Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!
This week’s question is:
How do you juggle, balance, and even integrate household chores while homeschooling?
Good question! The short answer is, it’s possible to manage your home and stay afloat with the household chores while homeschooling. The long answer is… well, here’s how we each have chosen to tackle it:
NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Three daughters ages 11 1/2, 10 & 5
Household chores and home management have never been an area of “expertise” for me. This is no secret for anyone who knows me well and has popped over to my house unexpectedly.
I grew up as the eldest in a family of eight children, and keeping the house clean was literally a matter of survival. However, our strategy was pretty much “clean up as you go” — and just doing that required nearly constant cleaning. Once we started homeschooling when I was in high school, my mom had more hands on deck to help keep up the house, but we also made a much bigger mess being home together and eating three meals (plus many snacks) at home. All nine of us under one roof all day, and at one point, in one three-bedroom trailer on an under-construction property.
During this time, one of my teen pet peeves was the concept that chores were somehow part of the homeschooling experience: “Learning” to be a homemaker seemed like a fancy label for giving me more work to do because the chores were spinning out of control. If I ever homeschooled my children, I secretly vowed to myself, I would NOT make chores part of our homeschool schedule. School is enrichment time and learning valuable skills, and chores are a necessary drudgery — not an educational experience, my teenage logic told me.
Fast forward more than 25 years, and now I’m the mom homeschooling three daughters with a husband who also works at home. Five of us working and eating all of our meals in the house practically every day. Funny enough, I was still determined to keep my secret vow to myself. My first two years, I tried really hard to save “chores” for the end of the day — after a full day of schoolwork and rushing out to extracurricular or co-op schooling activities outside our home. Trouble is, the last thing anyone wanted to do at the end of a busy day (myself included) is start cleaning up all that was left behind after a day’s download of activity.
So this year I came up with a strategy to keep up with the housework while homeschooling. And yes, we now clean up during the school day! It’s not a perfect plan by any means, but things are much more organized and relatively clean at the end of the day without too much fuss or pulling teeth.
The first idea I decided to implement was chore cards. This is not my genius idea, but I honestly can’t remember where I read/heard about it. Chore cards detail exactly what is expected in each task. For example, the card for “lunch dishes” includes details like, “additional dishes and/or pans handwashed” and “rinse out sink, use scrub brush to remove food, etc. from sink.” I laminated them (which is pretty crafty for me) so they can be checked off daily with erasable markers and reused.
I’ve also assigned each of my girls with a mealtime chore after lunch, a chore in the afternoon (post schoolwork, before free time or neighborhood play, something like cleaning off the school table and sweeping that area), a mealtime chore after dinner, and an evening chore (like straightening up the living room before bed). Then there are once-a-week chores that are done on Saturdays, ideally before free playtime for the day, that include tasks such as “deep” cleaning their bathroom (as deep as 10/11-year-olds can do), and dusting/mopping/wiping down in the living room. Each girl only has two of these chores to accomplish on Saturday, and they should take less than an hour easily. In the end no one should feel like they got stuck cleaning up “all day” — and I’m not left doing all the heavy cleaning myself.
Overall, the chore cards and “divide & conquer” approach has been extremely helpful: It has cut back a lot on the disappointment of discovering a task wasn’t actually done properly once the girls are already outside playing with their friends, and it has kept the chores at a manageable daily/weekly level. I try to be diligent about “signing off” on the chores by going over the checklist with them each time, but sometimes it’s too busy and I don’t have time. Although the follow-through hasn’t been perfect, the chore cards system has still made a huge difference in keeping daily duties under control.
The second step to my plan is using a free online tool called HighScore House so my girls can track their chore completion in an engaging way — and they love using the computer or iPhone to play along. (UPDATE: HighScore House discontinued their online support since this article was published.) This tool tracks their daily and weekly chores, along with other daily responsibilities (like brushing their teeth twice a day, drinking a full bottle of water, taking their vitamins and making their beds). It’s cute, visual and easy-to-use — even my 5-year-old Elise has mastered it.
