Saturday, August 8, 2015

Q&A - Balancing Housework

Recently a Home Joys reader asked some questions that I've received in various forms numerous times so I decided to share my attempt at an answer here.

Question: We homeschool too, and I was hoping for some feedback as to how do you try to keep schooling simple.  How do you balance the housework (involve the kids in the housework) and the school work?  I find we keep a nice house or do really well on our school work.  I haven't quite figured out how to balance the two.  Any ideas or suggestions?  I am drawn to simplicity, but tend to make everything complicated!  What about January....will you be taking a break from schooling since baby is due?  - Joanne

When I read Joanne's question my first thought was - I have no answers. I have often told Ed that I'm either a good housekeeper or a good mom/teacher - I can't do both well.

But the fact is that I have to do both. I have to continue to teach and train my children even when there are dishes, dust, and laundry. I've tried to watch older moms, like my own mother, and learn some tips from them.

I'm not a naturally organized person - too impulsive and scatter-brained to have a detailed schedule but as my responsibilities increase I've been forced to learn to be better organized. Some days go smoothly and I think I'm getting the hang of it. Other days prove I have much more to learn.

I have no idea the ages of your children, Joanne, but I'll just share what works for us. Our first four children are ages eleven to six. We also have a nineteen-month-old toddler and a baby due in January.

How to keep schooling simple?

I try to evaluate our curriculum choices partly on how much teacher planning/teaching is required. For example, we have found Christian Light Education's math a good fit for us as the children can do much of their math independently. Right now all the children are doing history, science, and Bible together which means I only need to prepare one lesson for all of them. This probably won't work always but for now it is a good option for our family.

I've had to learn to be okay with not doing every craft project, reading every book, and completing every science experiment. It is especially dangerous for me to compare myself with other moms online who seem to be so much more creative and artistic than I. We try to focus on the basics, read lots and lots of books, and fit in the other things as we find time.

How do you balance the housework (involve the kids in the housework) and the school work?

You are right, Joanne, children are the key. My husband is always telling me that I don't expect enough out of my children. Or as my dad would say, I'm not utilizing my resources.

What has worked for me is to identify which areas of housework are my priority. What are the things  that will drive me (or my husband) crazy if they are not done. The areas I chose are keeping up with laundry, washing dishes, sweeping the dining room floor, and picking up toys. I took those four areas and assigned my four oldest children a specific job after breakfast and after lunch that addresses those areas.

For example, one child may wash dishes at breakfast and vacuum the dining room after lunch. The next week all the chores rotate to the next child and he may sort laundry after breakfast and clean up the living room toys after lunch. Initially, it took a lot of training and encouragement for them to do their chores. We started slowly with only one new job at a time. But now they can (usually) do their chores without prompting.

If I get no other cleaning done, at least I know that those areas that most bother me are being touched. On the weekend I try to scrub the bathrooms and vacuum the whole house. (We live in a one-story house and it doesn't take long to vacuum. If we had a two-story house, I can almost guarantee the upstairs would not be vacuumed every week.) Sometimes it can go a long time (probably too long) before I scrub the kitchen floor, clean out the fridge, or dust the furniture but at least, with the children's help, I can keep up with what I consider basic housekeeping.

I find that I can fake a clean house as long as I keep the clutter of daily living picked up and put away. And it certainly helps with the whole family's morale to live in a reasonable tidy house. Not to mention being able to find their belongings.

I also find it helpful to streamline as many chores as possible. For example, I placed the dishes in a low cupboard so the children can put them away. This also allows them to set the table. A stool is handy in the kitchen so they can reach the kitchen sink and the drain tray. (We don't have a dishwasher.) If you find a task too hard for a child, look for a way to make it easier.

Another example: My laundry is in the basement. I placed two large plastic totes - one light colored and one dark colored - by the washing machine. Each morning one girl and one boy are assigned the job of taking the laundry from their rooms to the basement and sorting it in either light or dark.

