Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Failure's and Success of Maintenance PART 2

I know I said I'd talk about what I've been doing to help maintain the toys and so forth, but it's one of those things that I feel like I can't ever truly get a handle on. I think it's because it's something that just is NOT going to keep itself neat. No matter how well everything is organized or how much you talk to your kids or show them how to put things away the PARENT is always going to have to go behind them and correct and instruct and encourage and do it with them until they are older and independent.

Other advice to start with (my husband and I've been talking about this recently) it's important for us to make it a positive thing. My oldest is 5 and she's always been quite willing to help, but I've always given her lots of praise when she did so (not for a job badly done of course, sometimes I had to show her how to do a better job) often I would do something WITH her.. making sure not to do all the work myself. This is what I still have to do with my 3 year old. When I was laid up after the newest one was born my husband was doing all the housework for me and he was having the girls help. I noticed after a few weeks of this, how wilted my oldest's expression was when she was asked to help. Were we asking her to help too often? Perhaps, but I think it was mainly HOW she was being asked. I needed to consciously make sure we were all asking each other for help in a positive way. Asking with a "Please" and saying "Thank you" and remembering to use a tone of voice to encourage rather than to make them feel like they were being punished are all vital. I don't often have to insist that my kids say please and thank you because they are so used to hearing me say it that they automatically use those words even with each other (which is totally adorable.) Lately though I've had to work with them on asking nicely again for things. I've also had to check my own patience level. I am NOT naturally a patient person, but that's something the Holy Spirit has been teaching me for a while. Having children is a perfect opportunity to learn to be patient.. it's either - learn patience or be admitted into a sanitarium. ;]

But, back to the point of this post.. The question- "Why do we want our kids to clean up after themselves?" is pretty vital to understand before we try to start making things happen.

Is it because the mess is annoying us? Is it because we don't want to do all the work ourselves? Is it because we want to punish them for some wrong that they've done?

I hope our answer is -"because we want to help grow good habits in our children that will serve them through life." There are immediate helps as well. If they can learn to pick up after themselves then our family works better as a unit and things begin to run smoothly. The other day I explained to Lily how much more time I have to do projects with her if she can help me to keep things cleaned up. (This was when we were doing the pipecleaner monsters.)

It's NOT easier or more efficient to have them help out and learn how to clean and pick up though! It's much quicker for me to do things myself, but I need to teach them and help them build some good habits so that when they are my age (hopefully) these things won't be a struggle for them. Today I did my one little room (the smallest bathroom) of cleaning and Renna (3) wanted to help me clean the toilet. I was just spraying some antibacterial stuff on the seat and lid and so on and wiping it off with toilet paper before flushing it all. She thought that was pretty neat though and wanted to help. It didn't take too much longer to show her how and do it with her, yet it wasn't as easy as just doing it myself. But... it's more important that she learn how to do it than the toilet being cleaned quickly. That's the thing. Is it so important to have the house be instantly clean? Or to build our relationship with our children and train them in all parts of living? As homeschoolers, we teach them reading and math, but if we stop with academics then (in my opinion) their training is sorely lacking.
Okay, that intro was really long. So, on with some other ideas that are a bit less deep.

First, I'd like to explain the most recent fail in this endeavor. I thought that if we had a corner hammock thing to hold stuffed animals it would help to keep the toys at bay. I didn't want to buy one though so I made one with some rainbow fabric that I had. It was pretty and worked well, BUT failed miserably because Lily had a hard time getting her animals out of it and it broke. This was the second time it broke so I pulled it down and pitched the idea. The picture is of it's sad state before I took it down all the way.
Now for some ideas that actually have worked. Organizing things according to it's type makes asking the kids to put something away SO much easier. I don't just say, "Clean up your room." Because that is just too overwhelming for them. I'll say something like, "Lily can you please put all the balls and cars in their basket?" (Anything that rolls goes together in this case.) When she starts to do it I thank her. If she doesn't want to do it or complains, I've brought up how I'd be willing to trade jobs with her. "Well, I can do your job if you want to do the dishes and make dinner and change the baby's diaper.." (and so on until she gets a look in her eyes that seems a bit overwhelmed) Or I explain how we all need to work together as a team and each do our part. I also started a sticker chart to give them an incentive to finish something that is difficult. Lily says, "My legs are tired, I can't finish making my bed." And I might say, "I know it's hard Lily, but you can do it, and you'll get a sticker for your chart." She knows that when she gets enough stickers that the chart will keep track of, she'll get a "prize".. right now I'm trying to help them learn about saving, so instead of a dollar store toy they will get a dollar and when they have collected $5 worth they'll get the "big prize" which is a little tinkerbell fairy doll (about 5 inches tall) and a lot nicer than a cheapo dollar store toy. They get about a dollar a week. Renna doesn't earn a sticker right now for picking up because I still need to help her so much with it. She's working on getting a sticker each time she goes potty in the toilet. The issue with that is that she CAN do it, she just gets distracted or tired or isn't paying attention. Well, the sticker chart thing helps to remind her to keep on track. Lily is very interested in the prize.. Renna likes the prize of course, but is just as happy is seems being able to collect the stickers. ;]
To keep the rooms looking neater I've consolidated their art to just a few places. Rather than the whole wall or spread over more than one wall, I've made their closet door a place for art. Also, downstairs in the dinning room there are certain sections of the wall dedicated to the girls art and other sections that have nothing or a simple decoration that I've decided on. This makes the room "look" less cluttered even if there's the same amount of art up. (I do switch it out though as they make more to hang.)

