Monday, October 27, 2008

More notes on kids and chores

Wow! My inbox has been overflowing with requests for my (very simple) chore spec sheets, and with questions about how we use them. I'm still sending them out - please be patient! It has been so fun to get to "know" so many of you this week! And thanks for all your kind notes of encouragement. I needed that!

I feel compelled to put this little plug in. AS A REMINDER: I am not a naturally neat person. My house is FAR from perfect at any given moment. The reason I do all this is because it is HARD for me, not because it is easy!

I struggle staying above the tide of chaos every. single. day. I get sucked into the mire of "stuff" often, and I am constantly "coming back to center," or as close to center as five kids will allow me to!! I am speaking FROM the trenches, not from THE OTHER SIDE of them! We are just a regular family, doing our best.

Whew! I feel better now that we have that all straightened out. And now some notes:


I can't emphasize how much using the child's hands for daily "jobs" (ie, self-care) has helped me (another Bonnie McCullough idea). If you haven't done much to get your kids into a little routine, I would start there.

Having a daily routine is absolutely essential or they will take out the Legos, the Hot Wheels, the Candy Land game, and the blocks and dump them in the middle of the floor right as you are trying to get out the door, go to bed, or settle in to nurse the baby. Here's another post about that.

Certain things need to be "table only" or "kitchen only" or "with Mommy only" activities. Some items need to be kept out of reach or in a cabinet they know they are not allowed to access without permission just because of the "mess factor." YOU determine that, not your kids.

YOU can think through things. THEY can only see the next toy they want to steal from their siblings. That's why God put you in charge, and why you don't need to feel bad about saying "NO" sometimes.

Obviously preschoolers are not going to be doing anything without supervision. In general, you will still be doing most of the work, but they are "shadowing" you and you are talking them through it. "Okay, now let's say goodnight to your dresser drawers. Better tuck them in for the night! Push hard! Yea! We closed all your drawers!"

As I clean the kitchen or bathroom, I can have them "help" me wipe counters or polish a mirror. You can give a little one a spray bottle of water and they will "clean" for hours!

In general, I think the idea here is to give preschoolers an appreciation for what "cleaned up" looks like, and to help them understand "work before play," even if Mom is still shouldering most of the burden for remembering and actually doing it.

Preschool problem intensifier: TOO MUCH STUFF. If you really want to teach them to be self-sufficient, get rid everything they do not play with (or box it up temporarily). You will be surprised at how much easier cleanup time is.

Elementary ages:

Here's where it gets tricky. All that independence you've waited so long for now comes back to bite you. I spent a lot of these years in a sort of passive-aggressive state: loving the fact that they could do so much, but frustrated when they did not take initiative on their own to clean up after themselves. They were old enough to make lunch or create an intricate art project; why could they not see that their "creativity" left a Hiroshima in my kitchen?

So here again, routine is your friend. If you homeschool, have certain times or days for certain projects, and definitely for meal times and snack times (I am not a clock person, but a bit of an "order of events" is more what I have in mind).

If your kids come home after school, plop themselves in front of the TV, and then proceed to graze all afternoon, create an after-school routine that includes snack times. Everyone sits down, we all eat something, and we all clean up - ONCE. Have some specific jobs they must do before dinnertime (meal and snacktimes are natural points in the day to stop and clean up).

Here's another sheet I found while I was looking through my computer files this weekend (sorry, you'll just have to re-create this one - I'm emailed out!):
Do we always do ALL these things? Of course not. Things happen. Some days we have activities that take us out of the house, and we're playing catch-up at bedtime - or sometimes, in the morning - not good!

But just thinking through and dividing up what needs to be done into smaller chunks makes it manageable for kids and easier for me as a mom to remember and follow through with.


One of my favorite lines is, "A few generations ago, kids your age worked twelve hour days and supported whole families."

Kids this age are extremely capable. However, I have to consider that their school day is as exhausting to them as a work day (hey, I'm bushed after just a trip to the grocery store!). I know when I've been working on a project, or especially when I've been gone all day long, I need some time to just "veg." So do they.

Especially during certain sports seasons, maybe this is bad, but I do pick up some of the slack for them (remember this post?), or I assign it to a younger, less busy sibling, because they have more - and more intense - school responsibilities, and because they simply are not home as much. They generally keep up with their rooms, but even that slides A LOT during the week. We do some family chores on the weekend, but not as regularly as I could with younger kids.

Again, here is where having written expectations is so awesome. I can tell them, "Before you are allowed to go to ____________, you must have all the items on your bedroom spec sheet completed."