The best part is that it also tracks their achievements by converting them into accumulated “stars” that they “bank” and can later cash in for rewards that you predetermine. The rewards I set up include everything from computer time, TV time, and having a friend spend the night, to cash and tangible prizes. I set the values for the rewards, and I made sure there was a balance of things they might want to “cash in” on daily (such as playing on my iPhone or reading on the hammock alone for an hour) as well as save up for (such as cash or a new toy/book).
Both the chore cards and HighScore House have made chores more manageable, easier to delegate, and even fun at times! I remember the first day we used HighScore House, Elise woke me up and started rattling off all she’d already accomplished before I was even out of bed. Now that’s progress!
One thing I am still trying to do is instill a sense of personal pride in keeping their own rooms clean. Although the public side of our house is relatively tidy these days, the bedrooms have been a challenge to maintain. Truthfully, one bedroom in particular — belonging to my two youngest, one who is a collector of many, many things — continues to be a tornado disaster zone. I’ve tried several systems for organizing for them and have personally cleaned rooms from top to bottom myself every few months, hoping that “this time” they would stay clean. My eldest is getting there and can now be counted on to keep up with her room on her own. For my younger girls, it just hasn’t happened yet.
NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005: Two homeschool graduate daughters & two sons (7, 2)
This question is hard to answer because it seems that in my home things are constantly changing. And I like to tell people that we are a family that truly lives in our home! We are home most of the time, and we eat most of our meals in. Every room gets used and used well!
When we first started homeschooling almost eight years ago, the girls were 10 and 11 — perfect ages for doing chores. I think we spent the first year of “school” learning how to clean, cook, do laundry, etc. Both girls enjoyed cooking and were competent at laundry but dreaded cleaning.
The second year we were living in a two-bedroom apartment with five (sometimes six) people. There wasn’t much to clean, but it always looked messy. After we moved into our new home, the girls were once again assigned chores, and I think I tried everything — from assigning daily and then weekly chores to just randomly handing out chores, from paying a small allowance to not paying, etc. Keeping their rooms and bathrooms clean was beyond my frustration level.
Now both girls have graduated but still live at home. They both work at least 20 hours per week at our donut shop, and Hannah goes to college. Trying to catch them and make them accountable for cleaning is just too much for me. But they have gotten better at keeping their rooms and bathrooms and laundry done. And I think I have found a way to get them to help out that they actually like. They each plan and cook dinner two nights a week, which frees me up to do other things. And honestly, I would rather clean than cook. I would like to get them to clean up the kitchen after they cook because one of them in particular is a messy chef.
As far as my son Joel goes, well that is an issue I have just begun to deal with. He is seven and fully capable of helping out. He has been trash “taker outer” for a while now, and he takes care of our dog, Daisy. But trying to get him to do any actual housework causes a meltdown. In fact, he has claimed several times that he is a boy and therefore shouldn’t have to do these things. Which is funny because when he was younger, he loved to help out — especially with the laundry.
One thing that has helped this year is the little chore/school card that comes in “The Well Planned Day” planner. I wrote his chores on one side and his school subjects on the other and then laminated it and every day as he finishes something he marks it. If he marks everything on any given day, he gets 5 points, and if he marks everything all week, he gets 50.
The task we are working on now is cleaning his room and doing his own laundry. Then we will focus on his bathroom. The points he is earning are added to his other school points to be used on toys and treats from the prize bucket.
NextGen Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009: Four daughters ages 13, 12, 10 & 4
Well being pregnant, homeschooling four girls and trying to keep the house clean… Ha ha!
One thing I have done is make a chore chart for each day of the week for each child. The chart includes everything, even the laundry, and at the end of the day, my husband Tony checks that chart to see who did or didn’t do what and handles any necessary discipline. This helps me out a bunch. It’s not a really pretty chart, but it works for now.
Sunday I do the chores (a little more detailed than the girls do), and I have the girls do stuff like wash the dogs, clean the fridge, clean the car, etc. I think now that I’m nesting (I am due with daughter No. 5 in November), chores have been more like bleach water in a bucket and having the girls wash floor boards and ceiling fans, etc.
You would think this means I have a clean house, but most people who come to my house would probably say different. From day to day, it’s a shuffling game with books and piles of laundry on the couch and here and there around the house. Also, the girls’ bathroom is never what I would call clean, but I pick my battles.
