I’m a planner by nature. Always have been, always will be. My husband and I use an app to synch our family schedule and I use another one to plan our meals and create a grocery list for the week. After a two-year hiatus, I recently caved to the purchase of a beautiful, lovely, glorious paper day planner again. I’m eyeing an enormous whiteboard calendar to fill a wall in our kitchen, to help with the question my kids ask every morning at breakfast, “Where are we going today?” Bedtime, nap time, quiet time, and wake-up time are all coordinated by the Okay to Wake clocks in each kid’s bedroom. (Well…maybe those times aren’t quite as carefully coordinated as I would like them to be.)
So it should come as no surprise to you that as a stay-at-home mom I’ve given a similar structure to the planning of our days. I thrive on routine and my own kids, like most kids, do too. They anticipate the ordering of our days: wake-up, breakfast, get ready, preschool or other activity outside the house, lunch, nap and quiet time, screen time, snack time, playtime, dinner, clean up, pajamas, bed.
Afternoon playtime can be the longest and most tedious part of our day. With a two-year-old who caps out at a 60-minute nap and twin four-year-olds who don’t really nap anymore, the afternoon hours from 2-5 pm can drag on as we all go slightly stir-crazy in these four walls from the close proximity to each other. In the summer we find relief in gathering with neighborhood friends to go run around outside, burn off all that energy, and splash in the pool until it’s time to prep dinner. It’s these cooler months, the ones that have all too soon arrived this year, that really take a toll.
Enter: art time. Four o’clock is art hour at our house. Despite the name, it’s nothing too creative. Nothing too novel. Come 4:00 pm, whatever we’re doing, I stop and call out “It’s art time!”
They run to the kitchen table and we dig in. Though I held a former career in the design world I have yet to claim the title of “crafty” mom. I try to be creative and vary our activities but we don’t do anything too fancy here. I often unroll an enormous sheet of craft paper across the kitchen table and invite them to use markers, crayons, colored pencils, or stickers. Sometimes I give them a prompt. Draw a picture of our family, something fun we did today, a winter scene. More often, though, they come up with their own ideas. Last winter my then three-year-old son spent an entire week creating “the Beast’s castle” utilizing hundreds of Post-Its in the process. Sometimes I buy new coloring books. We’re big fans of the oversized coloring pages from Crayola.
Lately, our art time activity of choice has been Play-Doh. A $5.99 investment into some new cans of Play-Doh this week and it’s been almost as life-changing as the day I signed up for Amazon Prime. They each choose a can and I scatter some plastic figures across the table: dinosaurs, superheroes, Moana characters, small cars or tractors.
Some days I get in on the creativity. I take out my own set of colored pencils and a couple of coloring books they’ve been warned to never ever in a million years touch because these are Mommy’s special things. On a really really good day, I’m able to sip a cup of tea while I color along next to them. Those days are admittedly rare. The two-year-old in particular doesn’t always care for the forced confinement to work on art projects. Many days I’m busy playing referee, ensuring the superhero figures are divided up evenly, that everyone gets a turn with the favorite rolling pin, or that the two-year-old doesn’t break all the crayons. Some days I get a jumpstart on dinner prep or fold the laundry that finished drying hours earlier.
While in a perfect world I’d love art time to take up the entire 4 o’clock hour before dinner, it’s usually closer to a half hour or less. One by one they abandon their creations and drift away to other things (“other things” often being code for “fighting with each other”). Often at least one of my four-year-old twins will hold out on their own to continue their project long after their siblings are done. My hope is that art time becomes a piece of our family culture, and as their ages and attention spans increase it really can expand to take over the entire hour before dinnertime.
This time has become a special one in our house. “Is it art time yet?” my older son often asks throughout the day (immediately upon waking, just before lunchtime, five minutes before it is officially art time…). While for the most part they aren’t banned from using paper or crayons or anything throughout the rest of the day, there is something special about this dedicated art hour at our house. There’s something about sitting and creating together, usually with the soundtrack of either Moana or Hamilton playing in the background. (Lin-Manuel Miranda forever.) It’s a reset from whatever we’ve been doing that afternoon, which far too often devolves into shouting and them beating the you-know-what out of each other. We sit, and we breathe, and we play, and we create. Perfect it is not, but it’s become one of the very best parts of my day.