Girl looking with desire at sweets in kitchen

This week in isolation has been one where our efforts to build a predictable day, and a calm and respectful environment for the children have started to bear fruit.

In the spirit of respecting the need to slow down enforced by COVID-19, we have been enabled to pay extra thought to including the children in the day-to-day domestic jobs. This has the benefit of increasing their sense of contribution to the household. So many behavioural issues trace back to children craving this sense of contribution and belonging; we’ve even noticed a decrease in boundary pushing and attention-grabbing behaviours.

My favourite aspect of this way of living has been entrusting Ophelia, who is 4, with many aspects of caring for our chickens. She is able to clean them out, feed and water them, let them out in the mornings and put them to bed in the evenings. This also adds to the predictable rhythm of the days and weeks. Her empathy for animals (and her baby sister) has been tangibly increased since having this responsibility.

Another area of the house which children can help in from a very young age is in the kitchen. They can do so much more than we may think they can do. It is, however, slower and more messy! The mindset adjustment to allowing them to make mess and mistakes, then facilitating them cleaning up or amending their own ‘mistakes’ is hard. Sometimes you have to literally sit on your hands while they clumsily struggle with chopping, or slop mixture on the floor when mixing. However, there is even more learning opportunity in fixing their mistakes. A huge tip in increasing their problem solving abilities that I have learnt, is to have a cloth and spray bottle (could be filled with water and washing up liquid) accessible by the children. If they make spills and messes, don’t rush to clear up for them, but ask “Where is your cleaning cloth?” or “How could you clear that up?”.

The garden also offers a wealth of opportunity for input from Ophelia. Even Sybil is able to participate pushing the wheelbarrow, gathering garden debris and digging holes. Even if you don’t have a garden, plating some seeds on the windowsill, or allowing little ones to help with the potting of houseplants is very therapeutic.

My partner, Luke, has been finding lockdown particularly testing on his patience. Since facilitating Ophelia to be an active participant in the household, he feels that he can not only get more done; but that his relationship with Ophelia has improved, allowing more room for bonding through their shared tasks.

We have both found that the most meaningful way to facilitate contribution is simply to make jobs accessible to little people. Instead of ordering her around, or pinning too much expectation on a ‘baking session’ or ‘activity time’ we simple lay out extra materials/tools for each task and complete it in a slow way, letting her know what we’re doing. If she shows an interest in participating and needs coaching in what to do, we don’t use words. Instead, we silently and mindfully show her what we do. It’s important to note here that children don’t have the dexterity and strength of adults, so sometimes we must adjust how we complete a task to represent how they would need to do it. For example, when whisking most children may need to use two hands while an adult holds the bowl still.

This has been another way in which quarantine has taught us the merits of slowing down, on focussing on the home and garden and the skills and lessons which domesticity has to offer. For those parents feeling the stress of home schooling; simply removing all pressure and allowing your children to learn through active participation could prove to be the most valuable learning experience yet…and not just for the kids!