Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Not Enough Hours in the Day

Here we are: two boys at home, full-time, with not one but two parents not working. There are still not enough hours in the day to do the things we want to do.

The following is a short list of the things I would love to do with the boys daily:

  • Montessori activities
  • Art
  • Outdoor free play, 1-2 times daily
  • Indoor free playtime
  • Sports time with Daddy
  • Walks around the neighborhood

The problem I am facing is a shortage of time. Kal-El sleeps 11 hours at night; Me Too sleeps 12-13. They both take a nap for 1-3 hours in the afternoon. They both spend about three hours sitting at the dinner table.

So, after naps and meals that leaves five or six hours of awake time in our day.

There is just no way to get it all in so, obviously, I have to prioritize. I am working on finding a way to reconcile all of the things I want to do every day with my mission to leave the boys' day completely unscheduled (aside from the very regular schedule of meals and naps the provide the "backbone" of our day; a backbone I think is absolutely one of the most important things I can provide for them at this age). I want them to have as much "free time" as possible. By "free time" I mean large blocks of time (think of the Montessori three-hour work period) where the boys are 100% in charge of what activity to be engaged in. I often say to my husband that I feel like once you start going to school (or begin a weekly schedule of music lessons, soccer, gymnastics, and swimming lessons) you keep going to school until you start going to work. You keep going to work until you die. (Hopefully many of us will be blessed with good health and longevity and can, perhaps, enjoy some retirement in-between the working and dieing). I apologize for the crass timeline, but my point is that I want to delay the onset of this trajectory as long as possible.

What are the solutions? Indoor play seems to be taking care of itself. The boys have plenty of time to do this while I am preparing all these meals the boys take three hours to eat. During this time of year outdoor time is our number one priority. Where we live, the weather is really only enjoyable outdoors five months of the year, much of which is plagued by our state bird, the mosquito. The boys want to spend a couple of hours in the front yard on bikes and such every day, and they want to spend a couple of hours in the back with the playground, sandboxes, ponds, and gardens. They can easily spend two hours riding bikes in the driveway and they can just as easily spend two hours in the sandbox. And do. As a result, during the past three weeks they have done zero art, zero sports, zero walks, and very little Montessori.

I realized I have to restructure our Montessori time if we don't want to take the summer off (we don't). For the summer, I have made some changes in the way we are handling our Montessori activities.

I have Kal-El to myself for an hour, sometimes two, in the morning before Me Too wakes up. I would love to snooze on the couch for an extra hour while Kal-El plays in the same room with his toys (5:30/6:00 a.m. is just too early for my taste). However, I have had to take one for the team and feign alertness. I am starting to use that time to work on aural language exercises, help him with the sandpaper letters, and present new materials.

Because he sleeps longer than Kal-El at night, Me Too takes a shorter nap. I usually can snag an hour with him one-on-one in the afternoon. It is a good time of day because he is fresh, in a good mood, and excited to have me all to himself.

Another major change is that I am starting to leave the door to the Montessori room open more often. They both are well-trained in the school room at this point and do not abuse the materials when I am not with them. They are choosing to go into the school room and work independently with the materials often while I am preparing meals, doing laundry and cleaning up in the kitchen. This is frankly how the materials are supposed to be used in the first place. Also, it is one of the reasons I chose Montessori to begin with. The fact that she discovered that when given all of the typical choices that these materials are what the children wanted to be doing.

Anyway, I am putting this in writing because I know some of you are reading because your children may be similar in age to mine, but perhaps a little bit younger and are wondering how to manage the two different ages at the same time. I wrote about how I handled that up until this point starting when the boys were 1 and 2.5 here. Since this reflects a significant change to that structure I thought I would let you know.

The only thing that still concerns me is that some of the materials are choking hazards and Me Too is only just two years old. He doesn't usually put things in his mouth yet, but it only takes once. I have removed a couple of the most dangerous items and am considering moving some of the materials into the family room for the summer. I love blogs because they give me an opportunity to see what other moms are doing. Many blogs I read seem to be business as usual in the summer. Some have mysteriously stopped posting about Montessori and have been posting much more frequently about the frog they found in their backyard, etc., However, I was very interested to see today that another mom I respect has also been moving the location of her materials for the summer months.

Another relevant aside: I find it interesting that at many Montessori schools there is a garden that the children can access at any time. I gather that "playing outside" is a legitimate choice during the three-hour work period at those schools. It has also been mentioned to me on the blog that some Montessori schools have "outdoor materials."

What I don't want to do is start "rotating" and "scheduling" activities (art on Mondays, walks on Tuesdays) even though it might help. I think I would prefer to go the "prepared environment" route. For example, I would love to see what some of you are doing regarding the accessibility of art materials. I have seen many beautiful examples online of homes where art materials are available at all times. I don't need to hear about those. I have written about my art material phobia here. I need more examples of some kind of middle ground. Maybe visible but that they have to ask for? It's not just the paint problem, it's an aversion to leaving even pencils and pens lying around. (Go ahead and call me uptight, it's still not happening. Susan Striker's recommended response for when a child draws all over the walls is one of the few places where our philosophies seriously diverge).

