Sunday, 22 January 2012

Escaping the house: How I do it with 4 children!

Taking the children out is something that we all have to do, be it for grocery shopping, the park, or something a little more exciting, like a play centre, museum or zoo.

I often get asked how I keep track of my little brood, especially as I am quite often going it alone, due to the husbands workplace being far from the understanding and family conscious type with regards to holidays. Anyway..

I thought that I would share what works for me when I am in a public place with 4 young kids.

1. Head Counts

If you know me, you will know that I always conduct conversations while scanning the room/play equipment/monkey enclosure, and every other sentence is followed by a "1, 2, 3, 4.."

2. Dress Code

I try to dress the children in one colour if possible.
There is nothing more frustrating when desperately searching for your child(ren) in a large crowd than forgetting what colour shirt they are wearing!
Also, the colour pink is to be avoided, if at all possible when out in busier locations. Searching for a child with long blonde hair and a pink shirt is like looking for a needle in a haystack!

3. What to expect

Before we even leave the house, and again to reinforce the rules, before we exit the car, I explain, clearly to all of the children where we are going, what we will be doing and how I would like them to behave.
9 times out of 10 this works, with minimal reminders during the day.

4. Countdowns

My Children all respond very positively to countdowns.
They are a constant in our everyday routines, so they work very effectively when we are out and about.
Young children have no concept of time, so this exercise gets them used to gauging how long they can continue with any given activity. This also helps prevent meltdowns.
By giving the children clear, timely instructions, they respond well to the next action
When I call to say time's up, they (usually!) come running back. If they ask for more time, I explain that we have to go now, but we can come back to the area before we head home/revisit soon etc, depending on the days time constraints.

"We have 10 more minutes to play on the slide"
"In 5 minutes, we are going to leave this area"
"You have 2 minutes playtime left"
"1 minute to go, then you have to get your coat"

5. Buddy System

The older 2 girls are paired with a younger sibling.
I usually keep the 'Buddies' the same and not mix them up, as I know which 2 children work well together.
The 8 year old is teamed with the 4 year old and the 7year old with the 2 year old.

Crossing roads or walking down the street/venue, I will tell them to find their buddies and that is their queue to hold the hand/stroller if being used, of their buddy.

The old ones look out for the younger ones on play equipment too if I'm busy with one of the other children, which is a huge help in big spaces when they all want to play on separate things at the same time!

6. Rewards

All 4 children love stickers, so these are often used as rewards. I carry a pack in my handbag so they are always handy. If they have been extra good, usually when we are shopping in the city with little time for play, then the lure of a shop bought treat, like a cookie, muffin or ice cream does the trick!

7. Use what you have around you! 

I can not stress this one enough, especially if you have younger children!
Not every outing is exciting for them and they are often just tagging along for the ride in life's mundane duties.
I often make trips into Norwich City with all 4 children. It is crowded and boring and there are queues, lots of queues!! This is when children will get bored and act up or possibly worse, meltdown.
The shopping mall in Norwich is home to the Early Learning Centre, so this is a frequent stop for us.
"If you can stay close to Mummy, and behave while we visit these two shops, we'll go to the toy store to play"
This works wonders! We will visit the ELC and all the kids will run riot around there while I browse for possible birthday/Christmas presents for 15 minutes.

There is also a big library which a great Children's section, we will also visit there. I will often take pens and paper for the children to sit in there and draw their favourite book character or for the older girls, write a book review, they all love this and it gives them a chance to be creative rather than just still and read for the entire visit.

In the summer I will pack a picnic style lunch for our visit and we will go and sit in the park and eat and play, before heading back to the throng of the high street.

What works for you?


  1. Wow I am loving your ways. You make life sounds so easy and fun. I find it so difficult. Do you think it's easier now they are older than babies ? I love how creative you are. I think you were a teacher in a past life x

  2. I don't think it's easier per se, it's just a different set of challenges!

    With babies and younger children, you have to think on their level.
    The Early Learning Centre would still work perfectly in this situation.
    Taking a small, brightly coloured ball with you everywhere you go, so when you do find a bit of space you can play.

    Small books, and even those mini clip-on etch-a-sketches you can get with the pens attatched are great when out and about and your little ones are becoming restless.

    Small bursts are easier at your childrens age too, as they can only hold their interest for so long. Allow a little extra time for yourselves and things will becoming much less stressful, even if the babies nappy has needed changing every 20 minutes and the toddler has thrown the mother of all tantrums :)

    1. Very true, I think due to my son being disabled we have locked ourselves away for so long that I now have a huge fear of leaving the house, that and the 8mth old screams 80% of the time I find it hard to go anywhere, i think I need to have a good think and get out x