I take care of the laundry sorting in my room and the bathrooms. When one tote is full (nearly every day) I throw that load in the washing machine and hang it out.

I'm in the process of training my oldest to do more of the laundry. On Monday, when I was laid up with a sprained foot, I hobbled down and got her started with the laundry but she then laundered, hung outside, and brought in all the Monday laundry.

Ed is probably right, I don't expect enough of my children. They can rise to the challenge when needed. But please don't get some crazy idea that we are perfect. I still hear lots of complaining - and if I don't keep inspecting, there is always someone who is trying to escape their chores and shirk their duty.

What about January....will you be taking a break from schooling since baby is due? 

I have no idea. Really. I'm trying to work ahead on schoolwork so if we need to, we can take off. We probably will take little or no vacation over Christmas to save it for January. I want the freedom to be flexible over that time.

But with my last January baby I took very little time off school. I was spending my days on the couch holding the baby, I wasn't doing any housework or cooking, the children needed something to occupy them (or they start bickering) so it was easier to just do schoolwork. But I don't know how things will go this time.

What about you? Do you have any hints on how to simplify either schoolwork or housework? Or both?

24 comments :

  1. It sounds to me like you juggle it quite well! My daughter home schools her boys(9 and 11) plus has a 3 yr old and a new one due in Jan. She has her boys help with sweeping and dishes on an alternating basis. They don't wash clothes,but put theirs away. I think they also help take them off the line and fold them. Her oldest likes to bake(like his grandma!),so he often does that for her. I can't really say how she fits the schooling in..she just does and it seems to all work together. She did tell her friend recently that she couldn't figure out how mom(meaning me) could keep the house so clean,cook all the time,sew,etc. and raise her and her brothers. She finally realized that I had all day while they were in school! It was then that she stopped stressing over trying to do it all and focus on the important tasks at hand. I think she does well with it all. I also think you do,too!

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    1. I think we all need to realize that we can't compare ourselves with others because each of us face different sets of circumstances.
      Gina

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  2. This is really helpful and interesting! Though we are still using Rod and Staff preschool books for our daughter I am excited to start teaching real school. I hope to use Christian Light Education for most of the subjects, I just love how they teach independence and the Bible.

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  3. I find this a challenge as well. My children are 3, 6 and 9 and I also homeschool like you do. I think that this is a universal problem of mothers and homeschooling mothers especially. I haven't met one yet who doesn't find this to be a challenge. I do find that including my children in the work makes a big difference. But really only the 9 year old is mostly reliable (although there are some challenges with bad attitudes, she does a good job when she does do the task). It also gets tiring to be on top of attitude problems and making sure jobs are done right. But it does pay off. The 6 year old does do a good amount of work as well but she is very distractable. The 3 year old loves to help but her "help" is often not that useful. I think that the best thing for me with laundry was having my children help bring it to the basement from upstairs like you do each day. Then the laundry is there ready to do when I have the time. I don't have to haul it down from all the rooms. One of my oldest's jobs is to empty the dish drainer every morning first thing. Then it is empty, ready to catch the next load of wet dishes. If I don't have enough time to clean well, I focus on the bathroom, living room and kitchen. Even just vacuuming around the furniture instead of moving it and not moving everything helps a lot, even if the room is not dusted. I do this sometimes if I simply cannot do more. Sometimes I also do the toilet and sink and not the tub if its a really bad week. I do find though that if I clean the bathroom consistently once a week, it actually takes less time than if I let the bathroom grime build up for a bit longer. Another thing I do is keep vinegar and water mix in a spray bottle under the bathroom sink. Every morning I wipe it with a rag and I can also do it quickly when I use the bathroom during the day if it starts looking gross (and with one bathroom and 5 people this happens fast).

    When I had my 3rd child, my oldest was in grade 1. So although it wasn't as "serious" as when a child is older, we did take about a month off homeschooling. A friend with 7 children told me she always took 6 weeks off when she had a new baby. I found that my children liked the structure that homeschooling brought to our day, but it was nice to have some time off too (although we continued to do a lot of reading).

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    1. I like the idea of having a rag and spray bottle handy and giving the bathroom a quick clean throughout the week.
      Gina

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  4. Oh another thing if you are hanging out clothes, is to have the children have a small low clothesline. My children like to use the clothespin upside down so they can just "push" it on instead of clipping it. Then they can hang the smaller, lighter things like socks and washcloths and such and it saves you time and keeps them busy and they love it. We just made ours with heavy string and it could be hooked up or taken down when not in use.

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  5. While my mom didn't homeschool us, she did a great job teaching us how to help out with the housework. There were 5 of us and she picked 5 areas for us to take care of- living room, dishes, bathroom, pets, garbage. We each had regular things to do during the week- pick up the room, do the dishes, clean up the bathroom, feed/walk the pets, take out the garbage- and then we did a little more on Saturdays- dust and vacuum the living room, scrub the bathroom, change the litter for the cat, take the garbage to the street & back. These 5 jobs we rotated each week. We all hated the dishes the most, so the person with dishes would check at 5pm on all the other jobs to see if they had been done, if not, the person/people that didn't do their job had to do the dishes that night. It worked well and my mom didn't have to be inspecting everyone all the time. Of course these were in addition to keeping our own rooms clean during the week/dust & vacuum on Saturday, doing our own laundry after we turned 10, and helping with yard work for an hour on Saturday. It sounds like a lot, but we had lots of free time and we learned how to take care of a home. I thank my mom all of the time for teaching me all of these skills.

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    1. I love your mom's creative idea on how to have the chores inspected!
      Gina

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  6. This was helpful and encouraging even for me - with only three kids and my kids are in school.

    Thank you for sharing!!

    I have found using a chore chart to be helpful for awhile - but now that we don't really follow it anymore - the children still willingly help out and do their part ...I guess, patience, consistency and encouragement go a long way...especially with age appropriate chores.

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    1. I'm terribly at keeping up with a chore chart, we do good for a while but then we forget it. You are right - patience, consistency, and encouragement go a long way.
      Gina

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  7. Sounds like you're doing a great job! At bedtime, we used to do the "10-second tidy". They would run around for probably five minutes putting stuff away. It didn't seem like such a daunting task.

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    1. The other thing my children like to do is put on some loud fast music - like the William Tell Overture, I work as fast as the music!
      Gina

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  8. Great topic!
    I encouraged my sons to cook with me, and by the time they were 10 or so, they could actually take care of themselves in the kitchen. They also did their own laundry and ironing by about 12.
    We had a rule...if I find it on the floor it goes in the trash. I meant it, and they picked up pretty well after they got the picture.
    Now the hard part..
    We still laugh about their bedroom...I would tell them to 'go in there and don't come out until it's clean" Many hours would go by and lots of strange noises emanated from that room, including guitar playing, fake car/motorcycle noises and other imaginative sounds. I contend they didn't come out for 3 weeks one time!
    With my Grand daughter, I used a timer and she had 10 minutes to pick up her room...ready, set...go! She was little and loved the game, but now she really does know she can pick up her room in under 10 min. I put a low clothes bar in her closet so she could hang her own clothes up.
    We would of had a ball with the William Tell Overture!!

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  9. Our children have daily chores that they need to check off a chart, then they get the chart signed at the end of the day, and they get paid a small amount for those jobs.
    Some of their jobs rotate, like the room of the house that they are responsible to keep picked up/orderly every day, and clean on Fridays. We rotate those every other month.
    We also don't do school on Fridays. They double up a little, and don't mind doing that, in order to have Friday off. We clean on Fridays, and maybe do art!
    And this doesn't begin to address the things like, how I get the checking done, how I feel my mind is pulled in so many directions at once, with questions from the children, simple talking, and the problems that go along with relationships! Or yes, the ones who shirk, or the ones who are slow, or the grumbling. But they can be pretty sure if they complain about work, they will get another job to do, also.
    Our 11 and 12 year old daughters make breakfast, each one day a week. They also make dinner on Fridays, usually pizza. Simple meals help keep kitchen time down!

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  10. Seems like you have a decent system figured out. :) When your children get older, do you intend to separate out the chores by gender? Since you should be training your children for their future roles, it makes to e.g have the girls clean, cook, do dishes, etc.and have the boys work on the car, do stuff outside, etc. It also helps teach them about Biblical roles for men and women.

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    1. Yes, as they get older I'm sure their chores will change somewhat depending upon gender. But I hope my sons also learn some household skills. I'm so glad my mother-in-law taught my husband to cook, clean, and iron. It is a blessing to have a husband who is not helpless around the house. And my sons may live alone and need some household skills. And I'd like my daughters to be able to change a tire and mow grass. But certainly, the lawn work and repair type jobs will be more the boy's responsibility.

      Gina

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    2. The expectation in our home is that the boys around 16 or so go out and get a hands-on job outside the house, like in an automotive shop or landscaping service. They can get an office-type job later, but we want to see them out and about because it teaches valuable skills. The girls on the other hand have to cook dinner, clean the house, iron the clothes, etc. It was difficult at first (my oldest son, who wants to be a biologist, was upset when we told him that he had to work for a local mechanic for a few years before we'd let him go to college) but it's paid off bigtime -- the boys are career-ready and far ahead of their peers and the girls know how to manage a home and are ready to be married. Our approach is different, but it works. :)

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    3. Great idea. We are a few years from teenagers but I love hearing what works for other families.
      Thanks,
      Gina

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    4. The best part about this though this that they don't have to be teenagers. For example, when our children were in elementary school we told the girls they had to help mommy with dinner and dishes every night. By middle school we divided it up so that my wife did some things and the girls others. Then, when they reached high school they were expected to make dinner twice per week as well as make lunches for the family if we go anywhere. Similar stuff stuff for the boys.

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  11. Gina, do you find homeschooling valuable in the long-term? We currently have our children in public school and aren't sure what to do.

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    1. My parents homeschooled me so I am prejudiced toward homeschooling. It was a positive asset to my life. But I know that how you school your children is a personal decision with many different facets involved. Seek the Lord and He will guide your decision.
      Gina

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  12. Just have to add....I think when boys know a thing or two about keeping house, they appreciate what their wives do o smuch more , than they would otherwise. "Dinner does not magically appear!"
    There are many reasons for a boy to learn to cook, besides being single though that is a very good one indeed! ( I have known poor old widowers completely lost, when their wives of many years passed on and they could not so much as boil water) but how 'bout a husband helping out when a new baby arrives, or the flu strikes? Or heaven help us..mama goes visiting for a few days away?
    Many life-skills apply to both boys and girls..men and women...thank Goodness for the women who can plow a field, check the oil (at least) on a car or tractor and split wood when the mister is laid up!
    Help-meet can mean many things to both the genders!

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  13. Thanks for your honest commentary! I love hearing how different households manage chores and homeschooling. I'm not sure I have great tips to add, but I do like having older children (9 and 7) so we can talk more reasonably about the work that needs to be done. My oldest, for example, will ask to go to the park or library or something and then ask what chores need to be done before we can do that fun thing. Then she will pitch in and work because she wants to go out!

    I guess I am also a total stickler for the house being picked up before bedtime. I like to fake a clean house just like you! The kids know that "get ready for bed" means also to go through the house picking up any of their personal detritus, too.

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  14. I know the last post on this was a year and a half ago but I couldn't help but comment. Back when my kids were school age we used to do "5 minute clean ups". That could be anything from folding and putting laundry away, floor sweeping, dusting, taking trash out, making beds...... but the key was we only did it for 5 minutes then break then back to studies or whatever. It's amazing how much can be done in 5 minutes with four people! That would be done a few times a day and worked great!

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I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!

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