Saturday, October 28, 2017

Managing household chores while homeschooling...

The farmhouse where I homeschool my brood.
Homeschooling is a serious commitment of time and resources and finding ways of sneaking in all the other work can be a challenge. If you want some quick tips for managing the school part, check out this post HERE. I have ten of eleven children still at home and a small family farm and this means that we have a lot of schoolwork and a lot of chores to get done on a daily basis. It is important to realize that there are some competing values here and will be some sacrifices. There are only so many hours in a day and you will need to remember that homeschooling will consume several hours a day and this is okay. 

Remembering that it is really a job can help you remember that what you are doing all day is worth doing. That said, you will need to still have clothes to wear, dishes to eat off, and food to put in those dishes. There is a happy medium to be found.

I used to have another blog that was specifically food based but one of my most popular posts ever was about house cleaning. Over 67,000 unique readers read that specific post which tells me it spoke to a need people have. I edited it, added to it, and am including that information here. I live in a different house than I did when I originally wrote the post so if it doesn’t sound like my current home, there is a reason for that.

I should tell you that I have a master school schedule with some chores listed, such as how we divide the lunch duties between the high school kids who are supposed to decide what they will cook the day before and make sure we have the ingredients. While they are not perfect at it, they are learning the important skills of meal planning and making sure that they have what they need before they start. I help with fasting days since those are honestly more challenging.

Laundry is one of those concerns that overwhelms people. We have an unusual amount of laundry. If I fall behind, digging out is all but impossible. I have eight children who are able to at least start laundry or switch the laundry though only six are able to reach the controls on the dryer and need help. I switch between the older eight and the youngest two have to help sort. If we are playing catch up, four or five kids a day have the responsibility of starting a load of laundry and switching it, remembering to hang the clothes that must hang and being sure to hang their father’s dress shirt for the office. If we are not behind, then it is only two or three a day. After school, I fold all the laundry at once and put in piles according to the owner. If kids will help, I will allow them a movie. If they stop being helpful, I turn it off. The kids have to put away all the laundry immediately.

All the socks are pooled into a giant hamper and rarely sorted. I used to do that but, seriously, in winter we go through one or two dozen pairs of socks a day. We have hundreds of socks. Let that sink in: hundreds. I finally gave up matching socks on the advice of a friend with twelve kids (some are in college). When they need to match, we match them, but most of the time they are never seen so it saves some peace. 

We have set chore times. We have a set of chores that need to be done in the morning and we work through those before school, the laundry is the only exception. Each child is responsible for his assigned load, and it must be done or they lose privileges and gain chores. We used to take a longer lunch break but with staggered online classes and so many students, we have moved chores to afterschool. There is also afternoon milking and there are evening chores at that time. During school hours, my house gets very messy but we all chip in after we are done. There is a lot of truth in the old saying, “Many hands make light work.”

As for knowing what to do and when to do it, divide your house into sections. If you are an internet junkie, you might like to follow Flylady's schedule but it can feel overwhelming if you are trying to dig out. Do not allow yourself to be paralyzed by fear, avoid complicated methods that cause panic. Your mental health is worth more than that. To help you plan your zones, here is how I did mine back in the day. You should have four zones because there are about four weeks to the month. Make a list of the chores from each zone and whether they are daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal.
  • Zone 1: Dining room and school room
  • Zone 2: Entry and Kitchen
  • Zone 3: Living room and downstairs bathroom
  • Zone 4: Upstairs hallway and bath, bedrooms

What should go on a list of chores for a zone? My zone one chores include:

  • Sweep
  • Wash table
  • Shake runner
  • Tidy bookshelves
  • Weekly
  • Vacuum
  • Dust
  • Tidy shelves
  • Clean out key basket (a catch-all for mail, keys, and phone chargers)

  • Wash baseboards
  • Dust light over dining room table

Seasonal (this is my freaky start to the school year or holiday time deep, deep clean the kids dread)
  • Wash curtains
  • Wash windows
  • Wash picture frame glass

You should also create a list of 5-minute chores (things that need to get done but can be completed in less than five minutes), a list of "hot spots" or places where your family tends to pile stuff, and the things that should get done daily. I offer rewards to kids who will clean my many hot spots.

