Monday, September 27, 2010

The Answer to Your Middle Schooler's Afternoon Crunch? Kitchen Duty!

It’s the afternoon crunch: that time crunched between the end of the day and the beginning of the evening, when everything seems to be happening at once. Kids are getting home from school, many parents are transitioning from work to home, and it's time to get dinner ready. Plus, homework needs to be started, and extracurricular activities like dance lessons and sports practices are coming up later, with a precious few hours in between. How do you reel in the chaos that accompanies the crunch?
It's easy to allow your middler to turn on the television, hop on the Internet,  or begin texting the friends he's already seen all day rather than reconnect with you. But our middle schoolers need our attention in the afternoons, and we need theirs. Kids that have been in school all day crave time spent with Mom, with the opportunity to talk things over in a relaxed, natural way--and to have someone to listen to them. Why not meet in the kitchen? Let the kids rotate afternoons that they assist you in handling "kitchen duty." This is a great time for some one-on-one conversation, and it’s an opportunity for teaching valuable kitchen skills as well. Take a look at the suggestions below:

Setting the table. Design a set of custom-made placemats. Using stiff posterboard, cut oval or rectangular shapes sized to fit your table (or use the dimensions of placemats you already have). Trace the outlines of a plate, fork, spoon, and knife, properly situated, on one side. On the other side, let your middler glue pictures of family and friends or favorite books, movies, and bands, personalizing a placemat for each member of the family. Cover with clear contact paper. (I've seen this done using cut-out shapes from Christmas cards, too. Use your imagination!)

Create a centerpiece. When my children were younger, they enjoyed constructing arrangements from Legos and other building blocks, dolls, and stuffed animals. Older children will enjoy working with a theme for the table, such as back-to-school, the beginning of football season, or gathering family pictures to celebrate someone's birthday. Fall is a great time for designing a natural composition gathered from the great outdoors.

Meal prep. Use your tweens to help with lots of kitchen fun:
  • Making salad--washing, chopping, slicing, and dicing. Let them be creative and add anything they want to their salad creations.
  • Browning ground beef
  • Stir-frying
  • Washing up dishes as you go
Let your child make an easy dinner with you once a week, and soon he will be able to do it on his own. Often I find the kitchen a very relaxing place to be--it just might be the perfect place for your child to transition at the end of a long day!

Remember, every afternoon you have a limited number of hours to spend with your kids. Whether they let you know it or not, they want to be with you. What can you do to create positive memories and fun routines? Interact with your kids. Don’t drive them out of the kitchen, but invite them in to it. Do whatever you can to keep them close by. Reconnect every day with time together, encouraging playtime and fellowship with one another. Reinforce your love by assuring each member of your family of their special place in the fold.

Read Practical Tips for Surviving the Afternoon Crunch!

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