Archive for Practical Housekeeping

A Few Practical Homeschooling Tips

Happy weekend before Christmas!  Are you ready?  Since my family is moving back across the country in a couple days, we elected to skip decorating or getting a tree (instead, we helped my parents get theirs) and have been relying on our awesome friends here in Iowa for the other traditions like gingerbread houses, caroling, and Christmas cookies.  So I have nothing to say about Christmas traditions today, but I am taking this packing break to reflect back on what I’ve learned about making our homeschool work this year.

First of all, I have come to accept that homeschooling is a full-time job, and the more kids you add into the mix, the less time you will have for other things like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping!  It is totally feasible to homeschool one child for kindergarten and first grade for an hour in the afternoons while the younger kids are napping, and you can continue on with morning play groups, Bible studies, and the like, without totally changing your lifestyle yet.  With more and older kids, though, you have to spend your whole day schooling, and you’re probably not going to be able to do loads of laundry or clean the house.  When our house started getting out of hand, my husband and I sat down and instituted Saturday morning cleaning chores.  Each of my kids has three tasks, ranging from cleaning bathrooms (the big two) to washing windows and vacuuming (the little ones).  My husband and I oversee things, and by noon on Saturday, the house is as clean as it ever gets.  We didn’t need to do this when the kids were younger and I had daily cleaning tasks that I had the time to do myself, but now that my weekdays are as full as my husband’s, the weekend is for cleaning.

Along the same lines, my cooking has become streamlined in this season of life.  We love to try new recipes and learn new techniques, but now I mostly save that sort of thing for the weekend and stick with tried-and-true dishes during the week.  I use my crockpot multiple times a week, especially for the evenings when we have dance lessons or art class right up until dinner time.  Pretty much every single week, we do a whole chicken with carrots and potatoes in the crockpot, then I make broth overnight and do a soup (bacon and bean, chicken noodle, potato, etc) with it the next day.  I’ve also finally taught my kids to eat beans, so we also have a weekly crockpot beans-and-rice night, either with pinto beans (which I blend with my stick blender to make refried beans) or black beans (which we eat whole over rice and then use the leftovers in chicken tortilla soup or Mexican chicken).  Throw in a pasta night (my big kids can cook tortellini and slice up chicken sausage and put together a green salad, so that’s a night I don’t have to do a thing) and our traditional Friday night pizza-and-movie night (by now I can make pizza dough in my sleep, and the kids make up the pizzas), and that’s pretty much our weeknight meals.  Predictable, but with some variety in the general categories.

This fall, Anna rocked my world by telling me she has a set menu for breakfasts and lunches.  I’d never done that–I mean, I have a variety of options, from oatmeal to cereal to eggs, and I let the kids choose.  Choice is good, right?  Except it’s not when it literally cripples them, as it does my middle girls, who I was spending an hour or more each morning cajoling to eat.  After Anna’s pep talk, I announced that we’d be instituting a weekly breakfast menu. (We still do sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, but that’s usually not a source of conflict, so I haven’t set up anything official.) The kids whined at first, but after a week or so, my kids all admitted that they liked not having the pressure of deciding what to eat every single morning!  Here’s our rough breakfast plan:

Monday–muffins (Mondays are hard, so if I get up early and bake muffins, it sets a positive, fun tone for the week!)

Tuesday–oatmeal (overnight baked if I have time, stovetop if I don’t–two of the kids complain about it, but I still allow fun toppings–mini chocolate chips, coconut flakes, or fruit–so they’re doing better about eating it than I expected)

Wednesday–egg something–scrambled, omelets, over easy with toast, French toast

Thursday–oatmeal again (It’s cheap!)

Friday–bacon or sausage or something a little more fun, like crumpets or sausage gravy and biscuits

Saturday and Sunday–since Daddy’s home and the kids have more time, it depends.  The big kids might make pancakes and waffles, or we might do cold cereal, or if we have company, we might do something fancier.

