Homeschooling as a Single Parent, Pt 5

Teaching, Cleaning, and Working: Balancing it All

I think, with all the challenges of being a single homeschooling parent, managing the house was the most challenging of all. I have to confess, sometimes I failed dismally. In my early years of homeschooling, I would often compare myself to other homeschool moms who appeared to have it all together, and feel even more of a failure. Never mind that these moms were not single parents. Never mind that they didn’t have a child with challenges or health issues of their own.

Housekeeping would fall way down on the list of priorities many times. I remember one time I had an unexpected visit from a relative. This person started in on criticizing me that my dishes were not washed. I told this person that they were washed each night before I went to bed, but I had more important things to do with my time than worrying about dishes three times a day. I had the habit of doing the dishes after I put the kids to bed (they were young then). I would do the picking up and all the house chores after bedtime.

We often run into well-intentioned family and friends who think our homes need to be magazine-ready since we are home with the kids all day, right? I have to warn you that having children at home all day, living life as a life-long learner, doing experiments, creating art, etc., will often leave the home in a state of minor chaos.

I will share some ideas that helped me through the years as I slowly gained my “sea legs” on the homeschool journey.

First step is always to downsize as much as possible. An excellent resource is Flylady. She has a lot of free information on setting up cleaning schedules, etc. I must warn you that she does send out a lot of email/reminders. You can fix your settings so you do not get these and only access the information online. Flylady is very well known and has helped many families.

Second step is to set up a cleaning schedule. Again, Flylady can help here. After the schedule is set up, I would assign chores to the little ones. If they can walk, they can help clean in some way. It is a huge disservice how many parents refuse to give chores to their children today. They want them to be “kids” as long as possible. The problem is that they are not teaching them responsibility or life skills that are very important. There are easily found sites online that have age-appropriate chores. There are also sites online that give lists of life skills teens need to have before they move out on their own.

An example of a site: http://www.momjunction.com/articles/everyday-life-skills-your-teen-should-learn_0081859/. Kindling Dreams, my organization, does offer a Life Skills 101 class for junior and seniors. We cover a variety of basic skills to equip teens as they move out on their own.

In order to develop these skills, children need to begin learning them from a young age. Everyone in the home contributes to the general well-being of the home.

When the children were young, chores were mainly picking up after themselves and keeping their room clean. As they got older, they began helping with dishes, and even helped in preparing meals. I would let my children experiment with meals in the kitchen with the one rule that they had to eat whatever they created. All of my children can cook, males and females.

As they became older, I divided work into zones. They would be assigned a zone for a month. There was a kitchen zone, outside zone, living area zone, etc. They would also have responsibility of shopping and preparing menus/meals. Once they hit their teen years, they had to do their own laundry. They were assigned days. If they missed, then they had to work with their sibling to fit into another day.

As children age, they also assumed more responsibility for their own learning. I would give assignments for the week, and they would be responsible for making sure they were done by Friday.

These suggestions may need to be adapted if a child has challenges. It is important for the child with challenges to learn as many life skills as possible. It may take longer to learn. They may also need notebooks with lists created so they have reminders.

The main thing I had to remember was that housework, while important, is not the top priority over work, learning, and life. If a parent begins early to teach general pick-up, then the chaos remains on a low level. If the limits are set — chores before play — then there is no question of the answer if Susie wants to go play with Lori next door, but has not finished her chores. Setting simple limits and being consistent is very important in achieving balance in the household chores just as in other areas also.

One thing my father would say to me was “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s all small stuff at times when it comes to maintaining the home. We want to remain ahead of the “house condemn” stage, but also remember the importance of allowing children the freedom to “experiment and get messy,” as Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus) says.

 

Juggling Preschoolers: The Workbox Solution

A workbox focused on the color yellow: My preschooler was given instructions to find items with the color yellow from within the workbox and glue them in her special “Color Yellow” book. This project required preschool skills like cutting with scissors, gluing, coloring, and sorting by color.

