Parenting 101

I’ve often been asked how we raised our kids, by those who are up to their armpits in the midst of the power struggle that parenthood can sometimes be. The answer is one long day at a time, but with the help of some very consistent rules. I should clarify that many of these weren’t unbreakable rules as much as they were our family’s unique customs or our preferred methods for handling specific situations. I didn’t remember having a lot of rules for my kids, but my now-adult children have reminded me of several of them over the years. They recognize behaviors in others that they were not allowed to do and say “You never let us do that!”—and I’m pleased to say they mean it as a compliment. My daughter, Jennifer, has often caught herself watching her friends’ or coworkers’ exploits and thinking “If you were my mom’s child…” She has quoted some of our family rules as if they were The Wisdom of the Ages, only to have the hearer ask “Who says?” “Umm… my mom and I!” is her reply as she realizes that, unfortunately, the rest of civilization has yet to catch up to Mom’s Standards for Proper Conduct.

Some of our rules applied to my children, some to us as a family unit, and some were reminders for me as a parent that good kids don’t just happen. Kids obey best when they understand the reason behind a rule, whether they participated in the decision-making process that created that rule or not. Most rules are made to govern the future as well as the present: “Don’t run out into the street” is for right now, but also for every time in the future that a speeding car promises harm. Whatever rules your family makes, be sure to craft them with one eye on the future, and help your kids understand that the future-aspect is there to help them learn how to grow up into responsible adults. After all, “parent” is a verb, and you can’t expect great results from doing nothing. [“Parent” Is a Verb, linked below]

Overwhelmingly, I used the Golden Rule (Treat others as you wish to be treated—Luke 6:31, paraphrased) to teach my kids appropriate behavior and respect for others’ feelings and property. From toddlerhood on, I explained (in language suited to their understanding) what they had done wrong, why it was wrong, how it made the other person feel, and what their response should have been (the preferred behavior). Once they understood the situation from the other side, then they were able to offer a truly sincere apology, if circumstances required it. Beyond that, the detailed explanations helped those little people learn to think things through and anticipate the cause and effect relationship of actions to outcomes. You should not have kicked your ball into the neighbor’s flower bed. Your ball broke several of their pretty flowers, and they had just bought those plants and worked hard to get them all planted today. You can kick your ball over here where there is plenty of open space, but you may not kick it so hard that it lands near those flowers again. Do you understand the difference? If you disobey and kick the ball into the flowers again, you will be punished. Do you understand?

My kids were allowed to repeat certain actions only 3 times and no more. Whether it was running circles around the kitchen table or bouncing a beach ball off the top of my head, they could get away with it three times. Behavior that would have hurt someone or something was stopped immediately, but otherwise let’s just say that they learned to obey the limit.  Auditory learners and making noises go together like air and breathing, but the “Rule of 3” taught them to stop the repetitive noises after 3 times and save the remainder for more appropriate situations, such as when playing outside, or when in their rooms and not disturbing others. [My “Rule of 3,” linked below]

Nearly every “rule” we had was an extension of the respect relationship taught through the Golden Rule. Do you want your little brother barging into your room without knocking? Then be sure that you knock on his door before entering his room. The Rule of 3 was built upon respect for others’ personal space, and respect is in itself a Golden Rule relationship. Respect must be earned—it isn’t granted automatically. If you want it, what are you doing to deserve it? [Respect Must Be Earned, linked below]

Family is spelled T-E-A-M, and we are all on the same side. No one here is your enemy, especially not your siblings. Family is not a competition, and we’re all in this together. [Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M, linked below]

Speaking of teams, Mom should not be the only person working while everyone else is playing, because moms like to play, too. Get the household staff working—fill those machines and get them running, so you can feel good about all the jobs that are getting done. Teach your kids that if we get the chores out of the way first, then we can take a break, guilt-free. Work first, then play. [Using Your Household Staff, linked below]

I taught my kids not to interrupt a conversation (especially between adults), unless there was a true emergency involving large amounts of water, blood, and/or fire. I told them that if they stood quietly next to me while I was involved in a conversation that: 1) I would know they had something to tell me, 2) I would not forget about them being there, and 3) I would listen to them at the next appropriate moment. I also taught them to hold up one finger to help them remember what it was they wanted to say (or 2 fingers to remember 2 things—and it really does work). Yes, it was appropriate to wake Mom and Dad from a Sunday afternoon nap to report that the house next door was on fire. It led to very important life-lessons in how to remain calm in a crisis, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how long it takes from the time someone dials 911 until you can actually hear the fire truck’s siren. Good job! (Yes, that really happened, but no one was hurt, and insurance covered the damages.)

Whining, begging, nagging, and asking again and again will never convince me to change my mind. However, if you can present your case with facts and logic and without whining, then I will listen with an open mind. Notice that this is a two-way contract. My part of the agreement was to listen attentively to the logically reasoned case my kids presented, putting aside my preconceived notions about the topic and honestly considering the points they made. The result was that very often I had to reconsider and go with their proposal, because it truly was a better idea. [If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind, linked below]

We discussed “our family’s values” so that each child understood why we do what we do, why we don’t do what someone else may do, and why we hold tightly to our specific beliefs and values. It made an amazing difference in helping our kids make up their own minds when confronted with peer pressure.

As part of understanding our family’s values, my kids were taught to respect the rules and value systems of other children’s parents by not sharing their opinions on whether they thought those rules were correct. When a friend said, “I wish my Mom used your Mom’s rule,” my daughter explained that our family probably also had a few rules that the friend wouldn’t like, so the friend shouldn’t automatically assume that one family was better than another. This also applied to individual privileges, schooling or homeschooling methods, TV or movie choices, church programs, family activities, and just about anything else that could prompt a comparative discussion.

My most controversial rule (as viewed by my peers) was that “authority” figures who had no true authority over my kids (not their parent or police, etc.) and/or who were clearly wrong (meaning they had the facts wrong) did not necessarily need to be listened to or obeyed. This came into play when a bully-parent (one of those aforementioned peers who disagreed with my views, particularly this one) made a faulty assumption about my son, after overhearing a snippet of conversation between my son and another boy at a homeschool group function. That parent attempted to exert her “authority” (just because she was an adult) over the boys because of what she thought she heard, but my son (knowing the full context of the conversation) knew she was in error and tried to explain the misunderstanding. She threatened to tell his mother (me) that he had argued with her, and he dared her to follow through on that, because he knew he wasn’t guilty of doing anything wrong. When she gave me her side of the story, it sounded completely out of character for my son, so I turned to him for his explanation (which made her even angrier to think that I would accept the word of a 13-year-old over her testimony). The outcome was that I didn’t destroy a family relationship because of another adult’s misconception. Adults can be wrong, and kids learn to honor truth by seeing their parents recognize that adults are not always right just because they are adults. A parallel rule to the false-authority issue was that if anyone said to my kids “Don’t tell your parents,” that was our family’s code for “Run immediately to your parents and tell them everything!” That was also played out, with the result that my child identified right away that the person saying it was up to no good. Reporting the conversation to her parents was the equivalent of calling in the cavalry and turning the problem over to someone who could stop it from escalating into a more harmful situation. Crisis averted; family relationships secured.

