“You better take a jacket, it might rain.” “What about the permission slips?” “Did you pack your cleats?” “Hurry, the bus is coming!” “Do you have your music for band?” “Do you need money today?” “Where is the lunch I made?” Some version of these questions is fired out in rapid succession by every mom, every day, in every home across America as we rush out the door into our daily lives.
We ask these questions out of love, concern, and the hope of creating a happy, stress free day for our child, but is this really helping? By constantly planning, organizing, packing, and checking for our children, we are actually inhibiting their ability to develop these important skills.
Recently, I had the privilege of chaperoning 40 plus teenagers to New York City and observe their disparate levels of “planning ability”. At one end of the spectrum, we managed to lose a video camera and nearly lost a wallet on the floor of a restaurant. At the opposite end of the spectrum the “planners” in the group were clearly less stressed, spent more time relaxing and relied less on others to help them survive.
For the non-planners in the group it was abundantly clear that it was their first time getting up and out the door completely on their own. The “non-planners” managed to lock themselves out of their rooms, missed breakfast due to poor timing and lost exhibit tickets handed to them as they stepped off the bus. This group of teenagers forgot sunblock, jackets, important medications, and toothpaste. They needed bandages and borrowed clothes, they missed check-ins, and lost money. They were cold, stressed and there are many young ladies who learned that walking long distances in high heels in New York City is not a good time!
So how do we help our children to develop this extremely important skill of planning? Like most things our children learn, it will be through trial and error. Our job is to provide as much opportunity for that “trial and error” learning to occur and the younger you start the better.
Summer is a terrific time to help your children improve their organizational skills. With less stress than the school year brings and more time for excursions and adventures, summer is rich with opportunities to teach organizational thinking. Planning is one of the “Fabulous 15 Organizational Skills” highlighted in my soon to be published book, Barbies in the Horse Bin, Living Better with Organized Children,
There are many effective ways to teach planning with children, beginning with modeling the skill for your children by creating lists, using a calendar, or doing internet research. Discuss your plans aloud and allow your children to ask questions and contribute. Have your child experience “organizational thinking” as it relates to planning in hands on ways.
A child’s development in the area of planning follows a natural progression that can be easily assessed by asking the following questions:
While planning cannot answer the proverbial question, “Are we there yet?”, it will most certainly add to any trip or adventure. Planning is often as much fun as the destination itself. If you are planning an overnight visit to grandma’s house, you can reinforce organizational thinking by challenging your child along the planning progression. Young children can “help make a list” of things they will need by giving you suggestions to write down or by drawing pictures of items. Challenge the items on the list by asking “why they might need an item” or “do you think this item will fit in your suitcase”. Don’t be surprised when they pack their favorite possessions without regard to necessities. I can recall a hamster that went on our vacation because my child thought “Dobby” would like to ride in a car.
As children gain more experience with the planning process they are ready to start “following a list”. This skill level mimics expectations that teachers have in school. Following directions, paying attention to order and detail are essential skills for success in school. When children are given homework assignments or projects, they are essentially being asked to “follow a plan”. For the overnight trip example, a child can be given a list of items to pack in his/her suitcase. Have the child double check his/her list by crossing off the necessary items as they are packed.
The final stage of planning incorporates both of the prior skills and it is the one that demonstrates the most mastery. After successfully implementing plans set by you as the parent, or following lists that you have delineated, can they “create their own plan”? With the example of visiting grandma for an overnight, you might give the child the parameters that they will need to generate their own list. “You will be going to Grandma’s for two nights, she plans to take you to the beach as well as out to a restaurant.” Your child can brainstorm and create a list of items he/she will need for a fun visit.
Many of our recent teenage travelers to New York had not thought through a plan for the visit. Even though they had received a detailed itinerary of the trip, they struggled with picturing the necessities and potential day to day needs. While most of the incidents were minor (with the exception of the video camera – ouch), it was clear that the teenagers who were better organized enjoyed their visit to the city more. The teenagers who were struggling however learned valuable lessons because there is nothing like being cold, hungry, or in need of something to reinforce the errors made and diminish the odds of them being repeated in the future.
Last but certainly not least, find something in your children’s planning efforts to be proud of, to be astonished by, to be happy to know, this will ensure they enjoy this process and want to repeat it. They are children first, and their idea of what is important to pack, or to plan may be very different from what you anticipated. Acknowledging your child’s contribution to the plan could be the very best item on the list!
One way to ensure that you make great plans this summer is to create a “Summer Bucket List”. For a free template and suggestions to make your summer plans a hit, visit www.lblivingbetter.com to download a copy today. Happy Planning!