7 Steps to a Clean Home with the Help of Joyful Children (One Method of Teaching Responsibility While Growing Closer as a Family)

I truly feel this entire concept was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or maybe even Mother Mary whispering wisdom into my ear.  Whatever the case, one moment I was standing in the kitchen calling my children to attention (with frustration and despair bogging down my mind) and the next moment, four of my children (ages 10, 8, 7 and 6) were happily and busily cleaning the entire house without one grumble or complaint!  Follow these simple steps to get similar results in your home.

Step 1:  Breathe.  Remember that they are children and children will make messes, explore and be creative.  Remember that they are capable of amazing things and allow them the room to show you their strengths.  Don’t expect perfection.

Step 2:  Divide the main areas of your house into Zones.  Don’t include bathrooms, bedrooms, or other “private” areas in your Zones.  Try to create one Zone per person.

Step 3:  Let the kids pick their cleaning Zone.  So far, I have had not arguments over who gets which Zone.  If a disagreement should happen then come up with a fair way of choosing: have them draw straws, roll dice, go from youngest to oldest, etc.

Step 4:  Explain the scoring system to the kids and put it up on a chart or white board as you explain.  Stay with me here as this is where it can get complicated.  Maybe say something along these lines:

     Your Zone will be scored on the following points: cleanliness (how well you do in picking up toys, trash and other misplaced items and putting them in their proper place); speed (how quickly you get the job done WELL; not just hurry up, but diligently work on your task to do the job well and completely–think perseverance and diligence); and attitude (Are you joyful or grumpy?).  These will be scored on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the best possible score.  These scores will be added together to get your subtotal.  Everyone with me? [demonstrate on the white board].

Then say, “Now, you are all different ages and have different abilities.  To account for this, I will assign a Degree of Difficulty to your Zone based on your age and ability AND the extent to which you clean the room.”  A Degree of Difficulty of “1” is the basic pickup of the floor and flat surfaces; but a “5” would be if you cleaned under the sofa, organized the book shelf, vacuumed the floor, mopped the tile, etc.  The more you do, the higher the Degree of Difficulty becomes.  The reason why this is important is because your subtotal will be MULTIPLIED by your Degree of Difficulty to get your final score. [Demonstrate on the board how 15  x 1 is 15, but 15 x 5 is 75]  Let them give you different scores to see how it affects the total. [Bonus math lesson here ;-)]

zones

Step 5.  When the children complete their zone to their satisfaction, have them come to you and let you know that they are ready for scoring.  Then, with your full attention go into the room and inspect their job.  Be sure to give lots of positive feedback on the work they did well.  Don’t be afraid to make suggestions of where it could be improved, or hints about items that were overlooked.  Be generous, but honest with your score.  If my kids worked hard and gave it their all, I rarely score less than a 5.  In the above example, Zone 4 got a “4” in cleanliness because there was still quite a bit of trash on the floor and items on flat surfaces.  The Degree of Difficulty is the clincher here.  How much were they willing to put into their efforts?  My Zone 1 in the above example was the kitchen.  The 12 year old chose it with vigor and she delved into organizing cabinets and drawers, in addition to counters, floors and hand washing that her brother overlooked that morning.  That kind of effort deserved a perfect score for sure!  The Degree of Difficulty of 3 in the above example was the oldest child who chose to do the minimum effort.  He still had a great attitude and the room was picked up and vacuumed, so I explained that he could have earned a higher Degree of Difficulty by going under the furniture and straightening the bookshelves.  He did a great job, but it wasn’t going to be enough to win the contest.

Step 6.  Reward the top score with a prize.  I give 1st place 5 cents per point, 2nd place 1 cent per point and everyone else a quarter.  My children are still young at ages 6 to 13, so the prize is minimal.  If you have older children, then you might consider a higher payout–how much is a clean house worth after all?   The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just a well-deserved reward for their effort.  At the end of this contest, your entire house will be picked up, vacuumed, spot mopped, and better organized than when you started.  Allow the reward to lift EVERYONE up, but still make the winner feel special for his/her effort.  Bask in their incredible efforts and boast on how enjoyable the home is when it is tidy and everyone works together well.  Sometimes we play a game, go swimming, or the kids watch a movie following the clean up—an activity to enjoy a job well done.

Step 7.  Repeat as needed to maintain the orderliness of the home, but not more frequently than once per week.  We decided to do “Zones” on Friday afternoons so we can enjoy a movie night and focus on family projects or outings on Saturdays.  This week my kids decided to do it on Thursday because the house had become quite messy and even they wanted the order back!  Hey, I’ll take it any day.

