Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Productively Occupying 3-Year-Old Boys

I've been asked this question many times, "Could you please give me ideas for ways to productively occupy my rambunctious 3-year-old little son?"  And since most all of us moms have striven to learn to do this well, I'd like to give you a thorough, detailed answer from what I've learned.  *smile*  Not that I've "arrived" by any means, but these are ideas that have worked well for us.



Now may I just say first that our sons are wonderful, happy, energetic little guys and we love them absolutely to pieces.  And the 3-year-old little man that I'll be highlighting today is absolutely a joy!  But they and he have been a lot of work, too, and different work from the girls.  From my experience, boys are an entirely different ball game.  *wink* 

So how can we productively occupy these little guys while we're trying to homeschool our older children, and manage toddlers and babies simultaneously?  I'll share with you,
  • Boys vs. girls
  • How I keep him safe without having to follow him around all the time.
  • How I schedule our 3-year-olds time on a typical day.
  • A list of specific toys and activities that our 3-year-old sons have liked to occupy their time with.
  • Five catalogs and online shopping resources that I've gotten many great activity ideas from over the years.

Boys vs. Girls
These little men are precious, and they have qualities that they will need in order to become great husbands and fathers themselves:  creativity, persistence, strength, determination, strength, courage...did I say strength?  *laugh*  However these qualities can be so difficult to manage when they're young and needing to also learn self-control.  A mommy's heart desires for her little son to be productively occupied, learning, and safe - and if you have a son, you know that boredom does not lead to great things!

I had always heard that boys are different from girls.  But experiencing this was a whole new world for me, personally.  Ho-ly-cow.  *laugh*  And all of my ideas for occupying our first two children who were girls were not working very well for occupying our boys!  I think most mommies have a fairly natural idea of how to occupy their daughters, because they were little girls once themselves.  Girls typically like verbal activities, dolls, little people games, relationship games, drawing or painting or other small-motor skill activities, electronic toys that teach phonics, etc..  But our boys, well, they're more about noises, action, and adventure.  

Our sons make their Matchbox cars be "the driver" in their larger trucks - not people drivers, but other cars as drivers.  Our sons look out the window in the morning and say Good morning to the cars, not to the neighbors like our girls do.  Our sons take the electronic phonics toys we have at home and see how many noises they can make with it, but they do not usually play phonics games with it.  When our girls pick up the electronic phonics toys I hear, "'A' says 'a' and 'A' says 'ah' - every letter makes a sound..."  But I know it's a boy who has the electric phonics toy because I hear from the toy when buttons are pushed, "A...a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a".  *laugh*  And our boys seem to have a limitless tolerance for hearing the same sound repeatedly without stop, which can drive adults little nutty!  So what does our little 3-year-old son's day look like?  I'll show you...


How I keep him safe without having to follow him around all the time.
I don't know about your sons, but our sons are not only creative...but fast.  I can be standing just 3-feet away, and suddenly a little son can be standing on the dining room table pouring salt all over it, or standing in the bathroom sink while it's filling up with water, or balancing precariously on top of the 6-foot privacy fence in our back yard!  Before I can blink they can unload the craft/game/office supplies closet, or have a tea party with plastic dishes in the bathroom toilet.  

When Bob and I were new parents with only 1 or 2 daughters we believed that children should be expected to develop self-control rather than having everything in their world put up out of reach where they cannot get in to it, or have to use baby gates or door knob locks.  We kept books, picture frames, remote controls and the like down within their reach and we taught them that they were not allowed to touch them.  Our girls received this teaching beautifully, and we felt so proud.  *chuckle*  Then we had a son.  

I was totally mystified as to why I could not train this little person to obey in the same way our girls would?  I persevered, I was consistent in my training, but it just didn't seem to work.  Our little testosterone-filled darling had strength, perseverance, creativity, and speed that I simply was not able to train in the same way.  Now Bob and I are still in agreement with teaching children self-control in principle.  We still have most things down within their reach, but only if we're in the same room as those items and the little son; only when they are under our direct supervision.  This is one of those areas where we have found that child training changes a bit when there is a crowd of many, young children, and especially boys.  We had to think outside-the-box, and adjust in order to keep our little men safe.

Since having our 4th boy, we have acquired a few good strategies for keeping our children safe around our home while my attention is on homeschooling...or cooking, or helping another child, or sitting at the computer in the family room, or doing anything other than looking directly at those sons, and in this post in particular, our 3-year-old son.  *smile*  These strategies have given me great peace of mind while around the house.  *chuckle* 

In our current 1100 square-foot house we have one main living area, which includes the family room, kitchen and dining room, and a hallway.  Off of this is the play room & computer room, but this needs supervision for our 3-year-old (and babies), our bedroom which is off limits to kids, a bathroom, the pantry, and the stairwell leading downstairs.  Here are photos of the main living space.