In the school realm, I’ve long bemoaned the fact the public schools are cutting down recess time, but I’ve only this year truly committed to giving my kids a solid half-hour recess every morning at 10:30, rain or shine.  In good weather, they have to be outside, running around, riding bikes, roller skating, or jumping rope.  In bad weather, I turn on the La La Land soundtrack and we dance!  I used to try to just push through with schoolwork until lunch, but frustration levels decrease and concentration increases when we take a good brain break.  (Also, this is usually when I tackle the breakfast dishes, take a shower if I didn’t get one in before breakfast and school started, and do any set-up or photo copying for school stuff.)  Sometimes they’re playing so well that it’s hard to pull them back in.  Sometimes I just pull one kid in for a quick one-on-one phonics or Latin lesson.  Sometimes I let the little girls stay outside and keep playing (because they’re often basically done with school by that point) while I drag the big kids in for more schoolwork.  Sometimes the kids are begging to come inside after two minutes, and I tell them they can’t come in until the timer goes off!  Regardless, it’s a really important part of our day.

I’ve alluded to our four-day-a-week schedule before, but this semester, while we’ve been temporarily living in a new place, it’s been a key part of our homeschool life to spend four days on all our formal seatwork then take a field trip on the fifth day.  I picked up these amazing field trip journals this summer (designed by a homeschool mom for homeschoolers!), and according to them, we’ve been on 18 unique field trips this fall, not counting the repeat visits to the local children’s museum.  I’m a huge believer that exposure to museums, monuments, and presidential libraries is an essential part of a well-rounded education.  (Sometimes the field trip is just to the local library, which is more low key for me, but still fun for the kids, too.)  In addition, each child has a nature journal for our nature hikes, park trips, and botany studies, which we actually have time to do when we have that free fifth day.  We don’t use textbooks for science, because I literally remember nothing I read in a textbook before high school, but our journals allow the kids to record the things they want to remember and refer back to them.

And lastly, this is a silly thing, but our other favorite new discovery for the 2017 school year has been Frixion erasable pens.  They really work, they’re amazing, and I will never back to regular pens again!  I’ve long been a pencil (Ticonderoga only!) and colored pencil (Prismacolor!) snob, but the kids think it’s such a treat to write in pen, and when it can be erased just as easily as a pencil, I can be the cool mom and let them.  Somehow a math practice page is just less daunting with a pink pen in hand.

What practical homeschool (or homemaking) survival tips have you figured out this year?  Will you be switching anything up after the holidays?

 

This post includes Amazon affiliate links.

Posted in Good Food, Homeschooling, Practical Housekeeping | 1 Comment

What a Child Can Do at a Given Age

One of the after effects of a serious car accident, much like breaking my foot a year and a half ago, is that I’ve had lots of time to observe the practical results of my parenting decisions.  When I couldn’t walk for two months, my kids stepped up and took on a lot of personal responsibility for housework, self care, and taking care of the toddler.  This time around, I’ve been pretty discouraged by how much I unthinkingly do for my children, cruelly enabling them to not do it themselves.  We’ve regressed!  So here’s a reminder for me (and anyone else who is feeling overwhelmed by all they do for their kids) of what kids in our family’s age range can and should be able to do for themselves.

Age 3-4 (**realizing that some of these are hard to do when overtired**)

  • Dress herself in appropriate clothing (long sleeves/play clothes/church clothes/pjs) as directed by me
  • Put on shoes herself
  • Come when called (in house/at playground/at church nursery/etc)–our family standard is that we “obey right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart,” and this is definitely a work in progress at our house.
  • Unload silverware and kid items from dishwasher every morning (we keep all our plastic kid cups/plates/bowls in a low drawer so that even the little ones can reach them)
  • Load dishes directly into dishwasher or cup back in fridge at the end of a meal
  • Put away art supplies such as construction paper, crayons, colored pencils, in designated bins.
  • Put away books on shelves with their spines facing out
  • Put away dolls, legos, duplos, blocks, trains, etc in designated bins when done playing with them
  • Get into carseat right away and buckle top part by herself
  • Help herself to easy-to-eat snacks such as cheese sticks, bananas, cuties, baby carrots
  • Fold clean washcloths and put in bathroom cabinet, fold dishcloths and put in kitchen drawer
  • Put dirty clothes directly into the dirty clothes basket in the laundry room
  • Put clean clothes away in proper drawers, as long as someone else has done the folding
  • Organize family shoes into our storage cubbies in the hall closet

