Embracing the Chaos, Part 2

{Creating a Welcoming Environment for Homeschooling}

When I wrote my column Embracing the Chaos, I intended to write a post more like this, but it took a life of its own, and it turned out to be a good column, so there you go – that’s how writing happens and that’s good. But now I’m following up with a this-is-my-chaos-and-how-I’m-handling-it-post.  I’m not offering any real organization tips because I don’t have those. I’m just winging it! If nothing else, I hope this post can give you solace as you work through your own chaos.

First of all, it’s important to remember that Chaos is Normal. Almost everybody, regardless of where they live or how they live, feels like life gets chaotic sometimes. (This is why some people move into monasteries.) I don’t have any scientific evidence for this, but I would bet my dollar that the people who are more willing and able to go with the flow handle chaos better. This will serve them very well when they have children, and even better if they decide to homeschool. But nobody, and I seriously doubt that anybody, can handle all kinds of chaos all of the time. We all have what we’re good at, and we all have those things that make us feel flustered and overwhelmed.

I’m kind of in the middle. I’m not a neat freak (anybody who has visited my house and seen my clutter can attest to this), but I also like to have a certain amount of organization. I’m always wishing I had more shelves and more closets and more drawers to put things. I wish I had the time to sort through my junk. I wish I could get away with throwing out my husband’s junk. You know what I mean.

But I don’t have money, time or a blind husband, so what I do is live with quite a bit of clutter, and I chisel away at it once in awhile. As the boys get older, I’ll be able to throw more things away. For example, I just recently took all the baby and toddler clothes to the thrift store! Yay! This has freed up space and boxes. So hang tight…just when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, your kids are going to outgrow one mess and then you can make room for another!

Space for Project-based Homeschooling

When I read Lori Pickert’s book on project-based homeschooling, I took note that one very important aspect of the Reggio educational philosophy is environment. Having a nice space for the kids to work in is crucial. I agree with that. Also, having all the supplies within reach and looking attractive is important too. How I would love that.

I’m very lucky that a few years ago, my husband agreed we needed a space for the homeschooling, so he and my father-in-law helped paint our never-used dining room and turn it into what I now call the “activity room.” (And thank you, Mom, for the table and chairs!) It’s in the heart of the house, and I know it couldn’t be anywhere else. If we had turned one of the rooms upstairs into an activity room, we’d never use it. The boys live and play most of the time downstairs. Having all educational tools and art supplies in the activity room has created an atmosphere where learning, creating and building is part of our livesjust like the T.V. is part of our lives! (Seriously, how many families have the television in the heart of their house, but they tuck the kid clutter into a back room? Why not also have the open-ended toys, art studio or science lab there too?)

Of course this means that the downstairs is going to get messy. Very messy. If you’re having trouble with that, then I suggest you read the original Embracing the Chaos.  

Despite my efforts, the activity room can get quite messy and disorganized, but this doesn’t stop the boys from being productive.

It’s hard to keep everything looking tidy and organized, especially the art supplies. Despite my laments, I do try to organize and clean up. Rearranging the shelves can be great for getting kids to notice things they haven’t used in awhile. But despite my upkeep, the place gets jumbled and cluttered. But here’s the good part:

I’ve noticed that even though the activity room is messy, the boys know where their art supplies are, and they can find them. The mess doesn’t stop my boys from being creative. In fact, my six-year-old’s creative mind has been exploding recently. He’s been doing so many projects that I can’t keep up with him. I spend most of my clean-up time just making space for the new mess.

Having the supplies accessible to the children is more important than having them in a specific place or shown attractively on the shelves.

The same goes for the supplies that can’t fit into the activity room. There’s not a lot of space in there, so we have junk supplies all over the house. For example, I keep a box of odd items on my closet shelf, which the boys know they can ask for; an armoire in my bedroom is home for the paints, games and some other art supplies; and building supplies are in my six-year-old’s closet upstairs. This stuff is scattered around the house, but the boys know where everything is, and if they can’t reach it, they can ask for it at any time. (However, I recommend keeping the main supplies out where kids can see them because anything tucked away can be forgotten. I only do this for overflow items.)

What’s funny is that the building supplies is trash. I taught my six-year-old how to recycle cereal boxes, toilet paper tubes, milk jugs, and other odd items. He caught on a little too well, and he began to save things without my noticing. Then I noticed trash recyclables falling out of his closet!  Now we have organized his building supplies into two big plastic boxes inside his closet, and he has explicit orders to not dig anything else out of the trash until he uses this stuff up! ;) (see picture below)

Yep, that’ll make a good story someday, but I’m still proud of his enthusiasm and willingness to see an object and say, “I’m going to make something with that.” My three-year-old has even caught on, and one day when he finished off a big goldfish cracker box, he wouldn’t let me throw it away. “I make somethin’ with that!” he said. “Oh yeah? What are you going to make?” I asked. “Bot!” he said. Sure enough, the next day he had me cutting it into half so that he could have a “boat,” and it even floated in the bathtub!

