Cleaning the House with Young Children

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on June 20, 2012.

Mothers of young children often lament how they can’t get anything done.  What they mean by this is how they can’t seem to get the laundry, house cleaning, or cooking done, or, if they do another kind of work, they can’t find time to finish it all at once.  We go from being childless and able to tackle our tasks one at a time to a schedule with no beginning and no end.

It’s more of a mind-shift, and it takes a lot of time to figure out how to navigate our chores amid the needs of the children.  I am still trying to shift my mind.  It’s not an easy thing, but once in a while, I think I’ve almost got it.

The first thing I had to remind myself of is that I am doing something – the most important thing in the world, perhaps – rearing children.  Every mundane task I do at home stacks up as the first blocks in these little people’s lives.  It may not feel like it, but I’m the one there to keep them from falling over.

Mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be able to do it all, but all we really need to do is show up and love our children.

I want to tell moms with younger children not to try so hard.  All we can do is prioritize and do what little chores we can.  It’s the kids that come first, and it’s not going to kill them if they crawl through some dust bunnies.  Use frozen food if you have to.  Just take care of yourself – you can’t be a good mom if you don’t – and take care of the children.

Now that my youngest child is almost three, it’s getting easier to find time to clean the house on a regular basis. This past year I started “Monday Cleaning Day.”  I’ve never had a cleaning schedule before, but now that I have kids, I realize schedules are my friends.

Writers say that you should write at the same time everyday, every week, or whenever you can manage it.  What counts is that it’s at a recurring time. If you do this regularly, you’ll train your writing mind or “the muse” to show up.  This is true.

Now I believe this strategy works with everything.  Ever since I started “Monday Cleaning Days” I am in the mood to clean my house every Monday morning.  When in my whole life have I ever been in the mood to clean? The best part about it, however, is that it takes away those frustrating thoughts of “When will I get this done?”

I wouldn’t have been able to do this the year before when I had a one-year-old, but now both my boys are helpful.  They pick up toys and help me mop the floors, and the five-year-old loves to vacuum the sofas.  It’s important to get young children in the habit of helping, but don’t worry about the quality of their work.  If they do anything, it’s great, and you are fostering good habits that will stick with them as they get older.

(I will also make a point that wasn’t in my column: I doubt I could have done “Monday Cleaning Day” when I had only one child.  Having an older brother to direct the play helps me considerably when I’m trying to get things done with a two-year-old.)

After they help me as much as they can, it’s their “job” to play alone while I finish.  I think there’s something about the routine of doing it once a week that helps them and me too. They understand that it’s just one day a week and then we get back to our regular schedule.

Of course, it could also be that I’ve started “Monday Movie Night.”  If they help clean and leave me alone while I finish, they get to watch a movie.  I want them to learn that after we work hard, it’s okay to relax and reward ourselves.  My five-year-old is old enough to recognize when the house gets messy, and I think he is learning to appreciate cleanliness.  He’s proud of himself each time he shows me the clean sofas.

I also don’t consider it a bad bribe because I also give myself permission to take the night off.  With small children, I’ve had to schedule in “veg out time” too, though I admit I don’t always stick to this. It’s too tempting to use the time to pursue some of my creative goals, and next week, I’ll write some ideas on how mamas can schedule creative time into their lives.

How do you get your cleaning done with small children in the house?

You might also be interested in Embracing the Chaos and Embracing the Chaos, Part 2.

Lessons Learned in the Garden

“A new study conducted for Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has found that encouraging children to learn gardening boosts their development by helping them become happier, more confident, and more resilient. In addition, gardening also helps teach children patience and the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle.”  

–Quote from an article titled, Teach Children Gardening and Give Them a Natural Head Start in Life on

It’s that time of year again for planting and growing things, and I’m happy that my five-year-old seems just as excited about the garden as he was last year.  It’s an exciting year for me too because we’ve planted things I’ve never attempted to grow before.  At his request, we’ve got corn, carrots, onions, and garlic, and we also have the old staples: cucumbers and tomatoes.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to prune back some bushes and clip the perennials before they budded (makes them stronger), so my flower beds are crowded with daisies falling over on top of other flowers, and an off-shoot of a butterfly bush is growing between two bushes that were already suffocating each other.

The yard is a work-in-progress, and it always will be, but even when it’s unruly, it gives me great pleasure to see the plants circle around to their blooming glory.  It’s also the potential that gives me thrills – thinking about what I might be able to do once the boys are older and strong enough to haul dirt and wheelbarrows!

It’s my goal to keep them interested in cultivating a garden, so I don’t pressure them, and I let them plant what they want and overwater it at times too.  If something doesn’t grow, I tell my son we learned something, and we’ll try again next year.  My five-year-old is always talking about planting this or that, and getting a new packet of seeds is like getting a new toy.

Yesterday we went to visit some long-time friends of mine, and I knew the five-year-old would love their garden, which is spread out over their whole yard.  It’s one of those cozy cottage-like places.  Of course he was in heaven as he asked what the names of the plants were, and when I wasn’t looking my friend gave my son a packet of green bean seeds and some seeds from a plant outside.

I didn’t think we’d have room for those green beans, but my husband enthusiastically went out with my son and extended the garden by several feet.  So now we’ve got green beans too!

When I mentioned to my son that he might be a gardener when he grows up he said no because he wants to study snakes.  I had the pleasure of telling him that it’s possible to do more than one thing when we grow up, and he could certainly have his own garden.  A light bulb seemed to go on over his head when I said that.

Last year I used his enthusiasm to teach him about the parts of a plant.  I found an inexpensive “Life Cycle of a Plant” poster at a teacher’s store, and we also have two helpful books at home that my son likes to read:  From Seed to Plant by Allan Fowler and How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan.  Both of these books are written for youngsters.  We also sprouted bean seeds in jars.