To keep this hallway and the adjacent rooms manageable we have a baby gate up at the stairwell to keep babies and toddlers from falling down the stairs, and to keep the 3-year-old up stairs where he can be supervised all of the time.  We also have a baby gate up at the end of the hallway in to our master bedroom, as our bedroom is mine and Bob's sanctuary and is off limits to young kids.  I like our home to feel as open as possible, and I like daylight, so I do not want to keep our bedroom door closed all day every day.  We also have the changing table in there and I need to be able to see and hear children outside our bedroom while changing someone's pants.  And then we have door knob locks - which are zip-tied on to prevent the 3-year-old from simply breaking them off and going wherever he pleases (in 2 seconds) - on the doors to the bathroom, playroom/computer room, and pantry off of this hallway.  Here's how we do our door knob locks, which 3-year-old little man used to get off easily, but now cannot.  We zip tied the two halves of the clam-shell style of door knob lock together so that they could not be broken apart by our 3-year-old little man.


When our 3-year-old has play time in the family room, our current strategy on school days (not so much weekends when there's two adults present, and unoccupied siblings to play with him) is usually to get out one or two sets of toys from the play room that he likes and he plays with those in the family room.  This way he has supervision, but without having unsupervised access to everything in the play room including the computers.  Our play room has all of the children's activities and toys in it, and large sets of those activities so that multiple children can all play together at once - but if the whole room gets dumped out at once it's a huge clean up.  Little son does play in there every day with a specific sibling assigned to join him - but not very often unlimited, unsupervised play time.

We also have a little spring-loaded hook lock on the computer cupboard in our desk in the family room.  I've recently decided to move the desk/office supplies at the desk from the bottom drawers (where all 4 youngest children get in to constantly, despite training efforts so far) up to baskets on the desk shelves, which has totally alleviated a major headache for now.  It doesn't each them self-control, of course, but with the 4 of them together training seems to be taking a lot longer than when we were training one child.  So, we're training in as many things as we can simultaneously and we'll add back in the other things later as behavior has improved.  

Here are the kitchen and dining room areas which are also available play areas for him, however I am pretty much always in these rooms to supervise, or our older daughters are there in my place, doing school, baking, projects, etc.



When 3-year-old son is playing in the play room, or in his bedroom for "play alone time" each morning during homeschool hours, my wonderful husband devised a simple lock for the sliding closet doors to keep him from unloading that storage.  Now again, in the past we simply trained our daughters to stay out of these closets - but I have yet to be able to train a little son to stay out of the closets even after months and years of persistent training.  I simply had to let go of my striving, lock them closed, and move on with life.  There's great peace in knowing that he's safe, things in our home are safe and nothing is being destroyed while he plays in these rooms.  The peace is so worth it to me, and we will continue training him to have self-control in other areas of his life.  

Our sliding door locks consist of a drilled hole in the top of the door, and a long nail inserted through it; then to open the door we simply slide out the nail a ways, get what we need, and then replace it locking it behind ourselves.



In the kitchen we have had 3-year-old little son unload the knife drawer a few times *yikes!*  So my husband purchased some very strong magnets online and installed those on the front edge of the drawer so that our knife drawer can no longer be opened without two adult hands working simultaneously.  *whew*

 

 

With these good safety strategies in place I can pretty much move through out our routine for the day and not have to be concerned about where Tyler is and what he's doing.  His time is planned out well for him, and when he has freedom within his play areas I know that he's safe.  Now he can also climb over the baby gate in to our room, and does if he's unattended for too long, so once in a while if we haven't seen him in too long or don't hear him we have to go searching and we find him there in our bedroom; but this is not very often.  *sigh*  ...I wonder...do they make 5-foot tall baby gates??  (Just kidding.)

I've also had to lock the laundry room door down stairs because the 3-year-old and 4 of his close-in-age siblings would not stay out of the chemicals and laundry soap and were constantly blaming each other for the huge messes so that we couldn't determine who had done what.  So for now, that door is locked.  Again, it's not requiring self-control requiring of them, but we're working on that in other areas of life and for now I simply can't take on everything at once with so many "offenders" *wink*.  To lock the laundry room door, my husband simply switched the door knobs between our locking master bathroom knob and the laundry room one.  I carry the key to the laundry room with me on a string around my neck.  Inconvenient?  Yes.  Safe for now?  Yes.

One more thing we've had to implement is locking the bathroom door door knob upstairs when I'm making dinner and all of the young ones are having free time, supervised by the older ones.  Somehow the youngest 4 children were often getting in there and playing in the toilet when older siblings were not paying attention.  We have an exterior door knob lock on the knob, but the 3-year-old can technically get past those when he really wants to and he would then let in the other 3 young children and they would ALL play!  So the door knob gets locked on that door from 4:30-6:00 pm; if the older children need to use that bathroom they have to get the key from me (same key as the laundry room door knob).  Inconvenient?  Yep.  But safe.  Soon we hope to improve everyone's level of self-control, but as we're working on it, or until they are older, we have to keep them safe.  So we're doing what we have to do.