On Saturday I was gone in the morning. I had left instructions to clean rooms according to the spec sheet. Neal-13 called me around noon to say that his room was cleaned and could he go ride bikes with a friend? I told him "Yes."

When I got home, it was obvious that he had not even LOOKED at the spec sheet. Rather than get upset, I was able to calmly call and say, "You need to come home and keep working on this room." He had to leave his friends in the middle of their fun and come home. He cleaned for a few minutes, asked me to come look, and he still did not get it all. After the third time I'd been in there, he said to me, "I want you to go over this with me to make sure I got everything this time, so I don't have to have you call me back again." Now there's progress.

All that to say, it all comes back to being willing to set a standard and then stick to it. This is hard for me, and I am the first to admit I do not always enforce things like I did Saturday. But that doesn't mean I won't keep trying.

My big kids are not always home on Saturdays, so sometimes I have to assign a "window" of when I want things to get done. Weekdays are almost never a good time to assign "heavy cleaning," and the items on the list rarely get all done on the same day. So I usually give them a few days' warning so they can pace themselves (even though they usually do it in the last hour before they want to go somewhere. Just like their mother...).

But the kids know that "these are the items that constitute a clean room/kitchen/bathroom." This is really my goal. Because ALL KIDS ARE BLIND and they don't see that mountain of toothpaste scum in their sink without someone pointing it out. At least every now and then.

Elementary and teenage problem intensifier: TOO MANY ACTIVITIES. Limiting activities and giving kids some "down time" is really key here. If they are never home, they will never embrace their "space" as theirs, take ownership of the work that needs to be done at home as members of the family, or APPRECIATE THEIR MOTHERS.

Any other thoughts on this stuff?


El Shaddai Ranch said...

thanks for the ideas and the encouragement - my toy room will never know what hit it! and Yes, I would love to support you in prayer as we are now working moms!

Beck said...

This is so astonishingly helpful! I'm going to sketch out some structured chore lists like yours for my gang - they SHOULD be helping more, and they like helping, so it's just my laziness holding them back.

Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

Katherine, I'm thinking this post can be the foundation of the book you're going to write. :) It's tremendously encouraging, practical, doable. I'm bookmarking it for frequent reference!

Kat said...

I wanted to thank you for the cleaning specification list. I was in a quandary and just couldn't get started. To make matters worse, I've been doing the martyr and trying to do it all myself. My kids are great helping as long as they know what to do and now they do!
Thanks again,

the funky mom said...

You are so awesome for sharing what has worked for you! I echo the other 4 love to they can! I set up daily chores and routines today! Thanks for the motivation. I hate when it's my own laziness that holds my family back.


Wanda said...

Such super advice, Katherine.
I'm here from your sister's blog.

I posted yesterday on kids (mine and students at my high school).
I know with all my heart....that kids need boundaries....and JOBS!
They NEED to be held accountable and given responsibilities.
We are robbing them of so much when we do it all for them.

I've helped my own babes out so many times (cuz I love em) but I realize they need me to back off and let them fail too.

Glad I found ya.

Anonymous said...

Your sis sent me over:) Great post. Renews my resolve. Oh, and I LOVE your favorite line about working 12 hours and supporting a family. I could have used it this morning. But it will be in my arsenal when I need it;)

Dianne said...

Geez, I have no kids but I sure could use some lists like this myself - ha! I could call myself home from work in fact ;) (I'd go running!!)

Sherri@NoiseOverload said...

I have abandoned "allowances" at my house. Now, each chore is worth a certain amount of money. If the chore is done well (according to spec sheet) they get full pay. If the job is incomplete or needs additional work upon inspection, they get half pay. If they complain or argue about doing the job, they get no pay. And finally, if they "forget" or get "distracted", they owe me the amount that the chore was worth.

This system has forced me to inspect after each chore. Another benefit is that my hardest worker gets the most money each friday. It's biblical too. A lazy man comes to poverty. Do everything without complaining or arguing.

I'm only on week three, but so far it is working well.

Barbie @ Mamaology said...

Oh how I wish I lived near you to see this in action:).... and yes I know you are not perfect, which only makes you a better friend:)!

Thanks Thanks Again!

Patterned Pants said...

We are still struggling to find a routine with our chores since school started. I love the "spec sheet" idea. My kids are usually willing to help as long as I don't load it on them at the last minute. Knowing what I expect in writing will clarify everything even further!

Thank you, thank you for your great organizational ideas.