Age 5-6

  • All of the above
  • Brush her own teeth after breakfast
  • Brush own hair and put it into a pony tail (I honestly had no idea she could do this–it was a revelation a few weeks ago when she came up to me with her hair done…with four of us girls in the house, all with long hair, this is a huge time suck every morning!)
  • Set table, as long as the grown-up dishes are handed down from the tall cabinets
  • Dust shelves using fleece dusting rag
  • Organize random toy mess into appropriate places
  • Get into carseat/booster as soon as she gets into the car and buckle herself up
  • Make toast or sandwiches with pre-cut bread (we primarily eat homemade, and she has had to get stitches for using knives, so the big kids or I still have to slice it for her)
  • Pour milk without spilling
  • Fold cloth napkins (which we use instead of paper) and put away in proper drawer
  • Sort clean clothes into piles by child in order to be folded
  • Hang up clean dresses
  • Bathe self except hair

Age 7-8

  • All of the above
  • Tie own shoes (we just seem to have velcro or slip-ons until this age, so shoelaces are a late-learned skill at our house)
  • Dress self in weather-appropriate clothing without being told; wear appropriate combos (still working on this one with my print-on-print loving girl!)
  • Floss and brush teeth at night
  • Bathe including hair, wash and rinse out sisters’ hair
  • Fix breakfasts not involving boiling water for little sisters
  • Fetch and put away food while I’m cooking (eg, knows her way around the pantry) and unload groceries to appropriate places
  • At grocery store, help me get produce (often in the fruit aisle, I’ll have her pick up apples while I’m getting the bananas, etc)
  • Crack eggs without getting the shell into what we’re making
  • Microwave leftovers without help
  • Wipe up spills on floor
  • Cut bread for sandwiches/toast, help little sisters with breakfast/lunch
  • Fold and put away clean clothes
  • Read to younger siblings when I need them occupied (eg, when I’m doing schoolwork with big brother)
  • change diapers (Yay!  No diapers have needed to be changed in our house for a couple of months now!)
  • Take younger sibling to the bathroom if we’re out at a park (they don’t need help any more, I just want them to have a buddy in public bathrooms)
  • Switch clothes from washer to dryer and pull out of dryer when done
  • Sweep kitchen floor (multiple times a day)
  • Collect trash all over house and replace trash bags
  • Vacuum rugs and empty roomba when we’ve run that
  • Wipe down bathroom surfaces with clorox wipes for quick clean before company comes
  • Navigate around the children’s account on the computer to pull up audiobooks/music so that I don’t have to drop what I’m doing to do it

Age 9-10

  • All of the above
  • Do the boiling water part of breakfasts (oatmeal/tea) for mom/sisters/self
  • Pack our lunches (make sandwiches, wash up apples, fill up water bottles, etc) when we’re going to be out for the day
  • Wipe down kitchen counters and table after cooking/eating
  • Make macaroni and cheese or other stovetop lunches
  • At the grocery store, go off and pick up specific items for me while the girls and I are getting other items–note that this only works well at a place like Sprouts where I can see across the store.  I would not send him off on his own at Costco!
  • Read schoolwork directions to one sister while I’m doing schoolwork to the other, lead sisters through CBS (Community Bible Study) homework by reading the passage and telling them how to spell big words in the answers, usually while I’m getting other schoolwork ready
  • Do math and writing on his own, just needing me to check work or help when stumped.
  • Sort and start a load of laundry (then transfer to dryer, take out, fold, put away)
  • Take out trash and recycling to our community dumpster (we don’t have individual trash pick-up, so this isn’t on a certain day)
  • Scrub or mop kitchen floor as needed
  • Scour toilets, clean bathroom, scrub tub/shower as needed
  • Vacuum out car with shop vac
  • Buckle youngest sister into her carseat and check that it’s appropriately tight; unbuckle her before getting out of the car
  • Put away bike and outside toys in the evening when all the neighbor kids are coming inside for dinner — this is a huge struggle for us!
  • keep room tidy and organized (ha!)