I can point to certain years in our homeschooling journey as turning points, and this has been one of them for us! Our oldest officially hit ninth grade this year, which meant we had one child in each level: high school, middle school, elementary, and preschool. It’s taken me nearly all school year to tweak our program to meet everyone’s specific needs, but as the year has progressed it’s become easier.

One solution that eased my load was using a workbox system for my preschooler. As she’s gotten older, the contents of the boxes have changed according to her needs, but the system hasn’t changed, which is helpful. There are multiple descriptions of workbox systems available online, some very complicated, but today I’ll share how we’ve made workboxes fit into our lives successfully.

First, a confession: I have failed miserably — multiple times — at systems resembling chore charts and anything requiring daily labeling and reorganization. So, my system only requires *refilling*, and we don’t put cute stickers on to indicate the boxes are complete, or move numbers from the boxes to a laminated chart. She simply finishes the boxes. My preschooler is entertained and learning, and I am free to help the older kids while she explores her “independent” boxes. It works for us.

In our homeschool we try to finish all school work (besides high school) before noon so that the warmer afternoons are reserved for free activities and outside play. Usually my preschooler has finished her boxes before 11 a.m. and has some time to play in her kitchen or color for the hour before lunch. I have found that once her emotional and learning needs are met, she is much more willing to play by herself quietly.

Our stack of preschool workboxes: They are labeled 1-5, showing the order in which my preschooler should work on them for the day. An * by the number indicates that box is a “work with mom” box; the other boxes are mostly independent work, or boxes that require minimal instruction.

So here are the nuts & bolts of a workbox system:

  • I have a stack of five lightweight plastic boxes/bins that are a good size for my preschooler to handle all by herself, and that also fit most preschool activities nicely. For activities that don’t fit in the box, I put a reminder note in for myself that my preschooler brings to me. A drawer or file box system works well, too, but I have found that the boxes are bigger and work better for preschool; once a child hits elementary school, the drawer or file system seems to work better.
  • The boxes are labeled numerically in the order I wish her to complete them. Each box is filled the night before with either an “independent” project or a “work with mom” project. I put a star by the number on the box if it’s a “work with mom” box. That way she knows to come and ask for my help before starting. I try to have three to four independent boxes and only one or two boxes/day that she will need my help with.
  • When planning what order I wish her to complete the projects, I consider what I will be doing with the older kids when she gets to, say, “box #3.” That way the preschooler’s independent boxes will hopefully coordinate with the time slots for my older kids’ language arts or other subjects where they will need my help. (If the timing is off, I simply change the numbering in the morning or tell her to skip certain boxes until I’m able to help her.)
  • In the morning after chores, breakfast, worship, and violin practice, my preschooler knows she can start working on her boxes at her own pace, staring with box #1.
  • We keep a large plastic tray in my preschooler’s area, and she knows to keep all the components of the boxes either in the box or on the tray to reduce the mess. This is especially important when using craft materials or kinetic sand!

Kinetic sand is always a winner in the workboxes! Warning: it’s still messy, even if it sticks together better than ordinary sand!

Ideas for Workbox Contents:

  • The internet is peppered with many fun ideas for “sensory bins.” These work wonderfully for younger preschooler kids or 4- to 5-year-olds. I would suggest having a closet shelf or bins designated for supplies for these types of bins. The supply list can be overwhelming unless you have items on hand that can be used multiple times for various projects. An example: Plastic animals or greenery can be used with sand, uncooked corn or rice, “easter” grass, water, beans, confetti, or with pictures of live animals to match with, etc. I stock up on items from dollar stores that will work for multiple projects so I’m not purchasing constantly.
  • We are using the Adventurer program as a part of our preschool program. One day every week or two, our bins are full of items to complete the requirements or awards for that day. I usually choose a day when my other students have mostly independent work to do.
  • Kinetic sand and molds.
  • Items from nature: leaves, large nuts, moss, etc. This is more of an exploratory/sensory bin, but older preschoolers can be encouraged to create little “houses” or “play areas” for small creatures or dolls.
  • Tongs, egg cartons, and items for sorting and counting.
  • “Find it” bottles filled with rice and small items. They shake the bottle and try to find what’s hidden.
  • Magnets and items that are both non-magnetic and have magnetic properties. Let them explore what does and doesn’t attract.
  • Water in a container and items that float or don’t float.
  • Craft items: feathers, paper plates with holes cut on the sides, pipe cleaners, felt, buttons, glue, etc. See what they can create with what’s provided. We usually have one of these bins once or twice/week.
  • Finger puppets.
  • Story book with a CD so they can follow along with a story (for older children) OR a book you will have time to read with them.
  • Play-doh and tools. Online there are many printable “mats” for play-doh to reinforce counting skills and the alphabet, or to develop hand strength and dexterity making shapes. (I laminate these printable mats.)
  • Measuring spoons/cups and items to measure such as rice, beans, water, etc. Funnels are fun to play with, too.
  • Fingerpainting supplies — and a smock!
  • “Paint with water” sheets and a paintbrush.
  • Pages from preschool books (coloring, “follow the line,” copy letters). Kumon books are a good option, too, especially the ones to help develop scissor or gluing skills.
  • Wikisticks (there are wikistick kits available for purchase that work great for boxes).
  • Cuisenaire rods (or another math manipulative). I love the Cuisenaire Alphabet Book: Problem Solving from A to Z. “Inchimals” is another wonderful preschool math tool, similar to Cuisenaire rods (which are in centimeter increments); Inchimals are divided into inches.
  • Puzzles: a page of dot to dot, a large floor puzzle, wooden puzzles.
  • Lacing cards.
  • Items to stack (cups or boxes) or sort by size (wooden blocks, shells).
  • Duplos or bristle blocks.
  • Pipe cleaners and pictures of items to make with them, beads to thread on it, or a colander to thread the pipe cleaners through.
  • Magnetic numbers or letters for the refrigerator.
  • Coloring page with only WARM color crayons. (Or if they’re old enough, put all the colors in the box & instruct them to only use warm or only cool colors.)
  • Counting bears. We found a set with a plastic balance/scale for comparing weights at a thrift store.
  • Bean bags and buckets to toss them in, or balls.
  • Potting materials & seeds.
  • Toy cars, trains, planes, etc., and sand or dirt and blocks of wood to create paths, etc.
  • Plastic fruit & veggies (especially those that come apart and can be “cut” with a plastic knife)
  • Beans (or any small item) and a card with a letter of the alphabet on it to put the beans on, “tracing” the letter.
  • A kids’ music CD and instruments or scarves (if you have a room where they can play and not disturb everyone else).
  • Items to make musical instruments with.
  • Felt or magnet sets.
  • Dress-up items.

Enjoy! I love these preschool years, though they are BUSY! Pretty soon my preschooler won’t be interested in the activities above, and I’ll miss this stage. For now, the workbox system is one of my strategies for attending to my older kids’ needs while giving my preschooler something educational to “chew on.”

Homeschooling as a Single Parent, Part 2: Preparing for Sabbath While Going it Alone

I think one of the hardest challenges I had as a single parent was trying to get all the kids ready for church, arrive in time, and still maintain some type of spiritual awareness. I have to confess that I failed on that last point many times.

It’s hard being a single parent no matter what school choice you make. It’s harder when you are going it alone as a homeschooling parent. You have hardly any free time to just focus on the house or even have “me” time. Then there is the issue of Sabbath and trying to get things ready so the house is ready, Sabbath lunch is prepared, the kids are up and dressed, you are out of the door on time, AND you are spiritually ready to be fed by the pastor that morning.

As I type those words, I can just feel the old feelings coming up in my body, and the thoughts of “that’s impossible” resonate in my mind.

Let me assure you that it is possible. It is not easy, but it is possible.

Many times I have read posts of parents trying to schedule each moment in the school day; yet on Sabbath, the schedule falls to the wayside. In my opinion, the Sabbath is one day when a schedule needs to be followed as much as possible in order to maintain some semblance of order when you are going it alone.

Today, I want to share with you some ideas I’ve garnered over the years on how to maintain a Sabbath rest while dealing with all the challenges of single parenting.