Other ideas I have might perhaps include a poster with pictures of some of the other choices, like going for a walk, art, or playing baseball. Perhaps if there were a visual reminder they would ask to do those things and they would happen when the boys choose them? I did something similar for a while with a photo album of their toys. When Kal-El was fishing for something different to do he would flip through the book until something caught his eye. (This was easy to do by the way because when I made photo labels for his shelves of toys I received free double prints and slid the second set into a small photo album).

At any rate, this state of affairs has been seriously cramping my style when it comes to post frequency. (Thank you to the one person who noticed, I was flattered). In other news, every ounce of my own free time has been consumed by the notion that we might sell our house. We have been fixing the things that we can't sell the house without fixing, getting rid of things we refuse to pack and move to yet another house, trying to decide where we might want to live, and seriously mourning in response to the idea that we may have to leave our home that we love. Unfortunately the ramifications of cap and trade would make our home impossible to afford and illegal to sell. It looks like we have to start making plans to take our three-to five-minute showers someplace else.


  1. Thanks for the update. I also struggle with being able to complete everything I want to in a day. I want to keep up with this blog over the summer so I have decided to post small little post more for me to look back on than anything else. I am just happy if other people can enjoy them too!
    It seems that you have quite a bit going on in your lives right now. I was also wondering how the "Godly Play" is going.
    Thanks for the link to my blog.

  2. I love your thoughts on art (ie leaving pens, pencils out...) I'm very much the same way in my classroom, and it's funny to hear someone put it the way you did. You will never ever see a marker in my classroom. Like you said, call me uptight, but it's not happening :)

    OK, so here are some suggestions, based off of some summer-ish Montessori programs I've seen. A lot of schools that do Montessori year-round, have a more "relaxed" program in the summer. In other words, the 3 hour period might be shorter to accomodate things that can only be done in the summer (going to the park, playing in sprinklers, having a picnic, etc.)

    Since being outdoors is your number one priority, I would suggest creating an Outdoor Environment. Gardens or outdoor areas are generally used to do "outdoor" work, such as sanding, gardening, hammering, etc AND/OR a place to bring indoor work outside. Obviously, rug work is best left inside. However, if you have a good table or two (NOT the plastic ones, they are very difficult to write on and very rarely flat) most table work can be brought outside. Ideally, your outdoor environment have a door to your indoor environment to make this transition easier. If it's not possible, you could also fashion some sort of shelf for outside that could hold appropriate materials. Think plant/insect study or outdoor work. The possibilities are endless!

  3. For the art problem - how about having a shelf with the paper, stuff that can be stuck and other non messy materials on it and photos of paints, glue, crayins etc so that the boys can set up at a table with paper and materials and then ask you for the glue etc? Then they can be in control of the setting up and when they want to do it but you know what is out there and can keep an eye out for mischief!

  4. Ah yes, never enough time. It rings true in my home too. No answers here.

    The art thing...I hear ya on the markers and paint being left out. Not here either. One thing that may work is using chalkboard paint to paint the bottom portion of a child-friendly wall. Leave the chalks out and they'll know what to do. If they do it somewhere they shouldn't, it won't really be messy.

    With chalk, we also draw on our cement basement floor or our garage floor on rainy days. That could be left out too.

    We also have the Crayola markers that only work on certain colouring books. If they draw on anything else, you see nothing.

    You may want to leave some of the artsy tool, like paintbrushes, out and they will be a visual reminder to the children without any mess.

    I'm thinking of you and your possible move. I pray for a better solution.

  5. Since I do preschool out of my home during the school year, but still have two daycare children (ages 5 and 1) in addition to my own children - 9, 7 and 4), we do things different but similar in the summer. We don't have a specific work period like during the year, and I do put some of the materials away. But I still have many materials on the shelves. (See my blog for a recent post on how I rearranged my shelves for the summer.) I also rearranged because the 1 year old naps less and is in the school area more, and so I made sure that the bottom shelves are more toddler friendly/less choking harards. With the 1 year old, though, I am obviously still in the same room as everyone, although my own children use the room unsupervised in the early morning/evenings.

  6. On art, I do have it out at all times, but not paint. I need to be in the room and prepare the easel if they are going to do paint. But I have out crayons, markers, colored pencils, chalk, glue sticks, staplers, scissors, and paper out all the time.

    I try and have my outdoor area be a prepared environment, just like my indoor one. I like to even incorporate ways to do numbers, writing, geography, music, etc. when we are outside, as well as just the general running, jumping, climbing, swinging, and gardening. Our garden is a flower bed, and a herb garden. We also take lots of pictures of the garden and other leaves, birds and bugs. I have an easel that we can use outside, and we also have paintbrushes that we can use for just painting with water.

    But I know what you mean about not having enough time in the day. I see so many great ideas on othet blogs, and I just haven't had time to make any new things.

  7. Thanks for offering up advice everyone! Keep it coming!

  8. This is a really interesting post (I have just stumbled across your blog so 'hi'!) ... especially realising how little time there actually is in the day. I need to read through it and digest it, but as I was reading it lightbulbs were popping on all over the place. Thanks!

  9. I like this post. I have been thinking about going back and reading your blog from when your boys were my boys' age. I think that would be helpful, because sometimes I get stressed by the older kid stuff. Not there yet.

    Our schedule is similar--lots of time eating and playing outside, difficult to get full Montessori time in. I want to go with the flow, but I'm also afraid that means that we won't ever go into the Montessori room! They like free play too much!