My daughters crave my attention. They crave to be a part of every waking minute of my life. They want to participate in everything I do,
even especially if it’s just a quick walk down to the basement to retrieve something. Even in my moments of downtime they come ready to showcase their latest accomplishments, newly discovered talents and anything they think will make me smile. These marvels are all paraded across my feet or placed in my lap in 2-minute increments accompanied by huge grins of satisfaction.
“Look at this tower I built. It’s the tallest ever!”
“Dad, see this drawing I made? It’s for you! It’s our family if we were all alligators.”
“Look at what I can do!” *proceeds to jump in the air and spasm while contorting her face and grunting “Did you know I could do that?!”
This is just part of being a dad; unbroken moments of focus and concentration were interpreted as cries for attention and entertainment. Right? “Dad’s got that painful frowny face on again. I know, let’s show him how we consolidated all the pillows in the house to build that fort we used to cover up our Pom juice spill!”
Now be kind, I realize I bring it on myself. From their point of view I’m lying under the kitchen sink or looking for something under the hood of the car or hiding in the basement. They don’t know that I’m clearing a p-trap or changing an air filter or
avoiding responsibility building a wood shelf because I’ve never explained any of those things to them.
Maybe if I just included them in the things their daddy does they’d show interest in participating…?
Including small children in grown-up tasks
So I flipped the tables on them and started inviting my kids to participate in every little task and chore I had on my plate.
“The van won’t start. Do you want to help dad change the battery?”
“The boiler isn’t coming on anymore. Will you come help me fix it?”
“Your new loft bed arrived today. Can you help me put it together?
Every time I asked they immediately responded in the affirmative. OK, so far so good. Now what?
Use towers, stools, and ladders to enable observation of what parents are working on
Most of the work I do largely falls into the buckets of things-dad-does-on-the-counter, things-dad-does-on-the-desk, and things-dad-does-under-the-hood. My kids exist at knee height, they’re elevation-challenged walking trip hazards. While I’m working they’re constantly underfoot AND squabbling over who got the better of the terrible vantage points.
So I willingly introduced several *new* trip hazards into my life in the form of a learning tower towers, ladder and stool stool (not a typo, it lives in the spash-zone of my bathroom) to help. I use them constantly to provide my girls the means to actually see what’s going on “up there.” They make the inevitable nighttime meeting of shinbone and hardwood almost worth it.
Once they were able to see what was actually taking place, their eyes and interest grew.
Note: I personally own everything in the ad above and use them regularly to give my kids an appropriate vantage point. The learning tower lives in our kitchen and lets the girls watch me cut meat on the cutting board or caramelize onions in our cast iron skillet. The three-step ladder is the perfect height for automotive jobs taking place under the hood; I set it up next to the driver’s tire and put my daughter in charge of the tools and parts I place in the tray. The little IKEA ladder is the primary culprit for scratches and scuffs in our hardwood floors because it gets dragged EVERYWHERE to turn on light switches, fetch books off shelves, get dad’s print-outs off the copier and they even eat at it like a little picnic table when we take snack breaks. The Rubbermaid stool is for getting on and off the toilet…it’s a stool, we covered this already.
Thoroughly explain tasks using analogy and proper terminology
4-year-olds are known to ask a lot of questions. Ours is no different. But we have found she asks fewer questions or investigates a situation differently the more details we voluntarily offer her. I actually made it a challenge to provide too MANY details, thinking I’d find a threshold between boring and interesting. Nope, I couldn’t over-inform my kids. They ate up every description of bolt materials and thread counts, gas boiler operation and safety, how and where our tools are made…I even went so far as to explain the role of every piece of hardware that came with a large piece of furniture. She didn’t flinch or bat an eye, just sat there riveted with ever growing fascination.
In fact, the opposite happened. I rattled off all the correct terms in my explanations and she memorized them all. Now when I refer to a part or tool using a different name (drill, screw gun, electric screwdriver) I get a concerned look and I’m politely corrected. Which isn’t such a bad thing, I suppose.