Organizing their many toys though wasn't enough. They'd dump out a bin full of play clothes or of stuffed animals or spread all the tiny little princess dolls and clothes out as they are looking for something. It was driving me crazy and something had to be done! Youssef turned the knob around on their closet door so that the lock was on the inside and we had to use a "key" hair pin to open it! That forced them to ask for things, but I don't keep ALL their toys in there. They have the bigger ones out (like the doll bed and castle.) Some of their big toys are in the closet (the ones they weren't playing with for the time being.) It's suddenly made them appreciate their toys more and has made it all seem new again! I put their little sets of toys (the princesses and ponies) in separate zipplocs in the closet. I've tried to make it a point to get out anything that they specifically ask for if I can (sometimes they have to wait a little bit, but they know they will get it.) This was important to Lily because she was worried that she'd lose the toys forever or that I'd throw them away. Also, I didn't want this tidying up to be a punishment. The locked closet thing is just to give me a chance to keep up with them. Once they've learned to pick up after themselves before pulling out the next and the next thing, then I won't need to lock the closet anymore and they won't have to ask every time they want something. The plan though is to periodically (like once a week or so) let them pick out a new thing from the closet and they have to choose the equivalent toy or toys to go back into the closet for a while. The picture above shows them going through their "play clothes box" that they hadn't been able to get into for a while.
They've had fun going through it and dressing up the last few days, BUT it hasn't driven me crazy because if the toys and things strewn everywhere "go together" then I just have to gather them up and dump them back in the box. It's super easy to have the girls help too because there's no sorting to worry about! This mess was worse by bedtime and I told the girls to lay in their beds while I cleaned it up. They were practically begging to help! Okay, that has NOT happened before! Lily was starting to enjoy helping I think because (besides being easier and seeing how nice her room was to play in when it was clean) it can be fun to put things away because you "find" other toys while you go like a treasure hunter! I found something the girls had been asking for while cleaning up. "Look Renna! I found your turtle!" "My TURTLE!!!" She says excitedly... this totally makes cleaning up a blast for them. She'd been looking for that all afternoon. ;] Also, I've asked them each night if I should leave out the box of dress up clothes so they could play with it tomorrow or if I should put it back in the closet. As long as they are wanting to play with it, I'm totally fine with keeping it out! It's when they get bored with their toys and dump them for no reason that it bothers me. Toys that are happily played with are fun to see even when they are left around the house. Often you can see how their imagination was flowing as you see the positions the toys were left in.
Okay, umm... other ideas. Going along with the closet idea, I thought it would be a good idea to put some of Lily's project things and school up higher so she'd have to ask for it instead of getting it out on her own. Yeah, it's always really great (*sarcastic*) to clean up one mess just to turn around and see play dough all over the floor. Then to clean that up just to turn around to paint all over the table. Even if Lily did a good job of not making a mess she'd often leave something out and Renna would get to it and make a mess with it. SO, we are working on putting stuff AWAY before getting out the next project. (Yes, mommy needs to work on this as well!)
This is their little art table, though we do art at the tall table as well. I sit at their little table sometimes too and we do school or a project there so that we can be closer to Grace in her bouncy chair this is being kept cleaner than it has been in... umm... forever? Notice the artwalls in the background? Also, notice the "white space" on the other walls. Keeping the kitchen bar as uncluttered as possible helps with my own sanity. Also, I don't want to spend ALL day just following them around and picking up and making THEM pick up stuff ALL day. Really.. if they want to get something ELSE out it's important to clean up first and we clean up the tables before dinner and some before lunch, but I'd go crazy if I was in "total clean up mode" all the time. If I find myself feeling stressed from the mess I don't always have to dive into cleaning up what THEY messed up.. no.. sometimes I just need to clear off the counter and my own stuff! I don't always make them clean up their table right after they are done with something either. For one thing, I don't know if they are planning to come back to it or not. For another thing, often they are playing well together and I hate to interrupt them (partly because it's nice to see that and partly because I don't want to stop whatever I'm doing.) But, I figure as long as they are cleaning up the last thing before they are allowed to get the next thing out we'll be good.
By God's grace, our days have fewer incidences of the mommy freaking out and stressing about how many toys there are in this house! I'm finding myself being able to relax more and not feel like I'm drowning in "stuff" to manage. It's so relaxing now to sit at the table and do a project with the girls and sing together. They are so much happier that way too! I'm still getting used to doing these things throughout the day though. I don't like to stop one thing and start another thing. I'd much rather do ONE thing ALL day. Maybe that's weird, but it's easier for me to do than jumping from one to another to another. I lose my train of thought and I feel like it takes longer to start the next thing because I don't remember what I'm supposed to do. We'll keep figuring this stuff out though as we go and hopefully it will get easier. Lily especially likes how we are doing things now though, and how I will do something with them for a while and then give them an idea of how to play on their own or let them watch a cartoon (the cartoons are getting fewer and farther between though as they would rather do other stuff anyway!) I just need to get used to doing bits and pieces of things through the day. Read them a few stories here and there, do a project or teach them a song in between this and that, and so on. At some point I'd like to add in my own projects again (like scrapbooking!).. I just have to be careful to not try to do my own thing for too long (because.. as I said.. I'd much rather focus on one thing for an entire day.. but that doesn't work with kids. They need to be fed and taught and played with, NOT put off and given my minimum attention.. which is far too easy for me to do.)