 

As you can see, I obviously expect the responsibility to grow with age.  There is a LOT of training at 2-3 that gets many of the skills going.  Do these sound like reasonable expectations for you, or are they too lenient?  What other important skills am I missing here?  Or if your kids are past this stage, what did you do right to help your kids learn these skills?

Posted in Parenting, Practical Housekeeping | 3 Comments

Stocking Up

stocking-upSo many great food sales this week!  Did you stock up on staples along with your Thanksgiving turkey?  I have enough flour, sugar, and canned pumpkin to last me well into the spring.  My husband rolls his eyes at me, but it’s an investment in our food budget.

Lately I’ve gotten to hang out with two new moms, and I’m struck by how much the early months and years of motherhood are a time of stocking up for the busyness to come.  A few months into parenthood, if you establish a fairly predictable routine and prioritize your child’s sleep needs, you’ll likely find yourself feeling that this isn’t too bad.  (If you’re ten months in and still hating your life, please get a hug and maybe talk to some different seasoned moms about adjusting your parenting philosophy–Anna and I tend to be on different sides of the sleep training/co-sleeping spectrum, so remember that what works for one family might not be the best for yours, and there’s not one perfect way.) But in general, once you figure out baby basics, you find your groove, you have about three dependable naptimes per day, and it’s not as overwhelming as it was at first.  You can do this!  And then you start wondering if you’re being lazy because you have a bit of time to yourself during the day for perhaps the first time in your adult life.

If you have some down time during the day and your child is still taking a morning nap, you have been blessed with the opportunity to stock up on homemaking skills.  Now is the time to figure out how to time meals so that the vegetables and the main dish are done at the same time.  Or how to cut up raw meat.  Or how to stock a pantry.  Or how to buy the right amount of produce so that you have enough for the week but nothing goes bad.  Or how to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes.  Or figure out how to add more vegetables to your dishes.=)  Or how to streamline your cleaning/laundry/grocery shopping/menu planning routines.  Or how to be in the Word every day.  Or just how to set up your day so that you get everything done.

Most of my friends who are juggling work and home say that this is hard to do, and I agree.  When I was working prior to having our son, I simply didn’t have the time to invest that I had once I was home full-time.  So if you are home for the first time with a little person, embrace this season!  I know some people swear by Fly Lady or other services or checklists for getting everything done in their homes, and I’ve learned a lot from reading other people’s menu ideas and cleaning schedules.  But I’ve found that because I invested the time in stocking up on those skills when my children were little, so much of homemaking has become second nature that I don’t need a set program to keep my house running.  And it’s a good thing, too, because we are busy, busy, busy living life as a family of 6!

 

What skills have you improved since your early days of motherhood?  And what great deals did you find at the grocery store this week?  =)

Posted in For New Moms, Practical Housekeeping | Leave a comment

The Support Moms Need, Part 1: Many Hands Make Light Work!

Happy Easter Monday, friends!  In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been pretty quiet on the blog of late.  Turns out between homeschooling, moving to new houses, parenting, and doing our daily work, Anna and I are pretty maxed out.  But my kids are on spring break this week, so I’m going to try hard to knock out some of the ideas that have been rattling around in my head of late.  Get ready for a blog blitz this week!

I’m in the midst of a series of posts inspired by this piece on how working is not optional for American women.  I’ve talked about whether earning money is as “absolutely necessary” as the author claims, and now I’m turning to her next sentence, “And the sad truth is that we aren’t doing anything to support them or their families — not because we can’t, but because we won’t.”  There are so many preconceptions built into this single sentence that we’ll have to take a few posts to unpack it.  Skipping past the “we” who aren’t doing anything (are “we” US taxpayers or American culture at large or some other undefined subset of people who need to do more to help working moms have it all?), I definitely agree that most moms I know feel that they could use more support.  What kind of support do we need, and what is the most helpful way to tackle this problem?