One of the most helpful things someone suggested to me when my kids were young was to make sure I had Sabbath clothes clean and ready on Sunday rather than waking up on Saturday morning with a child yelling they had nothing to wear that was clean. So, Sunday was laundry day. When the children are older, they can become responsible for their own laundry. I assigned days for each child where they would wash their own clothes, once they reached the tween years.

So, once the clothes are washed, dried, and put away (yes, instead of on the couch), each child can pick out their outfit and have it ready on the hanger. Shoes are nearby also.

Weekly housework can be divided up so that most of everything is done by Thursday rather than waiting until Friday. Wait, isn’t Friday Preparation Day? Yes, and unless you want to run yourself ragged trying to get everything done, it’s best to assign chores so that throughout the week, everything is taken care of. The only thing left on Friday should be meal prep for Sabbath, getting things together for the next morning’s rush, and even planning a Sabbath afternoon activity.

If your children are walking, they can be doing chores, even if it is just picking up their own toys. By the time they are teenagers, they would benefit from having learned how to run the whole house on their own. Believe me! I graduated without knowing how to do this. I made sure my children learned. They will be much better off in the long run; plus, it relieves stress and responsibility from you.

For meal planning, the older ones can take turns deciding menus and even cooking the meal. This is good life preparation. It also helps develop good habits for when they are on their own. Sabbath afternoon plans can also be planned by the younger ones. This also teaches life skills. Plus, it gives them ownership in the family. They also learn more about what’s appropriate and what’s not. It also lessens the stress on the parent.

If you need help in getting the house chores done before Friday, FlyLady is a great resource. Donna Young’s site also has some good resources on home management, along with homeschooling. There are also chore lists available to help parents know which chores are appropriate for what age.

Clothes are done. Chores are finished. The house is ready for Sabbath. The menu is planned and prepared. Activity is planned. Now, for the finishing touches of actually going into the Sabbath hours.

We had evening and morning worship in our home. On Friday evening, it would be nice if some special activities could be planned. Perhaps even a special Friday evening meal could be made. Candles could be used. Songs sung. Favorite verses recited. Blessings of the week shared.

Some meal ideas could be potato bar, pizza night, popcorn and smoothies, or whatever is a family favorite. We loved haystacks. It was easy to fix and easy to clean up. Some families will use disposables on Sabbath to save time in clean up. Other families will use the special china on Sabbath. You determine yourself what is most important. Just develop a nice family evening that can be fun and relaxing, while helping you turn your thoughts to God in a special way.

Since the clothes were made ready last Sunday, Fridays can be time to grab baths, perhaps before supper so that evening worship is calm and relaxing. Saturday morning, try to get up early enough yourself so you can have time for your own personal devotion time. I know I would often skip this on Sabbath, thinking I would still have spiritual food at the church service. The problem is that it would lead me where I was not focused on God so much as the things I needed to get done in time.

Always get the kids down to bed on time on Friday so that Saturday morning is easier with a full night’s rest. If you have little kids, be sure to have their Sabbath bags ready on Friday so they are ready to grab as you walk out the door. You can even have the bags in the car when you get the car ready for Sabbath. If you have a diaper bag, that can be ready and in the car already. Snacks, if used, can also be done on Friday.

I am one who feels like if I am not at least 10 minutes early, I am late. It would create stress on me, trying to get the kids up and out the door on time. Give yourself time for those last-minute happenings. We can plan and schedule, but life happens. Build in a time cushion. It’s important for children to learn to be to church on time. Teach them by example. On the other hand, it is also important for them to learn that when we mess up or something happens, it is up to us to show them how to cope with stress. Breathe, pray, ask for forgiveness (if needed), and move on. I hope that the event doesn’t cause yelling and scolding. This can lead to everyone in the home losing Sabbath blessings. Instead, the young ones can learn so many spiritual blessings even in these times.

Once at church, breathe, relax — no matter how things were that morning — and let God bless you. Be sure to enjoy the interaction of your church family. This is a good time to allow those adoptive grandparents to step in and help with the kids. If you do not have to, please do not volunteer for children’s Sabbath School. With you homeschooling and being a single parent, it is good for the children to have other godly adults speak into their lives. Plus, it gives you a chance to soak in spiritual support from other adults.

