How we get 3 children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

How we get three children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

When I mention to people that our three young children are in bed, in the same room, and lights out by 6:15 every night, we often get the same response.

How do you get children into bed before 6:30 pm?

They want to know the answers.

Know that we are far from perfect. We are works in progress. Some nights it is later than this. Sometimes they wake up.

But honestly, changing our bedtime routine has been a game-changer for us.

When our third baby was born, my then two year old stopped napping in the day. He still needed to – he was desperately tired and cranky come mid afternoon. He simply wouldn’t nap unless I lay next to him. I couldn’t figure out how to get a newborn and toddler to sleep at the same time or stop one from waking up the other. I eventually gave up and just focussed on my baby getting the sleep that he needed.

I needed a solution to get through the long afternoons without going insane, and to help my toddler cope. I had to bring bedtime forward. Initially, this was just going to be a short term thing. Something to help until he adjusted to the longer days. It ended up working so well that I decided to make it our new thing.

Like many other young children, my boys wake up early. Regardless of what time they go to bed, they almost always wake at 6 am. I figured that if I could somehow bring bedtime earlier and shorten the dreaded witching hours, we’d all be happier.

With our new bedtime at 6:15, this is what I did before then to make it work.

  1. Screen time after lunch (12:30)
    This time of day I find tricky. Everyone is tired. It gives me a chance to tidy up lunch and grab some of my own, feed baby and put him down for his nap, and ideally prep dinner (and put a load of washing on the line). My toddler and then preschooler watched their favourite shows. This kept them quiet while bubs slept, and enabled me to get a few things done. By having screen time out the way earlier, they had enough play time after this to wear them out before bedtime.

2. Outside play (2-4). Both in the morning and after rest time, I aim to get my boys outside. Fresh air, vitamin D and endorphins all help to make us happier and healthier. My children fight less outside and love exploring. They use their imagination and creativity. I can focus on them rather than the dishes and the jobs. Being outside makes them hungry and tired. I love the 1000 Hours Outside movement and ideally aim for 3-5 hours every day.

How we get three children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

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3. Bath (3-4:30). When my first baby was born, I know that routine was important. Every book I read or person I spoke to told me to do bath after dinner. This is because it cleans them up after a messy tea and helps calm them before bed. I understood this, logically, but found it difficult in practice. I used to wait until my husband got home from work so we could have dinner as a family.

He got home late though so it was hard to juggle a late dinner and squeeze in a bath. One day a kind friend shared that she did this in reverse. She gave her boy a bath in the afternoon, then dinner, then bed. I was so surprised. I’d never thought to try this! I gave it a go that night and I’ve never looked back.

I love this approach because it gives flexibility in the afternoon. If my boys are extra tired or fighting more than usual, I might give them a bath at 3pm (later now I have school pick up). I can give them a bath individually, in a pair or all three.

I can do a quick one if we’re in a rush or stretch it out to over half an hour. It breaks up the afternoon and it’s no longer a task that I have to fit in. Once they are out the bath, they have an urgency to play until it’s dinner time, and know that the countdown is on. They seem to make the most of this bonus play, giving me a chance to do a quick tidy up or last minute dinner prep.

4. Dinner (5-5:30pm). I generally give my kids dinner by myself while hubby is driving home from work. It’s not easy but I see it as the final push of the day. When I had a newborn, I would be trying to get the older two food while often breastfeeding. It was ridiculously hard and I felt like I needed another set of hands.

Now with my boys 5,3,1 at the time of writing, it is still very busy and chaotic but we make it work. They eat dinner and drink milk, dessert on weekends. They know that once they have left the table they need to go straight into the bedroom (otherwise they won’t want to stop playing!).

5. Teeth and stories in bedroom (5:30-6:15). Ideally we would brush teeth in the bathroom but we just make it easy for ourselves at the moment. Brushing teeth with a timer on, and often ‘Daddy dentist’ helps for this (boys take turns to lie down on his lap so he can inspect their teeth and help to brush them).

While hubby does this, I spend fifteen minutes racing around like a crazy person clearing the table, putting things back in the fridge stacking the dishwasher, wiping table, cleaning the highchair and sweeping the floor. We both hate having to face the kitchen later on so I really try to work hard to get this finished or almost finished in this time. I join hubby in their bedroom to put nappies on the younger two and remind the eldest about pull ups. Then for the next half an hour or so, we read as many books as we can together.

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One of us often climbs into a bed with a child, the other sits on the floor with one while bubs crawls over the top of us. There are two single beds (that can turn into bunks) and a cot mattress that we put on the floor.