How I schedule our 3-year-olds time on a typical day
Little son's time is scheduled for him during the week just like everyone else's is.  I desire not only to keep him productively occupied, but also to make sure that he gets his needs met.  When learning how to schedule our family (book, Managers of Their Homes, by Steve & Teri Maxwell), it blessed my heart to be taught how to consider each person's needs in a given week.  I write them down, and make sure that those things are included in his days when putting a schedule together.  

Not only does 3-year-old little son need to be occupied, but he needs time with his Mama every day, time to play with siblings, some time for one-on-one play with a sibling, and a little time to play alone uninterrupted and un-entertained.  By planing his days and his week proactively I can make sure he gets the important things, not just the practical things.  So here is what his current school day looks like (not weekends).

7:30 am - Wake and snuggle in his crib waiting for his turn to be dressed, changed, hair combed, and teeth brushed by mom.  When he's done he has a little free time to play in the family room and play room while greeting his siblings and being with them as they also prepare for the day.  This is not enough time for him to get out tons of toys.  He plays sweetly with one or two things, visits everybody, and then before he gets bored he's up to the table for breakfast.  (Note:  we tried a twin bed for him but after weeks of training have yet to get him to stay in his bed.  So he went back to his crib with a crib tent over it to help him stay there (in which he's very peaceful once the option of getting out is removed), and we'll try again with a toddler bed some time in the next few months.  If necessary, I've found a place where I can purchase a twin bed tent to help him stay there, too.)

8:30 am - He's at the table in his booster seat for breakfast, and will be there for 60 min. while his food is prepared, while he eats, and then while the kitchen is cleaned up and we all move in to the next part of our day.  Sometimes he has an activity like coloring with Crayola's Magic Pens or with some Matchbox cars.

9:30 am - Big sister helps him move from the table strait in to "play alone time" in his bedroom for 60 minutes.  She helps him choose an activity from the play room to bring down with him, and then he also has a preschool train set to use in his room, and a bunch of stuffed animals to play with down there.  He loves this time and plays very sweetly with the door closed, and a lock on his closet door to keep him out of there.  Side note:  Using a baby gate on the door hasn't worked for us because when kids can see out they haven't tended to settle down ad play; whereas if the door is closed and they can't see out then they do settle down and play contentedly without feeling like they're missing what's going outside their bedroom. 

10:30 am - He has "Melanie play time" where he plays with his sister for 30 minutes.  Melanie chooses with his help an activity that is educational, and one that she knows he likes (usually building with Duplo blocks lately) and they play and play together.

11:00 am - He comes to the family room where he joins his 9, 6, and 5-year-old siblings to learn phonics and have a snack, and then sits with the same group of siblings for 30 minutes of story time on the couch with mom.  

11:45 am - He has play time for about 45 minutes with his siblings in the family room with a specific activity, but not free access to the entire play room.  We don't have time for a massive clean up before he eats lunch at 12:30.

12:30 pm - Lunch

1:00 pm - Play time again in the family room, usually same activities as before lunch.  He plays with his 2-year-old brother and 17-month-old twin sisters while his 5 older siblings eat lunch at the table.

2:00 pm - Nap for 2 hours.

4:00 pm - Snack at the table.

4:15 pm - Play time with his siblings in the family room, and sometimes watching a documentary with everyone in the family room (on the computer monitor, we don't choose to own a TV) while mom prepares dinner.  He also sets the table for dinner by putting napkins at each person's place.  *smile*  He loves having his job like the older kids.

6:00 pm - Daddy arrives home and spends time with all of the kids while I finish up preparing dinner.  Dinner takes about 60 minutes to serve and eat.  Then he has time to play in the family room.

8:40 pm - Everyone finishes getting ready for bed, mommy and daddy get the 3-year-old, 2-year old, and 17-month-old twin girls ready for bed.

9:00 pm - All children are tucked in to bed for the night.

I try to alternate his times in his schedule so that he has time with people, then time alone, and time with Mommy.  And on the weekends we have a more relaxed routine in which he has free time to play in the play room with the other kids even more. 

By keeping our little 3-year-old in a predictable, consistent routine during the week he can rest in each activity knowing how long he will be there, and that mom or a sister always comes proactively when his time is over.  He also knows when he will have time with other siblings, and especially time with mommy.  *smile*  When a child has limitless free time during the day, and very few if any limits on his play areas but has free roam of the house, this is really too much responsibility for someone so young.  In this situation he has not yet learned to make good choices as to how to spend his time, so he ends up having negative consequences quite often (even if they're just verbal) because mom does not like his choices when left up to him.  It is also typically too long of a time for him to be responsible for managing his relationships by himself, so there is often sibling strife.  Little 3-year-old guys need guidance.  They need good, healthy parameters and boundaries to work freely within.  He does have freedom, but within limited play spaces and for limited amounts of time, which helps him to be successful.  It's good for him in every way to have a good routine to follow through, physically, emotionally, and socially.  

