ceremony” that starts half an hour before the appointed time since the kids were very small.

But what about in the mornings? It often felt like a frantic, mixed-up mess.

To help us, we did a bit of research and made use of four functions of the management process:

  • Planning — Determining Courses of Action
  • Organizing — Coordinating Activities and Resources
  • Leading — Managing, Motivating and Directing People
  • Controlling — Monitoring and Evaluating activities

Planning

This brought us to the next challenge. Like most kindergarteners, our kids couldn’t read. What would be the best way to represent this list of tasks in an easily understandable and quickly-referenced format?

After a couple of poor attempts with pencil crayons and a search for suitable clip-art on the internet, we decided the easiest and probably best solution would be to take photos showing something that would clearly remind us all of each step.

This would have been much more difficult if I’d had to create photos that could be understood by children around the world or even around Germany, but since this was just for our household we could use images of specific things that our kids would recognize. Some examples:

An empty yogurt container with a spoon in it and an empty plastic drinking cup.
Eat breakfast — the background is our breakfast table. Normally our kids do eat more than this, honest.
A plastic cup and a pile of plates and cutlery on a wooden countertop.
Clear the table — the background is our kitchen countertop looking much cleaner and tidier than usual.

Organizing

We considered printing the images one after another on a piece of paper, like a check-list. We considered a path, moving left to right. Somewhere in the process, the image of a circular racetrack came to my mind. I found a way to make a “track” out of pieces of black masking tape and white electrical tape.

The track ended up hexagonal rather than circular or oval because that’s a lot easier to do with tape. The leftmost corner is the start and finish line and each of the photos is attached near its own corner of the track.

The complete “track” design.

At first, we used little round coloured magnets and I was hoping to source some car-shaped magnets. Shortly after creating the “racetrack,” I was at a conference in Amsterdam and, like any polite tourist, I bought way too many souvenirs. This including some magnetic wooden shoes. These have been the markers for the kids’ places in the race ever since. Even if they don’t fit well on the “track” they make it a bit more fun for the kids.

Get dressed in inside clothes — those tights are nice to have on cold winter days but it’s an epic struggle to get all the tiny toes to the very end.

Leading

We give “stars” on another sheet of paper for things like “clearing the table without being asked” and “getting dressed all by yourself.” If the kids collect a full sheet of stars they can pick out a toy next time we go shopping together. They can also order something off the internet, and they know this means that they will have to wait for their new toy to arrive, which we hope will teach them some form of patience. Although now that they have found out about tracking packages online, we’ve had to repeatedly explain that we have no idea why their new toy has been sitting in Luxemburg for a week.

A toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste on a wood-patterned counter top.
A toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste on a wood-patterned counter top.
Brush your teeth — we’ve since upgraded to electric toothbrushes, which unfortunately makes it easier for the kids to attempt to talk at the same time as brushing.

Controlling

Sometimes we use a timer to help speed along a step in the race. “Do you think you can get dressed all by yourself before the bell goes off?”

Put on outside clothes — it’s great to be able to skip these in the summer but then we need suncream too. Oh and mosquito spray. When will it be winter again?

Result

Potential dangers

Is it really a race?

Does our reward system help?

When our children can see themselves “saving up” their stars towards a reward, they get more excited about helping out and we try to remember to say “thank you for your help” when they complete these tasks to remind them that this is more than just a way to earn “points.”

I also think that adding in some friendly competition, especially racing against the clock, trying to beat their own personal best, really helps to positively motivate our kids.

Conclusion

The morning race track, with stains and felt-pen scribbles, attached to a refrigerator with magnets.
The morning race as it looks now, having survived a few spills and guerilla artists. Get your shoes on and go!

I like helping people to discover their own potential. He/him. Full-time parent & software developer, part-time teacher & musician.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store