The boys won’t always share but right now it works for us. At 6:15 (or 6:30 at the latest) we put the books away, tuck them into their respective beds, turn out the lights and put on the white noise sound machine ($40 from Big W). We have a snuggle and talk about the best part of their day. We say prayers and give them a kiss.

How we get three children into bed before 6:30 pm (and how you can too)

I still feed our youngest to sleep and then sneak out of the room. They love being in the same room and we think the company helps them to stay asleep. One of them will often pull their pillow and quilt onto the floor to lie next to our one year old. It’s pretty cute.

Bringing their bedtime forward was meant to be a short term thing. Something to help our 2 year old cope with the long afternoons. The crazy thing is it’s worked so well. Even over summer with daylight savings, not once did our older boys question why we were going to bed while the sun was still up. They just know that they go into the bedroom after dinner. They know that lights out is at 6:15.

We can’t really believe it ourselves, how easily it’s worked for us. How it’s been a game changer for our family and sanity

Once they are in bed and asleep, we use the time to get things done. We

  • finish packing up the kitchen
  • vacuum and / or mop
  • pack up the toys
  • organise paperwork or bills
  • prepare lunches for next day
  • hang washing off the line or put it away
  • miscellaneous jobs that need doing

We try to get the jobs done so we can have dinner as a couple, every night. It feels like a mini date night and we love how quiet it is. By then the house is clean and tidy, so other than putting the plates in the dishwasher, there is nothing to do afterwards.

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One of us might go for a run, I might read or have a bath, sit on my massage chair, work on my side hustle or watch a show together. Evenings always go too quickly but because we work hard to get the boys in bed early, we have more time than most. It allows us to get a few things done, spend time together and fill our tanks before facing another big day tomorrow. We are more rested and happier for it.

This won’t work for everyone. For those who both work or work long hours, it will be too tricky. For those with older children, they need to stay up later. For those with lots of extracurricular activities after school, they will get home too late. But for us in our season, with our boys 5 and under, it works.

Brilliantly. I’m so grateful for my friend who encouraged me to try something different with our routine. I’m not sure I would have thought of it myself. It’s made my afternoons more manageable, the evening routine shorter, the boys less grumpy. I am less worn down. It works for us, and it might just work for you too.

Why you shouldn’t feel bad for not living up to the Bluey standards of parenting.

Why you shouldn’t feel bad for not living up to the Bluey standards of parenting

Bluey is such a wonderful show. It’s clever, uplifting and funny. It’s loved by children and parents and has taken the world by storm. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s well worth watching.

However when Bluey comes up in conversation, I often hear mums make comparison to Chilli and Bandit. They feel bad for not playing with their kids so beautifully and so often like Bluey’s parents do. They want to but they just don’t know how to do it. This makes them feel guilty and get down on themselves.

I get it. I strive to be a fun mum, who plays with her kids, spends five hours outside each day, hikes our national parks, plays in the creek, goes to the beach. I love being present with my kids.

For the last five years I have either been awfully sick whilst pregnant or breastfeeding. I have had a child with a dozen specialists, needing constant appointments. Trying to balance work, home life, errands and the mental load is a lot.

Right now I have a preschooler, toddler and baby.

It takes forever to leave the house, even for a walk. I try to breastfeed whilst breaking up sibling fights. I put bubs to sleep and my toddler keeps running into the room yelling. I try to hang washing and having two children crying. I go to the toilet and having conversations about why I sit down to wee but daddy stands up.

If I have a spare minute, I look around at the chaos not knowing whether to duck to the loo alone, make myself lunch, make a coffee (now I’ve boiled the kettle three times), start thinking about what’s for dinner, empty the recycling, reply to that message, fill out that form, clean under the highchair, fill up the birdbath, hang out the washing or wipe down the sink. My toddler wants me to sit down and watch an episode but I know if I do that, I’ll be chasing my tail all afternoon. It’s a constant pull in multiple directions and it’s easy to feel guilty about whatever I’m neglecting in a single moment.

My evenings are spent catching up on the unfinished jobs of the day. Cleaning up, paperwork, watering the garden. Exercise. Time with hubby. Bubs is in our room so it’s difficult to tidy or organise or put the light on to read.

My sleep is broken and we often have a child or two in our bed, or on the mattress beside us. We are exhausted.

It’s just so constant and I don’t often have my hands free to drop everything and just play. If I do, it’s often interrupted and just so hard.

That’s ok. I’m doing my best. It’s a stage.

