Thursday, September 16, 2010

{The Dinner Helper -- It Works!}

Every once in a while I stumble upon an idea that helps me maintain that home rhythm that we moms so desperately try to cultivate. My most recent breakthrough is "The Dinner Helper."

First, though, some background. For several years I've used the "helper" system after learning about it from my friend, Darlene. Each child is assigned a day until all the days are taken. (Drew takes Monday and Thursday, Bethie has Tuesday and Friday, while Aidan has Wednesday and Saturday. Little Miss Avery Kate still resides loftily over the Sunday slot. No one has commented yet on the unfairness of this.)

On the child's "day," he is given all of the miscellaneous responsibilities that come up, such as setting the table for dinner or taking out the trash. Not only does this child have the day's responsibilities, however. They are also blessed with the simple privileges that brighten a kid's day, such as choosing the radio station in the car, running an errand with Dad or eating from . . . The Orange Plate. (Hey -- The Orange Plate is a coveted item in our home!).

So anyway, we've used this system successfully for a number of years and tailored it as the kids have gotten older. One of the helper duties we've always used is dinner detail. I was finding, however, that the "helping" wasn't necessarily always . . . helpful. Dinnertime is somewhat frenzied anyway -- pulling together last minute ingredients, fielding questions from the other room, feeling tired and hungry, etc. So I felt even more frazzled when I had to list off all of the things I needed my helper to do. I can multitask, but I'm not Wonder Woman. (I used to think I was, though. You see, my sister and I had these awesome Underoos . . . .)

Instead of freaking out, desperate Normal Woman devised a new plan. I call it, The Dinner Helper Checklist.

This really works, folks! I have posted a chart on the fridge with a very detailed list of Dinner Helper tasks. My helper walks up to the chart, reads what they need to do and they do it. While they're setting the table, I can focus on the soup or the muffins or the salad. I don't need to think or shout out orders. Our responsibilities merge so nicely that dinner gets to the table in a much more pleasant and efficient manner.

Here's a peek at our list:

1. Clear off the table.
2. Fill 6 glasses with fresh water.
3. Make sure each chair has a napkin.*
4. Place 6 forks/spoons at each seat.
5. Ask Mom about condiments.**
6. Help Mom bring plates to the table.
7. Ring the dinner bell!

*I use cloth napkins that the kids can tie around the chair rails.
**This includes all the extras, like salad dressing, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, etc.

I've noticed that giving specific details really helps. (I'm not sure why they have a hard time remembering that there are six of us, but Jamie and I actually get water now that I've posted the number.) I'm thinking I'll also post a diagram of a place setting so they remember where everything goes.

Emily Post's Basic Place Setting

The older ones often help with actual dinner prep, too, which is a lifesaver. Everyone's favorite part, of course, is number seven: ringing the bell.

After dinner, my helper looks at the second list. (All family members are supposed to clear their own place settings, but I've included that as number one in case someone forgets or gets sidetracked. Someone like, oh, say, Little Miss Avery Kate. Or . . . Mom. Yes, it happens.)

1. Clear away plates and utensils.
2. Clear away and rinse glasses.***
3. Put lids on condiments, condiments in fridge.
4. Tie napkins on chairs.
5. Wipe table with dishcloth.
6. Sweep the floor.
7. Push in chairs.

***We keep the kids' glasses in a row on the counter during the day to cut back on extra dishes. They use various jars, all different heights, so they know that the tallest is Drew's and the shortest is Avery's. After meals I ask them to rinse their glasses and put them back on the counter. I pop them into the dishwasher after everyone's in bed.

I've found that not only does this system help my children contribute to the family and develop responsibility, but it also keeps me on track. If they're on number six and ready to bring food to the table, my goal is to have the plates dished up and ready to pass off by that point. It also gives me a sense of shared accomplishment and camaraderie with my child. We can look together at our work and say, "Hey! We did it!"
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  1. Great, Julianna!
    I have a helper for each meal of the day, and I'm always amazed at how they still aren't sure what to do...I'll just copy your list and hang it!!! Thanks much!
    (I'd like to be your kid, too)!



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