Our family used “Because I said so” as valid reasoning under very special conditions, usually a minor emergency or some similar circumstance. Spoken quietly and surreptitiously, it was another code phrase that meant “Do what I say now, and I will explain the why later, as soon as I have the chance.” Everyone recognized that hearing the phrase “because I said so” meant something was seriously wrong and immediate, unquestioned obedience was required for the safety and well-being of one or more family members. We were careful not to over-use this or use it frivolously, so that it maintained its emergency-situation-only status. In our family, it was used by both parents and children, depending on the circumstances, which varied from “That kid has been mean to me before, and I really don’t want to run into him right now” to quickly leaving public situations that suddenly became uncomfortable or appeared unsafe. The full explanation that came later always assured us that the hasty exit had been completely justified.

The “family whistle” was a signal we used to find each other in large stores, get someone’s attention, or call to each other in surroundings where shouting might not be noticed. We used a unique melody of 3-4 notes that signaled us to “Come now.” We started using the non-shrill whistle when our kids were nearing middle-school age, and it was a wonderfully subtle way to signal each other in large groups. Most by-standers never even noticed.

As with any set of rules, consistency is crucial. As adults, we need to know that other drivers will obey the rule that a red traffic light means Stop and a green light means Go. Kids need the exact same consistency in knowing that their parents’ rules mean what they say. Without consistency, the rules break down, and before you know it, everyone is going, no one is stopping, and chaos is the result. Set your family rules, be consistent in their execution, and enjoy the freedom that results.

See these articles for more complete explanations:

“Parent” Is a Verb

My “Rule of 3”

Respect Must Be Earned

Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M

Using Your Household Staff

If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind

Home Chores Build a Good Work Ethic

It’s an ages-old debate: should kids be required to do regular chores around the house? My short answer is yes. Mom’s time is too valuable to be wasted on menial tasks. That doesn’t mean that Mom can’t or shouldn’t do them, but it does mean that those tasks that don’t require Mom’s unique talents can be done by anyone, not only by Mom. However, kids will need to be taught how to do a task correctly before they can succeed in it themselves.

Doing chores teaches skills, responsibility, and independence. Some day, for some unforeseen reason, Mom won’t be able to perform all of the household chores and pick up after everyone else. Whether that condition is temporary (such as a case of the flu) or more-or-less permanent (a debilitating health condition… or worse), Mom needs everyone’s help in keeping up. Incidentally, all those things Mom does are things the kids will eventually need to do for themselves in life, so they might as well suck it up and start doing them now to lessen the blow of reality. They might even find that ironing a few shirts provides an ideal time to organize their thoughts, besides making them look sharp at the job interview.

There’s a principle in economics called TANSTAAFL (say it as “tan-stay-awful”), an acronym for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” I applied it to home chores as there are no free rides: everybody can do his share. If you plan to eat this food, you’ll willingly help carry the groceries in from the car and help put them away. As my kids got older, it morphed into “Hey, Mom! I’ll do that job for you, so you can do this job for me,” whenever my kids wanted me to help them with a special project (often making a new costume). They would lay out their proposal and then offer to do something for me (often making dinner), providing me with the necessary free time to bring their idea to fruition. Helping (bartering?) in this way taught them the vital concept of earning: you have to give to get something in return. The job-trading offers showed that they understood the most important part: every player is capable of contributing something to the Family Team.

Starting Young

My kids learned to help put toys away as soon as they were old enough to play with those toys. We stored our toys on open shelves in an assortment of shoeboxes, ice cream buckets, small dishpans, and recycled baby-wipes boxes, each labeled with a simple drawing for what items went inside. I worked side-by-side with my toddlers or preschool-aged kids to help them learn to sort out the toys and get everything put away (nearly) every afternoon before Daddy got home. They could still get something out to play with while I fixed supper, but the worst of the mess had been cleaned up. We made clean-up time into a game by calling out one type of toy and getting all of those put away before focusing on another one, starting with the largest items and working down to the smallest. Then as the kids got older and more adept at sorting and multitasking, they could handle the clean-up tasks themselves, freeing Mom to start cooking or laundry or any other higher-skilled task. By the time my kids were both school age, I had come up with a new clean-up game: I would challenge each of them to run through the house and find ten things that belonged to them and put those away. With a little more growing up, that game became known as 52-Pick-Up and was expanded to include anything that was out of place, if they knew where it belonged, not just their own personal items. They learned to appreciate the look of a tidy home and enjoyed the peacefulness that came with it, so it wasn’t difficult to get them to participate, especially because we played it as a game, and I praised them and thanked them for their diligence. Who doesn’t like being praised and thanked for their efforts? No one here!!

A child who never learns organizational skills grows up to be an adult who still doesn’t know how to organize or clean—I know because I was one. It is because I have struggled as an adult to learn how to organize myself that I began teaching my kids organizational skills as soon as they could pick up an alphabet block and drop it into a box. We played that first as a game to learn coordination, and then we continued to play it later on as a clean-up game.

Later on, I made each child a picture-chart for the bedroom wall to help them learn how to tidy things up in their rooms. A sheet of paper with simple cartoon-drawings showed a bed with wadded-up blankets and an arrow pointing to a neatly made bed, a jumble of clothes on the floor and an arrow pointing to the hamper, a pile of books on the floor and an arrow pointing to books on a shelf. Simple, homemade, but very effective. Teaching them to make the bed first provided a large surface to use for further sorting duties, again working from largest objects to smallest. My younger child felt it was a rite-of-passage, growing-up milestone when he got a picture-chart for his room—he was a big boy now, and he was old enough to learn how to tidy up his own room. He was still far from reading words, but he could read those pictures!

Learning Life-Skills

Yes, it does take longer to do a task with a child than it does to do it yourself. However, the time that is dedicated to teaching the child how to do the task himself will pay off in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. By spending the extra time required to teach my children how to do a task, I was ultimately freeing myself from doing that task in the future. Yes, I can pull a full bag of trash from the kitchen wastebasket, take it to the outdoor garbage can, and replace a new bag within a matter of seconds. Teaching my child to do that chore and walking him through each step could take ten minutes. However, he will get faster with practice, and I can eventually stop supervising and move on to my own tasks for those valuable ten minutes. Even if I only spent thirty seconds emptying the trash myself, that time adds up. If I include emptying every wastebasket in the house and if a larger family means more trash, that can become a serious waste of Mom’s time and talents. More importantly, the children won’t learn to take on the responsibility for that chore.

My kids learned to do many household chores through the years: keeping their rooms tidy; emptying the trash; emptying and filling the dishwasher; sweeping or vacuuming; dusting; cleaning bathrooms; mowing the lawn; carrying and putting away groceries; sorting, washing, drying, folding, hanging, ironing, and putting away laundry; and many other chores that I can’t remember. Some of these jobs were regularly scheduled tasks, and sometimes the kids were just asked to help out with other tasks. Yes, they needed reminders occasionally—we all do. Yes, there were times when they grumbled—we all do. Yes, there were times when Mom still did the job herself—the object here is teaching skills and responsibility, not giving Mom a life of unlimited leisure while someone feeds her grapes and fans her with palm fronds. Yes, there were times when a job wasn’t done perfectly—but that’s not the point—the point is that they learned how to do these chores, and they learned to own tasks as their responsibilities. Family is a team, with all players contributing something to the team; it is a tremendous help if those players can be interchangeable in certain areas. When everyone knows how to do a certain chore, life won’t ever come to a grinding halt while we all wait for the one, single soul who can perform the required task and get us all rolling along smoothly again.

