Imaginative Journeys for Mundane Tasks

Redbird tells each child to put
his cloth in the bowl


Dear Miss Faith,
I’ve never before had children that regularly made a fuss but at the moment I look after two brothers (just turned 3 and 4) that get upset about washing hands, having nappies (diapers) changed and having shoes put on. I always give them warning (ie. in a few minutes we can wash our hands so that we will be ready to prepare our snack) give them a choice of helping to do it themselves or I can do it and try to keep things positive and fun but quite often none of it works. I hate having to force them to do things when they get upset but these are things that really need to be done so im not sure what else to do. If you can think of any ideas that might help us I would be grateful!
Thank you, Karen
Hi Karen,
If the children were smaller (say, between 1 and 3), I’d suggest doing less talking. A child who refuses to put on his shoes when you tell him, is often fine if you simply take him by the hand and start putting on his shoes without talking about it. Especially if you are talking about something else that’s interesting, instead. However, your boys are older, and that probably won’t work with them. So, there are a couple of things to do.
One thing that can be very effective is using songs for transitions like washing hands, putting on shoes, etc. A wonderful source for songs for these activities can be found in Mary Schunnemann’s songbook with CD, “This is the Way We Wash-A-Day” ( But again, at three and four, these boys may be so entrenched in being against these activities that you may have to bring out the Big Guns!
The Big Guns in this case are what I’ll call Imaginative Journeys. Three and four year olds are enthralled with imaginative stories of any kind, and these are extra fun because of the movement involved. An Imaginative Journey is a story that you and the children act out together, that involve doing something (like washing hands or putting on shoes). They take a lot more time than just doing the act quickly, but they’re well worth it: the children love them, and it is a sneaky way to increase competence in children who resist doing things for themselves. Think of them as activities in their own right, like circle games. Here are a couple examples, but you can also make up your own.
Washing Hands After A Meal
Try washing hands at the table, using wet wash-cloths. Start telling a story, using the cloths. Here’s one that I use:
Once upon a time, there was a little caterpillar. (You wrap one hand up in the wash-cloth and start ‘crawling’ it around the table).
This caterpillar was SOOO Hungry! He was hungry for…Rice! (or whatever you had for lunch).
He searched and he searched, until finally he found some! (find your other hand which is open palm-up on the table and ‘eat’ all of the rice on it, scrubbing it with the wash-cloth.)
But he was still hungry. ‘Maybe I’ll find some more up here,’ he said, and he crawled higher and higher (crawl up your arm) until he came to the top.
‘There’s lots of rice here!’ he said, and he ate, and he ate and he ate (wash your whole face with the wash-cloth while you say it) until he was SOOO Full, and SOOO Sleepy.
He wrapped himself up in a cocoon blanket, and he found a Branch (put your arm out horizontally) where he hung himself, and he fell fast asleep. (hang your caterpillar arm over your branch arm.)
He slept for days and days, until one day he felt the warm sun on his back, and he wiggled and wiggled out of his cocoon, and down it fell. (put the washcloth on the table, then bring your hands up so your fists are together.)
But he discovered that he was no longer a caterpillar; he had become a beautiful butterfly! (link your thumbs and let your fingers flutter as your butterfly flies around. The end. Or sing a little butterfly song.)
If you are washing hands before a meal, it might be something much faster, maybe even just a song with movements to scrub each hand. At Rainbow Bridge we wash hands before the meal with a pitcher and wash-basin at the table. We sing a song while we do it, and wash each child’s hands in turn around the table. the children who are competent scrub their hands with soap and dry their hands on a towel; those who don’t, we do it for them. There’s no discussion about it because we’re singing, and each child’s turn seems quite inevitable.
Putting On Shoes
Again, think about how you can make this into an imaginative journey. The following story I just made up, thinking about what I would do in your situation. The story you make up doesn’t have to be as long or as involved as this one, but it should be interesting enough that everyone wants to take part. You can do the same story every day for at least a month, or significantly longer if you don’t get totally sick of it. Here goes: Put all of the children’s hats down in a row, about 2 feet apart, with the child’s shoes in front of it, then announce, “Today, we will do something special. Each child may go and sit down where his hat is!” While they’re finding their hats and sitting down, sing “Find your hat! Then sit down! Find your hat! Then sit down!” Singing during this time will forestall any discussion over it. (After the first few days, no announcement will be needed. Simply start singing the song, and gently steer any child who doesn’t immediately run over.) When they’re all seated, sit down in front of them all with your feet out too, and start telling a story (make sure you have your hat and shoes in your place, too). Speak in a slow, rhythmic voice, a little deeper than your own:
Once upon a time, there were two Feet. (Have your feet with the soles facing each other.)
‘Hello,’ said the one foot. ‘Hello,’ said the other. (Wiggle the toes of one foot, then the other.)
(address this next part to the children) Can your feet say hello to one another? (go back to low story-voice.) ‘Hello,’ said the one foot. ‘Hello,’ said the other.
‘Nice day for a walk,’ said the one foot. ‘Indeed it is,’ said the other. (Wiggle toes as each one speaks.)
’Well, where should we go?’ said the one foot. ‘I don’t know,’ said the other.
So they began to walk. (Lift your knees together and have the two feet ‘walk’ on the floor in place, slowly and steadily.)
They walked and walked and walked. ‘I’m really cold,’ said the one foot. ‘I’m really wet,’ said the other. ‘Maybe we can find a cave.’
They looked around, and they found something that they thought would be just right. In they went. (put both feet into your hat. The children will think this is hilarious. They can put their feet into their caves, too. When the feet are ‘talking’ in the cave, speak in a muffled voice.)
’Why are you pushing me?’ said the one foot. ‘You’re pushing Me!’ said the other. ‘We need to find our own caves.’ And out they came.
‘Where is a cave for me?’ said the one foot. ‘Where is a cave for me?’ said the other.
They walked and walked, until they saw something new.
‘Here’s a cave that’s just my size!’ said the one foot, ‘But it will be hard to fit into. I’ll open it up as much as I can.’ (Take one shoe and open it up, pulling any laces or Velcro wide, pulling up the tongue. Then put your foot at the entrance, and start pushing it in.)
’I can’t fit in! I can’t fit in! Push, push, push!’ said the one foot.
Then In-He-Went!” (Push your foot in. Help any children who need help, repeating, ‘I can’t fit in! I can’t fit in! Push, push push!’ until all of the children have one shoe on. Then go back and sit down.)
(Repeat that part of the story for the second foot).
’Now we are ready to walk,’ said the feet!
‘I won’t be cold,’ said the one foot. ‘I won’t be wet,’ said the next foot. And Off-They-Went.”
(Reach down for your hat, and pull it onto your head, giving a big, satisfied sigh to signify the end of the story.)
The secret to having these Imaginative Journeys work is to make them highly ritualistic. Make your movements crisp and stylized, so they are easy to imitate. Make your voice firm and compelling. Don’t force the children to do them with you, just make them so entrancing that the children want to follow along. If a child doesn’t do it, you can give a little help to nudge them along, or repeat part of the story (like when I say, “Can your feet say hello to each other?”), but don’t take so much time away that you lose the interest of the rest of the children. If a child doesn’t take part in the hand and face washing, for example, I will quickly wipe his hands and face for him as I’m picking up the cloths. If he objects, I calmly state, “Next time you can do the story with us, and then I won’t have to wipe your face afterward.”
Other Strategies
If the idea of Imaginative Journeys is too much for you, then think about different ways that you can make these experiences special. For example, I know one woman with a home daycare, and at the end of each meal, she calls each child up to her one by one, and she slowly and lovingly wipes each child’s face and hands, and brushes off any food from his clothing, then gives him a hug, and he can go and play. She loves it because it’s a chance for her to connect with each child. Or sometimes I’ll play funny games with the cloths, where we hold them flat against our mouths and I ask funny questions (“Are we all wearing our bathing suits right now?”) That everyone can answer “Nooooo!” and shake their heads back and forth, wiping their mouths. The trick is to make it so fun, or so sweet, that children don’t want to refuse. It’s not a means to an end, it’s an end in itself!
Miss Faith


  1. thankyou so much for the ideas, they sound great and I look forward to trying them this week. I think the boys will enjoy your stories:)

  2. Miss Faith says

    Let us know how it goes! If it works fabulously, great! If it's hard, let us know why, and we can brainstorm for you some more.


  3. I can’t find the tab for toy stores and song books…but would love some of your suggestions.

Share Comments on this Post:


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Send Your Own Question to Miss Faith

Have a question about toddlers? Submit it to Miss Faith. She will respond to as many questions as she can, and may post it on the website! (Your name will not be used).


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: