After school jobs for kids

28 August 2023

Today’s post is simple, but perhaps it will be for you what it was for me a few years ago: something that only seemed obvious in retrospect.

A few years ago, Annie was a newborn, Shep was in preschool, and June had just started kindergarten. I was fresh into the toting-three-kids-in-the-car phase of parenthood and realizing that I simply couldn’t carry the older two’s things in from the car as I had become accustomed to when I also needed to heft an infant carseat and my own things. And, once we got inside, I often needed to attend to the baby right away – so something that delayed the immediate cries for a snack would be helpful.

So, in the Montessori mindset of “don’t do for a child what she can do for herself,” we instituted what we call after-school jobs. We officially told the kids they were responsible for the following when we got home from school each day:

  • Collecting your things from the car and bringing them inside
  • Taking off your shoes and putting them in the shoe basket
  • Emptying your backpack, plugging in your school laptop, and putting your backpack in the closet
  • Putting any papers in the art basket or on the table for parents to see
  • Removing anything from your lunchbox (bento box, thermos, etc.), putting the dirty stuff in the sink, and putting your lunchbox in the pantry
  • Going to the bathroom (if needed!)
  • Washing your hands

When each step is complete, they can have a snack. For us, moving the snack to the final step in the process is a very simple and effective mechanism to make sure the jobs get completed with minimal reminders or whining. The expectation is clear. Rest assured, there is still at times both whining and reminders, but it is much easier for me to say, “did you do your jobs?” than to nag them repeatedly on individual items. Any sense of grievance seems to shift to the house policy rather than land on me as the enforcing individual, if that makes sense.

We don’t use cards or a chart to illustrate the steps; it’s really not that much and we just reminded them of the steps when we were getting started as needed.

Even Annie, at two, is a participant in certain steps. In fact, she’s often better than the older kids at immediately removing her shoes and putting them in the basket :) A great reminder that our kids are often more capable than we realize, and to continually be upgrading our expectations of them!

If you, too, find yourself with your hands full (physically or metaphorically), I hope this is a helpful glimpse into one family’s after-school routine! As always, let me know if you have any questions.

P.S. I would not consider these steps chores, per se, and in our family, they’re not connected to allowance. Allowance, is, in fact, a very new phenomenon in our household – we’re starting this week! – though an allowance, and all its pros and cons, has been on my mind for a while. (This is a perfect example of how I am prone to think perhaps a smidge too deeply about things.) June has been asking for one for months, so we’re making a first attempt. I will report back in a few weeks with how things have gone, if there’s interest, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear how allowance looks at your house, if you’d like to share!

Bulletin boards for kids

22 August 2023

We’re in the middle of what seems to be an unplanned mini-series right now – if I was savvier, I’d have called it something like “living with kids, simplified” :) I guess the back-to-school spirit is in the air!

In my last post, I mentioned that particularly prized pieces of artwork go on our kids’ bulletin boards. After it went live, I realized I haven’t shown you those bulletin boards! They’re simple, but they’ve been a bit of a missing puzzle piece for us, so I’m happy to share.

Photo by Honeysuckle Collective

A few pain points were resolved in this space. First, pieces of artwork that needed a worthy display found a home. Second, our kids got a spot to customize on the first floor. And finally, we made good use of a previously-empty hallway.

I purchased three of these framed linen bulletin boards (the 20×30″ size) and hung them up in a row. They have the neutral, classic look I was hoping for (gotta let that colorful artwork shine!) and the price is great ($24 each (!!) at the time of this writing, marked down from their usual $60 (which is still a great price!)).

Just so you’re not surprised if you buy one, I’d say the surface is a bit harder than your typical cork, so I do need to help the kids push in the pins at this point.

Each child has free rein to decorate his or her board, and it’s fun to see their personalities come out to play. Shep pins things up with abandon, while June adds things very selectively. June’s board also houses her calendar, where she keeps track of her specials and other relevant information for her life. Annie’s gets additions from me and her siblings :) I appreciate that the bulletin boards are centrally located, but not facing into the main living space, which makes the free-rein-ness easy to grant, ha!

All in all, adding these kids’ bulletin boards was a super-simple project. It did exactly what I was hoping it would – give us an extra display space, and add a little colorful fun to the hallway – for minimal effort and expense. A back-to-school win!

Up next: the final post in this mini-series, on after-school jobs!

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Simplifying kids’ artwork

18 August 2023

Our solution to the voluminous piles of artwork our kids bring home is right around the corner from our solution to kids’ shoes: the art basket!

A solution is necessary not only because of the amount of artwork that comes home (and random scribbles, and folded pieces of paper, and worksheets, and yarn clippings (Montessori life IYKYK)) – if left to my own devices, I could efficiently cull the keepers and toss everything else.

But that’s not what happens, because the idea of throwing out a just-created masterpiece of any kind is anathema to my pint-sized artists. Tossing almost anything in front of them is asking for a daily battle over what gets kept.

So, we sidestep. Here’s what I do instead…

Everything that comes home from school or church goes in the art basket. We ooh and ahh over things as needed, and sometimes they pin items on their bulletin boards. But if it’s not going somewhere else, it goes in the art basket – no matter how lowly or how precious it might be.

The art basket is on the shelf of the bench in our front entry, so it’s right at hand when they’re coming in the door after school and emptying their backpacks and lunchboxes.

Eventually, the art basket fills up. Once it’s threatening to overflow, I’ll find a time when the kids are not around to go through it. I’ll sort through the stack and pull anything I want to keep in their memory boxes, then recycle the rest.