5-Min Chores
  • Sorting mail
  • Emptying the kitchen compost
  • Taking out the garbage (each kid gets a bathroom or the kitchen and it all goes at once)
  • Cleaning the key basket out
  • Hot Spot Examples (just pick them up once a day)
  • Hubby's dresser cleared and tidied (we both dump things here so it is not just his mess)
  • The dresser in the dining room cleared and tidied
  • The farm cupboard surface tidied
  • Cull the magazine basket

Daily Chores

This is a complicated list, trying to decide what you should do on a daily basis can be difficult. I divide mine by the time of day:

Waking Chores: grooming, bed making (each little kid has an older kid who is assigned to help her), I unload the dishwasher and put away hand washed dishes and make the coffee first thing in the morning

Meal Chores: Cook meal, wash dishes (and dry and put away), load dishwasher, wash table, sweep only if really messy (but always after supper), make sure the little kids have faces washed (the littles had an assigned helper), tidy entry

After School Chores: Tidy the school room, tidy the living room (where the little girls play during school hours), and make sure the entry is clear. I stand at the front door and tidy what I can see from there, this makes my house seem cleaner than it is and means that I am not embarrassed to open the front door.

Making these lists can seem overwhelming and I want to assure you that it won't be bad. If you are worried about the time it will take to make these lists, sit down with a cup of coffee or tea or even wine and take out eight sheets of paper. Give yourself just thirty minutes. Label each with one category from the list below:
  • Zone One
  • Zone Two
  • Zone Three
  • Zone Four
  • Daily Chores
  • Hot Spots
  • 5 Min Chores
  • People available to do chores (this is anyone over four)

Then take your zone lists and fold into thirds vertically and label each section as follows:
  • Daily (put anything from each zone's daily list onto this one catch-all list)
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Seasonal

Give yourself no more than three minutes to list the things that you think should be included on each list. Don't worry if you have forgotten something, this is a plan in progress!  Just start filling out your sheets. Try it for a day and see how it goes, you can always come back and add or move something. If you decide that something is put on the monthly list that you really want doing seasonally, move it. The idea is to find what your particular needs are and find a way to meet them. I know that my chores change on the season. Mopping the floor happens a lot in the winter since we consistently have snow that covers the ground for five to seven months out of the year, with no breaks. Nothing is carved in stone and can be changed whenever you need it to be changed.

The reason the lists work is that you know what needs to be done and can assign the work or jump in every day. If you cannot handle any more than just completing the daily list, start there. There is a temptation to just try to do everything all at once and it can lead to feelings of depression and being overwhelmed. Your goal should be to just start doing the daily chores and go from there.

I have one more post to come in the series and it will be a blow by blow account of my day homeschooling my nine school-aged kids with a preschooler in tow.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Just how do you homeschool?

We are all caterpillars just crawling around
and eating leaves and sometimes changing.
Of all the questions that I have been asked over the years, the most common is this one. I think it is because often people really know well what the brick and mortar school looks like because it is the one that most of us know so well. There are a few systems at play but generally they all function in the same kind of way. Homeschooling is an entirely new game and it is hard to really figure out what each family is doing because each family does it differently and sometimes one family does it differently at different times.

The needs, challenges, resources, and strengths that we come into homeschooling with will change over time as we and our children change. Because there are lots of ways to go about this, about as many as there are homeschooling families, I want to give some more general guidance about homeschooling and household management based on what has worked well for my family. Later in this series, I will go more into how my family is currently schooling. This first post will deal with some specific tools in my kit that I use in order to keep track of the chaos on school days and my general approach to school. The second will talk about how I manage the other household affairs which is a real issue (find that post HERE). The third will deal specifically with how I school with my children’s specific program. All about us. Hopefully, it won't bore you.