Soon my husband will be happier as well when our family continues to run smoothly and those clutter things start to disappear as we put stuff away RIGHT away instead of leaving it out! Because, suddenly.. I'll have time to play games with him, just like I found time to do projects with the girls when we figured out the toy situation. The goal is to lessen my exhaustion by simplifying the systems so that I can focus my attention on what really matters.

I wouldn't be surprised if most, if not all of you reading this, look at my struggles and suggestions as pretty basic... you probably already know this stuff or don't struggle in these ways, but.. that's okay because I'm not writing this to "fix" anyone else. Oh, yeah, maybe you wonder why I'd write it all on a blog then for anyone to see? I do hope that my ramblings will encourage someone and in the back of my head I wonder if my kids will read these when they are older and understand their old Mom a little better, but the main reason I write so much on here is to just re-enforce what I'm learning and sort out my own thoughts about it all. Typing helps me to think and if I type to "someone" than what I write is at least a little bit easier to follow. So yeah, all of this isn't to preach to anyone.. it's just laying my heart out there and trying to be honest.

I'm painfully aware of the fact that even if 90% of the time I'm teaching my children with a quiet voice and encouragement that 10% of getting frustrated or yelling at them is going to stand out in their minds probably as if the numbers were reversed. Really, no matter how hard I try I will scar my children in some way because I'm a flawed human in a broken world, yet, it all comes back again (even through all my ideas and advice and finding techniques that work for our family) it all comes back to the real point of what Jesus has done. It is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me. It is His grace in my life and not any "how-to's" or rules that could ever make anything I try to do successful.

Galations 2:20b-21 ".. it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."


Natalie Minnich said...

I love teaching the girls about cleaning. When they actually watch what I'm doing or go through it with me it helps them to understand how much there is to it. When they are aware of each step to cleaning something, they try to help more. Like when they grab the towel off the stove themselves and wipe their spills off the kitchen table. awesome!!

jeremy and lenore diviney said...

I need to be better about letting the kids do things as well. it is hard when you are much faster yourself but it's true if they make the mess they should clean it or if they are wanting to help it's so important to let them. it doesn't have to be every time, but enough that they understand you appreciate their interest and their desire to help you. it's very sweet.