Guiding Light (WiFi-enabled lights)
Waking up four tired kids and getting them out of the house is a herculean task. After one such morning that left me wanting to pull my hair out, I decided that this could not continue.
Step one, wake-up: Just getting the kids out of bed is possibly the hardest part of the morning. Here are some things we tried:
Based on the success of the early morning hikes, I hypothesized that what the kids needed to motivate them out of bed was a bit of excitement. I decided to hook up a Bluetooth speaker and some WiFi-connected lights to bring them an early morning dance party.
Not the first time I’ve been wrong 😁
After the abysmal failure at my first attempt, I came to the conclusion that before handling wake-up, I needed to deal with bedtime. It would be easier to wake the kids if they were well-rested.
The challenge: The problem was that no matter how early my wife and I set bedtime, the kids always found ways to extend it. They remembered urgent things they needed to do, begged me to read another chapter, and continued reading on their own well into the night.
Hypothesis: It seemed to me that the primary issue was that the kids knew that my wife and I could change our minds. If they annoyed me enough, I might give in and read the extra chapter.
Solution: Take us out of the equation, make it impossible for us to give them what they want (i.e., more reading).
Implementation: I set up their bedroom light to gradually dim over a half-hour reaching total darkness at the target bedtime. My hope was that in that way:
- It would not be an option for them to plead for me to read more and more. It would be too dark.
- It would become increasingly difficult for them to read and, at the same time, become increasingly conducive to sleep. Maybe the kids would decide to put aside their books and fall asleep without even realizing it.
- If they did perceive the dimming lights, it would be seen as a "fact of life" and not as a decision that we made on a whim and could easily change.
Result: Success! (kind of). While this method was a significant improvement and was usually successful in getting two out of three to sleep on time without any issues, it wasn't perfect.
They began putting stuff off until after their room got too dark to read and then "remembering" that they were hungry and needed hot chocolate and needed the bathroom...
Small Tweak: At that point, I instituted a new family rule. I would only begin reading after all the kids were packed for school, had eaten dinner, and drank whatever beverages they "needed."
Now my plan really took off. It was probably more subconscious than conscious, but the kids realized that the earlier they were done their tasks, the earlier I would begin reading, and the more time they would have before it became too dark for me to read.
At this point, bedtime was as smooth as could be expected.
Cascading Effect: As I had hoped, more relaxed and earlier bedtimes led to significantly easier wake-ups. I was even able to replace all the alarm techniques by reversing the bedtime light dimming procedure. I set the lights to slowly brighten over a half hour period. Usually, the kids were all out of bed before the light reached it's brightest. I was able to greet them with a big smile and not start off the day as the evil enemy who had woken them up.
Having the kids out of bed at a reasonable hour was a great start, but it wasn't enough. I'm not going to get into all the details of why it wasn't enough, but as a primer, you can watch this documentary:
Basically, it was common for the kids to spend the first forty minutes after getting up, walking around the house getting distracted by things. Ten minutes before their bus, they would still not be dressed and be coloring something. My wife and I would spend an entire hour and a half every single morning yelling out commands. "Put on your socks," "Put on your other sock"...
Frequently they would miss their bus, and we would have to drive them. In addition to that, we now needed to spend even more time writing excuse notes for each kid that was late. How on earth were we supposed to be ready for our own jobs by nine?
It was time to end this.
Hypothesis: I knew that the kids did not really enjoy being late. I figured that the problem was that they were outsourcing their time management to us. They were relying on our guidance and desperation to get them to school on time.
Implementation: I discussed this hypothesis with my wife, and we agreed that we would try for one week to not give them any instructions in the morning. We would just smile and be around, but we would not tell them to put their socks on or brush their hair. We also would not keep reminding them how many minutes they had until their bus was coming. We did tell them that if they missed their bus and we needed to drive them, we could not guarantee that they would be on time, and we would not be writing any excuse notes.
Result: FAIL, This actually was a disaster. We had increased the kid's responsibilities without giving them the tools they needed to handle that.
Small Tweak: Along with the approach mentioned above, I began placing a large countdown timer on the living room table. This timer was counting down to when the kids needed to leave the house to make their bus.
Result: Much better.
This worked for one of our bus taking kids, but it was a burden. She needed to continually keep going to the living room to check how many more minutes she had. Also occasionally she would forget about the timer and sometimes she would get confused, for example, thinking she had twenty minutes when she had two.
For our other bus taker, it did not work at all. The timer did not seem to help her figure out how to pace herself. She is more of an artsy type (see ditzastees.com of which she is the Founder and Designer). She didn't seem to "feel" what twenty more minutes meant.
Hypothesis Tweak: I decided that what they needed was a way to "feel" where they were in the time frame between waking up and needing to leave. They shouldn't need to check something or do calculations.
Implementation Tweak: I went out and got seven more WiFi connected lights.
One for the kitchen, one for the standing lamp in the living room, and five for the living room candelabra.
I programmed the lights as follows:
When they woke up, all the lights were in "Relax" mode, giving off beautiful and warm yellow light. At every ten minute interval, another light bulb turned blue. Ten minutes before they needed to leave, all the lights were blue. When it was time to go, all the lights in the house turned red. When it was "really" time to go, they started blinking.
Week one: It worked very similar to the timer. The kids would count how many lights were blue and use that to try to figure out how much time they had left. It was fun for them but did not majorly improve our mornings.
Week two: Everyone seems to have gotten "a sense" for what the house feels like at various stages of the morning. Nobody seems to be actively checking the light-bulbs, but everyone seems much more in tune with time as they feel the house move from warm yellow lighting to cool blue light.
Summary: This is the most successful project I have ever done! I cannot emphasize enough how much the quality of life for every single family member has improved!
My kids feel like they are deciding when to go to sleep and when to wake up. Nights are no longer a battle. Mornings are relaxed and frequently, even fun. My wife and I have gained an hour of downtime at night for our own reading and hobbies. Our kids get themselves out of the house by 7:30 in the morning, leaving us with plenty of time to prepare for our own days. We can even do our own thing while they are getting ready because we no longer need to be micro-managing them!
What am I going to do with all this extra time? I think I'll make this robot bartender https://github.com/RichGibson/hellodrinkbot/tree/master/hardware/stand_alone!