If our supplies weren’t at my boys’ fingertips, I’m not sure these creative juices would be flowing. When I get overwhelmed by the chaos, I remember that I’m more than willing to put up with it during this era of my life that will go by so quickly.

Upstairs vs. Downstairs

My boys do spend time upstairs, especially on rainy days, and it’s a welcome break for me when they decide to go up there. What’s my secret? I put lots of toys up there. The trucks, the noise makers, the billions of stuffed animals, and the little stuff that they rarely play with anymore. (I get a lot of protests from my idea of giving these things away, but someday I’ll achieve that goal.)

I try to keep toys downstairs such as blocks, Legos, pretend food and a small kitchen set, their overflowing box of animals and dinosaurs (which is what they play with the most), and a toy cash register. These are fun, but they’re open-ended, and they require a lot of imagination. Since we’re downstairs more often, the boys play with this stuff more. See where I’m going? Not that they don’t get imaginative with their cars and trucks, but those things that bleep and honk and play music so loudly, well, I just like them to be upstairs, if you know what I mean. These things do trickle downstairs, and that’s okay. I don’t make them stay upstairs, but when we get to a serious cleaning day, I’ll sort the toys this way, and put those things back upstairs.

How to Display the Artwork?

Left to right: My son’s treasures & projects are displayed in his room on our old changing table. A small dresser has become another display area. Recyclables, which will be used in future projects, are kept in his closet where he can reach them.

Any project that my sons make will stay in the activity room for a very short time. There’s not much room in there for displaying their projects. After the project is finished, if it’s three-dimensional, it’ll go upstairs in their room. In my six-year-old’s room, we converted our old diaper changing station into some shelves for him to display his work and treasures. Eventually his projects will either be thrown out or recycled (except for a few extra special ones). We take pictures of everything for a keepsakes.  My three-year-old doesn’t have a big collection of projects yet, so his stuff is on a small table in his room.

As for paintings and other two-dimensional artwork, we have one section of our kitchen wall that is designated as the “art gallery.”

So that’s the gist of it. I live in chaos, but I’m embracing it…kind of…at least until my boys move out! Now please tell me about your chaos and how you deal with it.

16 Responses to “Embracing the Chaos, Part 2”

  1. I always have described our lives, our home as managed chaos.

    It has even become a little less managed as they have gotten older. I kept telling myself it would be easier but it’s not necessarily easier. Not that it’s more difficult but it is just different … we are gone more, more schedules, appointments, etc to manage.

    great post.

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    • Thanks so much for your comment, Cynthia. You are not giving me hope for the future though. ;) I do like that term “managed chaos.” I might have to start using that with my friends. And, by the way, I love the title of your blog. I’ll definitely check it out.

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  2. I love your display areas! We need some of those. Nathan has his Halo creations on his dresser top, but that’s not a very safe space. Nice post!

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    • Thank you, Angie! Believe me, it’s all a work in progress. I would love to have something better than a diaper changing table, but there you go. And surprisingly, it doesn’t look too bad.

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  3. I really love your thoughts here. I adore the PBH book, but my 2 areas of concern were, what if our environment is not optimally tidy/beautiful, and how on earth do I keep all this stuff? I love the idea of taking pictures for keepsakes. Thanks for the ideas and reassurance!

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    • Thanks so much for your comment, Stephanie. I remember reading on Renee’s FIMBY blog how they recycle their items, and it definitely looks like that will be a necessity. Sometimes I can sneak and throw some less special items out, but usually I’m going to let the boys decide what and when to throw something out or recycle it. Of course, I’ll probably encourage them to recycle certain things out of necessity, and taking the photos definitely helps. So far we haven’t had to toss much out, but we’re getting to the point where we don’t have much space left. I’m hoping the six-year-old will see the necessity and not have a problem with it. We’ll see! Some things fall apart, and that makes it easier too!

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  4. excellent post! :) and collecting recyclables for building really can become an obsession — you know you’ve got it bad when you start asking for your friends’ interesting-looking trash. ;D

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    • Thanks so much, Lori! Yeah, it was pretty funny when I opened his closet door and stuff fell out on my feet. He hasn’t been over to the neighbor’s house yet though. ;)

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  5. I’m struggling with setting up an appropriate environment right now. We have a craft organizer and small table in the kitchen that has worked so far, but my daughter has just turned five and I can see she will be needing access to more items and a better space to collect and display learning materials. Complicating this is an active 18 month old running around who really wants to be doing whatever his sister is doing. (Or at least touching it and taking the scissors and markers.) the best room we have for it is the basement playroom, but I am concerned that taking it out of the main living area is not the right choice. My goal is to figure out something and set it up by the time she’s officially a kindergartener in the fall. Although I’m sure it will keep changing after that too!