Today is all about having a homeschool toolkit. I have a few systems that I have always consistently deployed to keep my head above water and before I get into the nitty-gritty, I want to talk about these.

1. School toys for the preschool gang. Always, always, always have some school toys that may only be used during school hours. We use train tracks, blocks, wooden puzzles, lace tracing cards, random playing cards, and even a cheap (like SUPER cheap) digital camera. These things can only come out during school hours only. I have two bins and they get switched out and they cannot have both out at the same time.

2. Baby jail and prison guard. I have used anything I could get my hands on the keep the active babies out of death’s grasp including walls built of furniture, wide laundry buckets, playpens, whatever. You need a safe place for baby to play when they want to explore a bit. I always kept a special basket of baby toys which only could only be used in desperate situations like a kid crying over math or my need to use the bathroom. We also have used a kitchen timer and cycled kids through a half hour of guard duty at a time. It keeps the younger set entertained with fresh new games all day and gives the older kids a chance for a break.

3. Just right books. Every kid needs a book that is easy enough to read that they don’t need help. Little ones can have an “I Spy” book. The point is to keep something on hand that will keep them occupied while they wait for you. If they get to a point where they cannot do any more work, but you aren’t available, have them do some penmanship and then open their just right book.

4. Post-It notes. I use loads of them. Tons. Each kid needs a stack of his own. When they get to a problem they can’t solve, a question that they have, they can write it down and move on. They give me the note and I get back to them when I can. When I need them to work on something or check it, I put a note on the cover of that book. When it is done, they give me the note for me to double check. Post-It notes glue all the little loose pieces of my life together. They sure as heck better not go out of business.

5. Get ready the night before. At-schoolers do things like pick out clothes the night before and pack lunches and school bags. In the case of homeschoolers and at-schoolers, knowing that no one has underwear is easier to deal with the night before than in the morning, so do it the night before. Have a breakfast plan so you aren’t panicked in the morning. Cereal is fine. In fact, cereal is freaking great if you are protecting your mental health by just making that plan. If you have a space dedicated to do school, do a quick pass through that area and remove the laundry baskets, coats, shoes, and whatever will slow you down in the morning. You are shipshape and ready for action, Captain.

6. Have a school plan for the kids done ahead of time. My favorite time to do this in the afternoon when we are wrapping up for the day. In fact, I have a scheduled time for it. Some people like to do it when their kids are in bed and they can do it uninterrupted. Both plans are good. The trick is that you need to do it before the kids are yelling at each other, the dog is barking out the window, and everyone needs to just get started. Take a comp notebook, write a list of their subjects and make a quick note about what to do. They can check it off when they are done and you don’t have to constantly be available to answer, “What next, Mom?”

7. Set boundaries. For ages, we had an outgoing answering machine message that said, “Hi, this is the Naasko Family. We are unavailable during school hours. Leave a message and we will call at lunch or at the end of the day.” I even made a sign for my door when we lived in a busy suburban neighborhood (it was on the back door since that was where the kids went to knock). If you are bad about the temptation that the cell phone might be, put it in a drawer for later. If the TV is the big draw, put the remotes in the same drawer. If your kids become distracted, you might need to lock out some sites on the computers. Don’t worry, it is not forever. Basically, you can set a timed lockout so that you can focus on the immediate task by using this Google extension called Stay Focusd. We use it on our computers and it works well. I have had to use it when I was procrastinating on book writing so it works for moms, too. 

8. Schedule two tidy ups a day. We do a quick run through the whole house and everybody has to be onboard, once in the morning and once in the evening. Set a timer for twenty minutes and make it a race. Make a list and they can be done when it’s done. Do like I do and make stay up television and device availability dependent on it. You can do it a lot of ways but do it.

