Friday, April 6, 2012

Saving My Sanity with Routine Charts

Isaac is a good-hearted, well-intentioned boy who simply lacks focus. Early on I found he could not follow multiple directions. I could not say "Pick up your toys, put your pajamas on, use the toilet, and brush your teeth" and then expect him to do it without follow-up. I had to tell him to do one thing at a time, sometimes more than once...several times a day. I felt like I was constantly nagging him in the mornings, after school, and at bedtime. I often felt irritated and frustrated with him, but even more so with myself because I really didn't think his lollygagging was intentional. I called him Pokey Little Puppy. Needless to say, our relationship has often been bitter-sweet as we love each other but also have driven each other crazy.

For a couple of years now, I've considered making him "to do" lists to follow each morning, but I resisted for several reasons. Primarily, I didn't think it would work. Two weeks ago, however, I became inspired by to give it a shot. I used for templates to make computer-generated routine charts. I've made one for weekday mornings, after school, evenings, weekend/holiday mornings, and extra chores. I laminated each chart and stapled them to a bulletin board hung in his room. A dry erase marker sits on top for his use. I erase them every Sunday, and then he starts over.

Let me tell you--this has changed my life! My 10-year-old son loves being able to follow his charts to see his progress. The nagging has almost entirely stopped. He told me he feels like a grown-up now. My stress has gone down tremendously. He may not have any "screen time" after school or on weekend mornings until his chart is complete for that time of day. I've also linked his charts with allowance. Isaac has never had an allowance before, but I believe it's time for him to learn to manage his own money. Now on Sundays I give him four dollars. One dollar goes into a "charity" envelope. He can give it to church the next weekend or save it for another cause. Another dollar goes into a "savings" envelope. This will eventually go into a savings account at a bank that he will draw from to pay for his college books. The remaining two dollars are his to spend or save as he sees fit. However, for every "hole" on his charts for the week, he loses 25 cents. He may earn additional money by doing tasks on the extra chores chart.

Here is what I put on each chart:

Weekday Morning Routine
Get dressed
Comb hair
Eat breakfast
Dishes in dishwasher
Brush teeth
Make bed
Fill water bottle

After School Routine
Put away shoes/jacket
Empty water bottle and lunch bag
Eat snack
Clean up snack

Evening Routine
Pick up living room
Take bath
Brush teeth
Wipe sink
Clean eyeglasses

Weekend/Holiday Morning Routine
Just like weekday morning, but no water bottle, and I added reading, spelling practice, other homework (if needed), and pick up bedroom.

Homework Help

When it comes to their attitudes toward school and approaches to homework, my two boys couldn't be more different. The oldest is an introvert. He loves learning and is a high achiever, now excelling in his first year of college. I rarely needed to help him with homework, and it was not a stressful experience for either of us. As soon as he got home from school, he did his homework with no prompting and finished it quickly.

My youngest son is an extrovert. His favorite parts of school are daycare before and after school, recess, lunch, and PE because he gets to play and interact with his friends. He's bright and capable like his brother, but to sit down and do math, practice spelling words, and writing essays is "boring" and tedious to him. He is now almost done with fourth grade and has only recently begun to do homework with little to no prompting. Up through the beginning of this year, it was a horrendous, stressful battle for both of us. I dreaded Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays after school because those are homework days. I work as a learning specialist for a middle/high school, and I felt like a failure with my own son. It's easier telling other parents how to help their kids and when to back off--much harder when it's my own kid!

I don't know for sure what has changed my son's attitude toward homework, but I believe most of it is growing maturity. Beyond that, I credit the following:

1. Homework is a non-negotiable--for the most part (I'll get to that in #3). It's a priority in our household and comes before any "screen" time. I've heard many parents say that their kids need a break after school before doing homework. I agree to an extent (see #2), but I believe that unless the child lives right next door to the school, the walk or drive home has already been a long enough break. I expect my children to begin homework within the first 15 minutes after arriving home while their brains are still in learning mode. If I let them watch TV or play video games first, it is much harder to get their brains refocused for school work.

2. Before beginning homework, my son has a few tasks: Empty his lunch bag and water bottle, put his shoes away, hang up his jacket, eat a relatively healthy snack with some protein and/or complex carbs (think apple slices and peanut butter, skim milk, fat free Fig Newtons, string cheese, yogurt, Wheat Thins, etc.), and clean up the snack. This takes about 15 minutes, and then it's time to crack the books.

3. My son began to turn a corner when he realized that I was on his side and would advocate on his behalf if I believe the day's homework load was unreasonable or if extenuating circumstances made homework a low priority on a (rare) given day. After talking with his teacher, she agreed that I could jot a note letting her know that he did not do all his homework, why he didn't, when he would get to it, and what he needed to accomplish it (if extra help was required). I've only had to do this a couple of times this school year, but those times went a long way for convincing my son that I had his back--that HE was more important to me than his accomplishments. However, he did not get screen time those days. He could still play with Legos or with other toys, but no TV or video games.