Gardening is a wonderful learning experience for children.  It teaches them how our food grows, about the environment, and it gives them something to take pride in.  It’s the character-building aspect of gardening that I most love.  My son has learned about patience and hard work.  And for me, it’s relaxing, except maybe when the boys are fighting over who gets to water with the hose.

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on June 13, 2012.

Please share your photos and posts about gardening with children in the comments section.

Homeschool Priorities Part 6 of 6: Teaching Responsibility

Sophie - She has taught both my boys about being gentle and caring for animals.

My last homeschool priority for my children is teaching responsibility. Obviously this is something that will have to be taught over the long-haul, and I’m always looking for ideas on character building.  If anyone has any suggestions in this area, especially for youngsters, I’d love for you to contribute your ideas in the comments section.

I’ve tried different things to instill a sense of responsibility in my five-year-old.  Some of them I continue to do, but there is one that didn’t stick:

I created a sticker board for him, and across the top, I wrote various things that I expected him to do during the day, such as his reading and math lessons, helping to take care of his baby brother, playing, and helping to clean.  If he did that during the day, he’d get a sticker for it.  Some of what I put down as his “responsibilities” were easy for him because I didn’t want to make all of them chores, and I wanted to show him that working is just as important as taking time to play.  We used this sticker board for a while, and he really liked it, but unfortunately, we started to forget about it and eventually I abandoned it altogether.  In addition, I didn’t like the idea of rewarding him with stickers all the time.  It wasn’t a big deal after awhile.  However, I do think it served an important purpose: it got him to realize that I expect certain things from him, and he seems more willing to “step up to the plate” when I ask him to do something.

Here are a few other things I’ve done to (hopefully) instill a sense of responsibility:

  • After I abandoned the sticker board, I created a sheet in which I listed everyone’s responsibilities in house.  I made three columns (and a short one for the two-year-old on the bottom), and I listed every chore that each of us do to “maintain and take care of our home.”  I often tell my son that this house is our only home, and it’s our responsibility to take care of it.  I believe that writing this out and going over it with him has helped him see the “big picture” and begin to understand the roles each of us play in making a home.   (I don’t expect him to remember all this.  It’s a just a beginning.)  So, for example, I wrote:
      • Daddy: Works full-time to make money to pay for the house, food, clothes, etc.  Takes out garbage and takes care of pets, including fish tank.  Makes repairs, mows the grass, takes care of cars, gives five-year-old a shower every night.  Etc. Etc. Etc.
      • Mommy:  Listed all my chores…….Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.!
      • Five-year-old:  Here I listed what I expected of him, including helping to clean, take care of his younger brother, feed the cat, and do what mommy and daddy asks.
      • Two-year-old:  Help clean toys, help take care of his older brother, and do what mommy and daddy asks.
  • I have picked a few small chores for him to do to help me around the house.  I only picked things that I thought he and I could both stick to.  And luckily I picked right because I always make him do these things:
      • Help pick up toys.  If there’s a lot of toys out, he knows that he has to put them back before he can get another box out from the closet.
      • Feed the cat.  We are lucky that we have a cat with will power.  We only have to fill up her bowl every few days.  When I notice that it’s empty, I tell my son to fill it up.
      • Take his used plate/bowl/cup after meal times and put them on the kitchen counter.
      • On cleaning days (Mondays), he knows he has to help do some “big” cleaning, and I usually let him chose what he wants to help with.  (Except for picking up the toys. He has to help with that.)  Right now he likes vacuuming under the sofa cushions.  That’s a big help!
      • After he and his brother help me clean on Monday mornings, he knows that he needs to play and keep his brother occupied while I continue cleaning.  (This doesn’t always go as well as I might hope.) I do reward him for this help on Mondays by having “Monday Movie night.”  (I get this reward too, and I’ll write more about that in another post.)
  • I think the biggest way I teach responsibility is just by talking and making gentle reminders (Daddy does this too):
      • I always explain to my five-year-old that we’re a family, so we help take care of each other.  Since he’s the older brother, he’ll need to help his brother more, but as the 2-year-old gets older, they’ll be able to help each other more and more. Occasionally my two-year-old will give his older brother his morning juice that I set on the counter in the morning, or he’ll go get him a spoon from the silverware drawer.  Whenever he does this, I say, “See, he’s already helping you too!”
      • I don’t hesitate to tell him how much things cost or when we can or cannot afford to buy something.  I tell him we need to save our money for certain things.  I remind him that in our home, daddy goes to work in order to make the money we live on.  (I also tell him that in some families, the mommy works.)
      • When we’re outside, I emphasize that it’s our job to take care of the plants and animals.  I try not to let him hurt worms or bugs needlessly.  (Although I admit I do kill bugs that get inside the house.)
  • I tell stories.  Notice that storytelling comes up a lot on my blog?  You can do so much by making up your own stories for your children.  In my Jack and Piper stories, Jack and Piper take care of the forest and all the animals that live there. In these and other stories, I insert my ideas about why we need to be responsible without even thinking about it.

So that is a little of what I do, but I have to say for my five-year-old, being an older brother is probably the number one opportunity to teach him responsibility.  Everyday I see small actions he takes to help care for his brother, and I think he does it out of his own love for his little brother.  It’s wonderful to watch.  Will it take a little more creativity on my part to instill a sense of responsibility on his younger brother?  I guess we’ll see how this all plays out!

Thanks so much for reading about my homeschool priorities!  Please stay tuned because I’m going to write about the formal lessons I do with my five-year-0ld, some activities we’ve been working on, and I need to post some recent columns too!

Now give me those ideas (or children’s books?) that might help with building character and a sense of responsibility.