Coming back to Bluey.

It’s helpful to learn, or remember, that Bluey is 6 years old and her sister Bingo is 4.

Parenting a school age child is different to that of a preschooler or toddler. Your capacity is different. You might be getting more sleep at night and be able to get some things done in the day.

They will spend some time at kindy or school and you’ll have breaks from each other.

Their ability to play games is different, even just that much older. They have a longer concentration span. They can take turns. They enjoy playing pretend.

This age group doesn’t need nappy changes or day sleeps. These sisters don’t have a baby sibling requiring constant attention. Chilli isn’t pregnant or recovering from a caesarean section. It’s easier to be present with your children when you have both of your hands free.

It’s also just a cartoon. It’s not real life.

We can strive to be a better version of ourselves and be inspired by the wonderful show that Bluey is, and also remember that no one is perfect. Chilli and Bandit aren’t perfect parents and they’d be the first to admit this.

One day you’ll look back and wonder how you managed it all. How you coped during the wonderfully hard season of little ones.

Keep this in mind to alleviate some of the guilt that comes with not living up to the Bluey standards of parenting. Give yourself some grace. You’re doing the very best you can.

❤️

10 easy ways to develop literacy in under fives

10 easy ways to develop literacy in under fives

As a primary school teacher, I am passionate about seeing children develop in their literacy skills in the early years. It was shocking to me how many children would arrive at school not knowing the right way to hold up a book, or how to turn pages carefully. Some struggled to pick out basic rhymes. Others lacked the ability to sit down and concentrate when being read to.

I knew I was being judgy but I didn’t understand why children were coming into the classroom so ill equipped for learning how to read. I desperately wished that more parents knew both how important early literacy was and also how much easier it would make their schooling life.

Now that I am a parent, I am aware of the reality of exhaustion and lack of time. I get that finding space to read before bed can be tricky. However, it can be done and it’s not as hard as you might think. My eldest was recognising all letters and sounds by two, reading simple books by three and by four could read most texts independently. Here are a few tips to help you develop early literacy with your child:

1. Display books everywhere.

Have some on the change table so bubs can see when he lies down. Begin with simple black and white pattern ones and gradually progress to board books, touch and feel books and then picture books. Have them in their bedroom, play room and lounge. Many stores sell low bookshelves that allow the front cover to be displayed allowing for children to browse them more easily than looking at the spine.

Have some bath books for them to read with you in the water. Look at cookbooks together and find recipes to make, especially from kids cookbooks. Browse the newspaper and look at the comics. Let them circle and cut out items from catalogues, and stick them into a scrapbook. Ask them what they would like to put on their present list. Write letters and postcards to friends and family and read the responses together. Look at real estate guides and compare the different houses that are for sale. Demonstrate that reading is important to our daily life and include them in the many different texts we come across each day to read. Provide as many opportunities as you can.

2. Regularly borrow from the library.

Let them browse the shelves and not be rushed where possible. Borrow a range of books – ones with a special theme, picture books, readers, comics, rhyming books, books with only illustrations, big books, non fiction and search and find. Make it fun by only borrowing books by authors starting with an ‘A’, and next time find the ‘B’ ones, then the ‘C’s etc. Borrow a CD and show them how to read the list of tracks on the back, and the words to the songs inside the cover.

Most libraries offer song or story time for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. This is a valuable time of fun, laughter and learning. Children learn through rhyme and repetition, and can often use puppets. They follow along with actions and clap in time. They memorise nursery rhymes and songs which helps them develop language, much of it will stay with them forever. Children have the chance to socialise with one another and how to get along. They enjoy cuddles with their big people and can sit down on the mat independently when they are ready.

Some libraries allow you to borrow toys. You can help choose some items that challenge your children and develop their literacy. There are often book packs with activities ready to go, as well as many games and resources. This saves you money and reduces what you have to store and organise yourself, while rotating items helps to keep things interesting.

3. Have books in your car for them to read.

These can be in place of electronics while they are waiting for you to finish packing the car, to read while you drive (unless they get carsick!) and to take into appointments. We use the street directory, sticker books, activity books and picture books. I keep some pens and textas handy for them to use too.

Sometimes I’ve had to resort to an iPad or phone if appointments go for too long, or to distract a toddler while I’m feeding, but it’s not my go to. I try to see it as bonus literacy time. We can read together, complete activities and practice writing. With the street directory, my preschooler likes looking for parks, the beach, road names and the compass. He finds the street he lives on and follows a path with his finger to places nearby.

