For a moment let’s return in time to one of my favorite classic movies, Mary Poppins. Wasn’t she just magical at teaching children? She had the right mix of fun and structure. In one of my favorite scenes, Mary Poppins and the children are in their very messy toy room. Does she yell and scream at them to pick up the horrible mess? No, of course not! She sings this song that teaches a perfect lesson:
In ev’ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun.
You find the fun and snap!
The job’s a game.
And ev’ry task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake.
A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see that
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
The medicine go down-wown,
The medicine go down.
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way . . .
What a brilliant concept: “In ev’ry job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.” I started thinking about this profound lesson and realized how much we use fun to get the job done. Here are some examples of how we add sugar to our mundane daily tasks.
Imaginary Cleaning Lady: For me cleaning day is on Monday. It seems to be an easy day for me to block out as a “home” day. Once I get the kids off to school and make sure my two youngest are settled down playing, I very dramatically tell them I have to leave. I give hugs and kisses, and then I exit through the front door. I immediately come back in the house, but this time I am not me. I turn into the cleaning lady and use a pretend name. This lady has randomly been cleaning our house on and off for years!
When the kids ask the cleaning lady a question, she simply says, “I am sorry; I am just here to clean. You will have to ask your mom when she gets back.” The four year old always says, “But you are my mom!”
The cleaning lady does put on a movie for the kids when they are sick of playing so that she can finish her work. She does the dusting, vacuuming, and cleans the bathrooms. This same crazy lady sometimes shows up to do the girls’ hair, and, although they roll their eyes at her, I think they kind of like my crazy imaginary cleaning lady once in awhile.
The Three Minute Rule: One thing my mom didn’t like was getting stuck with all the dinner dishes (raise your hand if you agree!). She instituted the “Three Minute Rule.” If your kids are even remotely old enough to help, it is genius, because anyone can handle helping for three minutes, right? We set the timer on the microwave for three minutes, and everyone in the family has to work as hard and fast as they possibly can until the buzzer rings. Is everything perfect after three minutes? No, but a lot more is done than if everyone just walked away after dinner!
Instead of setting the timer, sometimes we will pick our favorite song and work until the song ends. With upbeat songs they work faster, and if you really need a lot of help pick a 5-7 minute song. (My kids usually catch me, but it is worth a try!) If kids are not wanting to help or just standing around, sometimes we need extra motivation and offer that if everyone works their hardest, we will each get a piece of candy at the end for dessert.
Pick up Races: When the house is a mess, it is always fun to turn it into a race. Sometimes we set the timer for a 10-minute pick up. Sometimes we see who can pick up 30 large items first. (I say large items because sometimes they pick up crumbs under the high chair, and finding 30 crumbs under the high chair is just too easy!)
Pretend Pick Up: Another idea from my mom is a “Royalty Walk.” I really don’t remember why in the world she named it that, but I like to imagine that we are all servants in a royal palace. We meet at the green rug by the front door and quickly work from one room to the next helping get each room in order before the imaginary king and queen arrive.
Picture Perfect: Even as a child I was completely in love with homes. I looked forward to the Parade of Homes every year in my hometown. My mom often told me to clean my room like it was going to be in a home show. That means pillows straight and details in order! I still think about that in my weekly cleaning.
Take a picture of your child’s room when it is perfectly clean (it won’t last long). Print the picture and put in on the back of their bedroom door, and then occasionally challenge them to get their room “picture perfect.”
Fun Time Before Bedtime: Bedtime is a crazy area of our lives. My husband is usually the one that starts getting the kids in the bath and teeth brushed while I finish up dinner dishes, and then I join him in getting kids to bed. Life doesn’t go as smoothly when dad isn’t home to help. When he is gone, I will sometimes say, “If everyone can get ready for bed by such and such a time, we will meet at the computer and watch funny family movies for 15 minutes.” Other times we will play a short game or do something simple. When they are motivated, they can really move it! We enjoy using the extra time to do something fun together.
Homework Treasure Maps: Sometimes one of our children will come home from school overwhelmed that they have homework in nearly every subject, and they just don’t know where to start. I like to have them show me every assignment that needs to be completed, and then I draw out a treasure map on a sheet of paper. The first picture might be a picture of a book to represent that they need to read. Dotted lines on the paper lead to another picture of the Earth to represent their science homework. Each time they complete an assignment, they color in a picture, which is a great way for them to see their own progress. They especially like when the treasure map ends with a picture of a piece of candy or something signifying that they can go outside to play with friends.
These ideas may seem completely nutty to you. If so, pull out some fun in your own way! The point is, with a little imagination and creativity, we can accomplish a lot and create many fun memories to look back on. When you find the fun, “Snap! The job’s a game!”
QUESTION: What mundane task do you have trouble getting your kids to help with? What can you do to add a “spoonful of sugar” to this task?
CHALLENGE: Make a list of ways you can find the fun in daily tasks. Post your list somewhere in your home to help remind you of your plan when you are feeling stressed.
Do your kids need motivation to pick up toys? Try using Gunny Bag.
Do you want more ideas for cleaning games to use with your children? Author Danielle Porter Taylor has ten great ideas in her article Keeping It Clean.
Do you want help to involve your kids in cleaning? Check out this article: Two Tips for a Clean and Happy Home.
Do you need help relaxing about the normal every-day messes of life? Read about Amanda Hamilton Roo’s perspective in her article My Home is a Workshop.
Edited by Sarah Monson and Amanda Lewis.
Image provided by author, with graphics added by Anna Jenkins.