I would love to hear your feedback on how this works in your home, what changes you made, and what rewards were given.  I pray that you have as much success with it as I have had.  Truth be told the greatest reward for me has been the feeling of connection, that we really work well as a team, the Domestic Church’s version of the Body of Christ in action.

Edit:  I am usually working on my paying job while they are cleaning.  Sometimes, I clean an area as well, but don’t get scored in the contest.  Yesterday, they actually did all of the cleaning while I was gone for an appointment.  It was especially rewarding to come home to a clean house and to know the kids had matured to this level of responsibility without my direct oversight!  My goal here is not the clean house.  That is just a side benefit.  My goal is to grow relationships with my children as they learn to be responsible and independent members of our family and community.

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Ain’t It Great to be Crazy

My husband always jokes that it is our duty as parents to screw up our kids. I think our number one duty is to annoy and embarrass them. I am especially blessed in this department because I was given the gift of changing lyrics in songs to fit the occasion. This combined with my lack of singing abilities really gets the sighs and eye rolling responses that parents dream about.

In all seriousness, I love to joke and be silly with my kids. My mother and father where always fun that way and my childhood is filled with memories of laughter and singing. My mom knew hundreds of songs by heart probably because her own father, my beloved Grandpa Stich played the accordion and loved to sing. Almost 14  years ago she compiled all the lyrics to the songs she sang to us as children, typed them up, scrapbooked pictures and bound a book for each of her children as a gift.image It is one of my most treasured books with the words to 200 songs. imageSo, I have these tunes floating in my head and they just come out spontaneously always sure to garnish a few laughs.

For example, last week I saw some turkey vultures lunching on a flattened squirrel. Being the homeschooling mom that I am, I quickly took video on my phone to share with my kids. Science class? Check. After dinner, I remembered the vultures and shared the video with my children. This lead to my dramatic Angela declaring the she, “missed Stumpy!” “ Who is Stumpy,” you ask. Stumpy was a squirrel in our neighborhood that earned his name because his tail was no more than a stump, making him easy to recognize. We saw Stumpy often over the course of two years and then, one day, poor Stumpy was seen dead in the road. So, of course when Angela was feeling sentimental over the memory of Stumpy, I immediately came up with a song for the occasion. (to the tune of Grandma got run over by a reindeer)

Stumpy got run over by a neighbor,
Playing out in our yard yesterday.
He was playing with his squirrel-friends
And forgot to look both ways.

See, it’s a gift, I tell you. Of course, it needed a second verse. This came with some struggles, but the end result was satisfying if not historically accurate (well, mostly).

The vultures came to eat him,
Pick his flesh and eat his bones,
But our neighbor quickly snatched him
And buried him outside her home.

For added encouragement, my kids are cringing as I type this. They are squirming with the thought that I am putting this on my blog. Angela just told me that everyone will know that I am crazy if I post this. To which I responded:

Boom. Boom.  Ain’t it great to be crazy?
Boom.  Boom.  Ain’t great to be crazy,
Giddy and foolish the whole day through,
Boom. Boom. Ain’t it great to be crazy?

No Room at the Inn

Do you remember the Gospel stories about Joseph and the very pregnant Mary trying desperately to find a place to stay? Of course you do. Anyway, I can relate. I’m not pregnant and I am not in a strange city ready to give birth with no place to stay, but still I can relate. Maybe a better analogy can be taken from the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen” where the wife is out of town and the dad, played by Steve Martin (sorry, Im horrible at names–even characters in my favorite movies), is trying to find a sitter. As soon as he mentions how many children he has the person on the other end of the line hangs up. He becomes so deflated that he calls numbers and then just says, “Nevermind. I’ll just hang up on myself.” Yes. That is a much better fit. Comparing myself to the Virgin Mary probably wasn’t a good place to start.