Now this schedule does change a bit as his needs change and his age changes.  Every few or several months I may make a slight adjustment as to how he goes through his day so that it works for his best and our best benefit.  And every fall season before we begin a new school year I carefully consider his age, his abilities, and his needs and plan his routine for the year within our family.  Having a schedule is consistent and predictable for him, but is also modified periodically to make sure his current routine is the best one for him (and inconsideration of the other 8 siblings and mom of course).  And we always throw in plenty of snuggle time, and time to sing songs, and we flex our timing as necessary as life happens.


A list of specific toys and activities that our 3-year-old sons have liked to occupy their time with.
I have had friends say, "I know what our daughters likes to play with, but I'm having to totally mentally adjust for things that our son might like to play with - can you give me some ideas?"  Well here's what our 3-year-old son likes to do.
  • Matchbox cars, a garage, and a large carpet car mat with roads printed on it, which is easily rolled up and put away without taking up much space.
  • Duplo Lego blocks, and two 16-inch "plates" to build larger creations on.
  • Ride-along toys, with a compartment in the seat to carry his stuff in.
  • Drawing with water - Aquadoodle Travel & Doodle (fits on his booster seat tray, found also at Wal-Mart).  There's also a large mat-size set for the table, but our little son doesn't need that much space yet (our 5, 6, and 9-year-olds use the mat one).
  • Constructables - motorized building sets for kids.
  • Crayola Magic Pens - pens that only write on Crayola's special paper, so he cannot write on his skin, on furniture, or anywhere else other than on that paper (but he still does this activity at the table).  These can be found at Wal-Mart, Fredmeyer, Michael's Craft Supply, or other local places. 
  • Rescue Heroes - 8-inch tall tough guys, with trucks and things to go with them, some with mechanical, moving parts.  I don't think they still make them new, but you can find lots of used sets on Ebay.
  • Plastic dinosaurs
  • Nerf dart guns with suction cup Nerf bullets, and often times a target drawn on the sliding glass door with Crayola Window Mega Markers.  (And my husband begins teaching our sons the basic rules of gun safety even when they're just beginning to use toy guns, such as never pointing a gun at a person).
  • Dress up clothes - we buy our boys (from Value Village, during their 50% off sales) army coats and hats; a baseball uniform; "daddy clothes" such as a sports jacket, shoes, hat, and wallet; doctor outfit, etc.
  • Fisher-Price train set 
  • Thomas & Friends Wooden Rail Way - wooden, connectable train track pieces and trains.  You can find great used sets on Ebay.
  • Fisher-Price Little People Noah's Ark
  • Computer learning activities - Jump Start's Preschool; Disney's Winnie the Pooh, Toddler.  Be sure to purchase a version compatible with your child's computer.  We have older computers discarded by family members, or purchased used, that don't necessarily work well for adult purposes but work perfectly well for children's learning activities.
  • Grocery foods with shopping baskets or cart, and lots of dishes or cooking pots to put things in.


Four free catalogs and online shopping resources that I've gotten many great activities from over the years.
These resources are full of ideas that I have never seen in local toy stores or at places like Toys R Us.  Not that Toys R Us is not a good resource for toys - but we desire really educational toys and activities, not just time-wasters such as video games.  The activities in these catalogs are sometimes advanced for a 3-year-old, but they're great for kids to grow in to, and a great resource to remember.  These sites listed below are the first place I look when I need gift ideas for our children:

So I just want to reiterate here at the end that our little 3-year-old is really a wonderful, wonderful little boy.  After writing down all of these ways that we manage his creativity and curiosity, it could seem like we have not disciplined or trained our little son at all, or that he's an unusual problem.  *chuckle*  But I assure you that is not the case.  Bob and I are very diligent in training our children, but in this season of life when we have so many very young ones, as well as older ones who also need our attention, I need to do what I need to do in order to keep order in our very small home.  *smile*  

And I desire to give the message to other moms out there in similar situations, who may be feeling like they're pulling their hair out trying to train a little 3-year-old son and are just unable to do so in some areas, that doing something other than what the books recommend for a single little child is sometimes necessary.  Strategies for parenting one child or a couple of children can be very simplistic sometimes, and it just doesn't always work the same way for large families.  I have spent years in the past feeling like I "should" be able to parent and manage our home a certain way, like a typical book (written with small families in mind) recommends that I do it, but life is very different with lots of children.  Thinking proactively (rather than re-actively), and in creative ways in order to help a little son be successful and safe in his play times is a blessing to both him and to the family.


Blessings on your efforts with your little sons,

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45 comments:

  1. I have 4 beautiful sons (ages 23, 14, 7 and 4). We've never had a daughter. My boys were all a little bit wild when they were young. I LOVED that! They mellow as they age. That's nice to in a very different way.

    My boys always love "how to" books. Anything from how to build paper airplanes (they started that at about 3.5 or 4) all the way up to "how it works" kinds of books.

