The 5 Minute Trick to Dramatically Improve Quality Time with Your Kids

My wife and I both have demanding jobs – mine as a partner at a product development company and hers as a managing director at a transfer pricing consulting company.

We also are proud parents of a three year old, with another one imminently arriving.

The juggling act has been something neither of us have ever been fantastic at.

For me, it’s proven difficult at times to shut work off and fully engage.

For both of us, it’s been difficult consistently coming up with great ideas for making the most of our time together as a family.

But recently, my wife has developed a simple system that has brought some structure to our routine and made it a lot more enjoyable.

In less than 5 minutes a week, this system has helped us take control of our time with our son, reduce our stress and have way more fun.

The Playtime Planning Worksheet

The worksheet is pretty simple – there are four sections to it, two of which are pretty consistent from week to week.

It takes 5 minutes to prepare, and gives the whole family a much more structured and constructive evening.

Step 1: Describe the values you want to instill.

During one of our family planning meetings last year (I told you we were planners), we outlined the values that we were hoping to instill in our son. We tried to visualize the kind of man we hoped he’d be, and gave thought to the character traits a man like that would possess.

Our list included things like:

  • Humility
  • Courage
  • Generosity
  • Work Ethic
  • Contentment
  • Faith
  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Creativity
  • Desire to learn
  • Caring for others
  • Gratefulness
  • Responsibility/accountability

Your list would almost certainly look different. But the goal is to identify and clearly articulate the values you’re hoping to instill in your kids.

We learned a long time ago if you outline the things you’re hoping to accomplish in detail, and then deliberately create activities that help get you closer to those goals, the likelihood of achieving them skyrockets.

Character traits operate the same way.

If I want to develop a spirit of humility, for example, I’ve found that acts of service help me. If I want to learn discipline, I’ve found fasting from something (food, Twitter, etc.) for a day can help.

Kids are just like us – by can increase the likelihood of our kids developing desirable characteristics by deliberately structuring activities that foster them.

Step 2: Describe the skills you want to develop.

Similarly, there are some basic skills that are important to help your kids develop, skills that will make it easier for them to thrive in school and beyond. For our worksheet, we followed the Illinois curriculum standards for preschool.

Most states have similar standards that are easily accessible online. Our worksheet including things like:

  • Language arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social science
  • Physical development and health
  • Fine arts
  • Foreign language
  • Social/emotional development

Note that once you have your values and skills outlined, they’ll stay consistent for a long time. Both the character traits we’re hoping to instill and the skills we want to develop are as relevant now as they will be five years from now.

That said, we do plan to revisit both lists once a year and see if any modifications need to be made.

Step 3: List the activities for the week.

With your two lists in front of you, it’s time to outline your activities. We do this each week on Sunday evenings.

Using Pinterest, activity idea books, or simply a list you’ve developed of things you know your child enjoys, start to add activities to each day of the week.

The biggest consideration is time. In our case, my wife works three days a week and is at home the other two.

This gives us some great options in terms of planning. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we know we have about two good hours with our son, which has translated roughly to 4 activities.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays my wife has the whole day at her disposal, and can plan a lot more. She tries to include two trips outside the house each day – one in our neighborhood accessible by walking, the other somewhere interesting that might require a drive.

As you identify an activity to include, you check off the character trait or skill that it maps to. It’s unlikely you’ll hit them all, and that’s fine. In fact, unstructured play (wrestling, etc.) should account for a big chunk of your time together.

What we wanted to avoid was doing the same activities over and over again, or resorting to television because we simply have no better ideas. The worksheet has helped us make sure that we’re never at a loss for things to do when we’re home with him.

Step 4: Identify and get any necessary materials. 

Sometimes you run into an activity you’d love to do, but don’t have the stuff you need. While this might have deterred us before, armed with our worksheet it’s no longer a problem.

There is space next to each activity to outline any materials you need to pick up. This allows us to plan activities early in the week that we can do with things we already have, while deferring activities that require something to until later in the week.

With Amazon Prime, anything we order on a Sunday arrives on our door by Tuesday.

So while before we might have wanted to do something but simply forgot about it because we didn’t have the stuff, we can simply block it in for Thursday instead of Monday.

Playtime deserves the same forethought as other aspects of your life.

The worksheet has made a huge difference in the quality of my time with my son. I come home from work and have 4 or 5 activities lined up and ready to go.

At the end of a busy day, not having to think has been the difference between an engaged, constructive two hours and a distracted, stressed two hours.

Try the worksheet for a few weeks. Feel free to make tweaks to the process – what works for us might not work for you.

The important thing is to take control of that time. Just as the process of identifying my goals for the day brings focus, clarity and effectiveness to that day, so to does planning bring more enjoyment and satisfaction to my time with my son.

I think the same will be true for you.

Written on 1/30/2013 by Sean Johnson. Sean Johnson is a partner at Digital Intent, helping companies build and grow new digital businesses. He organizes the Chicago Growth Hacker meetup. He’s very pale. Follow Sean on Google+ or Twitter. Photo Credit:
Montecruz
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