How to Make Your Home Kid-Friendly
I admit that I am sometimes a lazy mom. When I'm busy, the last thing I want to do is be interrupted by a child who is old enough to fix a snack but who is not tall enough to reach the shelf with the plates and cups. It's not that I'm against helping, but I learned that the interruptions were not only constant, but the kids were less willing to do things on their own because they knew I'd drop everything to get what they wanted.
When we moved into our home, I set up the kitchen with the kids in mind. On the lowest shelves in the pantry, I placed the plastic dishes and cups the kids used, as well as the cereals and snacks they liked to eat. It allowed the kids to have a sense of independence, while it allowed me to complete tasks with fewer interruptions. While it would be impossible to set up a house to be individualized for each family member, it makes the home much more comfortable when the uniqueness of the people living there is taken into account.
Design With Kids in Mind
For families lucky enough to be building a new home or remodeling an older home, there are a number of ways the new design can be made family accessible. Aside from simply lowering or raising the kitchen counters, a popular feature for busy families is refrigerator drawers built into the kitchen island.
"The fridge drawers are a great place to keep snacks and drinks for the kids," says Allison Bergamo of Kitchen Masters. The drawers also make life a little easier for meal preparation and for entertaining purposes.
Bergamo has also seen an increase of people using two microwaves. Microwave ovens are usually hanging over the stove or taking up counter space. "Putting a space in the island for the microwave makes it easier for kids to reach and eliminates clutter on the countertop," she says. The built-in microwave over the stove is handy for meal preparation but can be dangerous for small children or even short adults who have to reach awkwardly.
Ideas for All
Of course, remodeling or building a new home isn't an option for most families. Still, there are plenty of ways to make the home comfortable for every family member. Dana Korey, owner of Away with Clutter, suggests using roll-out shelving in the kitchen cupboards. "It optimizes your lower cabinet storage and the shelves are deep and can be configured to house dishes and glassware easily," she says. "Adults don't like to bend over anyway. Who says your pots and pans must go on lower cabinets."
Korey also suggests a few modifications for bedroom closets. "If the closets don't have rods that are movable and that you can lower, you can buy a product called a closet rod extension. It hooks over the upper existing rod to create a second hanging rod. This way kids can reach their everyday clothes, and the out-of-season or dressy items can hang up higher."
Another idea is to create a place somewhere in the house that acts as the family's information center. In this area, each family member could have a mail slot or in box, and a family calendar is readily available.
Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author of Blending Families: A Guide for Parents, Stepparents and Everyone Building a Successful New Family (Berkley Publishing Group, 1999), puts a bookcase in her home especially for the children's picture books. She also has a low shelf filled with games, and under her desk she has crates of toys that are easily accessible for the children. Putting their things in the open and at an easy-to-reach level allows the children to feel like they are welcome.
Mud rooms, laundry rooms and basements can also be set up for the comfort of the whole family. Hooks and shelves at various heights encourage everyone to hang up coats. Bins or cubby holes provide storage for every member of the family. A bench or some other type of seating encourages everyone to take off muddy shoes before entering the main part of the house.
Cultivating Comfort and Independence
If a home is set up to be comfortable for every member of the home, tools are available for every member of the family to help out with chores as well. Laura Dellutri, author of Speed Cleaning 101 (Meredith Books, 2005), recommends having cleaning tools for even the youngest members of the family. "Give them a plastic caddy of their own, and fill it with a spray bottle of water, a microfiber cloth, a little duster and a whisk broom and mini dust pan," she says. "This will make kids feel important and more willing to care for their room."
That is the experience of Laura Alter of Austin, Texas. She follows the Montessori method, which encourages children to be independent. She has set up her home to allow her children, ages 4 years, 3 years and 19 months, to foster self-reliance.
"It is very, very important to us that our children feel empowered, independent and 'big' – as they would say," says Alter. "We have found that they really love having responsibilities around the house. It gives them a sense of pride to complete them and they look forward to the praise and sense of accomplishment."
My children also felt that sense of pride and independence that having an accessible home brings. And as the kids grew, the kitchen arrangement grew with them. Now I'm the shortest person living in the house, so I've rearranged the kitchen so the things I use the most are on the lower shelves – proving that creating a comfortable home for everyone is an ongoing project.