    Also, scissors, paper, tape and crayons can keep them busy for HOURS at my house. One word of caution though. Be sure to put them in play clothes first. We've lot a LOT of shirts (and a few sofa cushions) to scissor accidents.

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  2. Fisher Price has come out with a new line of Rescue Heroes. They are slightly smaller than the older ones but still lots of fun and reasonably priced...great for birthdays and Christmas. We have bought them for our boys at Toys R Us and KMart to supplement our collection of older ones from yard sales and thrift stores.

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    1. Oh! So great! They're SUCH a great action figure. I found them, here's the link! =) http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=30&e=search&N=0%2B4294961594&Ntk=Products&Ntx=mode+matchallany&type=keyword&Nty=1&autoselect=true

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  3. Thanks for the ideas and resources :) We'll be putting them into practice in the future!

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  4. Erika, this made me laugh!

    We had 3 girls who were well behaved and then a 7 year break. Then we had 4 kids in 4 years and 3 of them are boys. But, even our 3 year old daughter is very adventurous.

    We too have zip tied door locks because our daughter figured out how to get them off. I can barely get them off I don't know how she figured it out!

    This post has brought me encouragement. It is nice to know that I am not the only mother with rambunctious little ones.

    How blessed we are to have these little ones around keeping us on our toes!

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  5. Thank you SO MUCH for writing this! I wish I'd had this advice when I first became a mommy - to a little boy. Even though he was an "only" at first his sister was born just before he turned that magical age of 3 and then I had no idea what to do with his energy and curiosity! Now he is 6 (still VERY energetic and VERY much in GREAT need of occupation), sisters are 3.5 and 18mo and we adopted a 2yo little boy as well and have a baby due in a few months. In such a short time I became sooo overwhelmed because so many little ones at once showed me our home needed to be run completely different but I just have had NO IDEA where to start, how to keep things organized, how to get them all in age-appropriate routines. This is one of those articles where I really feel I'm getting wisdom handed down to me from a mama who has "been there" and "done that" and though I've wanted to do all these things - again - it really takes someone else whose walked in these shoes before to give real examples of HOW to go about doing it. So - again - thank you so much for writing it all out here. I appreciate it sooo much, as I don't know any other large families nearby and came from a small family myself. God Bless!!

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    1. Sometimes it seems like it would be common sense, doesn't it? But never has been for me! I've always been grateful for someone spelling out for me exactly HOW they did things. It's one thing to receive a bunch of nice-sounding principles, but a whole other thing to actually implement those somehow. =)

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  6. I'm not sure if you remember but months ago I solicited advice from other moms to include in my eBook "Devotions for the First Few Days" I wound up using yours, and I completely forgot to let you know, sorry : ( I'm keeping my eBook free for only one more day, because It's now in print too. If you'd like an eCopy please e-mail me @ lessonsfromivy at gmail dot com.
    And feel free to let your networks know that your mama advice is featured in my book : )

    http://www.lessonsfromivy.com/2012/05/how-to-be-successful-mother.html

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    1. Thank you for letting me know! =) I'm honored.

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  7. I have taken it upon myself to pray and advocate for a little girl listed on reece's rainbow (reecesrainbow.org). I was wondering whether you had ever considered blessing your family by adopting. If you are considering it, I suggest rescuing, yes RESCUING, a disabled child from Eastern Europe. There are many beautiful children listed on Reece's Rainbow. ("My" little girl is called "Erin"; she's in Russia,region one.) Thanks!

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  8. Thank you for this, it is just what I needed to read today. I had three girls and then two boys and they really do need different things in certain ways from their mama. I've found this hard, as I did not have a role model growing up. Just as I thought I had it figured out, the rules changed! Blogs like yours share so much wisdom and are a huge help.

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  9. i enjoyed this immensely...I have a 3 year old so i just laughed out aloud when you described the scenarios of their curious minds to the nail...:)
    thanks for the tips as i will be checking back to this for sure,,

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  10. Erika,

    I'm curious, have you ever or would you ever consider hiring a mommy's helper? When my boys were little I would have been lost without mine.

    In case you don't know, a mommy's helper is usually a young (teenage) person (boy or girl) who comes in to give a helping hand. They can play with the kids in the yard while you cook dinner, do light baby sitting while you run errands or they can entertain the kids while you take a nap. It's not full on nanny work, but just a helping hand. What's more, a lot of times you can get the help for cheap or free.

    In the community where I live most mom's hire a mommy's helper from time to time. When they can't afford to hire, they barter.

    I just wanted to throw it out there as another option for keeping little boys busy. I know that I wasn't always able to keep my boys busy when they were young, so my helpers were a real life saver. There were days when having my helper take them to the park for an hour while I did other things kept all of us sane.

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    1. Oh yes, we've desired that many times, and have discussed if/when there's an income increase we would use some of that for a mommy's helper. I think it is so valuable when girls can volunteer to use some of their time, especially when high school is finished, to help another mom. But I've also been raised in a community where very, very few have been taught the value of volunteering to do something like this; and even I feel very uncomfortable asking or even receiving something like that for free. I've always been taught that people's time is valuable and that they should be paid for their efforts - even though I know that's not necessarily correct, in my mind! =) I feel like I really should pay a girl to help me, and if I can't pay her, then I shouldn't have her help. But I know this is wrong thinking. I need to work on this. And bartering is a great idea; although if I need help, I can't quite imagine what I could pay in skill or effort/time to barter with. *chuckle* I suppose something that I'm "gifted" in where someone else might not be, so it is easy for me and is so pleasurable that it doesn't seem like work... I had a few girls at church who would offer their services for free, but now they're in college and no longer available; I'd have to look around, or train up a younger girl, which seems hard because she'd likely be distracted by our younger girls...I'm just thinking aloud with you. LOL Hmm... Thank you for the suggestion...

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    2. Erica,

      In terms of bartering, you have a wealth of knowledge and information that you could use! A lot of what you post about on this site is very helpful to moms regardless of the of the family size. I would suggest that you offer your insights in planning, teaching or organizing to another mother. If I were you, i'd offer personalized one on one time in planning in exchange for mommy's helper duties. A teen/tween girl (especially one from a small family) might enjoy hanging out with your kids and helping around the house. She won't be perfect, but she will be trainable.

      If you find a middle school boy or girl it might take a little longer to train them but you'll have a longer time horizon for them to stay with the family. That also allows time for you to transition from a barter system to a cash payment system.

      For your sons age 3-6 a middle school boy might be perfect. He can (literally) run them around the block or around the back yard and burn off a lot of energy. My 13 year old son does these kinds of jobs and they don't even feel like work to him. He LOVES it. And the moms are grateful for the help.

      Community service is a strong focus in our area. You have to complete 40 hours (over 4 years) before you can graduate high school, so kids around here are anxious for community service projects.

      You might do well to check the surrounding communities for a community service requirement at the middle school or high school level. You might get lucky!

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  11. This article is brilliant. Your 'touch' with your son is compassionate and thoughtful, providing what he needs in order to be successful as he grows. So many people become so harsh with children (of either gender) who don't "train" easily.

    I had a thought about the crib/tent/bed issue you mentioned that you are currently thinking through. My thought was, since his room is so childproof, what would happen if he had a bed (or low mattress) that he wasn't required to stay in. Think of him having the ability to range the room after bed time, but with very few items left in the room to tempt him to do so. No toys, probably stuffed things, and maybe sturdy books, in the bed itself.

    I would think he would fall asleep on the floor from time to time, as he explores his limits -- but there's little harm in that. He would probably realize for himself that the bed is comfortable and there's nothing 'out there' in his room to play with anyways.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughts. For us, we have 4 boys sleeping in one room, so if one is up, the other 3 are also losing sleep which makes for a REALLY difficult day the next day. And the other boys have tended to feel bitter or angry that they're not able to sleep. And, our 3yo needs that sleep. If he can't get out, he falls right asleep, so it's not a matter of him needing to be given less sleep. We know how many hours he's shown that he needs, it is just a matter of him taking what he needs. Until he develops some self-control he's going to need "other-control." *chuckle* *sigh* =/

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    2. Have you considered sitting in the room with the boys as this one falls asleep, until a new habit is established?

      Your presence, just sitting there (with the intention of silently returning him to his bed if he gets up) would probably be effective to keep him laying still long enough to drift off. It doesn't sound like it would take very long each evening.

      If you did that nightly for maybe 10 days to 2 weeks, the habit would probably begin to stick.

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    3. Yes, thank you, we tried this for 2 weeks without success for the 3yo. However this was during the first 2 weeks of having their new bunk beds (2 sets in a room), and they're close together tempting them to interact. We will try again in the next month or so probably, and hopefully with a little of the novelty worn off he will be successful. =)

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  12. Erika,

    This may seem a bit off topic, but I'm wondering what you do for potty training. We have four kids all 5 and under and the oldest three are boys, so they keep me pretty busy. I'm just wondering how you handle potty training (especially your boys) when you have other very young kids to take care of as well. I'm finding it difficult to even leave the house for short trips (like to the park or library) since I don't know if we'll be able to make it to a restroom in time when our newly potty trained children suddenly need to go. So, I'm just wondering how you handle it. :)

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    1. The book, Toilet Training in Less Than a Day! And, we wait until kids are older (2 1/2 for girls, and 3 1/2 for boys) so that they can do it on their own, and have the maturity physically to wait until we can get to the next available bathroom. We trained our first two girls at 2yo, and found it was a huge mistake, and said we'd never do it again. =) Waiting a little longer, and using the book's principles has been awesome for us.

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    2. Thanks for sharing! We used the same book for our first two but we trained them at just over 2. The principles of the book worked well for the actual training process, but I think waiting until they were a bit older might have been better. :) What do you do with all of the rest of your kids on the day when you potty train?