My biggest issue is keeping my front yard from looking like a “redneck mess” — LOL! That’s not easy considering my husband was rebuilding his transmission on the front porch last month. And you would be surprised how fast four girls can junk up the front yard with their toys, random tree branches, etc.
We also have two cats and two large dogs, a castle-size dog house in our backyard (the girls painted it lime green), and, to my dismay, a guinea pig who attracts flies when his cage is ignored for longer than one day. So yes, I have full hands. However, I would really like my girls to not only learn to read, write, and do math, but to understand the value of life skills as well. So keeping them involved in the household responsibilities is very important to me.
And really, at the end of the day, if my pillowcase and sheets are clean, that’s all that really matters to me!
NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Son (6) and daughter (4)
Housework and homeschooling? Is it seriously possible to juggle both? Yes and no.
If you are expecting to have the same house you had or imagined you would have when your kids left the house for six hours a day, you may be striving for the unattainable. However, keeping a home picked up, basically organized and hygienically clean is a more realistic goal when you’re homeschooling.
Before I became a mom — and at homeschooling mom at that — my forte was creating merchandising plans for a large international retailer. So basically, my job was telling the stores where to put stuff and make it all look pretty. I haven’t lost that love, so if you came to my house, you might see shadows of what my vision was under the piles of books, dish-filled sink and dust-caked walls (no, it’s not that bad — but close). However, today I am challenged with a small space (two bedrooms, one bath) and a lot going on in that space every day as I homeschool my young son and daughter.
I’d say on average I get the kitchen floor swept three times a day, other rooms swept once maybe (we have hardwood floors everywhere), “piles” moved from one place to another, trash off the counters, table wiped down for schoolwork, dishes loaded and unloaded, and maybe a pathway cleared from the door to the couch on a daily basis. Then about once a week when my kids are in a good groove of playing outside, I clean the bathroom from top to bottom. And on another day while watching an educational video with the kids, I’ll actually fold clothes. Then in the evening, we all put those piles of clothes away before bedtime. Once a week (or every two weeks), I take a whole morning with the kids just to clean their room and pull it back together. This includes tasks such as dusting, floor mopping, vacuuming couches and even working through their piles of paper to file or throw out.
I save weekends for when my husband and I together can tag team. Then if things really get out of hand around the house, I might ditch our weeknight bible study to stay home alone and just pull the living room back together. You get the idea… Housecleaning tasks are never completed all at once (unless we are preparing for a party, and even then, there a lot of doors that are kept closed).
I’m a list maker, and I’ve made and tried to follow a dozen routines. But just like with homeschooling, housework falls into the moment-by-moment category, asking for God’s help to decide what are the more important tasks to accomplish for the day, versus just being driven by the urgent.
A few tips that have worked for me, as in they help me feel like I’m moving forward in homemaking and not falling behind, are:
- Less toys — less things in general. Keep only the most precious or educational ones. If it’s not used weekly, store it.
- Find a place for everything. If it doesn’t have one, give it away or sell it.
- Use time-saving cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes for the bathroom and a Swiffer mop, Swiffer toilet bowl scrubber and Swiffer duster. Yes, making your own cleaners is a beautiful idea, and one day may come to fruition once you have your routine down or the kids move out. But in the meantime, saving time can save your sanity.
- Talk to your husband about what chores he can help with if he’s willing to.
- Baskets, baskets, baskets. I think you can never have enough. IKEA is my best friend — I even spend my birthday money there.
- Consolidate all those piles into one place, that way when you are looking for something before you’ve had time to file it in the RIGHT place, you only have to look in one location — not all over the house.
- Think small. When you are in a room, try and take at least one, if not more, items with you to drop off in the next room where it belongs. Or clear off one counter-top space of clutter in the 10 minutes you have. Try doing a little in little increments every day, instead of taking on a lot with the non-existent time you will never have while homeschooling.
How do you handle household chores while homeschooling? Have you developed any helpful or time-saving systems that really work in your home that you would like to share with us? Or are you frustrated and need some encouragement? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic!