After returning from vacation, my kids dropped their stuff on the floor and raced to their room. What a mess! Guests were coming over, so I needed help putting everything away.
A Playful Let’s-Keep-The-House-Neat Unpacking Game
Using Music to Make Chores Fun
Taken from Chapter 5 of Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It
5 minute read
Uh-oh. What’s that noise?
It came from the living room and sounded like items falling. Wait, now my kids are giggling. What are they up to? We arrived home from the airport only fifteen minutes ago, and something has already happened?
I peek around the corner and see our backpacks, suitcases, and bags scattered everywhere.
And I mean everywhere.
“That was awesome, but I told you the backpack would topple it over,” Emily says, watching her six-year-old brother jump over bags like he’s leaping hurdles.
“Mommy, you should have seen my humongous tower of luggage.” Justin runs into my arms when he notices me standing there.
“It was really tall.” my third-grader reaches high with a hop and then she collapses on the floor.
Wow. Despite the six-hour flight, they sure have lots of energy.
I stare at the bags, and they seem to glare back. A stark reminder that it will take a long time to unpack.
Sure, most people would wait, but we have guests coming tomorrow morning. We could shove our luggage to the side, but that brings me to the second and real reason. I’m a neat freak and like to unpack right away.
“Your tower must have been tall because that’s a lot of stuff. Here comes the fun part of our trip—unpacking.”
“That’s NOT fun,” Justin shouts.
“Hel-lo. She’s being sarcastic.” Emily skips to her room with Justin trailing behind her.
“Hey! Where are you both going? Our friends are visiting, so we have to put everything away.”
“To my room. It missed me,” Emily says over her shoulder.
“I wanna play with my Legos.”
“Come on! We’re a family, so we all need to help.”
I stride to their rooms with heavy steps, and I don’t know which is louder, my yelling or my stomping feet.
Emily looks up from her bed, expressionless. Will she be sweet to win me over? Or firm to push back? Before I can guess, she lifts her arms and crosses them over her chest.
Lovely, she’s going with the headstrong option.
“I do not want to unpack,” she says, locking eyes with mine. When I don’t respond, she immediately softens her approach. “Mommy, this trip was so special. I want to sit in my room and remember it.”
Does she really think I’ll fall for this?
I motion her to the living room and walk across the hall to get Justin. “You heard me. Let’s go. Now!”
His response is silent but powerful: a piercing glare.
Don’t explode, Carrie. Breathe and focus on the nice trip.
With a calming breath, I smile, remembering my mom swirling Emily and Justin around the kitchen, dancing as we prepared dinner. That’s my mom, a master of playfulness, with music as her trick for making anything fun.
Of course. Music.
“We’re going to play a Grandma type of game. Justin, get the two laundry baskets. Emily, get our favorite music—”
“The Lion King!”
Ah, how my girl loves anything Disney.
When we meet at the toppled tower of bags, I twirl around with the laundry baskets propped on my head. “We’re going to play a Let’s-Keep-The-House-Neat Unpacking game.”
“No fair, that’s NOT a game,” Justin shouts.
“Sure it is. It’s a race to see how fast we can unpack. Let’s guess how many songs it will take. Each song lasts about three min—”
“Four songs!” Emily interrupts.
“Three!” Justin yells.
I hold up my hand and wiggle my fingers. “Five songs. Here’s our plan. First, we’ll sort everything into the laundry baskets based on where stuff goes in the house. Next, we’ll deliver and put away those items. This will minimize racing back and forth.”
To keep up the momentum, I start the Disney music. “First song. Go, team, go!”
Racing back, I unzip Emily’s suitcase. Everything is organized, so I swiftly transfer her folded clothes into a laundry basket.
Emily’s hands sneak around me and remove her shoes. In one motion, she pulls off the shower caps covering the dirty soles and starts two piles. “Bathroom stuff goes here, and this area is for my shoes.”
Meanwhile, Justin turns their backpacks upside down. Water bottles, leftover snack food, empty bags, crumpled napkins, travel games, cards, and books tumble out. At once, he starts separating items. “Here’s the kitchen pile. Here’s one for books and games.”
“Wow, you’re both so quick. Justin, when you’re done, deliver the books and games to the entertainment shelf.” I place the rest of Emily’s clothes into the laundry basket. “Go, Emily, go!”
Without a moment to spare, she slides the basket down the hall to her room. Right away, I hear drawers opening and closing while she shoves clothes inside.
“Second s-o-o-o-o-ng,” Justin announces with a big yawn.
“Sleepy? It’s been a long day traveling,” I say.
“Nah.” Then more energetically, he exclaims, “My suitcase next!”
“Got it. I’ll empty your bag, and you deliver the kitchen pile.” I point to the mound behind me and rattle off instructions. “Put snacks in the snack bin, water bottles in the sink, and garbage in the trash can.” Justin snatches the items, scurries around the kitchen, and soon the pile disappears.
When Emily returns with the empty laundry basket, I’m almost finished sorting his suitcase. Without wasting any time, she grabs the shoes and dashes back to their rooms.
“Justin, throw these dirty clothes in the laundry bins. Remember to separate the darks from the whites,” I say.
Grinning, he tosses them in the hampers like a basketball pro, shouting, “Score!” with each dunk.
I set aside his bathroom stuff and zip close his suitcase. “Done! Justin’s laundry basket is ready for delivery.”
“I-I-I-I-I-I got it,” he says with another big yawn, and he drags his feet down the hall, pushing the laundry basket.
“Woo-hoo! Only Mommy’s suitcase and bag are left. And we’re on the third song.” Emily exclaims, grabbing Justin’s bathroom items.
Amazing, we’re nearly finished.
Moving at lightning speed, Emily and I focus on emptying and sorting my things. After a while, she looks up. “Hey, where’s Justin?” She takes my shoes and walks toward our rooms. “Ju-stin, are you almost—Whoa! Mommy, come here. This is so funny.”
What’s going on? I leave my bag and follow her giggles where I find an empty laundry basket… and Justin, sound asleep on his floor.
Well, the six-hour flight and jet lag finally caught up with him.
“Mommy, he was right about three songs. Not for unpacking, but for falling asleep. It looks like I was also right. We’re almost done, so it will take four songs to finish. Yay!”
And I was correct too. Our unpacking game worked. The house is neat, ready for our guests, and we had fun doing it. As a bonus, it wore out my hyper son, who is now sleeping.
“So, who won the unpacking race?” Emily asks.
“We all did!” I exclaim. “Now we don’t have to bother unpacking tomorrow.”
Chapter 5 from Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It. ©2021 Karen Thurm Safran.
Playful and Empowering
No one likes to do chores. When you make a task playful, kids are more likely to cooperate. You’re also empowering your child by teaching fun ways to do mundane things. And this playful attitude continues throughout their life.
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