4. I praise hard work when he brings home high scores on tests and assignments. I tell him how proud I am of him. I ignore most of his lower scores. Over time, the high scores have increased as he's experienced the pride of doing well, and the low scores have decreased.

5. My son likes it when homework is turned into a game. I've googled "math games", "pronoun games", "states and capitals games", and other such topics to find online games he can play to strengthen his knowledge and skills. I am nearby to make sure he's actually learning and understanding. In addition to online spelling games, I've used an individual white board with him for spelling practice. He responds to that much better than practicing with a pencil on notebook paper. He's enjoyed challenges using the kitchen timer as well. I set the timer for 10 minutes and challenge him to complete five math problems or answer five chapter review questions within that time.

6. I've created a homework zone for him. A bookcase in my dining room contains everything he needs to organize and complete homework: Notebook paper, pencils, pens, eraser, glue sticks, scissors, markers, colored pencils, dictionary, extra folders, hole punch, hole reinforcers, pencil sharpener (preferably electric or battery-powered). The computer and a stapler are nearby. Everything he needs is easy to find and use to cut down on frustration.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Working Full Time and Keeping a Clean House: Is it Possible?

I have attempted the impossible--keeping my house spotles while working full-time--and although I now accept the impossibility of spotlessness, at least I've picked up some helpful ideas along the way.

1. I've divided my weekly housekeeping into two categories: dusting and vacuuming is one, and bathroom cleaning is the other. I alternate those tasks on weekends. One weekend I'll thoroughly vacuum and dust. The next weekend I'll thoroughly clean the bathrooms. On the bathroom weekends, I'll just pick up visible debris on the carpets with my hands or vacuum only high traffic areas (no dusting). I use a sticky lint roller on my furniture to get up some of the cat fur. On the vacuum/dust weekends, I'll clean spots off the bathroom mirrors and wipe down sinks, counters, and toilets with a Clorox wipe (no shower or tub cleaning).

2. The kitchen is cleaned every evening after dinner--dishes washed and left in the drainer to air dry and put away in the morning; counters and stove wiped down; spots wiped on refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, and cupboards (if noticed); floor swept and spot cleaned if necessary. Occasionally on the weekend I'll do a thorough mopping with a Swiffer Wet Jet mop.

3. I do one load of laundry every evening, right when I get home from work. Mondays = dark, Tuesdays = white, Wednesdays = red/orange/pink, Thursday = "catch up" if needed, Friday = dress clothes/delicates, Saturday = sheets/towels, Sunday = jeans.

4. I grocery shop on weekends, but I plan to switch that to Fridays on my way home from work. I keep a running shopping list on my refrigerator. Then I plan my menu for the week and add to my grocery list the night before I go. That cuts down on multiple trips to pick up forgotten items throughout the week. It also helps me to plan ahead to take items out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator a couple of days before needing them. I give myself a break on Friday nights by picking up an unbaked pizza, and on Saturday nights we go out to eat, taking turns choosing the restaurant.

5. Everyone in the family picks up his or her own items and puts them away before going to bed so clutter is kept to a minimum. Beds are made each morning by whomever slept in them.

6. Mail is dealt with daily: recycled, filed, or put in a "to do" pile which is done every weekend. I buy calendars with monthly pockets from the Current catalog in which I place items needed for later weeks or months such as season tickets for our local theater, field trip information, etc. I tried to do a link to these calendars, but it looks like the product may have been discontinued. If so, I'll switch to "Tickler Files."

7. Zone cleaning. I got this idea from Fly Lady I've made my own version of it to fit my house. For example, my one zone task for this week is to vacuum under and behind my living room furniture. This is one of my larger zone jobs, but it should only take about a half hour. I'll do it on Saturday. Last week's zone task was to clean out my bedroom shelves and drawers. I purge, organize, and straighten things. Since I do this every year, I usually don't have much to purge, so it really doesn't take long. I love how organized my nightstand is now! By working in zones, I literally purge, organize and clean my whole house once a year, but it's never a huge, overwhelming task. I confess that sometimes life works in a way that I may not get to three or four weeks of zone cleaning, and then I'll do them all at once. But since each task is relatively small, it's not too bad.

So...if you come to my house right now, you'll find some leftover cat fur on the furniture (it was just bathroom weekend), maybe some pine needles or other debris on the floor. There are probably some mirror splatters by now in the bathroom. A light film of dust covers all flat surfaces, but you won't notice it in most places unless you're looking for it. You'll find some dust bunnies behind my living room furniture and crumbs under the cushions of the sofa in my family room. The oven needs cleaning inside. But overall, it looks pretty good, and I'm content. Last weekend besides the bathrooms and a little zone cleaning, I read, went shopping for craft supplies (4 different stores!), did two different crafts, visited Pinterest and Facebook, cleaned out my email inbox, went to church, deep cleaned most of my dad's kitchen, did laundry, went out to dinner with friends, exercised both days, and had some quiet time with God both days. is possible to work full-time, keep a clean (enough) house, and enjoy some fulfilling personal time. Just don't expect spotless unless you hire a housekeeping service.