Friday, July 24, 2015

Productively Occupying 3-Year-Old Boys

  • Boys vs. girls
  • Keeping him safe without following him around.
  • Scheduling our 3-year-old's time on a typical day.
  • Toy/activity ideas to occupy his time.
  • Three resources for activity ideas.

Do you have a 3-year-old boy (or know someone who does) who seems to have testosterone exploding from his darling little body con-stant-ly? *smile* Does he bounce off the walls, shout spontaneously, fly from one activity to another, swipe things on to the floor on his way flying past the table, punch a sister just to see what will happen, unload the kitchen drawers because they make a great sound...but has a great laugh and smile, and is not really malicious - just needs constant supervision, guidance, and protection? We have 4 sons. Three of them have been this way at age three especially.

I've been asked this question many times, "Could you please give me ideas for ways to productively occupy my precious, but 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. In my post, "Productively Occupying Young Children", I shared with you how we occupy young children in general. However a 3-year-old boy can be a different situation. *laugh!*

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, most 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 possibly manage toddlers and babies simultaneously?  Let's have coffee over this...


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 did our little 3-year-old son's day look like?  I'll show you...


Keeping him safe without following him around.

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 emptying the salt shaker 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. (If you would like a tour of the whole house you may do so.)



To keep this hallway and the adjacent rooms manageable we had 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 had 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 had 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.  We needed to zip tie the two halves of the clam-shell style of door knob lock together so that they could not be broken apart.


When our 3-year-old has play time in the family room, our strategy on school days (not so much weekends when there's two adults present, and unoccupied siblings to play with him) was usually to get out one or two sets of toys from the play room that he liked and he played with those in the family room.  This way he has supervision, but without having unsupervised access to everything in the play room simultaneously 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 did play in there every day with a specific sibling assigned to join him - but not very often with 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 it.  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 could pretty much move through out our routine for the day and not have to be concerned about where Tyler was and what he was doing.  His time was planned out well for him, and when he had freedom within his play areas I knew that he was safe.  Now he could also climb over the baby gate in to our room, and did if he was unattended for too long, so once in a while if we haven't seen him for a while or didn't hear him we would have to go searching and we would find him there in our bedroom; but this was 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 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, a bit.  Safe for now?  Yes, and so worth it.

One more thing had to implement was locking the bathroom door door knob upstairs when I was making dinner and all of the young ones were having free time, supervised by the older children.  Somehow the youngest 4 children were often getting in there and playing in the toilet when older siblings were not paying attention.  We had an exterior door knob lock on the knob itself, but the 3-year-old could technically get past those when he really wanted 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.  We did eventually improve everyone's level of self-control, but as we were working on it, or until they were older, we had to keep them safe, and keep mom sane.  So we did what we had to do. *smile*


Scheduling our 3-year-old's time on a typical day

Little son's time was scheduled for him during the week just like everyone else's is.  I desired not only to keep him productively occupied, but also to make sure that he had 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 wrote them down, and made sure that those things were included in his week 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 basic needs met.  So here is an example of what his school day looked like (not weekends).

7:30 am - Wake and snuggled in his crib waiting for his turn to be dressed, diaper changed, hair combed, and teeth brushed by mom.  When he was done he had 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 was not enough time for him to get out tons of toys.  He played sweetly with one or two things, visited with everybody, and then before he got bored he was up to the table for breakfast.  We tried a twin bed for him but after weeks of training could not 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 was very peaceful once the option of getting out was removed). We  tried again with a twin bed a few months later with success.  If it had been necessary, I found a place where I could have purchased a twin bed tent to help him stay there, too.

8:30 am - He was at the table in his booster seat for breakfast, and would be there for 60 minutes total over the course of food being prepared, while he ate, and then while the kitchen was being cleaned up and we all moved in to the next part of our day.  Sometimes he had an activity like coloring with Crayola's Magic Pens or with some Matchbox cars.

9:30 am - Big sister helped him move from the table strait in to "play alone time" in his bedroom for 60 minutes.  She helped him choose an activity from the play room to bring down with him, and then he also had a preschool train set to use in his room, and a bunch of stuffed animals to play with that were always down there.  He loved this time and played very sweetly with the door closed, and with 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 and 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 had "Melanie play time" where he played with his 12-year-old sister for 30 minutes.  Melanie choose with him an activity that was educational, and one that she knew he liked (usually building with Duplo blocks lately) and they play and play together.

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

11:45 am - He had 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 didn't have time for a massive clean up before he ate lunch at 12:30.

12:30 pm - Lunch for the 4 youngest kids: ages twins 17-months, 2, and 3.

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

2:00 pm - Nap for 2 hours.

4:00 pm - Snack at the table.

4:15 pm - Played with his siblings in the family room, and sometimes watched a documentary (on the computer monitor, we don't choose to own a TV) while mom prepared dinner.  He also set 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 arrived home and spent time with all of the kids while I finished up preparing dinner.  Dinner took about 60 minutes to serve, eat, and clean up.  Then he had time to play in the family room.

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

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

I tried to establish his routine so that he had 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. With daddy home there is another adult present most of the time for accountability. 

By keeping our little 3-year-old in a predictable, consistent routine during the week he could rest in each activity knowing how long he would be there, and that mom or a sister always came proactively when his time was over.  He also knew when he would 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 had not yet learned to make good choices as to how to spend his time, so he ended up having negative consequences quite often (even if they were just verbal) because I did not like his choices when left up to him; but he learns how to make good choices through example.  Having no routine was also typically too long of a time for him to be responsible for managing his relationships by himself, so before having a routine there was 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 was good for our children in every way to have a good routine to follow, physically, emotionally, and socially.  

Now this schedule did change a bit as his needs changed and he got older.  Every few several months I often made a slight adjustment as to how he went through his day so that it worked 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; just as I did for every child in our family.  Having a schedule was consistent and predictable for him, but when also modified periodically made sure his routine was the best one for him (and in consideration 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.


Toy/activity ideas to occupy his time.

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 are ideas of what our 3-year-old son liked to do.
  • Matchbox cars, a garage, and a large carpet car mat with roads printed on it, which was easily rolled up or folded up and put away without taking up much space.
  • Duplo Lego blocks, and two 16-inch "Lego 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 didn'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 tools 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; a doctor outfit, a variety of plush animal costumes.
  • 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 extended family members, or purchased used, that don't necessarily work well or fast enough any longer for adult purposes but work perfectly well for children's learning activities.
  • Plastic Grocery foods with shopping baskets or cart, and lots of dishes or cooking pots to put things in.


Three resources for activity ideas.

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 brain-sleeper, 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 would like 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*  Our Tyler is also the first one to compliment me every day with something like, "Oh Mommy, your skirt is so pretty!" And give me the most tender little kisses on my cheeks, and long hugs.

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 recommends that I do it (written with small families in mind), but life is very different with lots of children, especially when they are very close in age (ours are 10 1/2 months apart, 11, 12, and 13 months apart mostly).  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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