Managing Several Small Children–Outings

Outings are peaceful for me when I have all the kids. I’m calm and don’t get stressed because I’ve got it all under control. My kids and I end up being shining examples to the rest of the families who observe us.

That’s the opening to a new fictional story I’ll be working on in my free time. Do you like it?

I don’t like to stay home, but it pretty much always seems like a better alternative to going out. Ever. For anything. No matter how necessary.

I ain’t gonna lie. It’s hard to go out with one kid, and adding more to that number does nothing but make it harder. I’m also not going to lie that anyone who claims you can predict how your kids are going to act in any situation is a liar and a thief. No exceptions. I am not a liar and a thief at this particular moment, so don’t think this post is going to be some fix-it to all outing problems. I stink at outings, and you probably do, too. But we can stink together and learn from each other. Here’s the deodorant I have to offer for both our problems.

  • At all costs, try to plan outings as close to waking time as possible but as far from sleeping time as possible. In other words, go out as soon as they wake up in the morning or from a nap. Stay home as it gets close to nap or bed time. You’re welcome.
  • Have food and drink ready, and then have more. Food keeps sugar levels up and keeps mouths busy doing something other than whining, crying, or talking loudly.
  • Do something a little active (but not too active) beforehand and in between if you’re running several errands. Kids get stir crazy when their movement is limited, so give them breaks; however, try to steer away from letting them play on a playground for an hour when it’s 90 outside, cause then you’re going to have hot, sweaty, tired, cranky kids who just want to go home.
  • Be flexible. If I can run to the grocery store by myself in thirty minutes, I plan two hours when I have the kids. This may seem insane to some of you, but I perpetually think it will take a shorter amount of time than it really will, and then I get snappy when we’re running behind. More often than not, I also end up dropping something I had planned to do while out or cut a trip short. The more OK you are with this, the calmer you’ll probably be.
  • Practice makes better. Sometimes. We do a lot of practice beforehand with the kids about what’s expected of them when we go out. Think about the situation and what you think will work best, then go through that over and over with your kids at home. For instance, our previous church’s building had narrow hallways and lots of older people. It didn’t take me long to realize my kids couldn’t run or walk side by side, so all my kids learned to follow in a single file line behind me. I frequently got picked on for having ducklings, but it worked. Some approaches we’ve taken for this:
    • For the above duckling approach, I start by having the kids follow me all over the house. Funny enough, I started calling them ducklings when I wanted them to do this so they understood what to do. I also got very specific in my instructions–hands by sides and not on a sibling or any other object, stay close enough that you can touch the person in front of you, line up by age (this keeps bickering to a minimum about who gets to stand where & keeps the smallest ones close to me), etc. Once we got comfortable around the house, we went to the church building when no one else was there (my husband was a pastor so he had a key), then we finally did the real thing.
    • For crossing streets, walking in parking lots, or going places with more room like the zoo, we usually use a hand-on-stroller approach. I train the little ones who walk around to always have a hand on the stroller since I don’t have a hand available for them to hold. The older kids walk behind me either in pairs or single file. We start by practicing at a secluded park so I don’t have to worry much about them running off, then we move to our sidewalks in our non-busy neighborhood, until we’re finally comfortable trying this out in public.
    • For sitting still like in doctor’s offices, I do a lot of practice at home. Every morning and evening, we train our children to sit still and look quietly at books. Again, we get specific here, telling them what we expect them to do with their legs, hands, and arms. My kids can usually sit for an hour or more around the age of two or three, making long office waits a bit more bearable.
  • Think ahead of time about logistics of the situation you’ll be in. For instance, when I take all the kids shopping at Kroger, I go in the entrance that has the kid car attached–two go in the car, one goes in the cart, the baby goes in the carrier I wear, and the olders walk in a pair behind me. If I only get two seats in a cart, I’ll also take the stroller in and have one of the older children push it behind me.
  • Busy bags! Though I’ve never attended one, I’ve heard busy bag swaps are awesome, so try to go if you can. I use them with our kids from ideas I get on the web, and usually they keep them occupied for long periods of time. Pack some up that will work well for your outing. To get some busy bag ideas, you can go to Play Create ExploreMonkey Butt Junction (she also links to busy bag ideas on other blogs), or this Pinterest board.
  • Play things like I Spy, Twenty Questions, or ABC games (finding objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet)

That’s all I got. One thing I want to emphasize here quickly. Even if you do everything perfectly and are totally prepared, remember that your children live in a fallen world in sinful flesh, and so do you. They will embarrass you, you’ll embarrass yourself, and much sinfulness will probably be displayed. For those who are in Christ, all screw-ups have been paid for on the cross, so don’t condemn yourself or your children. The goal of our parenting is never to produce well-behaved children but to point our children to the gospel at all times.

