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.
Even if you’re not a parent, you probably find that getting ready to go out the door in the morning is one of the most complex and stressful times of your day. You trip over the cat on the way to the bathroom. You create a complex blend of müslix with fresh fruit only to realise you’re out of milk and any sort of milk alternative. Right after you put your shoes on you remember that the book you absolutely need to bring along is on the other side of the apartment.
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
After some discussion, we whittled down the morning activities to a list of five steps which were essential for getting ready for kindergarten:
- eating breakfast
- clearing the table
- getting dressed
- brushing teeth
- putting on outside clothes
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:
Now we needed a way to display these images so that the kids could clearly observe the order and keep track of what had already been done.
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.
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.
It wouldn’t be fair to expect our kids to do all these things if we didn’t do them as well. At first, my partner and I also tracked our progress around the racetrack or let the kids track it for us.
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.
With the kids able to visualise their progress for the morning, we can now ask them “where are you in the morning race?” It’s also much easier for them to see what’s left to accomplish. We’re able to note the time remaining before we have to leave the apartment. Keeping everyone on the same page prevents a lot of arguments.
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?”
The kids are proud to visualise and show their progress. We have (slightly) fewer arguments in the morning. Despite the “morning race” moniker, the morning feels like less of a race.
Is it really a race?
While friendly competition can be great, two siblings with an age difference of just under two years can easily take any sense of contest too seriously and personally, removing any sense of fun. We’ve avoided making the “race” about “who won?” Instead, we try to remind the kids that it’s really a cooperative effort. “When everyone has crossed the finish line, everyone wins.”
Does our reward system help?
I have read some opinions that rewarding children for good behaviour can lead them to feel like they should only do good when they’re sure of being rewarded for it. For instance, giving your child a reward every time they finish reading a book could potentially make them want to read for and only for the sake of receiving that reward.
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.
The morning race has now lived on our fridge for two and a half years. Our whole family still references it regularly. Not every day, because we’ve all memorized the order by now. It’s a helpful reminder of a shared process, and I still occasionally see the kids “racing” their wooden shoes around it. It might look like a traffic jam at times but in the end, we all win.