Here’s a very important key: the recycled papers MUST go in the outside recycling bin, NOT the inside one. Trust me, I’ve had plenty of things spotted and removed from the bin in the pantry, but so far they have not started dumpster diving in the outdoor bin. I leave a thin stack of papers in the bottom of the basket so it’s not 100% empty, and neither kid ever seems to notice I’ve been there.

As for those memory boxes, I recently added letter stickers to them and they are looking pretty cute! They’re from Joy Creative Shop, but I actually purchased mine from my friend Kaylee’s shop, where they were on sale. The bins are from Target. All three are stored under the beds upstairs!

Any questions? Happy to help, and godspeed with your own paper adventures this fall, friends.

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Simplifying kids’ shoes

15 August 2023

I’m a guest on the Cultivate podcast episode that dropped yesterday. It was a good conversation, about helping kids to cultivate what matters, but what I wanted to draw out here was the tip I offered at the top of the episode, about kids’ shoes. Kids’ shoes can be a giant headache. Our family, however, has figured out some easy ways to calm the crazy, and I thought we could talk about them today – perhaps just in time to make a few changes before the beginning of the school year! :)

First and most importantly, our kids have very few pairs of shoes compared to what I perceive to be normal in other families. In fact, they pretty much have just two pairs of shoes each:

— One pair of Natives
— One pair of sneakers

Let’s talk about this a bit more.

One pair of Native Jeffersons. While I thought Natives looked like something aliens would wear when I first saw them, I acclimated quickly, because there’s a lot to like about them. They’re sturdy, they can be worn in the water, they count as close-toed for school and other scenarios that require it. They can be worn to run and jump but also are just sleek enough to be worn for most middling formal occasions. They can be brightened up with a quick scrub with a Magic Eraser.

Living in North Carolina, our kids wear Natives almost year-round (though obviously, not in the height of winter). They wear them to church. They wear them to school. They wear them to play outside.

When they outgrow a pair, we order the next size up. Shep (5) almost exclusively gets the “Regatta” color. For June (7), I’ll choose 5-6 colors that appeal to me and that I think she’ll also like, and then let her make the final decision. (Because these are worn almost daily with all sorts of outfits, I don’t feel one bit bad about not letting her choose particularly loud or garish patterns.) Annie (2) has worn hand-me-downs so far :)

One pair of sneakers. Sneakers are worn for active play, gym day, in the winter, and pretty much whenever else they want. Because we don’t keep a pair of fashion sneakers as well as athletic sneakers, I try to choose a pair that appeals to me aesthetically while also fulfilling its athletic purpose – and I don’t mind spending more on these since we only have one pair at a time. With the ages of our kids, we’ve opted for velcro over laces so far.

Currently, June has this pair of Adidas. Shep has this pair of Nikes. And Annie has this pair of Cientas, which are not particularly athletic but v v cute.

Speaking of cute – do I think kids shoes are adorable? Yes.

Do I sometimes wish my kids had sliiiightly fancier shoes to wear with a dressier outfit? Yes.

But those are pretty much the only negatives I can think of, and they’re dwarfed by the benefits of streamlining our shoe life:

  • There are fewer shoes to research, purchase, keep track of, maintain, and store. (This all takes time!!)
  • Having fewer choices simplifies our mornings and every other time we need to get out the door.
  • There are very few power struggles over what shoes to wear when.
  • Everyone can put on their own shoes.
  • We spend less money.

Let’s talk about other shoes, though, since they do have a few additional pairs:

  • Rain boots | Since Natives can be worn in the water and our climate is warmer, I generally do not purchase rain boots. My sister generously passes pairs down, so we often have pairs the kids can wear if needed.
  • Snow boots | Same. We have some from my sister, but this is definitely not an item I would make sure my kids have a pair of at the beginning of each winter.
  • Fancy shoes | We buy these on an as-needed basis – they are not something we keep in stock for each kid at each size. If there’s an event (wedding, Christmas Eve, performance, dance, etc.) that requires it, then we buy in the size they need. Occasionally we get fancy hand-me-downs, too :)
  • Salt Water sandals | I used to buy each child a pair of these at the beginning of summer, but have gotten away from it because they just didn’t wear them enough to justify the price. I absolutely ADORE the look and we do still have several pairs that fit various people, but these are no longer an automatic buy.

All of these “extra” shoes are stored in June’s closet upstairs, ready to pull out as needed. This keeps them out of the flow of daily life, but accessible as needed.

So where are the rest of the shoes stored? Why, in the shoe basket, of course!

All of the kids’ current shoes are stored in a wire basket by our front door.

They’re right where we need them and it’s a super-easy storage system for the kids to follow (although somehow it still takes reminders to get them to follow it…). Socks for all three kids are stored in our bedroom, which is on the first floor and just around the corner from the front door. (Even if your bedroom is not on the first floor, I’d highly encourage you to find somewhere to store socks on the first floor. I can’t imagine having to send a kid upstairs every time they needed to put on socks!)

In closing, I’ll say that as much as I love this system and it’s working well for us now, I know it won’t work forever. Kids will grow, their shoes will get bigger, their needs might change, they might have more opinions about their footwear. This is the continual puzzle of family life – to be aware of when a system is no longer working, and to be willing to release it and find something new.

I would love to hear if there’s something you keep unusually simple in your family, or a storage hack you’d like to share with the group. I have another one coming up in my next post that several friends have adopted – I think it’s a good one :)

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