Everybody Sing a Little Working Song

Small HingesIf you have seen the movie ‘Enchanted’ you will remember the part where the pretty little princess is cleaning the apartment and all her little animal friends are happily helping her scrub the dishes with their tails and mop the floor with sponges tied onto their cute little feet. She is merrily singing her ‘happy working song’ and all the while making the house sparkle and shine. Yeah, that is pretty much totally NOT the way it works at my house. I am afraid I most often resemble the wicked stepmother. You know, the one that declares, “You can go to the ball IF you have your work done and IF you have a dress to wear!” Definitely one of the most challenging elements of homeschooling for me is being able to stay on top of the house cleaning. I used to be the mom who vacuumed her floors every day, both directions, strategically leaving no footprints behind. I also cleaned out and washed down my fridge every week and stripped all the beds to wash and line dry the sheets. Now, five kids and nine school years later, I try to calculate whether the cereal that my baby is eating from underneath the kitchen table is old enough to warrant me trying to get it away from him, or if I should just let him graze. My fridge gets washed out only when something spills. And the sheets... well, last week, after my daughters made everyone breakfast in bed, I got out my dustbuster to get rid of the crumbs. Now, in a perfect fairytale world, perhaps I would be able to say that I just realized that some things were more important than a spotless house and I had decided to let it go and just think no more about it. And that would, indeed, be a fairytale. Instead, a cluttered house still really bothers me. And, if you were to poll those who live here, their response to the question “what does Mom say most often?” would no doubt be, “let’s clean up”. So, in my quest for cleanliness amidst the chaos, I have tried countless tricks and techniques, programs and charts. Some worked well and some did not. I thought I would share a few of the more successful ones, in case they might work for your household too.

I think most moms are always looking for creative ways to change up the way we assign our kids chores, and I am no different. Sometimes it is good to just mix things up a little. The method that I keep returning to is the one that works the best for us. The supplies needed are simple: a bag of jumbo craft sticks, a different marker color for each child in your family, and a little cup or bucket or something to put the craft sticks in. I write the morning chores for each child down the middle of individual craft sticks, color coded per kid. Then, on one end of the stick I draw a smiley face and on the other, the first initial of their first name. So Emily will have five chore sticks done in green writing with an E at the top of each one; brush teeth, put away laundry, make bed, practice dance, say prayers. These chores must be completed before breakfast. As each chore is done, the stick is placed back in the bucket with the smiley face up and the initial down. All mom has to do is walk past the bucket to see who is finished with their chores and what still needs to be done. Anyone who does not have their chore sticks done before breakfast doesn’t get any screen time that afternoon.

We have done something similar for the daily cleaning up of the house chores. The house is divided into zones and each zone is written on a craft stick kept in a little bucket. There are also a couple of blank craft sticks in the bucket. In the late afternoon, before it is time to start dinner, (and any other time that the clutter becomes too much for Mom to take) the bucket is brought out and everyone (including Mom) takes turns picking a stick from the bucket until all the sticks are gone. Then everyone needs to tidy up the zones that are written on their sticks. So a child may get ‘empty dishwasher’ and ‘living room’ and ‘shoe duty’ (picking up all the shoes from the designated shoe area and putting them away in closets). I have also written out on index cards what needs to be done in each zone for it to be complete. For example, the living room card says:

1. Pick up and put away all toys, books, blankets, etc.

2. Put throw pillows nicely on the couches (“But, Mom, they are called throw pillows!”)

3. Vacuum.

4. Make sure piano and entertainment center are closed.

Now, granted, all my children won’t be able to clean to the same level of cleanliness. Certainly none of them vacuum without leaving footprints. But, since we change responsibilities each day, pretty much everything stays clean. What the five year old misses one day will be caught by the 14 year old the next (we hope). Two factors make this method successful; first, Mom is picking her chore sticks and doing her part right along with the children. I am a firm believer that the best way to teach your children to work is to work alongside them. Secondly, remember the blank craft sticks? That is where the element of chance is employed. You see, these blanks are ‘free’ sticks. So if everyone pulls out three chore sticks but one of mine is a blank, I only have two chores. And that, my friends, works like magic at our house!

One more quick description of a cleaning tactic that I use on occasion is the chore auction. While I have addressed the ‘getting ready for the day chores’ and the cleaning up of the daily clutter, we haven’t talked about the deep cleaning that needs to happen in a home. What about scrubbing the toilets and cleaning out the chicken coop and mopping the kitchen? Most of the time, the majority of that stuff gets done by me. However, on a particularly busy (or maybe lazy) week, I employ the chore auction. This opportunity usually comes around on a Saturday. I write a list of the bigger, deep cleaning tasks that need to be done that are not usually the children’s responsibility and beside each task is a dollar amount that the task is worth. For example, cleaning out and washing the fridge is worth $2, cleaning out the chicken coop earns you $5. The monetary amounts are small but, hey, my kids don’t need a lot of money at their ages and small amounts are still motivating to them. The rules are that they can only sign up for one chore at a time. Once that chore is completed and passes inspection, they can sign up for another. But, they don’t have to sign up for anything. Saturday chore auctions are totally optional. A chance for the kids to earn some extra money and for Mom to earn some extra time to do something she likes. If I did this every week, I don’t think they would be as eager to participate. But since I only do it every once in a while, they usually can’t wait to sign up.

My house is not perfect and chaos still reigns on most days, but these tricks are helping our household to run more smoothly and teaching my children responsibility and the ethic of work. Now if I could just figure out how to spend less time in the kitchen… What methods do you use to keep your home clean and organized when everyone is always home?