Whew! We made it to the end of toy-free week!
Actually, it wasn't too difficult. It was probably hardest for Christin, who is only 2.5, since toys are a huge part of her day. However, other than once early in the week when she tried to sneak some Polly Pocket dolls out of the bin, she didn't complain, didn't ask for toys, and generally did great! She and I had some special reading sessions and she was the first one to volunteer to help me with the dishes. (I wash, I rinse, and she stacks. Today she even dried some that were safe for her to handle!)
Chloe also did fine. At 4.5, she LOVES to color, so that was an easy and fun solution for her. She will gladly spend a very long time meticulously coloring numerous pictures. She also was happy to sit in on some extra reading time with Mommy and do other fun things, too--dancing, taking a play-bath, helping in the kitchen.
Clara Anne seemed to do fine with the no-toys rule (found plenty to do to occupy herself and usually roped her sisters into it too) but I sensed that her heart was still having some struggles submitting, and she was just "putting up with it" until the required time period was over. I think my interactions with her this week showed me again that I cannot neglect the heart issues behind the toy disputes and bad attitudes. The attitudes may still be there even if the toys are taken away.
In general I thought we all had a good week. We had fun reading more books, the girls were more involved in the things I was doing, they had the chance to be "bored" for a bit and use some extra creativity to think of something to do, and I only had to enforce a punishment for getting toys out twice. I do feel like the girls generally are very creative in their play, and that's a blessing which helped this week. I am thankful for the break from toys--though I did find that my girls found other ways to make messes that also needed to eventually be cleaned up. (You know, forts with blankets, changing clothes 10 times in one day, things like that!) So goes life! It's all part of it.
Thanks to those of you who commented...I thought everyone had something valuable to contribute! In light of how this week went and as I've been thinking and praying through this, here's my plan (which is going to be a multifaceted approach and draw a lot from you all, too):
1. Limit the number of toys in our home. I actually did some purging of toys this week that made me feel a lot better, but I think we could reduce more. I think we WILL reduce more as we anticipate our upcoming move, too. But it just makes sense: the less toys there are, the less we have to organize, clean up, store, etc. And I'm NOT worried about the girls not having enough educational toys or some such silly nonsense, we all know that children can be entertained for hours with their a cardboard box and their own imaginations! So reducing the number of our toys is going to be key.
2. Continue to enforce the family rule that when you're done with something, you are responsible to put it away. There may need to be a more severe consequence for this since it seems it's awfully easy to leave out 17 different things. I am trying to train Clara Anne to take the lead in this, since she's the oldest and could potentially do the majority of clean-up time by herself. Unfortunately sometimes it seems she is the one with the most resistant attitude. (The other day when I told her it was time to clean up, she actually claimed an injury to her leg which would prevent her from bending down to get things off the floor! Puh-leeze!) Chloe and Christin, though they need more instruction, usually think it's pretty fun to clean up. We may do a sort of "beat the timer" kind of race with some points given on their charts occasionally to help this process.
3. Do not allow bad attitudes at clean up time. Period.
4. Utilize what we call "stations"--we've done this before where I set up each child with something fun to play with in an area, and then after a certain amount of time has gone by (30 minutes on the timer or something like that), then the children leave the toy or activity where it is and rotate to the next child's station. This is similar to what Rebecca mentioned in her comment about blanket time with a toy. I think it's a good option, especially when there's been some of what I call "low-level bickering." It gives the girls some time to play by themselves and everybody still gets something fun to do. I may even schedule one morning a week as "station" morning.
5. Be willing to put away (or take away forever) certain toys if there continues to be issues over them.
6. Finally, pray, pray, pray! Oh that the Lord would grant wisdom in teaching and training my children in these areas! I know that I desperately feel my need for His wisdom; I'm aware (at least partially) of the impact I'm making on their lives, and I earnestly desire to be a good example, to help them to grow, and to seek to have our home be a place of harmony, peace, joy, and full of the other fruits of the Spirit. It's certain that only HE can produce those things in us or in our home! But thankfully, His promises are sure and His word is faithful, so I can trust that help is there for me when I need it. I want to keep asking for that help and wisdom in prayer!
I think this toy experiment has also helped me to examine my own heart more clearly, and to perhaps adjust my expectations a bit. The truth of the matter is, I have three young children who are home all the time. No one goes off to school, no one is gone from the house on a regular basis, we are all living in this space constantly. Do I unreasonably expect that the house will always be picked up and clean and tidy? I tell myself that I am fine with the mess as long as children also clean up happily at the appropriate time, but am I being honest with myself? Or do I have some unrealistic expectation of being home all day, every day, with four other humans living in this space and everything always in order?
Homes are meant to be lived in. The last thing I want is for my family to feel like they can't live life in our home because life makes a mess. But on the other hand, there is a beauty and order and peace to a well-organized, tidy home. We all feel more comfortable when we aren't crunching on yesterday's toast crumbs when we sit down for breakfast. Or more likely at our house, stepping on cooked rice as we try to walk through the dining area. (Have you ever tried to get sticky rice out of socks? It's a true sticky mess!) So there has to be a balance. The more I think of it, the more I feel that balance is simply enjoying our activities, enjoying our toys, and then with an equally cheerful heart, disciplining ourselves to clean them up.
Thanks for your input, friends, and thanks for going along with me in the toy-free experiment!