Managing Several Small Children–Working With Kids On Different Levels

I often say all our children come in size small. That’s certainly true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ginormous difference between a 2nd grader and 17 month old, so what do I do when I’m trying to teach math to one while trying to train another to sit still? Basically, I cry a lot. Then I pull out a few more tricks I’ve learned for this very situation.

Bill will be addressing some ways we handle different ages when all our kids are together doing the same thing (listening to a book, talking at dinner, playing a game, etc.). This post is addressing what I typically do when my kids are working on different things at the same time, mainly in relation to keeping the little ones occupied.

  • You can pull anything from my post on occupying children when your hands are tied.
  • Use a timer. All day. My tots and preschoolers are more likely to keep at a project if they know the timer will go off in 10-15 minutes and they get to change to something else.
  • Do as much as you can with the olders when the littles are napping. For instance, though this breaks all homeschooling rules that say to give your kids harder subjects first thing in the morning when they’re fresh, we don’t start school with the older ones for the most part until the littles are down for naps. I’ve found with my kids that if they’re going to struggle in math, it doesn’t matter if it’s 8:00am or 3:00pm. They’ll struggle just as much, and this schedule just seems to work best for our family.
  • I have lots of different “times” planned for my littles throughout the day. These help them learn to stay still and keep them moving around from thing to thing. Here are my names for them with short descriptions:
    • Table Time–They sit at a table and do something artsy. This can be as simple as playing with play dough to a craft you get ready beforehand. You can also choose to have the preschoolers work on some educational worksheets. For toddlers, I start this by having them sit in something that keeps them confined, like a highchair.
    • Mat Time–Use a play mat, blanket, whatever. The point is to help them learn boundaries. They’re free to stand, walk, crawl, move all over that puppy, but not go off the blanket entirely. I’ll give them toys or activities special for this time, things they can’t use during free play. I’ve written a post to be published later that addresses how I train our toddlers to do this.
    • Room Time–If they’re small, I’ll put a gate in front in the doorway of their bedroom or playroom and let them play. Sometimes I give them toys to play with, sometimes I don’t. It’s like Almond Joys and Mounds. I don’t feel comfortable leaving my very small toddlers unsupervised in a room, so I’ll usually use their crib or a playpen for this.
    • Station Time–I’ll just set up different inviting stations around the room and let them roam freely. This might be blocks in a corner on the floor, a comfy chair with books in another corner, some stencils with colored pencils at a table, and some cars with paper towel rolls on a mat. They’re given a bit of freedom but still stay relatively quiet.
    • Technology Time–I know there are many mixed feelings about this one, but we personally don’t have a problem with putting on a short video for them to watch or letting them play a game on the tablet or computer.

For several ideas of what to do with the littles when working with the olders, check out the Resources tab at the top of the page or click here. We will be adding to it as we continue to find ideas. Feel free to browse them and give us suggestions of things we can add.

Managing Several Small Children

It’s really not surprising to anyone–managing a family with several small children presents a number of unique challenges.  And it’s pretty obvious most people are aware of this considering the unending comments we get about how many littles we have.  As with many things, there are overlapping layers of complexity that go into making our family of eight work like the well-oiled machine hobbling contraption held together by MacGyver’s duct tape that we are.

We’d like to take the next handful of posts to talk about some of the principles and tactics we manage our multiples.  This will run the gamut from handling the older kids while, say, nursing an infant (as you might imagine, Court will cover that one) to interacting with all the kids at the same time while they compete over who gets to talk next.

As we dig into this discussion, we invite your feedback and corrections.  We’d especially love to hear what you do with your families–we know we don’t have a monopoly on effective parenting techniques.  And please, you don’t have to have “greater than or equal to” the number of kids we have to make suggestions.  No matter the age or number of your kids, we want to hear from you.

Here are the four sections we have planned right now.  If there’s something y’all think of that we’re not covering, let us know and we’ll pull it onto this discussion.

  • Keeping kids occupied while hands are tied
  • Working with kids who are on different levels
  • Handling kids while on outings
  • Group activities