Sabbath does not have to be the hardest day of the week. It can be the blessing God intends it to be. It takes planning and consistency. It takes asking God for the strength and wisdom each day, especially on the Sabbath.

As you finish the Sabbath hours, it can include family worship, a fun family meal like pizza and popcorn, along with a family activity. We would rotate between board games and family movies. It’s a good time to thank God for the day’s blessings.

 

Dirty Hands and a Clean Heart

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Moms don’t need New Year’s resolutions. There’s already enough on the to-do list. We are barraged by the tedious and annoying on a regular basis, and as a mom of three (ages two, four, and six), I am no exception. Whether it’s the six loads of laundry, the dishes that never end, or the continual fight for the blue cup, we tend to pass our days merely surviving under a load of work that is undone and re-done every hour. An online friend posted the other day that moms should add to their to-do list one thing, every day, that cannot be undone! I love it and I hope to take it to heart, but the tedious stuff still needs to be dealt with.

We all know that when we clean or cook with our kids, that small tasks take three times longer and patience can stretch thin. However, I have noticed that if I go with my natural inclination and do it all myself, that while I’m cleaning/cooking, the kids spend their time making new messes (or old ones that I just cleaned up) or fighting. When I go it alone for the sake of time and sanity, my kids not only lose out on precious domestic skills, but also the character development that comes from helping, laboring, and working together as a team…plus it usually takes just as long because I have to keep stopping to discipline them.

Homeschooling is a wholistic experience, one that includes home economics and hygiene. These particular lessons are important and character-building. So, I’ll share with you a few of my ideas for young children, ones that have made the tedious in life more bearable and, dare I say, sometimes even fun.

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Each responsibility/chore is a printed picture, “laminated” with wide clear tape, and glued to a piece of business card magnet. The kids enjoy changing their magnets every morning.

Their Friday cleaning choices are based on trucks! The enthusiasm for choosing their truck has lasted more than a year. They can be…

  • the Crane (pick up and put away any toys or clothes on the floor).
  • the Street Sweeper (sweep, mop, or vacuum all floors).
  • the Garbage Truck (empty all waste baskets, take out trash and compost).

They also help with the laundry. Long ago I stopped sorting their laundry by type and color. Each child has their own laundry basket, and everything of theirs goes into the washer together (gasp). Life is too busy and short to worry about fading colors and grass stains (that’s why thrift stores are such a treasure). Keeping their clothes separate from their siblings’ gives a sense of ownership and duty. They all help shoving them in the dryer, but when it comes time to fold, they help according to their age and ability, whether it’s sorting, stacking, or turning things right-side-out. It may not sound like much, but they’re actively learning, it really does help with the whole job, and they don’t have time to argue.

Now my oldest is in kindergarten, and as we begin our homeschooling journey, I’ve added daily assignments/privileges (Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer).

  • The Chief is in charge of family prayer, grace at mealtimes, and receiving first choice in things like colored cups. No longer do I need to strive to remember who got to pray last and whose turn is it this time. One of you gets to be Chief for the day.
  • The Cook gets to help in the kitchen! Cooking with small children can be a joy, a danger, and sometimes an impossibility. For too long have I tried to cook with all three, only to leave me frustrated and them in tears. With one in the kitchen, it’s safer, I can still reach the counter and the ingredients, there’s no arguing over who “scooped” last, and one child gets to have a meaningful experience. The two left waiting for dinner will play together much more cooperatively than three ever did. There will be special days when I cook with all three, but not every day.  washing-dishes-1112077_1920
  • The Bottle-Washer: It’s time to add “doing dishes” on to their domestic skill list, and at this age it’s still fun to stick your hands in the bubbles.

Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer are for our regular home life, but downstairs in our school room we also have Meteorologist, Time-Keeper, and Farmer.

  • The Meteorologist checks our outdoor thermometer and changes our daily weather forecast chart.
  • The Time-Keeper is in charge of changing our calendar and our day-of-the-week chart.
  • The Farmer is in charge of chickens! We are the proud new owners of six beautiful buff brahma bantams, and they must be fed, let out to roam, and cleaned up after daily. The kids LOVE it! The chickens sit on our patio and look in the windows during school.