This process of learning how to do chores is important for more reasons than just sharing in household duties as a child. This process is teaching life-long skills in decision-making, organizing, and taking responsibility. No one wants to live with an adult who thinks that if he ignores things long enough, the Trash Fairy will come and make the mess magically disappear. Or the Laundry Fairy, or the Dirty Dishes Fairy. Moms, if you don’t teach your children now how to do chores and how to take responsibility for doing them, who will? Do you believe that allowing your children to be sloths and doing everything for them will somehow transform them into conscientious adults? I’m sorry if this offends you, but if this is currently the case at your house, you are already being offended by children who disrespect you and treat you as their maid. The new guy on the job who leans back in his chair and rests his feet on his desk is an only-slightly-older version of the preteen who played incessant video games amidst empty soda cans, dirty dishes, and smelly socks, while an overworked Mom cleaned up around him. The young adult who expects to draw a paycheck while texting or checking social media on his cellphone is the same kid who never lifted a finger to help Mom or Dad with anything around the house—and worse, was never required to help.

What you teach your toddlers is what your youngsters will do automatically, and what you teach your youngsters is what your teens will do automatically, and what you teach your teens is what your young adult children will do automatically. It begins with sorting toys and putting them away, then progresses through taking out the trash and shuffling loads of laundry, and grows into someone who notices a task that is not being done and takes on the responsibility without waiting to be told that it’s his duty. I have known bosses who swept the floor because the lower-level employees didn’t think it was their duty to sweep. Sometimes it may not your assigned task, but you do have all the talent required. Teach your kids do look for tasks they can do at home, because it will pay benefits in the long run. As employees in that all-important first job, they will receive more positive feedback from taking the initiative to do a task (or asking if it’s okay to do it) than they will from standing around and waiting until someone else tells them to do it.

How to Do the How-To’s…

Start small—don’t expect your inexperienced teen to understand how to do multiple loads of laundry if he’s never had to hang up a single shirt. If your teen doesn’t know how to do laundry, start by showing him how to fold towels and work up from there. Help him master each crucial step before adding in more complications. It’s never fair or just or right to scold someone for doing a task incorrectly, if he’s never been properly taught how to do it.

Show & Tell—demonstrate the task and explain the critical parts. Example: explaining that a clothes hanger is a substitute for shoulders can teach how to hang a shirt straight. Talk about the various steps of the tasks you’re doing and explain the why’s for each step. Kids are more likely to do it your way if they understand the reasons behind why you do it the way you do it. I fold the towels this way so they will fit into this skinny cupboard. Also, specify which steps are required to be done a certain way and which steps can be done as the child wishes—giving him freedom to make it his job, not yours. It’s also helpful to the Family Team concept to listen to others’ suggestions of different methods. Mom is not God, and Mom can learn shortcuts from her spouse or kids. Been there, done that, changed my ways.

Let him try it—and don’t expect perfection or speed. Re-demonstrate any steps that are really crucial. Simple charts can come in handy here, too, such as how much detergent to put in the washer, what settings to use for different loads, and a reminder to clean out the dryer’s lint filter.

Give reminders—without nagging. No one enjoys being nagged. Set a very basic schedule for repeated tasks, such as “Make sure to empty all the wastebaskets and take the trash out by Thursday mornings, because the trash collection truck comes right after lunch on Thursdays.”

Say a sincere thank you—because everyone enjoys being appreciated. Hey, the trash is already emptied—and I didn’t even see you do that! Thank you!!

Keep it simple for success—even very complicated tasks can be learned one step at a time. Allow your child to keep trying until he gets a task done correctly, but do it by encouraging his progress, rather than scolding him for his failures. We worked for mastery in our homeschool lessons, believing that a concept wasn’t fully learned until a score of 100% had been reached. However, the child got to keep trying and keep correcting his work until he had mastered it. The same philosophy was used in learning chores and other tasks: keep trying until you get it right, keep working until you get it done. My daughter now works in a retail clothing store with many high-school-aged co-workers, and she finds their attitudes of “a just-barely-passing grade is good enough” to be completely unsatisfactory. Her work ethic of “keep at it until the job is done right” shows that she takes responsibility and personal pride in how the store looks and in how she serves her customers.

Teach your kids to be industrious by being industrious yourself—laziness breeds laziness. Don’t treat your kids as your servants by always asking them to fetch-and-carry for you, if you are fully capable of getting up and doing the same things yourself.

 

Teaching kids to help at home teaches them how to learn from others, something that will be very valuable in their future jobs. Teaching kids to do their assigned chores in a timely manner teaches them responsibility, again a valuable future skill. Teaching them to look for unassigned tasks they can do teaches them to take initiative, the most valuable skill of all. Being teachable, taking responsibility, and taking initiative combine to form an excellent work ethic, whether your child grows up to become a stay-at-home spouse or a corporate executive, and it starts with learning to pick up toys.

See also (in no particular order):

The Importance of Play in Education
Spoken Destinies & Learned Behaviors
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Sorting Toys Is Algebra
I Give One Grade: 100%—But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It
Using Your Household Staff
Biblical Model of Discipleship
Pregnant & Homeschooling (great ideas for delegating, even if you’re not pregnant)
Full-Bodied Education: Mind, Body, & Spirit
We’re Not Raising Children – We’re Raising Adults
Respect Must Be Earned (good look at our attitudes toward each other)
Taming the Laundry Monster

Top 10 Questions on Leaving Public School

These questions appear over and over in emails from parents who are considering homeschooling, regardless of the reasons. Here are the most frequent questions and our honest answers, in no specific order.

1.  How soon can I pull my child(ren) out? Now—if that’s what your gut is telling you to do. Tell the office you have a “family emergency” and take your child(ren) home. Then check Home School Legal Defense Association’s website (hslda.org) for your state’s legal requirements and get that in order. If you prefer to wait a few days, weeks, or months before removing your student(s), that’s your decision—but please understand that you can remove them immediately. After all, if you have a reason that prompts you to consider homeschooling as an option, then you do have enough reason to remove them immediately, and they will benefit more from being at home than they would benefit from a few more days to finish out a week, a month, or a semester.

2.  What curricula do I need? Start with nothing.
a) Begin by bonding with your child through shopping, movie-day, hanging out at the library, baking cookies, anything.
b) Explore an interest of your child’s through doing online research together, building a model, whatever. Follow every interesting bunny trail that comes along, because those paths are filled with great learning opportunities! (Someone decides which topics go into every textbook and how much each topic should cover—who says that your child’s bunny-trail interests are any less important or any less interconnected than the topics in a textbook? Bonus: your student will learn more and retain more from his bunny trails than from a textbook.)
c) Start slowly by using Google, Pinterest, or the library for one or two subjects and build your class load from there.
d) Allow each of these steps to progress as slowly or as quickly as needed. Your instincts will tell you when your student is ready to move on.

3.  Can I remove just one of my children from public school? You could, but what’s the point?
a) Teaching more than one child is actually less work than shuttling several students back and forth all day to various activities in multiple locations.
b) Sibling bonding is just as valuable as parent-child bonding (see #2a-b above).
c) Do your other children deserve the same learning opportunities and freedoms as the one you want to bring home?

4.  How do I teach several children at the same time? Any who can already read—can read.
a) Let older kids start the day with their favorite subjects that require the least help from you, allowing you to get a younger one started.
b) Kids don’t all have to be doing schoolwork at the same time. One can play with the toddler while another does math, then switch. For a time, my daughter got up early and did all her schoolwork from 6-10 in the morning, then worked on other projects throughout the day.
c) Let them assist each other when necessary, because Mom is not the only one capable of answering questions.
d) Problem-solving skills are developed through solving problems! I told my kids that if they got stuck they should try to figure it out themselves first, then ask their sibling for help or come find me at whatever chore I was doing. They were always proud to tell me what they had figured out on their own, and I was happy to praise them for it! Other options include phoning Grandma or asking Google—there are many ways to solve a problem.

5. How do I get the house cleaned and the laundry done?
a) Whose standards are you following? Sparkling clean houses with nothing out of place are owned by families who are never home.
b) Home Economics is a class we teach here. We used breaks between subjects as a way to get the wiggles out and get a few chores done. My kids were happy to carry their clean laundry upstairs and put it away because it meant a break from schoolwork. Unloading the dishwasher meant they could listen to the kitchen radio for the duration of that task. Taking out the trash could be followed by a few minutes on a swing. Breaks can be shortened or extended to fit the chore desired. Chores teach kids skills, responsibility, and independence—plus they break up the rest of the day while bringing real-world benefits.

6. Is it too soon/too late to pull my kids out? No.
a) Homeschooling has many more benefits than could possibly be gained from leaving them in longer. We began homeschooling when the school couldn’t cope with our child’s medical condition, but once she was home we found some serious academic deficiencies and other problems that we hadn’t realized existed. Don’t assume everything is fine at school, just because your child hasn’t complained.
b) A student at home can learn much more than a student in school, being free to move on at will instead of waiting for the entire class. A child who is motivated to learn can make incredible progress at home, making up for lost time and surging ahead in his chosen field of interest.

7. I’m thinking of homeschooling because [fill in the reason of your choice]. Is that a good enough reason? Yes, but you’ll also come up with several more good reasons as soon as you get started (see #6a above). My list of reasons for wanting to homeschool grew longer with every year that we homeschooled.

8. Can I teach my ADD/ADHD/ODD/ETC student without special training? Professional credentials don’t outweigh parental instincts. Moms and dads know their child and their child’s needs better than any professional ever will. A more accurate acronym-label for your child may actually be MIISE (More Interested In Something Else). Treat* your child for MIISE until that proves ineffective. Another syndrome common in the institutional classroom is TETL (Too Eager To Learn)—a phenomenon that classroom teachers find surprisingly difficult to manage while keeping to a schedule. Help your child follow his interests and coach him in learning to research the various aspects. Don’t be afraid to follow bunny trails and let topics run together in rapid succession. Genius flows easily across multiple ideas, and it’s the simpler mind that must limit itself to only one thought at a time. Forty-five minutes to an hour of following bunny trails will produce more significant learning than an entire day of planned lessons.

9. But what about friends? If they are a true friend, you won’t lose them. Homeschooling can be a great opportunity to ditch the troublesome relationships that needed to disappear anyway. In general, friends and acquaintances come from a variety of aspects in life: siblings, neighbors, cousins, church, clubs, sports, music lessons, friends of friends, etc. Today’s social media phenomenon provides an avenue for maintaining close contact with friends regardless of distance or schedules.

10. We can’t do sports, music, or other extra-curricular activities at home. Are those just out of the picture for homeschooling? No. There are numerous possibilities for private lessons and group participation that don’t involve public school:

  • You Tube, Netflix, Google, online instruction and/or tutorials
  • Homeschool curriculum for the desired skill
  • Private tutor or coach, who could range from an advanced student to a professional teacher for the desired skill
  • Homeschool co-op group offering team sports, band, etc.
  • Church-based or community-sponsored sports & recreational activities
  • Dual-enrollment with public or private school for specific activities

HSLDA has discouraged families from trying to “keep one foot in both worlds” through dual-enrolling for specific classes or activities. And I agree. When we left the government school system, we were ready to break all ties and not look back. Then a community-wide sports activity became available that was run through the schools but didn’t require dual-enrollment, and my kids were interested in participating. I inquired about whether this was strictly a school-sponsored group (no, it was funded by participants) and if homeschooled members of the community could be involved (they supposed so), and we went to their first session of the year and signed up. It seemed to be going well for the first few practices and even through the first public performance, but things quickly went downhill after that. We weren’t notified of subsequent exhibitions, and the group’s leader made it increasingly difficult for my kids to participate, to the point where we eventually felt it was in our best interests to withdraw from that group and focus our efforts in more homeschool-friendly areas.

Throughout our homeschooling career, we knew other homeschooling families whose students participated with private schools, public schools, community groups, church groups, or homeschool co-op groups for a variety of extra-curricular experiences. The opportunities can be found or created to suit the needs, but the bigger questions is why is it necessary? Discuss this as a family to determine your motivation, whether for music, sports, drama, foreign languages, artistic endeavors, or whatever. Are your students just looking for a place to hang out with friends, or are they genuinely interested in learning the skill? Are Mom and Dad trying to live their own lives over again through their children, or is this something the student truly desires for himself?

Yes, Harvard has been known to award scholarships to distinguished harpists, but is winning a 1-year scholarship to an Ivy League college the only reason for dedicating a minimum of ten years of one’s childhood to an instrument (especially if the child lacks the passion to maintain this as a life-long activity)? The price of the instrument(s), the cost of years of weekly lessons, and the time investment for enough daily practice to become such an accomplished player as to merit a prestigious scholarship could all have been applied toward another area that the student enjoyed and appreciated more than being able to say “But it got me into Harvard.” Were all those years of music lessons merely the foot-in-the-door for a college education leading to a non-music-related career goal? Was the motivation just to give Mom and Dad the bragging rights of “Our kid’s going to Harvard”? Could the time, energy, and resources have been better directed toward the student’s desired career path? Could the same amount of money have been invested in such a way as to return an amount equal to or greater than the scholarship itself?

The freedom and flexibility provided by homeschooling can be used to the student’s advantage in numerous, subtle ways, resulting in a focused interest, rather than a schedule filled with diverse activities that yield more social involvement than academic advancement. I would rather see a student pursue his interests as vocational preparation than devote his time to activities that merely serve to fill his calendar with a variety of time-consuming distractions.

For more info, check out these links:

Leaving Public School
*How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
Teach Your Students to Teach Themselves
Knowing How to Find the Answer Is the Same as Knowing the Answer
People LIVE in This House
Using Your Household Staff
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M

Consider this one as the answer for the unofficial Question #11:
Homeschooling an Only Child

Bottom 10 Worst Parts of Homeschooling

Seriously.

We all know that nothing could be as consistently rosy as the way magazine photo-spreads try to paint homeschooling or as unfailingly cheerful as the above-average homeschooler’s daily blog entries.

