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Order of Things

“Order” means both the sequence of steps in a task and the logical or comprehensible arrangement of things. Both have to be taught. Babies do not come into the world knowing about order. But they do have a built-in mechanism for making sense of the world. They watch and listen and make connections in their brain.

That is why babies and children need to spend time with parents and caregivers going about their tasks. Leaving a baby in the crib all day is not cool. Cribs are for sleeping and getting ready to fall asleep and learning to amuse yourself while waiting for the grown-up in charge to respond to your noises. They are not for baby storage.

Parents help teach their child about order by talking about what they are doing as the child watches. Savvy parents both SHOW AND TELL the child what they are doing. They keep up a running monologue about the task at hand. Yes, this is multitasking for the parent but valuable teaching moments for the child. Children not only have to learn the way we do tasks but also how to figure out the best order for new tasks.

When do you start talking to your child about the world? At birth. I remember taking my newborn children and grandchildren to the window and showing them the world. “Look at the sky and clouds and trees and grass.” Did they understand me? Of course not, but they tuned into my voice and words.

Later a baby in a carrier or stroller can watch and listen to you as you make dinner. “First let’s put the water on to boil. Then we make the salad.” Again the baby listens and watches you as you prepare the meal.

Involve children from toddlerhood on in TASKS. “Here is the lettuce. Let’s tear it up together.” Keep increasing the tasks a child can do. Ideally by the time your baby goes off to college he or she can cook a whole meal safely and in the right order.

Keeping things in order also has to be taught. Babies create disorder because of all they need or we think they do. Babies create more disorder by throwing toys around which is a developmental milestone. Think of how coordinated baby has to be to pick up a toy and pitch it across the room!

But toys have to be picked up so the floor can be cleaned. And put in some sort of order so they can be found again. Children may like to create chaos but they don’t like to live in chaos where they can’t find anything. Parents help teach kids the “logical arrangement of things” otherwise known as housekeeping.

Start by limiting toy purchases. Forget the idea of a big toy chest. Get smaller bins that can be stacked. Use clear plastic covered containers to hold the little pieces of a game together or make building things like Lego easy to find. I used low bookcases not only for books but also for toy storage bins.

Because children will have to figure out the best order of things all their lives as they progress from toys to gadgets to tools to hobby equipment, involve them early in the sorting process. “How do you want to put away your toy animals?” No answer? “How about sorting them by size?” “Do you want to store the paper by color?” “Where should the trucks go?”

These early lessons help prepare the child for both school and life.

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