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    • Hi Peggy! You know, you could try putting materials in both places and just see what happens! If there’s a lot of stuff in the basement, then you guys might spend more time down there. Or you could have bins with materials down there and allow her to gather what she wants and then bring it to up the kitchen table. You just have to experiment and see what happens.

      As far as the little one, things have definitely changed here in just this last year (my little one is 3, almost 4) because I can trust him with scissors and markers now. For a long time I had to keep stuff like that out of his reach so that I could supervise him while he used them. I bought extra scissors, and we have lots of markers and materials, so I don’t have too much of a problem keeping him out of the 6yo’s projects. Of course, he’s old enough to understand that now too. I also keep blocks and puzzles etc for him in the activity room and sometimes he is content to get on the floor and pull all that stuff off the shelves while my older child makes his stuff on the table.

      I’m sure our space will keep changing too! Good luck to you and keep me posted.

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  6. Love this. I was just writing elsewhere that structure is NOT necessary for learning, and that some of the best creativity comes out of chaos. Your post illustrated it better than I did.

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  7. I have a craft room (my sewing room) upstairs. I can make a mess and do not have to clean it up to eat dinner with my family. This is the room I “share” with my girls. However, I am frustrated at the amount of mess they make in there and just leave it for me to freak out on. I know my kids are young but they, unfortunately, feel the same about that room as I do – shut the door and walk away. We also do a lot of crafting and projects at our kitchen table which has laminate floors underfoot. So we have sort of balanced the spread out crafting. As it is not always ideal it works. They girls know to ask to paint and we set up to do that in the kitchen. And if they want to do most anything else it is up in the craft room.

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    • Hi Robin — I completely understand your frustrations with the mess because I get frustrated too. Some days worse than others. We just got back from a short trip, and before we left, I busted my butt cleaning and re-cleaning my house just so that I could come home to a clean house for once! And it WAS satisfying. But, no joke, within three hours of our return yesterday, my four-year-old had pulled out all his dinosaurs on the living room floor, he pulled out the paints and painted three pictures, and he wanted to put a snake photo in his nature journal, which required him to cut it out, and scraps of paper were all over the floor. So the scissors, glue, paint, paintings, etc. are all on the table top. To top it off, my cat threw up on my bed spread! That is life around here! I cleaned my bed spread, but I left the rest of the mess — it’s just normal. I will clean it soon, but I know once I clean it, something else will be all over the table and floor. It actually made me happy to see my four-year-old do all that busy work. My husband commented that “This is what he missed.” So I can see what he loves doing the most, which is cool because now I can help him/encourage him with those things. He felt the need to do all of them immediately upon his return, and except for pouring out some paint and printing a picture, I didn’t have to help him access any of it.

      Unfortunately, mess just comes with little children, and I do believe that to a certain extent, we just need to accept it. I would not want my children to stop creating their messes, i.e. stop creating, because I kept fussing at them to not mess up. Sometimes letting the messes stay out will help kids return to projects and do more too, although I know with little kids, it’s usually just chaos, so….

      As parents, we can set limits and teach children good habits. My kids are expected to clean up after themselves, but I’ve learned that I can’t expect them to do it automatically. I have to remind them constantly. I have to do it with them too. I hope one day it will just be automatic for them and I won’t have to help so much, but I guess they are still too little. I don’t expect them to clean up every mess either. The only daily chore I have them do is take their dishes to the kitchen counter for me, and I make my seven-year-old sweep in the evenings after their snack time because they usually make a mess.

      I don’t require them to clean up their toys and activities everyday because I don’t clean up all my activities everyday either. But we do straighten up once a week or so, and every once in a while, when the house really needs it, I declare a “cleaning day,” and they are expected to pick up all toys and help me vacuum/mop the floors. Then I expect them to play by themselves while I do anything else that needs doing.

      I would suggest having certain rules that would be easy enough for your daughter to understand and implement. Such as I mentioned – the needles always go in one place when not in use. Or, “if you’re going to pull out all this stuff, you have to put all this stuff back first.” (I use that a lot to prevent too much piling up on the floor at once.) It will definitely take time and constant reminders, which I know can wear my patience thin, but unfortunately, I don’t think we can expect too much else at this age.

      I think it’s awesome that you have a craft room – lucky you! And also that you spread out your crafts throughout the house – that’s great. It sounds like you have a culture of creating and fostering creativity and imaginations. That is wonderful!

      I’ve definitely put some thought into how I’ve organized our stuff, and there’s more I’d like to do, if I can declutter a little more. Putting certain toys and supplies where I can deal with them has helped. It’s taken me a long time to be more patient with all this stuff and “embrace the chaos” as I said in my post. And if it helps at all, my seven-year-old is a lot less messier than he used to be! I think he’s learned that I’m going to make him clean everything up eventually, so he tries to create less mess.

      I hope this has helped a little — we all have to figure out what we can deal with, set some rules for our kids, and see what works for us and our families! What I do may not work for you, that’s okay. I wish you the best of luck! But I do think you’re doing a great job letting your daughter to sew and make a mess!

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