For those who are genuinely investigating homeschooling for their children’s education, I would be remiss if I did not caution you in advance about the uglier moments of homeschooling: the dark days that inevitably occur and that no one wants to confess. Forewarned is forearmed, as the old saying goes, so take this list to heart and prepare yourselves as much as possible to prevent these stumbling blocks from stopping you in your tracks.

10. Sibling warfare. It will happen, and it will happen when you least expect it and are least prepared for it. From making faces at each other to kicking under the table, from stealing pencils to full-on hurling books… or worse. It may be momentary or it could be an on-going problem. Even in the calmest of families, even in the most serene households, even between the best of friends-as-siblings. It’s a consequence of the day in, day out continuous routine that causes boredom, weariness, restlessness, and disillusionment. A closely related side-issue is whether or not students will cooperate with a parent-teacher and a mixed-ages homeschooling atmosphere, particularly if these students have previously attended “real” school.

Coping strategies: Take breaks as often as necessary to break the negative patterns before they gain a firm foothold and to refresh everyone’s heart, mind, and body. Use multiple study areas, if possible, giving your students enough physical separation to allow each one to focus on his own work. (Siblings as Best Friends offers a more in-depth look at conquering this trouble spot. Also be sure to check out Respect Must Be Earned, Disrespectful Kids, and Troublesome Students.) Chores can be interspersed with learning to provide quick exercise breaks while maintaining productivity. This can be extremely helpful for separating restless siblings — send one off to do a chore or two while the others continue to work at lessons. A strategically chosen task can make sitting down to a lesson much more attractive! And while we’re on the subject of chores…

9. Chores. Taking out the trash, cleaning the bathrooms, tidying the living areas. Feeding the dog, sweeping the floor, shoveling the front walk. Did you remember to do your job? Did you finish every step? Whose sock is that? Did you brush your teeth? Did you make your bed? Whose turn is it to empty the dishwasher?

Coping strategies: Use reminder lists or charts to teach your children the responsibility of getting things done without prompting. Mom, you have more important things to do with your time than constantly reminding your children to do their jobs. My rule-of-thumb was to save my energies for the higher skilled jobs that only Mom could do, and get over my perfectionist tendencies relax my standards so that anyone else could do the lower skilled jobs. Use The Biblical Model of Discipleship to ensure each person knows how to do their chores, then walk away, and let them handle it. Tell yourself as often as necessary: it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be done.

8. Housework. Cook, clean, wash, iron. Meals, dishes, laundry, vacuuming. Buy the food, freeze the food, thaw the food, cook the food. Gather the dirty laundry, shuffle the loads through the laundry process, restock the cleaned laundry. When is there time to teach? Plan a lesson? I’m supposed to plan lessons???

Coping strategies: Lower your Suzy Perfect Homemaker standards enough to allow your family members to help with all of the daily work. Treat yourselves to quick, easy meals on paper plates when your schedule gets crazy. Spread out the responsibility for chores and share the duties (re-read #9 above). Lessons don’t need to be planned down to the tiniest, word-for-word details. Spontaneous lessons will often be the most memorable ones. (Using Your Household Staff contains practical tips for squeezing more out of your busy, busy day. A Day Without Lessons shows how education lurks in the most unlikely places.)

7. Clutter. Books, books, and more books. Workbooks, worksheets, test papers, and writing assignments. Textbooks, teacher’s manuals, reading books, reference books. (When you envisioned your ideal homeschooling set-up, you didn’t picture this extensive home library, did you?) Pencils, erasers, scissors, rulers, markers, crayons. Art supplies, craft supplies, math manipulatives, maps, charts, and posters. Where can you possibly put it all, and how will you find what you’ve got when you need it?

Coping strategies: We started with a “cigar” box for each student’s personal writing supplies (my pencils, etc.). We purchased build-it-yourself bookcases and storage cupboards as our needs (and budget) increased. We added a few inexpensive plastic multi-drawer units to help control the growing collection of arts-and-crafts supplies. Basically, you’ll want to adapt each year as your needs change. I found a week at the start of summer to be a good time for sorting out what we wanted to keep from the past year and a day or two at the end of summer to be a good time for re-evaluating our needs for the upcoming year. The kids and I worked together to sort and toss and discuss what we had all learned, then rearrange and make plans and get prepared and excited for what would come next. Working together was key for us: the kids often had great ideas to try in our small porch-turned-schoolroom. Plus, the longer we were away from the public school atmosphere, the less we felt the need to separate his things from her things, and the more we felt the community, teamwork, and sharing spirit of family. (See Homeschool Gadgets: An Investment in Your future or a Waste of Money? for a unique look at what you do or don’t need.)

6. More clutter. Salt dough castles, vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, and eggshell mosaics. Oatmeal and salt box drum sets, tin can telephones, and paper plate clocks. Butterfly and moth specimens, leaf and wildflower collections, and rock and mineral displays. The educational value is undeniable, but does it need to occupy the entire kitchen table?

Coping strategies: Remember that a photo can be kept in a much smaller space than the actual salt-dough castle took up (or stashed invisibly in a computer file). My children were much more willing to take apart their fantastic K’Nex creations once we had taken photos of them. Digital cameras were not a part of our early days of homeschooling; now they seem like must-have equipment! Above all else, remind yourselves that the learning is the most important part of education, not the meaningless handprint art, not the endless worksheets filled with twaddle, not the vapid writing assignments given solely for the purpose of creating time-consuming busywork. Some lessons are learned at the first reading or the first explanation, freeing both student and teacher to move on to the next thing with no further ado. (People LIVE in This House offers encouragement to those of us who do not live inside magazine pictures! I Give One Grade: 100%–But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It points out that learning is learning, no matter how long it takes.)

5. Most clutter. Mounds of clean socks and underwear that haven’t yet been sorted. Last season’s clothing that needs a place to live until the weather changes back again. Outgrown clothing and that nagging pile of mending.

Coping strategies: I used my own chores as times to wean my students off of my constant attention and teach them to teach themselves. You work on this lesson while I go sew these buttons back on your shirts, and I’ll come check on you when I’m done. Kids can learn to do most household chores and be able to help out when needed — remember, many hands lighten the load. As for storing out-of-season items, you may want to consider adding storage shelves in the basement or garage, or evaluating which things really need to be kept. Teaching my children to donate good, usable items to thrift shops created a habit they have continued as adults. (Teach Your Students to Teach Themselves will give them more confidence and independence in their own lessons and give you a bit more time for switching laundry, starting supper, or visiting the bathroom… alone!)

4. Desperation. There will come a day around February or March when every member of the family has coughed, hacked, and sniffled his or her way right out of your heart. And that may also have been accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Mother Teresa herself would have been ready to throw in the towel, if it meant she could escape your home’s infirmary to a peaceful oasis free of sticky dishes, stinky laundry, smelly diapers, and drippy noses, even for a mere eight hour shift of answering someone else’s telephone, shuffling someone else’s papers, and just plain dealing with someone else’s dilemmas.

Coping strategies: Calling off school for a few days or a week can give everyone a blessed relief as you all try to recuperate. Get your strength back before you try to pick up the books again. Even if the latest virus is not to blame for your collective malaise, a day or two away from lessons can perk up spirits. Do a little spring cleaning, indulge in some retail therapy, declare a family game day, or call for a video marathon – whatever it takes to clear your heads and jump-start the enjoyment again. (See Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup for tips on perking up your schedule. Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions offers welcome relief from the nagging feeling that you can’t stay home from homeschooling.)

3. Regrets. I shouldn’t have yelled. I should have been there. I should have left earlier. I shouldn’t have grounded him. I should have done a better job. I really should go. I should have taken them a casserole. I should have called her. I didn’t do enough. I did too much.

Coping strategies: Remind yourself that no one is perfect, then Do the Best Job You Can and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest. Giving yourself a few moments to think before you make each decision can really improve the quality of those decisions and help you on the way toward Living Your Life with No Regrets.

2. Isolation. The other side of the socialization coin has to be endless days of seeing no one but your own family members. Tempers will flare without warning, boredom will soar to new heights, and lessons that seemed relatively simple will go misunderstood for no apparent reason. You will find yourselves waiting eagerly for a glimpse of the letter carrier’s face, delightedly anticipating a trip to the grocery store, and chatting like a giddy madman with total strangers in check-out lanes, just because you are amazingly grateful for the sound of another human voice and a new face to gaze upon, if only for a few seconds.

Coping strategies: You may need some fresh lesson ideas. See 10 Ways to Improve a Lesson and Back to Homeschool with New Ideas. Or it may be time to recognize The Value of Supplemental Activities. If you are forcing yourselves into isolation because you think you are required to spend every school day from 8am to 3pm indoors with your noses in books, please read “Why Aren’t You in SCHOOL?”

And finally, the absolute worst, most discouraging facet to homeschooling—

1. Lack of guidance. Parents who remove their children from institutional schools will feel this more acutely than any others. How do I learn how to homeschool? What do my children already know? What do they not know? How can I tell the difference? Which math program is best? How well does he read? What about grammar? Should I teach history chronologically, geographically, or alphabetically?

Coping strategies: No one can (or should) give you a blanket summary of buy this program and it will fulfill all of your educational needs forever, since each of your children is different from the others, and they each have varied learning needs and academic interests which may change somewhat over time. Careful observation and good Mommy-instincts should tell you when a student is struggling to understand and when he is just plain bored and ready to move on because he already understands this material and it contains no challenge for him. Simple supplemental activities can adapt your present curriculum to your students’ learning styles, enabling each student to learn the lessons through his unique processing abilities. Answers to all other questions (well, many of them anyway) can be found here at Guilt-Free Homeschooling. Start with these articles:
So You Think You’re Not Smart Enough to Homeschool
Questions from a First-time Homeschooler
Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling After Leaving Public School
Curriculum Choices and Shoe Shopping, an Analogy
Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School
Every Day Is a Learning Day, and Life Is Our Classroom
10 Ways to Ease into Homeschooling

Despite these downside aspects, homeschooling is absolutely the best thing you will ever do for your family! The intense contact of homeschooling will not just benefit your children, it can strengthen the entire family unit. Don’t let a few negative things keep you from trying the biggest positive of all, putting your children’s education on the right track.

Teaching the Satisfaction of a Job Well Done

Have you ever noticed that cooking is much easier to do if the counters are clear, and the dishwasher and dish drainer are empty? I think a clean kitchen is a pleasure to be in and to work in. A sparkling clean bathroom makes me feel more like I’m vacationing in a nice hotel room than enduring yet another ordinary day at home. When my family all pitched in, and we cleaned the house super-fast for short-notice visitors, I always marveled aloud at how nice it looked! I wanted my helpers to feel appreciated, but I also wanted them to focus on what they had accomplished and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

The big question on your mind may be how to get your children to pitch in and help. Should you bribe them? If you routinely reward them, will they always expect some tangible payment for helping? And would a regular reward really be any different from a bribe? A bribe is something promised in advance in order to obtain a desired result. A true reward should be a surprise given after the fact as a bonus for desirable behavior.

I gave my children occasional rewards for cooperation and patient endurance after a grueling day of errands or shopping. You did a great job of helping without whining or complaining, so now you can pick out a treat! Usually, the rewards were simple things like a candy bar or a small toy, nothing to break the budget, but enough to say Thanks — you’re appreciated! At other times, when our children mentioned a more expensive item they might like to save up for, we made them a surprise gift of it, as another unexpected reward for being a good, cooperative, and helpful member of the family on a regular basis.

My kids tidied up their own bedrooms as one of their normal duties, but about once each year I would help each of them with a thorough overhaul. We went through all of their clothing, culling the outgrown or damaged things. We deep-cleaned the closets and corners that usually got ignored. We rearranged the furniture to suit their latest whim or growing-up needs. That much work often took more than a single day, but when we were finished, I had helped each child see the benefits of all our progress: more floor space for playing board games, new bookshelves for organization, or a desk in their bedroom for a private work space. Many of the decisions along the way were left up to the child in question, so that they had a true sense of ownership in the reorganization process, and along with that came the satisfaction of having things the way they wanted them. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to part with a favorite shirt when the child can still get into it (sort of), but the feeling of moving on to a few new clothes (and making some new memories) will be well worth it. Completing this laborious task should be marked by several moments of admiration and recognizing the satisfaction in a job well done.

There is satisfaction to be found in even mundane tasks. Emptying the kitchen trash can is hardly anyone’s favorite job, but once it has been done, it is much easier to toss the next item in! Nothing falls out and slithers to the floor, you don’t have to cram the pile down to make room for anything else, and you won’t be reminded (again) that the trash still needs to be emptied, and it is still your turn to do it.

We moms often find ourselves expending all sorts of energy to get tasks done, but we need to save a little of that energy for praising the job well done and bestowing our satisfaction in the accomplished task. You worked a long time on that! It feels good, doesn’t it, to have it finally done! And you did a good job, too — I can tell that you put a lot of effort into your work! Who wouldn’t like to hear that? Even when no one else had helped me with my own large or time-consuming tasks, sometimes I still exclaimed aloud over a finished job and expressed how nice it looked or felt to have it completed, just to inspire my children to look for satisfaction in the completion of their own tasks.

You can bribe a student to complete a lesson on time (or ahead of time), or you can surprise them with a reward for the lessons they finish quickly under their own motivation. The latter will be less stressful and more beneficial to all involved. When the child is surprised with a reward, he feels satisfaction at knowing his accomplishment was appreciated by others. When he has been bribed, he feels relief that the distasteful task is now out of his life and (perhaps) a greedy glee that he tricked someone else into paying him to do said distasteful task. A student who learns to enjoy satisfaction as its own reward does not need constant tangible gifts, as the object of bribery does. Teach your children to find satisfaction in doing their best and completing their tasks in a timely manner. It will be a lesson they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

From the Mailbox: Pregnant & Homeschooling

This is part of a series of articles based on actual questions I have received and my replies to them. Real names will not be used, and I will address my responses to a generic “Mom”; if you are a homeschooling Dad, the advice can usually be applied to you as well. The wording will be altered from the original letters (and often composed from parts of multiple letters) and personal details will be omitted or disguised in order to protect the privacy of the writers while still maintaining the spirit of the question. If you have a specific homeschooling question that you would like me to address, please write to me at guiltfreehomeschooling@gmail.com. If part of your letter is used in an article, your identity will be concealed.