As Anna has noted, stay-at-home moms (and working moms home on maternity leave) often feel totally isolated and depressed these days, because we’re often the only ones around the neighborhood all day, every day.  When more and more moms enter the workforce, the other ones left behind feel, well, left behind.  When all our friends are doing impressive-sounding things at their workplace, it’s easy to fall into the trap of undervaluing our own work.  The homemaking mommy blogger who takes unrealistically perfect pictures in her certified organic home with her 1.7 beautifully dressed children can cause us to feel discouraged, as can the driven working mom next door who pulls out the “I do everything you do, AND I work full-time” cliche.  I would hope that our readers have taken our advice and ignored both women.

Even if she can ignore the voices around her, it’s quite discouraging when a mother feels her work is unappreciated by the very family for whom she is sacrificing.  As Bethany reminded us, part of our work is to teach our children to be appreciative.  After I threw my son a birthday party, my mom asked me if he’d thanked me for my effort.  I realized he hadn’t–and that his lack of gratitude was partially due to my own failure in allowing him to become entitled.  Don’t even get me started on the “You don’t want us to have any fun!” statements I get after we’ve come home from a full day of playing with friends, and I have the temerity to ask the kids to clean up the kitchen before dinner.  If my children praised and thanked me for my work every day, I suspect I’d feel less discouraged.  I remember a girlfriend who lived at home while attending university telling me that her most important contributions to the family were encouraging her mother in her vocation as homemaker (by committing to housework as well as her homework, among other things) and helping her mom to respect her dad (rather than trading complaints about his eccentricities). Wouldn’t we all love for our kids to have such a mature and helpful attitude at 19?  Then we’ll have to start training them now.

My oldest asked to be put in charge of making lunches up when we're out and about, and it's proven beneficial to both of us!

My oldest asked to be put in charge of making lunches up when we’re out and about, and it’s proven beneficial to both of us!

The best way I’ve found to teach my children to be appreciative of what I do all day is to involve them in my work.  Our children can certainly drain our energy–I often come home from a long day out with them and beg for 5 quiet minutes in my room alone–but they can also take ownership for the well-being of our family.  At two, that might mean putting their toys away and setting the table.  My four year old can put all the shoes away in their cubbies, wipe down the bathroom with a clorox wipe, and unload the dishwasher.  My six year old can change the baby’s diaper for me, give me a quick back rub, and fold laundry.  My nine year old helps our out-of-the-house mornings run smoother by making up lunches, taking out the trash, and starting the roomba on the way out the door.  I know there are different perspectives on this issue, but I have largely retired from picking up toys.  I do the more complicated clean-up tasks (or run and throw a load of laundry in while my kids are working), and my kids do the grunt work of putting duplos back in the bin and collecting all the doll clothes in the toy basket.  I am not a slave driver; my children usually spend less than half an hour a day in cleaning tasks, though when they dawdle and complain, they’ve been known to take all morning.  Our family does not have this all worked out perfectly yet–see ungrateful comments above–but I am less overwhelmed when I allow my children the dignity of contributing to the running and upkeep of our home.  And note that we can’t invite them to contribute if they’re never home.  I try to be selective when signing kids up for activities, but between my son’s art class, my daughters’ ballet classes, CBS for all of us, and the occasional homeschool park day with friends, we’ve had a busy spring–and it’s not even soccer season!  Last week, a planned play date was cancelled at the last minute, and we found ourselves free at home all afternoon.  You guys, we got SO MUCH housework done: caught up on laundry, put away toys, organized school bins and art supplies, and had a clean table and kitchen counter by the time my husband came home for dinner (homemade pizza).  Note to self, and to all of you: if your kids are too busy with extracurricular activities to help around the house, they are doing too many activities.

We’ll stop here for now: as moms, we can start to build our own support network by teaching our children to help us with our work in order to appreciate what we do.

Next up: dads!

Posted in Having It All, Parenting, Practical Housekeeping | Leave a comment
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