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February 23 - Mystery Elves Obstacle Course

Today I made the questionable decision of letting the boys take out their Legos before heading off for school. By the time I got dressed, here's what their room looked like:

 Ugh. The "before" picture.

Ugh. The "before" picture.

A pretty big mess, and one that if I didn't handle right away, would see lego pieces spread far and wide across their room. Fortunately, today's activity was Mystery Elves Obstacle Course, in which the kids pick up stuff while running a simple obstacle course (picking up things becomes just another obstacle, like jumping over or crawling under something).

Mystery Elves was the very first morning activity we ever did, way back in September of 2014. The house was a mess with toys and clothes everywhere, and in a moment of desperation wondering how to get the kids to help me clean it up, I got the idea to phrase the ask in the form of a game we could play together. I made the kids wear pointy elf hats, talked in an elf voice, and gave them orders on how we could clean up the house while Mommy was still getting ready for work. The idea was to surprise Mommy as she was about to leave for work, and when she asked who cleaned the house, say that elves did it. The kids loved it. They actually wanted to play again the next day, and that's when I got the idea to do more varied morning activities.

However, Mystery Elves is not one of the most popular activities these days. The kids have somewhat caught on to the fact I'm making them work. I've tied running the Treasure Hunt (their favorite activity) to being contingent on doing Mystery Elves at some point in the month before, but that doesn't make ordering your kids to clean up any less of a drag. So last month I tried linking it with running an obstacle course, and the kids seemed to dig it a bit more.

So that's what we were going to try this morning. First I picked up as many Legos as I could in the blanket for Lego playing I laid out and put the filled blanket into the Lego bin like so:

 Major credit to my wife Chay here for the "Lego blanket" technique.

Major credit to my wife Chay here for the "Lego blanket" technique.

Then I moved the Lego bin to by the door and called the kids over to start the obstacle course. The obstacle course usually involves running around one thing, over another thing, and under yet another thing. This morning I had them go into Lyric's bed, around the bunk bed ladder, and over the green elephant step.

But then they have to go and pick up an item left on the floor and bring it back as quick as they could to the bin. As they run the obstacle course more and more times, I give them more and more things to carry, and pretty soon we usually run out of things littering the floor. Two birds, one stone.

However, it's usually bigger things on the floor... clothes, figures, stuffed animals, etc. We hadn't tried this with Legos before. It did not work smoothly.

 They're counting out 10 Legos each here. That turns out to not be a lot of Legos.

They're counting out 10 Legos each here. That turns out to not be a lot of Legos.

The kids got more obsessed with getting the right number of Legos than cleaning up the floor. Now, I can see the value in reinforcing counting skills for Lyric, but that wouldn't solve the more immediate problem of a messy floor. So we needed a change in protocol.

I switched up the rules of the obstacle course so that after running through the active part, the kids would get on their knees, push the Legos with their hands like bulldozers, and try to sweep the floor clean that way. It was a little more successful.

The good news is that they started working together, with one kid being the bulldozer and pushing Lego pieces to the bin, and the other kid being a crane and lifting the pieces off the floor into the bin (and then they switched jobs). Teaching the kids how to work together is a HUGE reason I do these morning activities with them, so that did my heart good. But they weren't the most efficient bulldozers, and there were loads of pieces they left behind. As they went off to brush their teeth with Mommy I finished up the job.

 The "After" picture.

The "After" picture.

I wish I could tell you I got to this point having my kids do all the cleaning, but in the spirit of radical honesty which I want to do this blog by, I cannot. But I did get to teach my kids a few little lessons, have a bit of fun with them, and get them to help clean their room. Good enough, I say.