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In The Child Friendly Home I mentioned that we have deliberately designed our house to accommodate children.  I promised some practical ideas we have used to child-ify our home.  (Yes, I totally made that word up.)

Three Must Haves

LabelsLabel Maker.  Small investment, huge return.  I label everything from files to light switches.  I label bins in the closet, bins in the playroom, bookshelves, desk drawers, plastic storage containers with dry goods, and DVDs (I like to put the movie length on the spine so we can easily choose something for the time we have time to watch).  You name it, it can be labeled.  Our label maker has labels that are removable and they go through the dishwasher, too.

Hooks.  We put hooks everywhere. In our house, we hang hooks first, ask questions later.  Even the smallest, mobile child can hang a coat, backpack, towel, or toothbrush bucket on a hook.  Don’t forget the inside of cabinet doors and interior cabinet walls.  Command Hooks are great for hanging things like measuring spoons, a whisk broom, or colander on lower cabinet doors.  An upper cabinet door is a great place to hang scissors and super glue.  Hang them high; hang them low; hang them often.

Stools.  Lots of stools.  I like stools that nest for storage, are lightweight and are dishwasher safe.  Ikea and Rubbermaid make inexpensive stools in various heights that do all this.

What next?

I get down at the level of my children and look around.  I pay attention to the little things that add frustration to their lives.  In reality, it often comes down to finding the things that irritate me and seeing if the reason is an environment that prevents my children from easily obeying.

Think Low

Children tend to be short.  At least, they are usually shorter than the adults in the house.  I like to arrange cabinets and closets from the ground up, literally.

  • In our kitchen, things like dinnerware, cups, storage dishes, small appliances, baking supplies, cleaning rags, and snack foods are stored in the lower cabinets.  Now, I am tall (5’11”), so this arrangement is a sacrifice for me, but it does several things for our family.  Small children can unload the dishwasher and put almost everything away by themselves.  They also have access to the things they are likely to need for their chores, snacks, and meal preparation.
  • Likewise, our linen/cleaning supplies closet has boxes of tissues on the floor, hand towels and dust rags on a low shelf with sheets and pillow cases above that.  Basic first-aid, chemicals, household tools and guest towels – things that little people don’t really need – are all on the higher shelves.

You get the idea.

Think High

Since children are short, and adults are tall(er), high cabinets and shelves are reserved for things kids won’t need as well as for things they shouldn’t have.  Hazardous items are beyond the reach of young children (who are quite adept at opening cabinet locks).

  • We keep medicines, asthma inhalers, and epi-pens (we have food allergies) in an upper cabinet in the kitchen.  It is high enough that my youngest children cannot reach, but low enough for my babysitting-aged children to reach easily in case of an emergency.
  • Our upper kitchen cabinets house things like chemicals, tools, coffee, serving dishes, and the meal ingredients our kids are not likely to need.
  • Older children get the upper shelves in the closet.
  • The upper row of hooks is for adults and teens, leaving low hooks for young children.

Think Possible

In Acts 1:4-9, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit and gave them instructions for later.  And what would the Holy Spirit do exactly?  Give them power to obey the instructions Christ gave.

That is a grace I can extend to my kids.  I can train them in practice that God provides what we need to do what he asks.  I can give them what they need to obey my instructions.

We used to have an incredibly hard time getting out the door with kids. I don’t think I’m alone in this since most authors, comedians, and speakers who address parenting refer at some point to this very thing.

When I ask my kids to load up and the car sits empty in the driveway it doesn’t really matter to me whether my child can’t find his shoes or won’t stop reading.  We still aren’t in the car.

In that moment, my calling is to respond calmly with grace and mercy and to come alongside them with correction or instruction.  In all honesty, that is not what usually happens.  For me, when we are late and frustrations are running high, I am not likely to instruct or correct well.

What I can do is choose a sane moment to think through what I could provide to make it possible for my children to obey my instructions the next time.  Providing an environment that accommodates my children helps me to clarify the difference between whether my child can’t or won’t obey.  I don’t want to accommodate my child’s heart idols; I want to accommodate my child.  By removing the “can’t,” I can tell when I am facing a “won’t.”

Practically speaking, grace for the Quillen family to get out the door well means:

Entry & Launch Pad

  • Shoe Cubbies.  We have them by the door, labeled by person (another Label Maker use!).  Keeping the shoes by the door means: we can find them when we are ready to leave.  Keeping them in labeled cubbies means: we can find them when we are ready to leave.  You may think I’m a bit over-the-top on this one, but seriously, 9 people x 3 pairs (at least) of shoes each x 2 shoes per pair = 54+ shoes in a heap by the door, or worse,  scattered throughout the house.
  • Launch Pad.  Every person has a “launch pad” by the door.  They have a hook (or hooks) for backpacks/purses/coats and an enclosed bin for Sunday School materials, Bible, sports equipment, and anything else that they need to remember when they are heading out.  I even put rolls or cookies for a pot-luck on my launch pad so I don’t forget them.

In case you were wondering, getting out the door is not our only struggle.  I need to stop and think about the major areas of frustration in our lives and admit where I have failed to provide what is needed for my instructions to be possible.

Cleaning house is a struggle.  Ideas?

  • ToolsA lightweight, cordless hand-vac.
  • A vacuum cleaner that automatically adjusts between hard floors and carpet.
  • Remove a section from the handle of a Swiffer and it is the right length for a child to use.
  • Front loading washer & dryer.  Which parts of the laundry process you choose to have your child do will vary, but they won’t be limited by stature.
  • Pocket feather dusters.  The duster retracts into the handle when not in use.  They are the perfect size for little hands and take up minimal space on the cleaning supplies shelf.
  • Dusters, dust pans/whisk brooms and other tools designed for use in cars or an RV are smaller in size, but retain important features that toy versions don’t.
  • Baking Soda as a great gentle cleanser for the bathtub.
  • Homemade Cleaning Wipes and paper towels or rags are available in the kitchen and every bathroom for (un)expected messes.
  • Duplicate tools.  Multiple sponges, dusters, cleaning bottles reduce waiting for supplies to do the work.

Keeping the house tidy is a struggle.  Ideas?

  • School RoomA plastic bin with a lid for each child (labeled, of course!).  Two rules: (1) No food and (2) the lid must close.  This is a great place for the treasures I might mistake for trash.
  • A drawer in the kitchen for craft supplies.
  • A bin in a cabinet for school or homework supplies.
  • We have a great organizer for common materials – crayons, markers, construction paper, pipe cleaners, stickers, stencils, etc.  The bins are clear (so you can see what’s in them) and labeled on both ends (so it doesn’t matter which way they get put back).  {Our craft center was part of a Group-to-Group Gift.}

I could put Velcro on the wall and put a matching strip on a crayon box if I had to.  Kids just need a defined space to put their stuff away before I tell them to clean it up.

Little things can be a struggle.  Ideas?

  • One child improved handwriting because we changed his desk chair.  An adjustable office chair, a bar stool, a high chair with the tray removed, a junior chair, or a booster seat allow a child to sit at an adult height desk.  Child sized tables and chairs are another option.
  • Learning to jump rope is difficult if the rope is the wrong length – but it is easy to find the “right length” online and custom fit the rope to the child.
  • BathroomsEach child has a towel with a ribbon loop sewn on the side and their name embroidered on it in their favorite color.  It is easy for them to hang the towel up using the loop, and it is easy for me to see who has left their towel on the floor.
  • We had a toilet paper problem.  Either a child would sit screaming that they needed a new roll of toilet paper or I would find a new roll of toilet paper sitting right on top of the empty roll in the dispenser. Turns out my kids couldn’t manage the spring-loaded toilet paper holder or reach a new roll in the cabinet if they ran out while on the potty.  Now store TP is within a child’s reach of every toilet.  And we chose toilet paper holders that make it possible for our kids to change the toilet paper roll.
  • Shower heads that are on a hose are great for cleaning bathtubs and shower walls.  (As an added bonus, it makes it easy to bathe babies and toddlers.)
  • Not all of our kids can reach the medicine cabinet to put toothbrushes away, so we keep toothbrushes, toothpaste, cups, floss, combs in hanging bins (labeled!) that everyone can reach.
  • A small office organizer with drawers houses all of the ponytail holders, clips, barrettes, combs, headbands, bandanas, and costume jewelry that come with little girls.  (Yes, the drawers are labeled.)

With a little effort, I remember what it was like to be a child.  With a little imagination I can improve the experience for my children.

Please leave a comment below and tell me what practical changes you’ve tried that brought grace into your homes.  I’m always looking for new ideas!

All pictures are from around the Quillen house.