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Anyhoooowww, I love to travel. With my kids. For several years it just wasn’t possible because of babies and complicated pregnancies; but, for the past two years we have traveled to Omaha and Wisconsin and we are ready to hit the road again. So, here’s the glitch. The last couple of trips we’ve just invaded stayed with family or friends. Throw some air mattresses down, a couple of sleeping bags and the pack ‘n play for the babies and we’re there. This year my Nebraska relatives are out of town for the month of August. I know it sounds fishy, right?! I’m certain it has nothing to do with us invading staying with them two years in a row. No, really, because they were perfectly happy with us following them out to Colorado. I have friends there, so I thought we could just stay with them, but they have another family visiting that same week. Go figure. I’m sure that is just a coincidence as well. Anyway, after all these complications I decided that maybe we were supposed to find a different destination. So, Ft. Davis, Texas came to mind. We visited 13 years ago when we started homeschooling and the younger kids haven’t been to the Davis Mountains. I called the lodge where we stayed the last time. Denied. It is owned by the Texas State Parks, but we have to rent two rooms with an adult in each room. So the single mom traveling with seven minor children cannot possibly be accommodated. The girl was very nice and referred me to a neighboring State Park that rents connecting rooms. Denied again. They did say they would accommodate me, but because they do not reserve specific rooms, they could not guarantee that the rooms would be connected or even near one another. Common sense tells me it would not be wise to travel 12 hours across the state and hope that we get connecting rooms when we arrive at 9pm.

I drove 12 hours with 7 kids!   I can't believe you don't have connecting rooms!!

I drove 12 hours with 7 kids! I can’t believe you don’t have connecting rooms!!

This phenomenon is not anything new. Any family with more than three children experiences the no-room-at-the-inn response unless you want to rent two rooms at $100 each and that is at the cheap end. After six kids you are straight out of luck unless you split into three rooms and convince your mother-in-law to join you. Of course, then you don’t have room in the car and two vehicles are required. After the expense and hassle it is no longer a fun get away, but has morphed into a strange form of self-torture and the most expensive vacation that you have ever planned. (Note: This is nothing against my mother-in-law who is one of the sweetest women I have ever known and who has taken many vacations with us before the last three kids squeezed her out of the car) But, I digress. Last summer the kids and I drove all the way to Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was great. We stayed with family and friends in Omaha on the way up and stayed with family in Green Bay as well. Well, nine hours into the twelve-hour drive back to Omaha I knew I was done. Actually, I realized it three hours into the trip and was smart enough to call my husband and have him find a hotel room in Des Moines. We hit Des Moines at 9pm and I was exhausted. My fourteen year-old acting as my own personal cheerleader kept me awake sitting next to me in the front seat. “You can do it, Mom!” Only 10 more minutes. Nine more minutes. Eight more minutes. Each minute seemed to drag on forever until we saw the exit. I went and checked in at the front desk and left the kids in the car. I scoped out the layout of the front desk and elevators. I strategized the best way to get to the second floor with 8 kids unnoticed. Ha! Lucky for me the rolling rack was available. I rolled it out to the car and proceeded to load up the two suitcases, two playpens, eight pillows, blankets and baby dolls. I had the oldest carry the baby and the fourteen year-old carry the toddler. The other four kids were instructed to walk on the right side of the cart and to be quiet. We managed to make it onto the elevator just fine and the kids thought the mission had been accomplished, but I quickly quieted them and said, “No. We have to make it into the room and then we can’t be loud or disturb the others staying at the hotel.” Upon exiting the elevator I noticed the night manager at the other end of the floor. “Quick, kids. Behind the cart.” We quickly opened our door and ushered in and flopped on the bed in laughter. I’m certain no one noticed the overloaded cart, the mom and eight kids in tow. If they did may God bless them for taking pity on us and looking the other way. The room arrangement was an exercise in geometry all on its own. Thank goodness for the oversized window ledge that made a bed for Lauren. Three kids slept sideways on one double bed, Joshua was on the floor between the wall and one bed, Allison and I shared the other double bed and we squeezed one playpen between the beds and one at the foot of my bed. There was little room to spare, but we all had a place to lay our heads, air conditioning and indoor plumbing.

It is sad that it had to come to that. To sneaking into a hotel room like we were thieves in the night. It is a statement of just how anti-family our society has become. Most people would never know how it affects big families. The reservations operators always apologize, but quickly state that their hands are tied by fire safety codes and insurance regulations. I understand the laws are meant to protect us, but sometimes our efforts to avoid any and all suffering really just take the enjoyment out of the simple things in life. My kids would happily sleep on blanket pallets on the floor to expand their horizons and see more of the world, but it is nearly impossible to find a place that allows you to do so without spending hundreds of dollars a night for shelter or being dishonest about how many kids you have and essentially breaking the law by violating codes and ordinances. So, the next time I plan a vacation I will call several hotels and when they answer I may just say, “Never mind. I’ll just hang up on myself.” And then I will take out my list of contacts and start calling friends and family to see if they are up for a visit from their crazy Texas kinfolk. Don’t worry, folks, I’ll bring wine and buy the groceries!