Experiments with Agile child-rearing – getting dressed

I came across the blog Your Family, Agile and You the other day, and wondered if the same practices could be used to remove the discord from parts of our daily routine:

  • getting twin toddlers (nearly 3 years old) dressed in the morning,
  • getting ready to leave the house,
  • coming in again and removing coats, shoes, etc.
  • getting ready for bed

We’ve been trying this for about a week now, so some conclusions can be drawn, which may resonate back to workplace issues.

I got the children to help me draw a three column grid, and called the columns “All”, “Today” and “Done”. I then took some small sticky post-it notes, and drew pictures on them of various items of clothing, as directed by my children. They chose which of the items they wanted to wear “Today”, put them on, and then moved the stickies into the “D for Done column”. It was pretty successful, the first morning, so we drew pictures of coats, shoes and hats, and drew another chart to live downstairs.

The second morning was even better. Enthusiastic toddlers woke up, said “I want to get dressed and use my chart”, and did just so.

After this the cracks started to show. Debates were started as to whether the pictures represented the items selected for wearing: “that T-shirt in the picture hasn’t got long sleeves”, or “but this isn’t my bobbly jumper”, and problems arose when they weren’t convinced of the choices of clothes (when it’s much too cold to wear shorts, for instance). Beyond initial distraction, a pretty chart does little to motivate a child who doesn’t want to get dressed. This is where real motivation comes in: he doesn’t want to get dressed as then he will have to go to nursery, hoping he can stay home if he stays unclothed. We also noticed that we didn’t use it every time – it depended on other situations, sometimes being reminded by a toddler to pick it up, and worse, saying “there’s no need now, we’re all finished”.A chart for getting out of the house

Conclusions, so far:

  • it is possible for children who are not yet three to track tasks to completion, as long as they can recognise the letter “D” (for done), and remember what various images of clothes represent.
  • reluctance to get dressed stems not just from the enormity of the task, but also from anxiety about the consequences of being dressed (separation and having to go to nursery in this case).
  • We probably haven’t got the right column headings, or need to decide how to cope with the overlapping but not identical tasks in getting up and getting ready for bed. We probably need separate boards.
  • We haven’t been consistent yet with whether each child has a board or if they should share one.
  • We will need lots more stickers, so I need to do a lot more drawing of different types of thing, particularly to make it clear whether T-shirts have long sleeves or not.
  • We aren’t yet reviewing the process with the children, and asking them what they think about it, nor having daily or weekly meetings to review.
  • It’s easy not to bother with it, if there’s no problem getting them dressed on a particular morning. New processes need commitment. Maybe the short-term attention to getting dressed moved the problems elsewhere.


Shirly Ronen Harel’s blog http://www.agileandfamily.blogspot.co.uk/

Maritza van den Heuvel’s blog: http://scrumfamily.wordpress.com/

David Starr’s blog: http://elegantcode.com/2011/11/04/agile-with-children-update/ and a academic paper describing his experiences in much more detail: http://pluralsight-free.s3.amazonaws.com/david-starr/files/PID922221.pdf



About nicolahildredhill

Confident manager of difficult projects, particularly in an IT context. Interested in all sorts of different approaches and how they might be useful one day, or immediately. Almost incapable of following one methodology without adapting it in some way.
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3 Responses to Experiments with Agile child-rearing – getting dressed

  1. Hi Nicola,

    Firstly, thank you for kindly including a link to my Scrumfamily blog. I trust that you’ve enjoyed reading it.

    I’m curious if you’ve continued your agile dressing experiments with your kids? If you’re looking for a technique to get around the issue of drawing many more pictures on stickies, you could consider a checklist kanban.

    When morning routines were particularly problematic for us, I created a big poster with columns for each thing they kids had to do: get up, dress, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, etc. Instead of column names, I got the kids to draw a picture representing that step, or stick one from a magazine. I then applied clear plastic to the poster, and the kids used whiteboard markers to check off their steps in the morning and evening.

    This approach may work for you as well, perhaps with the kids drawing stars or smileys as they do their steps?


    • Hi Maritza,
      I’m sorry I took so long to acknowledge your comment. I got confused between versions of this blog and my login credentials.
      Thanks very much for the brilliant suggestion about the children creating their own checklist. I think we are going to need something like this very soon when they start school. At the moment, the whole thing has lapsed, as they are getting dressed quite nicely, on average. We tend to apply special measures like this inconsistently, in response to a type of behaviour becoming intolerable. They are good kids, though, and once we’ve made it very very clear what they are expected to do, as above, behaviour moves back within tolerances, and we relax the special measures.
      Starting school is bound to bring us back into conflict of many forms!
      Thanks very much for reading,

  2. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.
    I will bookmark your blog and check again here frequently.
    I’m quite sure I will learn a lot of new stuff right here!
    Good luck for the next!

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