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    3. My husband takes them all to my mom's house and watches them there for about 6 hrs., then they're all home for nap time (2:00).

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  13. Love your post! You cescribed my son(now almost 7) to a T! Lol he is still just adventurous and curious and I still find myself sometimes struggling to keep him busy.
    I have a question for you...
    My youngest daughter who is now (17 months) is much like the 3 yr old boy you just described. She couldnclimd over baby gates and out of her crib at 10 months! I wasnt aware of the crib tent at the time or I would have gotten one of those. She was so young when she started this, I moved her into my bed for fear of her wandering and getting hurt in the night. Now she is 17 months and can open anything, including our child safety locks and the screen door(if she can get the stool to reach). I try my best to be consistent with her and train her to just stay out of things..but she is very very curious.
    Sorry..I will get to my question. We no longer have the crib and she can climb out of the pack and play, and Im afraid to put her in a big girl bed alone for fear of her getting hurt. Do you know if they make a crib tent or something similar for a pack and play?
    I go to bed at night praying I can get this little girl safely to 2 years of age.
    Any advice would be great!

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    1. Yes, we have door knob locks inside bedroom doors that the young children cannot get off (but big kids can), we have a fenced in yard fully enclosed so that I don't have to worry about little ones getting out the screen door. And if I don't want them getting in to the yard because we're heading out the door soon and I'd like them clean (for example) then I put a baby gate up on the deck stairs, so if they go out, they have to stay on the deck. For kids who get out of pack-n-plays (ours have always been able to do that, but have had to learn to stay in it by choice), they need training and discipline. I think they do make a pack-n-play type of thing with a mesh cover, to have at the beach for example. If anyone would have it it would be www.OneStepAhead.com, but I don't see that on their website. But if she won't stop climbing out, consider also if she's given too much time there, and if she has good activities to occupy her. If she's bored, you'll likely continue to have a climbing out problem. OR if she's overstimulated with too MANY toys, she may climb out. Our general of thumb is one toy/activity in each corner of the play area (and not tons of pieces that take up all of her "floor" area).

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    2. She is only required to be in it while sleeping..and she only gets her blanket and her favorite toy to sleep with. My husband and I were both talking just yesterday about just training her to stay in it. I am mainly just worried about her safety. The main concern is if she were to climb out while we are asleep and I am not to hear her. I do make sure all the important doors are closed before we go to bed and all the safety locks are secure.
      I really hate to get the pack and play cover..it would feel too much like a cage for me. I do like the idea of the crib tent..but the pack and play just seems to closed in and small. She is almost old enough for a big girl bed. She is just one that requires a lot of extra training. We keep lot of thins around to keep her occupied, she is very smart. But also very curious! lol She is a blessing..but she can be exhausting. lol

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  14. Have you tried stacking two safety gates? It could work, if you don't have one daring enough to try to climb that.

    They never worked for ours. We had to make a special Dutch door for our boys room. No top, so we can see what's going on in there, but they can't get out.

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  15. Thank you so much for this post!! I have a very energetic 3yo son as well...he even kind of looks like your little guy! I really appreciate you sharing your advice. I just recently found your blog and have been enjoying it...especially the posts about scheduling. You have a beautiful family and the Lord has blessed you greatly! We are a few steps behind you...we've been married 9 years and have 7 children, 8 and under. It is certainly a wonderful adventure!!

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  16. I looked around for a crib tent--we have a two year old jumper--and it looks like they've been recalled. Just thought I'd pass it along so you could check the tent you're using and make sure it's OK.

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    1. M - I'd like to read about this possible recall, and see if it's on the Crib Tent I and/or the Crib Tent II? Could you point to information you read on a possible recall, please? =) Thanks!

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    2. Apparently they just recalled another set of tents. The original recall was July of 2011, but in looking for that link I noticed another recall from a few days ago. I can't seem to put a link in, but the articles are on the consumer product safety committee website.

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  17. Love this post! We also have a very busy little 3 year old boy. It amazes me the things he can find to get into! :) Our youngest girls are 2 but our 3-boy can make more mess than both 2 yr girls combined!

    I was also very vigilant in not "child-proofing" my home but "house-training" my babies with my first three children. Then we had our fourth, the next year we adopted our fifth, the following year we adopted our 6th and 7th.....Life got SO busy, and with three 2 year olds...OH MY I needed some child-proofing measures in place! :) I quickly let go of my pride and purchased a baby gate and a set of doornob things (what ARE those called? Lol)

    Anyway, all that to say, great post! I also love your "towel time" idea.....I've always used blanket time, but have had a harder time with three the same age. (Our 3 yr old son is only 5 months older than the virtual twin girls)

    I'm working on a new schedule for this next school year. Thanks for your inspiration!