And, my personal favorite is a daily “Good Habits” chart to help them on their path to independence and self-sufficiency in their morning routine (printable: Good Habits). It’s posted on the refrigerator, and they cover each box with a magnet as they complete them after breakfast. They enjoy the autonomy, choosing the order in which they do them, and checking them off. I’ve named it good habits instead of chores because we use it 7 days a week, including Sabbath.

These jobs are all based on a family of three, but, with a little imagination, can be adapted for any home. I hope this brings you inspiration as you balance the tedious and fun.

Reformation in the Home: A Joyful Journey

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My mission is to find joy this year in all the challenges we face in our home. I made a commitment to NOT let Satan steal our joy while we wrestle with how to discipline and how to reward from a young age in the lives of our children. This post is a post about right rewards, and, because today is Reformation Day, I thought, “Oh! Discipline is really just reform in our home.” Reform in our home has been about finding what needs to change, and working out the blessings of right living. So, come hear how we’ve been reforming and how God is blessing!

Our children are ages seven, five, and three. About six months ago, I read to them a chapter in Adventist Home titled, Mothers Helpers. I’d encourage all mamas to reread this chapter periodically, even out loud to the whole family! As I was reading, I was inspired to start a reform in our home. I want to help our children be better helpers in the home because this skill is something they will take with them when they leave the home, and it also teaches them in a practical way how to honor their parents, a commandment for which training and daily practice is required. Out of this realization, I have been slowly developing what we call “Blessing Cards” in our home. This system is still a work in progress, just like reform often opens the door for further reform, like in the case of our walk with Jesus.

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 1:5-8. 

Over the summer our routine loosened a bit while we spent more time enjoying the sunshine and in our garden. That being said, I found myself often repeating myself to remind the children of their little chores or obligations within the home. So, although I forsook the chore chart long ago because it was one more thing to keep track of, we decided to implement a reminder system to help the children with a tangible reminder. I posted their reforms in their bedrooms; we call them the “Morning High Fives” — five things they must do in the morning,and preferably before breakfast, so when they come to sit down they can give Mama or Daddy a high five of completion. I know, totally dorky, but we all think it’s fun.

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I have added to their reform cards, including a stop sign for their ongoing expectations like picking up toys when they’re finished and putting away their own clothes (with help if necessary). We also have a star on the list for their one extra household chore for the year, and that way they learn efficiency with this one chore throughout the year, and at the same time I am not assigning weekly or daily who is doing what.

Now for the rewards, right?! I wrestled with the idea of allowance because it doesn’t fit with our family’s ideals, BUT I also wanted to be able to give my children some kind of tangible blessing as they had now come to understand that sinning in our home leads to consequences and choosing right living through practicing self-control leads to blessings. I do believe that blessing our children looks like a variety of things, including encouraging words from Mom or Dad, one-on-one time, and little privileges not normally expected, as well as those privileges expected and often overlooked. So, we made a stack of blessing cards which the children helped me decorate and laminate. I made up a list of what the blessing cards could be used for or saved up to use for. The children were so enthusiastic, and it did work wonders for me not having to remind them for the first few weeks… And then, as others may have experienced, reform started to lose its luster in our home. I wondered if the blessing cards where even the great idea I thought they’d be, or if I should just not even bother…

Last week, as we were studying the end of Moses’ life, I read a quote that gave me courage to continue our Reformation in the home. It came from Patriarchs and Prophets, page 470: “God speaks to His people in blessings bestowed; and when these are not appreciated, He speaks to them in blessings removed, that they may be led to see their sins, and return to Him with all the heart.” Our memory verse that week was Joshua 1:9, and the sentiment “Be strong and of a good courage” was repeated multiple times throughout our reading. I decided it would take true Christian courage from both the children and this mama in the Reformation of our home life to be filled with blessings!

So my prayer is that whatever Reformation you have going on in the home of your heart, homeschool, and family, you might find the courage to continue and find joy in the journey!

Many Blessings,

Allison