9. Start each kid with their strongest subject every day. Make sure that you do not put off the hardest until the end of the day. I usually try to put it second, if possible. Start with a success and move onto something harder and switch back and forth as much as possible.

10. Give and get a hug. If you have a kiddo who is prone to meltdown over poor subjects, be available at that time. Be ready for it. Give the other kids a break at this time. If you feel like you are just firefighting and not getting anywhere with this kid and subject, stop beating yourself up right now and take a deep breath. Then reach over and hug that kid who is just falling apart. Rome was not built in a day so don’t think Trig mastery will happen overnight. Keep building, keep hugging, and keep on keeping on. Then find someone to give you a hug, you need it, too. Call me and I will send you a virtual hug.

Tomorrow I will have a post on how I incorporate laundry and other housework into our day. I will also talk about the different ways in which this has changed depending on the number of children I had at the time and their ages. You will still need to do dishes and cook meals and wash clothes while schooling kids, so this is ultimately important.

The third post will talk about my family specifically and be more of a slice of life. You will find out all about how we use St Raphael Online. I have children signing into their one-hour lessons staggered all day. We use Khan Academy for math and Rosetta Stone for language and all of these are computer based. We use a mix of computer-based learning and text-based for science. I have a limited amount of internet connectivity at a time and a limited number of devices so I have to careful to assign kids to their work based on this. As for spelling, grammar and composition, and poetry, these are the subjects that they do with me. To help me manage schooling nine children with one preschooler running around, I group the kids according to ability. I have four levels of spelling and two for grammar and slot to run through all the kids’ poems they are memorizing.

Looking for that household chores post? Find it HERE.

Friday, October 13, 2017

It is all about the message...

Writing is a funny thing. Most of us don't get paid for doing it. Those of us who do get paid, mostly don't make a lot of money. There are like a dozen people out there making big bucks and the rest of us in the writing and publishing industry just keep on keeping on despite the fact that the checks that come really aren't that big.

This summer, I was joking with another author at a conference when someone asked about money, "You can make hundreds of dollars. Hundreds."

Why even do it at all? It is all about the message. It is because we want to take the ideas out of our heads and share them with you because, deep down, we believe in the message. We wouldn't do this for any other reason. I think that is why is so important to support other authors and small publishers.

We bought the lovely, gentle little book Every Time I Do My Cross which was written by Presvy Angela Alatzakis. I don't know actually know her or her husband, who is a Greek Orthodox priest. What I do know is that they have sunk their hearts and souls into founding a small little indy publishing company to sell charming books that bring children closer to God. They did not start this business to become rich or famous or powerful. They did it because they believe in the message. I happen to believe in their message as well. We have purchased a few things from them, like the book, and a cute coffee cup that you can sometimes find me sipping from while I am writing on my projects.

They have a goal of producing another book, a lovely little book which focuses on a child and how it is that each child comes into the church. It is called The Story of You and it looks like it is going to be just as sweet and delicate as their first book. Presvy's art is clean, uncomplicated, and very gentle. My own life is loud and messy and I find her book such a respite. I am really looking forward to this next book. The thing is, this book needs some funding and Father Thomas and Presvy Angela just aren't rich in the monetary sense. Really the only way this is going to happen is if they have financial backing.

There are precious few days left in their campaign and they are not funded yet. Think ahead for a minute. If this is a book that you would be happy to see in a bookstore or to order off Amazon, why not think of funding this project as a pre-order. You can receive an autographed first edition as part of their gift to thank you. That's what I did. Maybe you are short on cash right now but hope to have this book available in the future. Donate a couple of dollars and share their link. If only every single person who had ever liked their Facebook page gave a dollar, they would be funded. A little goes a long way when a lot of people give just a little.

If you believe in the message, just like I do, then be part of translating that message to others. Buy a book or a cup or shirt from The Orthodox Children's Press. Contribute to their Kickstarter program by clicking HERE. It is a good message, guys. Very good.