Sunday, July 20, 2008

What can I do?

Maybe you've been asked the question 10 times today.

Or maybe, as you see young ones rattling around the house aimlessly, you are asking the question yourself.

What can I do? Am I supposed to play with the kids all day? While we want to have an "I'm available" attitude and to be the ones to fill our children's emotional tanks, there are also necessary tasks to be accomplished on a daily basis, right?

If you have children between the ages of 3-6 years of age, this post is for you.


When starting out as a young family, this feels like new territory. These sweet little babies are growing up. They aren't yet needing to cover too much on the academic side and they have picked up their toys, so... what do we do now?

As our children grow, their chore and academic load grows as well. They become valuable, contributing members of the household: cleaning the car, working in the yard, doing laundry, baking bread, helping with little ones. They don't have as much time to ask that question.

When they have free time, they make the most of it. Their question changes from "What Can I Do?" to "How Can I Help?"

But what about today?


If you are just beginning to assign activities, or if you are moving to a more scheduled approach because of difficulties between siblings, I would assign activities for a limited amount of time~ between 15 to 30 minutes each.

I might even let them know that you are setting the timer for however many minutes you deem appropriate so they will be ready to stop when you say the time is up.

Young children tend to have shorter attention spans. Our goal is to engage them, give them a pattern of happy play with one another, then end the task before they become weary of it.

I found on the days when this more scheduled type of play was required, I would need only about 4 activities per day and things would go smoothly.

My "What Can I Do?" binder was full of ideas I'd find from all over, but in the end it was the simple, inexpensive, open ended activities we enjoyed most:

1. Tactile play- For example, playing in a big tub of split peas.

I'm kind of a neat freak so instead of a sand box, my kids had a split pea box. Really. I kept it outside. No dirty clothes and no sand being tracked in on the carpet (thanks Holly!). I stocked it with measuring cups and bowls and they loved it. As a side note- I would recommend remembering to put the lid on top of your split pea box at night or you just might have a gigantic bowl of split pea soup one morning!

I think I've gotten a little better. We actually own sand now. We even enjoy Moon Sand and Play-Doh... outside. : )

2. Read Aloud Time- For little ones, we start with short character building books like:
Little Jewel Books by Rod and Staff,
Wee Lambs stories by Rod and Staff- this hardbound volume is a compilation of a lot of mini stories
Christian Liberty Press Nature Readers, and readers like
Happy Hearts and
I Wonder
We have also enjoyed:
Pearables and
the Moody Family, and the
Castleberry Farm mystery series.

I've been asked for book recommendations from several moms recently. Here's a start!

Sitting quietly during read aloud time is a skill that starts small. I would expect little ones (between the ages of 3-6) to have very important ideas to pop into their heads right in the middle of a story or chapter.

My goal is just to train them to "hold that thought" until a good stopping point. They might get up and come over and put their hand on my shoulder. I'll stop, find out what they need to say, then remind them not to talk while Mama is reading, smile and go on. As they grow in self control, the interrupting becomes less and less.

Sometimes children will want to sit on your lap and listen. As the years have gone on, I have encouraged them to bring some sort of project into the family room to keep their hands busy while they listen. During that time they might color, bead or work on some other project that interests them.

For older ones: Now we can read a lot longer than we once did and every once in a while, when we have a free day and the house work is at a good stopping point, we've been known to get through a whole Lamplighter book in one or two days. Our most trusted Lamplighter authors are: Christoph von Schmid and Mrs. O.F. Walton. Our current read is the Shepherd of Bethlehem. It is well on its way to becoming a new favorite.

3. Easy Paper Crafts- sold by the Anabaptist Bookstore.

Easy Paper Crafts have been wonderful. They are sweet, God-honoring and make great gifts for children to make and give to others. They are very simple. You just make copies of the pages ahead of time. All you need to have on hand are scissors, glue, crayons and occasionally yarn. I really appreciate that type of simplicity.

Oriental Trading crafts are also inexpensive and great to have on hand. You usually order in lots of 12. These are great for company or to split with another family.

Or just "free craft" time with odds and ends you've saved. We went through a phase of making clothespin dolls. It took very little fabric to dress them and a little yard for hair. We talked about how girls in past times used whatever they had to play dolls- including corn husks or bottles.

4. Lauri- or other- puzzles. The benefit of Lauri puzzles is that if you lose a piece, they will replace it!

5. Open Ended Toys- Train Track, Duplos, Plastic Animals or "Loving Family" People. We have certain rules for these. In a nutshell, we would never play what we would not want to be true. If you wouldn't want to be robbed in real life, we wouldn't play that in pretend. At the end of our scheduled time, we might keep the project out or, if we decide not to, we might take a picture of it and save that instead.

6. Games. These little boxed games are fun, take very little storage and make great gifts for children. They are sold by Timberdoodle. One of our favorite companies to buy from.

7. Get "real." Start to do some of those chores and activities you want to see them doing as they get older. Have them clean the windows, wipe down cabinets, feed the cat, help bake cookies for someone, make a meal, and so on.

I'm sure you are far more creative than I am, but you get the idea.

The Bible says: "A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." (Proverbs 29:15).

I would venture to guess that the more we leave our children to themselves, the greater our shame will be.

May God bless you as you lead little hearts home!



  1. Thank you so much for this - it is very timely for me :-) Definitely something I've "dropped the ball on" as of late.

    You have a beautiful family and this is such a great blog - thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Ooh! What a fun post full of such practical ideas! I love all of your recommendations. Some, I'm familiar with, others I'll be checking into! Thank you.

    I especially liked this sentence: I would expect little ones (between the ages of 3-6) to have very important ideas to pop into their heads right in the middle of a story or chapter.

    ~smile~ Boy, do we have a LOT of those important thoughts at our house!

    Blessings to you today!


  3. Rebecca~
    Thank you for all that you share.
    You have so much wisdom for a young mother. Would you please share how you have gained it? What resources do you find most helpful?
    How do you find time for reading and quiet?

  4. Welcome Jennifer and thanks for your comment. Glad to have you here. : )

    Hi Stacy. Aren't little ones fun? I am really doing my best to purpose to enjoy the journey. I can tell that you are too. : )

    Hi Beth! Thank you so much for your sweet comment. I am pretty sure I am older than you think, but that's ok. : )

    I hope my next post will help to answer a few of your questions. Of course, every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above (James 1:17). We certainly can't take any credit for the amazing families, individuals and resources God has placed in our life.

    Thanks for joining in!

    P.S. The link to the Anabaptist Bookstore should be working now.