Dear Carolyn,
I am trying to homeschool my children and keep track of the toddler, but my current pregnancy has upset our whole routine. How in the world will I keep up with homeschooling while caring for a new baby??? I find my strength is diminishing as the size of my tummy increases. I do not have the energy to do all of the household chores that I usually do, and my children are not very helpful in picking up the slack. Some days, I have hit my emotional limit and become a screaming maniac toward my poor children. Again, I am really worried about how I will ever be able to manage homeschooling and housekeeping when the newborn arrives. Any advice?
–Mom

I will not pretend that anyone can wave a magic wand and solve all of your problems with one quick *POOF*, but I can offer some encouragement and maybe a few helpful hints and shortcuts.

Do not try to look too far into your future — do not consider the entire school year, do not consider this entire semester or even one month at a time. Right now, with Baby on the way, you need to deal with one day at a time. Once Baby arrives, you may need to shorten that to even just an hour at a time or 30 minutes at a time. I am serious. Dealing with shorter blocks of time will keep you from becoming completely overwhelmed. Take life in small bites — it is easier to digest that way.

Everyone can learn to do their part in helping out — as long as you give them responsibilities and the expectation that they can accomplish those tasks. Do not try to do everything yourself — not even everything that you have always done up to this point. As Baby’s arrival nears, your physical abilities will become more limited and your attention will be required in more places than before. Explain to your children that they have now matured to the position where they can assume new challenges and new responsibilities — even the toddler can learn to help out with folding washcloths or dusting the furniture legs that you can no longer bend over far enough to reach.

There is no crime in being pregnant! Your children know that you are pregnant, but they also need to learn that being an adult does not exempt a person from feeling tired, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed (and that goes at least double for being a pregnant adult). Both boys and girls need to learn that pregnancy brings hormonal shifts: as potential fathers and mothers, they need to know what to expect, so do not try to mask all of your symptoms, putting on a happy face and unintentionally giving them the wrong impression. You do, however, want to show them that adults can and will admit their own shortcomings and apologize when necessary. A heart-felt apology can soothe the most hurt feelings, and the hugs that accompany an apology bring tremendous healing.

Although I did not go through a pregnancy during our homeschooling years (so you are free to ignore my advice if you wish), I did have many incidents from other outside factors that stressed me enough that it overflowed into our “classroom.” I learned (eventually) to recognize the source of the irritation, and I learned (eventually) not to blame my students for things they had not caused. I also learned (eventually) that humbling myself before my children, apologizing, and asking them to pray for Mommy to be able to handle things better worked wonders. We became closer, more forgiving, and more patient and tolerant through each trial. At one point, a foot problem limited me to do no standing or walking for several days, so my children came up with the solution of seating Mommy in a wheeled office chair and pushing the chair (with me in it) from room to room. The resulting giggles from all of us brought more healing than just the physical “rest” could have.

Let your physical limitations be known — to yourself as much as to the rest of your family. Then sit down, put your feet up, and enjoy being hugely pregnant for a few more weeks. Accept the offers from friends to bring in a meal or stop by to vacuum the floors for you. Call your church or a close friend and ask for help if no one has realized that you need some help now, before Baby is born. Let each older child take a turn at entertaining and caring for the toddler for a little while each day, giving them an opportunity for bonding and giving you a short break and a time to focus your attention on the other children. Realize that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be a nutritious supper. Realize that it will not matter if the kitchen counters do not sparkle or if the sink has a few dirty dishes in it. The “homeschool cops” will not come to your door and haul you away merely for letting your family eat from paper plates or scaling back the lessons to just reading and math for a while.

Responsible, older children can be given the privilege of checking their own work for some subjects. The math books we used had an answer key that could show my students whether or not they had arrived at the correct answer. A separate solutions manual guided them step-by-step through the solving process when they were truly stumped. When consulted honestly (after completing the work, not before), answer keys and solution guides can teach as much as the lesson itself does. Those same older students can also serve as teaching assistants with their younger siblings, helping the youngsters scan their work for glaring errors before submitting it to Mom’s checking pencil. Every step a student takes toward checking his own work takes him that much closer to being an independent learner, something that will be very valuable when he makes the jump from homeschooled student to college student.

Once Baby has arrived, your strength will begin to return, but you can continue to give your children more responsibilities in the daily upkeep of your home. After all, it is their home, too, and lessons in cooking, cleaning, laundry, and home maintenance would be referred to as an Independent Living class by most public school programs. Enduring a pregnancy while homeschooling will be a learning and growing process for all of you, and one that will reap tremendous benefits. Do not underestimate the lessons that your children will learn through it.

For more encouragement, see these additional articles:
Do the Best Job You Can, and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest
Your Children Will Not Always Be Like This
Using Your Household Staff
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Teach Your Students to Teach Themselves
Teaching with Preschoolers Around… and Under… and on Top… and Beside
Guilt-Free Lesson Plans and Scheduling
People LIVE in This House
What Is Your “Best”?
Biblical Model of Discipleship
Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions

Taming the Laundry Monster

The following encounter between a mother and her two daughters was overheard recently in a department store. Mom looked at #1 teenage daughter’s clothing and proclaimed that the clothes were filthy, asked why the girl had not done her own laundry, and added that Mom was embarrassed to be seen with her in public. (The clothes did not look at all dirty from where the onlooker stood, which was very close by.) Mom further stated that she intended to begin fining Daughter #1 $20 per day until she did her laundry. Daughter #2 then reminded them that she had already claimed the following day for doing her laundry, at which point Daughter #1 became enraged that she would be fined for a day when she could not do her laundry and blamed her sister for the fine. I have stated before that forcing each child to do his own laundry fosters selfishness, not responsibility. Each child should learn to do laundry, but he should learn to be a part of the family team. (In my article “Family is Spelled T-E-A-M,” I explain why each person in our family learned how to run the washer and dryer, and why I required teamwork in checking with others before anyone started a load of laundry.)

When some friends of mine were recently asked what one chore they would gladly give up for life, nearly all mentioned laundry. They all hated doing laundry. I no longer hate doing laundry, but I do not particularly look forward with glee to doing it either. There is a long list of leisure activities I would choose to do before washing, drying, or ironing. I have heard many complaints from families who are unsuccessful in trying to keep up with their laundry, but the story above was the final straw that convinced me to share my recipe for how I tamed the Laundry Monster in our home.

Ingredients
Most important to the organizational process is a 5-foot high, metal shelving unit located near my laundry facilities. These shelves hold large, load-size baskets, each clearly labeled for a specific load of dirty laundry:
— Jeans (may include other heavyweight items)
— Darks (lighter weight than jeans, but still dark-colored: t-shirts, socks, etc.)
— Reds (including deep fuchsia & purple)
— Shirts, Permanent Press, etc. (multi-colored items that may wrinkle if left unattended in the dryer)
— Whites (socks & underwear that may be bleached, so do not include colored items)
— Special Care (delicates, cold-water-wash, dry flat, etc. This often is washed as 2 loads: light & dark colors.)
— Towels/Sheets (the largest basket)

I assembled the deep shelves (18″x36″) with vertical spacing (13-14″ apart) to fit the baskets, which were purchased in sizes (16″x22″ x 10″ high) to fit two per shelf. The only exception is the huge Towels basket (19″x26″ x 12″ high) which by itself takes up the entire bottom shelf. The other baskets slide in side-by-side (2 baskets per shelf) on their shelves, extending lengthwise out over the front of the shelves a few inches. Each shelf is high enough to allow clothing to pile a few inches above the top of each basket. The baskets are labeled on each edge so that they can be identified no matter how they are placed back on the shelf. This system makes it very easy to see which load needs to be done next — an overflowing basket gets the quickest attention.

