Ah, the beginning of a new school year! New books, new schedule, fresh enthusiasm, new resolve, and clean closets! Clean closets? Is that a requirement? Well, not exactly a requirement, but the best advice I received when, years ago, we began to homeschool was the advice that a friend laughingly gave in reply to my question, “Where do we start?” She humorously said, “I don’t know for sure, but I think we should clean our closets!”
Unknowingly she had struck right to the core. Chaos breeds chaos, and it is hard to feel successful in your home-education endeavor when your home is a wreck. Now is the time to confront issues in your home before the ink on the first lesson plan is dry and the first child complains about the math lesson.
Establish a simple routine for the basics. Somehow we always believe that we will get done the necessary things like laundry, dishes, and mopped floors if we just fit them in. If you have home taught for longer than one year, you have already discovered it not true. Do the basics first and on a regular routine. The definition of regular is: as often as possible on the same day at the same time of day.
I am not speaking of running a boot camp in your family—just of having a routine that keeps things running reasonably well. I hear some of you more “creative types” saying, “I do not do well on a routine. I like to go with the flow.” That is fine for everything but the basics. Flexibility is a virtue, but if the basics are not done, the flow becomes overflow! Even the school lessons can be improvised and changed, but you only have time for all those creative things you love to do if you are not drowning in laundry or feeding the dog by letting him clean your floor for you.
If you struggle in this area and this is not the first year you have home taught, sit with paper and pen and reevaluate your past year. What was your biggest struggle? What thing was a continual frustration? If this fall will be your first year to home teach, just think of the areas in your home that present your greatest challenges now. They will only get worse when adding home teaching. Begin there.
If your struggle is the laundry, decide now for the coming year on a system to get the laundry done. What time (not minute or hour, but portion of the day, i.e., early morning, afternoon, etc.) and what day or days will you do it? Are the children old enough to help sort, fold, or even wash their own clothes? Will you wash one load every day or have one washday per week? Will you begin in the morning by starting a load between breakfast, the morning chores, and school lessons so that all loads are done by lunch? Will you (and the children) fold clothes after lunch or get it done before you prepare lunch? Will you have an older child who has been trained help a younger child by washing their clothes together, so the younger child is learning how to do it? The combinations are endless, and you know what will work best in your family, but the important thing is setting a specific routine and sticking to it. You can always change the method if it does not seem to be working well. The goal is for the clothes to end up in the drawers and closets rather than getting stuck in the washing machine, the dryer, or in the laundry basket for days.
Is your frustration the fact that the school supplies are scattered throughout the house—never available when you need them? Buy containers and choose a storage place for all school supplies. Designate a plastic dishpan or other container for each child (different colors or a name on each one), and ask each to keep all of his own supplies in his container. Yes, you will have to ask them more than once, but you are training, remember? Be conscious of your own poor habit of not putting things away when you are finished with them and ask the Lord to help you be a good example to your children.
Vow to conquer clutter in your home once and for all. Toss out irrelevant paper and clean all the closets you can manage before school starts. Have a late summer or early fall yard sale and make a clean sweep. If you do not do all the clean-out that you would like to (after all, you do have to start school sooner or later!), set aside a day a couple of months from the beginning of school to tackle another project.
Write each of your struggles and frustrations on a list—and keep the list. You will not be able to resolve all of them at once, but you can use the list for a reminder that you will tackle each of those items in turn. Work on only one or two each year and do not worry about the others. If your current challenges are under control quickly, you can go back to your list to choose another one to attack.
Communicate to your family the particular tasks that are your focus at the time and solicit their help. If you were not taught to manage a home when you were younger, remember that your children will have the same struggle unless you teach them. Learn together, and they will thank you for it one day. I promise!
Each person has his own level of what I call tolerance tension. Some have a very low tolerance for a mess, and it makes them nervous; others have a high tolerance and do not even seem to see the mess. Find your family’s mutual tolerance tension level and work to keep your home at that level. If husband and wife disagree on the standard, reach a happy compromise. Make a list of the things that will get done and those that will be left undone until someone has the time to do them. Remember that Mom, Dad, and children have to live in the home, and this is training in interpersonal relationships, respect for others, and serving others even when we do not like to do a particular thing.
Now you can add an additional “R” to the basic “readin,’ writin,’ and ‘rithmetic.” That “R” is “routine.” It will add a foundation to your life just like the basic Rs form a foundation for all other learning. You will love the additional time that you gain to enjoy your family and learn together.