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Homeschool and Housework!

by Tamara Eaton

Does the combination of homeschool and housework seem like oil and water—they just don't mix? It used to seem like we were either successful in homeschooling or housework but never both in the same day. It's easier now— our kids are older, we have a good system and most importantly— lower standards! We would never make the cover of "Better Homes and Gardens" but at times, we could qualify for "Cluttered Homes and Jungles"!

Here are some tips that have worked for our family:

Simplify and Declutter

  • Make a list of everything that needs to be done then work toward your goal. Don't despair over the things still undone but know you'll get to it eventually. In the meantime, work at maintaining what you've already accomplished so it doesn't get so cluttered again.
  • Be RUTHLESS—get rid of things you don't use or need! Organize into three boxes: Throw away, Give away, and Put away.
  • Invest in inexpensive storage containers for things you must keep. We purchased 19-gallon rectangle storage boxes with lids for $5 each from K-Mart and use them for to store homeschool supplies, library books (we could qualify as a branch of our public library with all the books we check out!), clothes, "treasures,” Legos, toys, etc.
  • Don't try to do too much all at once. Focus on one area at a time and set reasonable goals. Perhaps one room a week? Or one closet a week? This way the rest of your routine doesn't suffer as much and you're not totally exhausted.
  • Limit "knickknacks" and go for clear spaces to make cleaning easier. We already have plenty of "educational clutter" to "decorate" our homes!
  • Take 15-30 minutes to do some of those "dirty jobs" that you've been putting off for ages. Clean one window, or one drawer. Then stop and get back to the normal routine.

Our Daily Routine

In earlier years when my children were too young to help out much around the house, I neatened up the house before bedtime each evening. That helped us get off to a better start the next morning. After breakfast I would get them started playing while I quickly did the morning chores. Afterwards, my day was free to play with them, teach them, care for them, and enjoy them. I loved it! (Although it certainly had its shares of frustrations at times!) I stayed home a lot, which was my main secret for success.

Now that my children are older, they have regular kitchen chores, which don’t change except two, or three times a year so it's easy for everyone to know what is expected. I can also tell at a glance who has done his job—no more confusion about which child is responsible for each chore. Then each child picks a part of the family room to clean up quickly. I neaten up the bathrooms, living room, and master bedroom and help the youngest two clean up their room.

We try to have 9 AM as our deadline each morning to have all chores completed and the main living area picked up. Then we schedule several quick pick-ups a day: after lunch, before supper, and before bedtime. Friday mornings are for "deep cleaning"—many hands make light work, then we have "computer school" for the rest of the day or the kids do educational projects.

If the house is a wreck and standards are creeping way too low, we take off from school and other activities and concentrate on getting things in order. Instead of "nagging" the children, we politely and firmly tell them what we need done. (In our home, children who don't follow instructions when asked, get added jobs or responsibilities.)

Training Children to Help

It's been my experience that young children are the most enthusiastic helpers! It's important not to overwhelm them though because what looks like a small task to us, can seem enormous to them. It's best to have them work along beside us. Even a 2 year old can fold bath cloths, pick up toys and books, etc. with mom close at hand working, too.

I rarely tell younger children (seven and under) to do something without sticking around to see that it's done and working right beside them. This helps create good work habits. As they get older, I give them more responsibility and expect them to be able to complete a task whether I am there or not.

It's easier to be consistent if I require a small amount and make sure it's done. Otherwise, they get into the habit of not obeying right away, or not finishing a job. I use the same principles to train older children who have poor working habits. Many parents don't like the way their kids clean up, but they don't take the time to demonstrate more efficient ways to clean. We want to help our children learn to do a job well.

William and I have also put on "training workshops.” We pretended to be a couple of the children and demonstrated poor working habits, contrasting them with good working habits. The children thought it was hilarious! Then we purposely messed up the den and allowed each child to come in and clean it up as fast as he could, timing him. We demonstrated timesaving motions and encouraged them to use them. They all did a very good job, from the oldest down to the youngest. The (at that time) 3 year old won the contest!

Young children are notorious for messing up the house. It helps to keep an eye on their activities during the day as a preventative measure—otherwise they start many different activities and forget to put anything away. Or they scatter their things all over the house! It also helps to create special play areas using a small quilt or child-sized table and chairs in the main homeschooling area. This confines their toys to a specific area and they enjoy being in the center of things. They can be taught to play quietly, or to go to another room if they're distracting the rest of the children.

Be consistent in training children to help with chores. I had years when I'd wonder if my kids would EVER get to the point where they wouldn't need supervision or to be reminded. Eventually consistency paid off. They aren't perfect yet (kids usually don't see all that moms see!), but they generally do their jobs without reminders and can manage the whole house, if necessary. (At least the teens can, the younger two are still "in training"!)

Two years ago, I was very sick and for several months, my older four children did all the housework and most of the cooking and helped take care of the younger two children. It made all the difference in the world, and was good training for them, too. They practiced teamwork and since then, have viewed our home as our joint responsibility—often they tell me to go do something else and let them take care of the cleaning up. Hang in there, it is worth it!

Bad Attitudes

If anyone whines or complains about working, I give them a little extra work. If they keep on, I add some more. It nips it in the bud! Bad attitudes are catching, so I try to keep a positive attitude myself about work. We put on peppy music and get it done as fast as we can. Teamwork is great!

If someone is purposely dragging his chores out and not cooperating, a little extra work solves this problem, too. We always seem to have an area beneath a couch that needs cleaning or a porch to sweep!

Children’s Bedrooms

I have organized the younger children's room so that it is easier to keep neat. We use large Rubbermaid tubs with lids to organize their toys. Their favorite toys stay out, but everything else is stored in their closet, which is off limits to them. Occasionally we rotate toys.

They have Legos in one container, little cars and trucks in another container, and dolls and accessories in another. They each have a "treasure drawer" where they keep their very special treasures (bird feathers, pretty rocks, letters, drawings, pogs, etc.). Each morning I help them straighten their room and check it several times a day, too. It stays neat this way and they enjoy playing there so much more! If I weren't involved, it would be a mess constantly.

Older children sometimes need encouragement, too. They look at their disorderly bedrooms and don't know where to begin! It helps them to have some steps to follow. This is what we do:

   1. Make beds.
   2. Pick up all clothes.
   3. Pick up all books.
   4. Pick up any toys.
   5. Pick up any paper or trash.

By this time, the room should be presentable and they have room to vacuum and dust, etc. What was once an insurmountable task becomes possible!

Quick Pick-Up Games

  • "Around the World" - Usually we divide the family room into parts and each child has a part to clean, but sometimes we play "Around the World.” Each person works his way around the room clockwise until everything is neat and clean.
  • "The Age Game" - Everyone picks up the same number of items as his own age, then if there are items left over, they do it again. Only problem is when they want the parents to pick up the same number of items as their age—whew!
  • "Mr. Jones is Coming!" - We clean up the house as fast as we can, pretending that Mr. Jones is coming over at a specific time. If we finish in time, we celebrate with a tea party. If we need more time—well sometimes "Mr. Jones" gives us a call and says he has been delayed for a bit! Sometimes Dad dresses up as "Mr. Jones,” comes around to the front door, and rings the bell. Inspection time follows!

Keep Your Perspective

I find that I go in cycles —there are times we're caught up in other projects and we let the housework go, only doing the basics. Other times, I get in the mood (or force myself!) to make our standards higher and in the process, usually move some furniture around and make it cozier, redecorate, etc. I do the same thing with extra baking and elaborate cooking.

William has told me many times that although he appreciates us having the house extra neat and clean and cooking extra special meals, he also appreciates all the time and effort that is going into our homeschooling and discipling our children. He also encourages me to write, work on the computer, keep up with my reading, and do other things. I appreciate his balanced view because sometimes I feel guilty over the simple meals or how the laundry is never totally done. But we are enjoying our family so much and we know we won't have that many years left before they will no longer be under our roof!

Elisabeth Elliot shared the following essay written many years ago by an unknown mother in one of her newsletters. She says while not too many women iron sheets these days, it is still possible to let many other things take precedence over the primary task.

I am sadly concerned that thousands of mothers are so over-burdened that the actual demands of life from day to day consume all their time and strength. But of two evils, choose the lesser: which would you call the lesser—an unpolished stove or an untaught boy? Dirty windows, or a child whose confidence you have failed to gain? Cobwebs in the corner, or a son over whose soul a crust has formed, so strong that you despair of melting it with your hot tears and fervent prayers?

I have seen a woman who was absolutely ignorant of her children's habits of thought, who never felt that she could spare a half-hour to read or talk with them—I have seen this woman spend ten minutes in ironing a sheet, or forty minutes icing a cake for tea, because company was expected.

When the mother, a good orthodox Christian, shall appear before the Great White Throne to be judged for the "deeds done in the body," and to give her report of the master's treasures placed in her care, there will be questions and answers like these:

"Where are the boys and girls I gave thee?"

"Lord, I was busy keeping my house clean and in order, and my children wandered away."

"Where wert thou while thy sons and thy daughters were learning lessons of dishonesty, malice, and impurity?"

"Lord, I was polishing furniture and making beautiful rugs."

"What hast thou to show for thy life's work?"

"The tidiest house, Lord, and the best starching and ironing in our entire neighborhood!"

Oh these children, these children! The restless eager boys and girls whom we love more than our lives! Shall we devote our time and strength to that which perishes while the rich garden of our child's soul lies neglected, with foul weeds choking out all worthy and beautiful growths? Fleeting indeed, O mother, are the days of childhood, and speckless windows, snowy linen, the consciousness that everything about the house is faultlessly bright and clean will be poor comfort in that day wherein we shall discover that our poor boy's feet have chosen the path that shall take him out of the way to all eternity.—Author Unknown

If I'm tempted to be discouraged over the state of my house, I remember the scripture I prayed many years ago when I was unable to conceive: "He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the Lord!" (Psalm 113:9) I am filled with thankfulness that the Lord so abundantly answered our prayers with six precious children! They are MORE than worth ALL the work involved in keeping house for them! Give your children a hug and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for them and don't forget to greet your dear husband with a hug and kiss and a cheerful hello when he gets home from work— chances are, he won't even "notice" how the house looks!

© Copyright Tamara Eaton 1994-2000, all rights reserved.

Permission is given to reprint any of Tamara's articles in non-profit publications as long as the article is reprinted in full and contains the copyright information and website address. Please send a copy of the publication to: Deeper Life Family Ministries, P.O. Box 909, Killen, AL 35645.

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