4. Toy alphabet.

Have toy versions of alphabet letters they can build into words. Provide opportunities for playing with letters. These can be foam ones for the bath, magnetic ones for the fridge and even duplo style ones. You can buy cheap phonics cards that spell words or build simple three letter puzzles. Focus on the play and practice rather than correct spelling.

Children can practice forming letters in sand (in a sandpit or sensory box) or with playdough. They can use activity books and practice tracing letters I find textas and pens can be easier to use than pencils for some children. They can paint with watercolours or use crayons. The more young children have chances to play with letters, the more they will begin experimenting with reading, spelling and writing.

5. Be strategic when reading books aloud.

Leave off the last word in a sentence or line for them to fill in. Children love reading the same books over and over again, and like to master the text. Even toddlers remember familiar words and have great satisfaction filling in the blank.

Read at least one rhyming story each day. Emphasise the rhymes. Pause at the end of the line for your child to fill in the gap. Highlight the words that rhyme and point to where they are. Ask them to come up with other words that rhyme with it. Mem Fox has some wonderful suggestions in her book Reading Magic.

6. Be intentional.

Take time to read the book carefully together and notice different things. Use different character voices and point out the speech marks. Show what happens to your voice when there is an exclamation point or question mark at the end of a sentence. Demonstrate the change in volume when all capitals are used.

Point out the author and illustrators name, and ask what each person does. Read the blurb together. Talk about what a dust jacket and a spine is. Ask if it is a fiction or non fiction text. Look at the front cover and make predictions about what the book will be about. As you go along, ask what you think might happen. At the end, think about what the moral of the story might be, or why the author decided to write it.

Ask them to find different items on each page, and then give them a go (Can you point to the letterbox? Where is the yellow duckling?). Question how the character might be feeling. Make connections to everyday life by asking if they ever feel sad too. Put your finger under the words so they can follow along if they want.

7. Storytell.

This isn’t my strong suit but my boys love when I tell them stories. It can be retelling the familiar ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears.’ It could be telling them the story of how mummy and daddy met or about when they were little. It could be a made up one. It doesn’t need to be perfect! Your child will simply love snuggling up next to you, listening to your voice and imagining the story in their minds.

8. Make screen time count.

I don’t advocate much screen time but it can be a valuable teaching tool. Reading Eggs is a fabulous program to help young children learn to read. You can sign up for a 30 day free trial here and is suitable for ages 2-13.

Often teachers in the early years of school use short videos to help children remember important things. Our eldest at two learnt his letters and sounds simply by watching 2 videos every day (under 10 minutes) for a month we were on holidays. If you search for ‘phonics song’ and ‘jolly phonics’, it will come up with a few versions.

They are simple and repetitive, and very helpful for young children. These videos can also be listened to on a speaker or in the car so they aren’t watching another show. I also recommend the alphabet song, days of the week, months of the year, seasons song. Nursery rhymes are always a wonderful choice for young children too.

9. Talk with your children.

This develops their oral language skills. It’s so easy to be distracted with our phones or other technology, but our children really do need our full attention. Take an interest in what they do. Talk to them as you walk and point out things that you can see. Chat in the car and explain what the different signs are, the road rules and emergency vehicles driving past. When someone irritates me with their driving, I talk through how I’m feeling about it.

When you’re eating dinner, try to sit at the table together. This is a wonderful time to talk about what happened in the day, who they played with, ask what their favourite part was, something that was hard, and what they’re looking forward to. Cook together and chat as you work through the recipe. There are lots of small opportunities throughout the day to talk and observe, and not only will this help their oral language skills and then their written ability, it will build your relationship.

10. Model reading yourself.

Children watch what we do more than they listen to us. Keep a book or magazine on the coffee or dining table. Depending on your stage of life, read the newspaper over breakfast, or a chapter of your book with your lunch. Try to model using a paper version of a book rather than electronic so it is obvious what you are doing, even if it is purely for daylight hours.

Borrow books and magazines for yourself when you visit the library. Take them on holiday. Make a cubby and each bring some books to read as you snuggle up with blankets. Request books for your gift ideas. Browse for new ones together at op shops. Having a passion for reading yourself is one of the easiest ways to encourage your child to love reading too.

Last thoughts

In closing, there are many simple things we can do to develop literacy in young children. Try to make the most of the time that you spend with them, even if seems like monotonous driving or doing chores. Children will enjoy playing and learning with you. The more their literacy skills develop, so will their confidence. Have fun experimenting with some of these different ways and let me know how you go!