A mother recently asked for advice in my Facebook group, saying she had many good intentions around setting up beautiful displays for her child, putting together bookshelves, preparing art activities, and so on, but she struggled to find the time and/or motivation to follow through and put these actions into practice.
It can feel overwhelming at times, can’t it? I feel it too! We have so many ideas, so much we want to do with our children, so many memories we yearn to make, that it can feel exhausting. Rather than spurring us into action, our to-do lists are so long that we don’t know what to do first, so instead we slump on the sofa with a bar of chocolate and scroll Instagram again, making notes of yet more inspiration for things we should do.
Here are a few of my suggestions:
Find a rhythm for your family. Putting some thought into creating strong family rhythms leads to far less planning day to day. Rhythm is emphatically not about establishing strict routines or schedules; it is there to serve you rather than turn you into its slave. A strong rhythm based on family needs and values creates freedom through establishing a flow which feels natural, where everyone knows what comes next. Having consistent times set aside for regular activities such as art, baking, and gardening as well as trips to the park, to the library, and to any groups or lessons you attend means that you need to spend much less time planning what you will be doing each day, especially when you factor in time for meals, chores, and free play. Crafting strong seasonal rhythms for your family further reduces the need for planning and buying new supplies, as each season you will have a ready-planned store of activities to turn to (for ideas to help you create an Easter rhythm see my recent post). For those of you with children at school or nursery, you may find that actually your child needs very few structured activities at all, and your family rhythm is focused around giving them time to unwind and reconnect after a long day.
Put aside regular time to do some reading, sorting, and planning… If you find it hard to make time for toy and book rotation then consider putting an hour or two aside in your diary each month, ideally when your children are out or asleep as many find this easier. You may also like to try and find a regular time to reflect on how your days are going, if your child’s current set up is suiting their needs, catch up on blog posts you’ve bookmarked, and plan for any trips or activities you’d like to do over the coming week or month including purchasing any materials you might need or sourcing books or poems to enjoy together.
…but be realistic… Although the internet and books are full of gorgeous, Pinterest worthy activities, it helps to be realistic. Young children tend to prefer messy, wild, unstructured process art to craft projects for example, and may well go off-piste with your lovingly set up small world play invitations – or even ignore them in order to play with mundane household objects. Consider where your time and energy will be usefully spent; if you have a child who climbs furniture and wants to touch everything, maybe putting effort into a delicate seasonal display is not the right choice for you.
…and achievable. Saying you want to declutter the house and reorganise the playroom and make the house “more Montessori” is an admirable goal, but if your life is anything like mine you’re not going to have the time to do everything in one go. Instead break down what you want to achieve into smaller steps. Rather than finding space to make a nature display, why not make a little seasonal basket with a couple of books and some finds from your local walks? If you’re trying to make your home more child-friendly, start simply, by adding a couple of step stools or a low hook for your child’s coat. Want to make an art cupboard? Start with a box of paper, glue, scissors, pencils, felt tips, and go from there.
Ask yourself why you want to do the things you want to do. Is the craft project because you want a Thing To Do, or because you know your child will love it? Do you really need to buy a plant lifecycle model (I’ve seen lots of them on social media recently) or could you just plant a seed and watch it grow? Do you want set up a nature table because it looks good on social media and you want an excuse to buy some sweet flower fairies or a celebration ring to adorn it – no judgement, they are adorable! – or because you feel your child will truly benefit from one? Do you actually need to plan activities, or are your children happy as they are, wandering around a local park or playing at home? I have definitely bought or planned things in the past that that, with hindsight, I really didn’t need to. Taking time to observe your child and find out what they really need – and maybe that IS a space to display the treasures they’ve found on nature walks, or a weekly class with other children – is well worth it.
Be kind to yourself. Social media and blogs are wonderful for gaining inspiration and ideas, but it can also be easy to compare what children of a similar age are doing and to feel deflated, wondering if we are doing enough to prepare our sweet children for life in the big old world. If there’s one thing I know, it is that comparison is the thief of joy. All children grow and learn at their own pace, and not all children will have the same drive to work on the same things. And it’s not just other children – it can be demoralising to see other parents with seemingly boundless energy and patience for baking and crafting with their kids when you work full time and have to muster all your energy to get through bedtime. Children need connection, respect, and love, not pre-planned activities or stuff. Allow yourself to take the easy path, be it a long, splashy bath with your little one on a cold winter morning, or a lazy afternoon in bed with a pile of books, an ice lolly, and the windows open on a hot summer day.
If in doubt, simplify. I truly believe that when it comes to young children, less is more. They simply do not need structured activities every day, or craft projects, or flashcards, or elaborate baking set ups. What children do need is abundant time to play, ideally outdoors as well as indoors, and to be included in practical family life. I have found personally that the more I plan elaborate activities, the more likely we both are to end up frustrated. The days where we take it slow, reading a pile of books in our pyjamas before making pancakes together and then getting muddy in the garden are almost always the best. Children need space and time to explore, to wander, to imagine, to be bored. It’s the best gift you could possibly give them.