Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Aboard the Job Train

Now that preschool has started, one of the nicest moments of my day is pick-up time. Over the last two weeks, Kiddo and I have settled into a sweet routine. I always bring a graham cracker with me, which is sort of a treat at our house, and we take our time walking home. Today, we noticed a toadstool growing in the shade and I was asked what a carbohydrate was. (It's "food that makes a sugar in your body", if you want the simple answer.) We generally hold off on playdates until our no-preschool days of the week, because it's been my longtime experience that many preschoolers are often tired from the work of playing with friends and need a little downtime.

We also have a helpful prop at home that I've created called a Job Train. I made this before, working as a nanny, when I had a child in care who went to preschool and was dropped off afterward. The Job Train is a paper engine and set of cars that live on the refrigerator via some adhesive magnets I stuck on the back. These cards help a child work through their after-school tasks with less adult instruction, because once a photo of the child is glued onto the engine, it is indeed the child who 'drives' the Job Train. Kiddo puts it together one or two cars at a time. Each car has a different task or two, both illustrated and printed in simple text on the car itself. "Boots" shows one card, which prompts him to 'make his shoes nice' (as he likes to say it); "Coat/Tote" indicate that these items need to be hung up; "Potty/Wash Hands", "Lunchbox/Snack (because kids big and small are often hungry after school),  and "Quiet Play Time" are the other cars on our train. When all of the train has been built--which means that these tasks are complete--then Kiddo's welcome to do with his time as he pleases. He may do most of these tasks in an open order which allows Kiddo some say-so in how he gets them done. Overall, though, this prop potentially eliminates the need for me to direct him through these responsibilities.

Sometimes, too, I get a moan or complaint. I simply remind him that he can go lie down if he's too tired to do the jobs, and then do them when he's ready.  If it's not tiredness but more obstinacy, I offer a pillow for him to sit on until he's ready to take care of his belongings and himself. These tasks are not beyond his abilities, and these are good habits for him to develop, because I do not relish living out the next 18 years doing every little thing for my son. It wouldn't be good for either of us. Neither am I expecting him to do all of this solo; today he was obviously tired and stated "I don't know what to do", wanting help. I gave gentle direction and the little cars were put together one by one.

I'm a big believer in downtime after preschool; by late afternoon, our kids are often maxed out. Because of this, I try to do most of the toy cleanup earlier, before I start dinner, when we're all better able to make this activity more pleasant. I try to have the shopping done before pick-up, or to schedule it after he's had a chunk of time to play independently. Again, it's my appreciation of the amount of work being in the intense social settings of preschool and primary grades that leads me to take this approach of "less is more".

So, our autumn has a rhythm of its own, at least on school days. On other days, I'm sensitive to Kiddo's need for routine and look for ways to support this. Heading out for an adventure around the same time as we leave for school can help; this time too, as I'd mentioned before, is perfect for playdates. We try to keep the same mealtimes as preschool, too, which really helps. While I do not feel a sense of total obligation to his preschool schedule, I understand that weekends can be harder when he's got less structure or feels 'thrown off' his routines, so these rhythms are optimally the backbone to our days together. So graham crackers, walks home through crunchy, turning leaves and our little Job Train all become little bits of the glue that holds our little guy's world together, one day at at time.

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