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  18. Oh...my...Erika, that was so funny. Spot on. I have never stopped in and really read anything on your blog before. This is great ;) My boys would rather be bouncing on a ball while doing their schoolwork with my girls nicely sitting in the corner studying. ;) Jenn J from Lynden

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    1. Hello my dear friend! =) *hugs* So glad you're "here"! This summer - we have to get together. Did you go to the conference this year? We weren't able to attend at the last minute due to the miscarriage experience. And please do put on your calendar now the back-to-school picnic this year; I'd love, love to visit again.

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  19. Hi Erika. This is a bit off topic, but I wonder if you've done a post listing out the toys that your girls have. I really appreciate this helpful list, and I think I'm going to try to use a lot of them with my little three year old. I have a seven and five year old girls, and I sometimes struggle with things to keep them entertained, as well as things for me to sit and play with them with. I would appreciate any help you may can give.

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  20. Hi Erika-
    I'm not sure how you find time to write a blog with so many young children! Thank you for all the tips here. I only have 2 kids currently. 2.5 year old boy/girl twins. I'm wondering how you get your son to stay in his booster for 60 min and how you seem to get him dressed so easily! My kids want to get out as soon as they are done eating and they don't always want to get dressed! I'm not sure how to teach patience at this age. This is something I think I need "spelled" out for me! Thank you!

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    1. Well our son stays in his seat because he's learned that he does not choose his activities or what he's doing - mom and dad do. We also practice predictability and consistency with staying in a routine or schedule for the children, so he can rest in his seat knowing that he'll be moving on after 30-60 min. every time; he doesn't have to wonder how long he will be in the seat, it's always the same. (see my posts on scheduling if you're interested in more on that). We also provide him with an occupation, either eating or looking at books or a few match box cars or something to productively occupy him. And, he has consequences if he does choose to get down without permission. =)

      For getting dressed we simply expect him to obey, follow directions, and submit. We praise him when he does it easily, and give consequences when he does not, and he's learning. We also try to let him do as much as he's able which is fun for him and also occupies him, with accountability to keep him going at his task. And we tell him that he needs to obey and follow our directions, etc. He can understand that at 2-3 years old. He's not perfect, but he will always be expected to comply this way and we hold him to it just like everyone else in the family has learned to do, and he also sees their example.

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  21. Great post thanks for writing, it's very helpful! A little otopic but just wanna mention how impressed I am that you have 9 kids and your house looks that neat! And you have time to write a blog. Wow! :)

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  22. I only have one three-year old son home with me. The other two are at school during the day. I've noticed that a lot of your son's day involves his siblings supervising him. Do you have any suggestions for parents that don't have other children to help/play with each other? I've searched high and low to find an age appropriate schedule for him that still allows me to get necessary things done around the house.

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    1. You'll need to alternate between time with you and time by himself supervised with an activity, etc. It's just busier for mom, but still good for both of you.

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  23. I cannot tell you how inspired I am by your ambitious, yet still down-to-earth approach to homeschooling so many children. I LOVE that you mention how the game changed from teaching self-control with two girl to enforcing it once there were a certain number of children in the house. It really is a different ball game. I homeschooled two of my 3 children this year (7th grade and pre-k) and now I'm baby-sitting my neighbor's 3 kids while I continue to tutor my 7th grader in math over the summer. Researching ideas is how I came across your blog. I'm definitely Pinning it to finish reading later!

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  24. Okay, I no longer feel crazy!
    We have three children: girl, 4.75; boy, 3.0; and boy 1.0. With our daughter things were sooooo different than they are with our just turned three year old boy. Thank you for your practical advise on little boys ( who, yes, are different than girls!). You have given me some new tricks to keep up my sleeves.

    And thank you for your amazing blog. You have shared much good advice on organizing a household, so thank you! We arn't a "large family" yet, but I am trying to out in place a system that can grow if The Lord blesses us with more children.

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  25. Thank you for this - even though I am late to the game :) I grew up with one sister, my husband, although a boy himself, had three sisters. We have four now - 7-year-old boy, 5-year- old boy, 3-year-old boy and a 9-month-old girl :) My husband and I had NO IDEA what boys were like. Everything that seemed to work for everyone else did not/is not working for us. More than one boy seems to have an exponential effect on the wildness. This is so encouraging to hear. Even both sets of grandparents seem to be "thrown off" by the energy of our boys. They are always trying to get them to sit quietly and do a nice calm activity. I feel a little judged in our parenting because I get the feeling they think we have not disciplined them enough to remain calm, but that couldn't be further from the truth. We have one of the leapfrog phonics toys and that is what we constantly hear, "A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-" Ahhhh! ;) It has had to be put away many times. I laughed out loud when I read that part. Thank you for validating me :)

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  26. A friend recommended your website and I have been pouring over every word during nap time! I have twins who are 3.5, a 1 year old, and we are hoping to have one more. I am hoping to home school too. Your blog has really encouraged me, in that I see we are doing a lot of things you are, and you gave me A LOT of new ideas. Thank you so much! You are a blessing!

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