OK, so what’s going on here? I suppose that jobs that daddy and momma do around the house may look very complicated. It must seem like magic when dad adjusts the choke to get the lawnmower to start, replaces the thermocouple in the hot water heater or puts toys back together when they inevitably undergo an involuntary disassemble. But when they have every step explained in excruciating details it was almost a relief to them to hear the simplicity of our actions: we were just unscrewing this, replacing that, smearing that stuff there, twisting this a bit to the right, etc. And while little eyes are watching, it’s a great time to also engage little ears and minds by discussing everything you’re doing or about to do and why you’re going to do it.
Upon further reflection it dawned on me that “complicate” adult tasks are just combinations of very basic tasks: consolidating, segregating/sorting, stacking, attaching, detaching/dissembling and various fine motor skills. Unfortunately, the only thing really keeping me from going completely hands-off and allowing my kids to do the work completely unassisted was their lack of practice.
If only there was a way for my girls to practice these basic tasks in a safe environment that doesn’t involve sacrificing every workpiece you’ve got in front of you…
Select toys and games to reinforce skill sets they’ve learned or need to learn
So my answer was to introduce toys which teach specific desirable behaviors. My girls already play with toys all day and I like what most of them teach. They already learn stacking with blocks, attaching with legos and disassembly whenever they find my TV remote. But they didn’t really have anything to teach them how to use actual tools. While we were out shopping at after Christmas we happened upon a couple of toys that I’ve never seen before but I’m excited that we found.
Battat Take-A-Part Toys
The airplane and utility truck made by Battat are able to be FULLY DISASSEMBLED. Each vehicle is held together by 8-10 plastic nuts and bolts which can be removed/installed with the included electric drill! Both girls were fascinated for over an hour with the behavior of the drill (forward and reverse), how to get the bit to mate tightly to the bolt or nut, safe drill use procedures (don’t squeeze the trigger before the bit meets the hardware, allow the drill to stop before changing bits, don’t put the spinning drill bit in your mouth) and generally how to take apart their toys and put them back together. I think my youngest has already made the connection between the plastic bolts on her truck and the metal screws holding our dining room chairs together…
Jakks Real Construction Kit
The styrofoam Real Construction kit from Jakks is going to be our next distraction. The kit includes designs and modular “lumber” made of foam…they have to actually cut it out and assemble it themselves….from scratch…with actual screws! Bwahahahaha! The kit includes designs for multiple vehicles and refill kits can be purchased online (although I plan to use packing foam and a hot wire). The biggest selling points are her learning to use a saw to make a straight cut, using a screwdriver to install a screw, how to measure and mark her workpieces and actually ending up with something she built from scratch. And once she’s a little bigger these skills will all translate directly into the workshop.
Once my girls began to realize that adult tasks aren’t so complicated and that the individual steps were things they could help with. This has resulted in two significant benefits:
Involving kids in adult tasks leads to more Participation
My girls now demand to be a larger part of everything we do as a family, they want to participate! They get excited whenever I walk out of the room in hopes that I’m about to embark on some new adventure that they’ll get to help me with.
Their desire to participate allows me to delegate smaller, age-appropriate tasks to them with the full confidence that they’ll be completed. It may not seem like much but having a helper that can gather a list of tools, stir food to keep it from burning, rake up a section of leaves into a pile and finish screwing in a bolt while dad looks at the instructions…can be a big help!
Including children in grown-up jobs leads to more Confidence
Seeing the finished product really does something for a small child that helped complete it. “If I can do this, I can do other things I thought I couldn’t.” My older daughter no longer cries to get us to turn on the light switch, she now confidently strides grabs my wife’s boot and uses it to move the light switch. She no longer begs to be fed, she asks to help cook. She no longer needs us to dress her, now she helps her sister get ready.
What adult tasks have your little ones been introduced to at your house?
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