Next on my organizational supply list are personal laundry baskets (13″ x 18″ x 8 1/2″ high with 2 handles that flip up), at least one for each family member (we have 7 for our family of 4). The ones I purchased at a dollar store resemble the small shopping baskets that grocery stores have for customers who plan to pick up only a few items. These baskets are not labeled, because they circulate randomly among all members of the family. Even a small child can carry one of these baskets if it is not too full. Older children get one or two of these personal-sized baskets full of their clean laundry to put away in their rooms. The empty baskets may then be used on the closet floor as hampers for dirty laundry or returned to the laundry room, where they sit stacked until needed for the next load. When the child’s dirty laundry fills a basket, it is his responsibility to carry the basket (along with any empty hangers) to the laundry room and sort the clothing into the load baskets on the shelves. No wet garments are allowed in the baskets, but damp items may be draped over the front of a basket to dry, making sure they will not mildew before they get attention. (Children too small to sort their own clothing were allowed to leave their basket of dirty laundry on the floor in front of the shelves.) The “Laundry Fairy” notifies kids when they have a full basket of clean things to put away, but the children are responsible for moving their own clothing. Most of the time, I do take care of my husband’s clothing, but he does help, when needed, at any stage of the laundry shuffling process.

In the case of smaller loads, we occasionally combine the contents of certain baskets. Whites and multi-colored permanent press work well together, if no chlorine bleach is used. One or two pairs of jeans can easily be included with the dark t-shirts and socks. If the garments have all been previously washed and are not likely to bleed extra color, I will toss a few red items in with the darks or jeans. I found we were having more and more red garments in our wardrobes, but still not quite enough to produce an entire wash-load of reds each week. At the same time, we needed some new towels, so I purchased red towels, guaranteeing that we would always be able to fill up a load of reds. (One caution from the sad Voice of Experience: never put a sweater in the same load with anything containing Velcro.)

Method
Deeply ingrained in me from multiple rereadings of Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth’s Cheaper by the Dozen, is a firm distaste for performing unnecessary steps in any chore. Therefore, I have tried to eliminate extra steps from my laundry tasks by handling items as few times as possible. When the dryer signals that it has finished a load, I do not pull everything out into a large basket to be dealt with later. Instead, I remove the garments one at a time, hanging or folding them and placing them into personal baskets. By the time the dryer is emptied, a basket has usually been started for each member of the family. At the end of the day, those personal baskets are filled and ready to be carried off by their owners. I shuffle loads from dryer to personal baskets, then from washer to dryer, and from load-baskets to washer. If some family team member is folding and sorting and is unsure of who owns a particular garment, they usually leave the item folded and lying on top of the dryer, to be claimed later by its owner.

My last dryer did not have a “wrinkle reducer” cycle to tumble the dry clothing every few minutes after the load was finished. That meant that occasionally I needed to leave my homeschooling students to go tend to the laundry. I used those times as opportunities to “wean” my students away from Mom’s constant attention: “You work on this page while I go shuffle some laundry, and I will be back in a few minutes to check on you.” They could always come find me if they had a tough question, but I could also stretch my “few minutes” as needed to give them more confidence in working alone. That was also how I got my ironing done.

My husband suspended old broom handles from the laundry room ceiling for me to use as hanging bars. I often hang the freshly dried shirts or other garments that will need to be ironed (separated from the clothes to be returned to closets), to prevent them from becoming more wrinkled. Quite often, the few wrinkles have “hung out” before anyone gets around to ironing them, and they can be worn without disgrace.

I use the end-of-cycle buzzers on both washer and dryer during the day to remind me that I am doing laundry, because any more interesting task between loads is likely to keep me distracted. I wash towels, socks and underwear, or other okay-to-wrinkle items as my last load of the afternoon. If they make it to the dryer before bedtime, they can sit all night in the dryer without making more work (ironing). Sometimes I will start washing a load at bedtime, so that I can start the next day with drying (faster progress is a huge motivator for me). Note to self: turn off the end-of-cycle buzzers before going to bed.

All family members have been taught to empty their own pockets before putting garments in the laundry (what I find, I keep — money, children’s “treasures,” etc.) in an effort to reduce the number of tissues that get washed (I make no guarantees). Also, I called back any family member who put their dirty socks in the baskets balled up — they had to straighten out the socks or the socks would not be washed. (They only had to be called back once or twice to learn to straighten out the socks when taking them off.)

When the weather permitted, I did use a clothesline in the backyard to save money on the power bill, but there were times when my time was just as valuable as the gas and electricity, and I skipped the outdoor drying, Guilt-Free. When I did hang clothing outside, I tried to hang underwear or socks together on the line to make the folding and sorting stage as simple as it was from the dryer.

Heavy sweaters often carry the warning “support and dry flat,” so I usually dried sweaters on my ironing board, but they could take several days to dry, leaving the ironing board unavailable. I have a folding, wooden drying rack that I use for delicate hand-washables, and I hit upon a solution one day when the laundry room was overflowing. I spread the rack out and laid thick bath towels across each level of dowel rods, creating towel-and-rod “shelves” that would each support a couple of sweaters. No more waiting for the ironing board, and no more “lines” from draping the sweaters over bare rods.

One last trick to prevent the Laundry Monster from tackling you when you least expect it: own more than a week’s supply of socks and underwear. This is also a good idea for college life, since college students rarely get time away from classes and studies for such frivolous pursuits as doing laundry. My husband has simplified things even more by having one drawer for all his undershirts and another for underwear (no folding required), one drawer for white socks and one drawer for black socks. The socks are all identical (except for the color), meaning they do not have to be matched up or folded. Buying extra sheets has saved me from having to suddenly make a bed at 10 pm, when all I wanted to do was lie down on it. Now when I strip off the soiled sheets, I can put clean ones back on immediately.

This system may require a little start-up money, especially if you want to get all new baskets, a shelving unit, and extra underwear for each family member. I grew into my own system by buying the large shelves first and starting with the few smaller baskets I already owned. As my older baskets deteriorated, I replaced them with new ones of the desired size. You can adapt my system to your own family’s needs, but give your family members plenty of instructions for how the system is to operate and allow them some adjustment time to make it work. Occasionally, I needed to remind my children to take their dirty clothes to the laundry area or put their clean things away, but overall it is a system that has worked for us for years. (I have been known to place 3 full-to-overflowing baskets of my son’s clean clothing in front of the stairway, blocking the path to his room, and forcing him to attend to them.) The shelves of load-baskets make it so apparent which load needs to be done next, that I have become accustomed to starting the fullest load each morning after I take my shower. I have been affectionately dubbed the “Laundry Fairy” by my husband, who says clean socks just magically appear before he runs out.