Well, here I am: all four of my children are at school. And it’s FULL ON.
Sport days, music days, library days, basketball practice, concert band ensemble, strings ensemble, cello lessons, piano lessons, clarinet lessons, homework, newsletters, assignments, oral preparation, home readers, sight words…and lunches.
As I said, there are four of them at school this year, and they all have something different on each day. Sometimes, I feel like I need a live in secretary to keep track of everything!
My goal is to set things up so my children can be as independent as possible. This comes in three parts: the first is to establish micro organisational systems that work, the second is to teach the how and why, and thirdly: the learning of responsibility through natural consequences.
Micro Organisational Systems
I focus on organisational systems rather than jobs in the home, because I figure the former will become a life skill that can be applied to various situations. The hard part is sustaining and finding out what works (really works) in our home. There’s a bit of trial and error here.
Routine is fabulous, but I do find I need to have flexibility when it comes to organisational systems, because our family changes and grows.
For the first step of the process, I establish micro organisational systems which I then teach the kids so they can be responsibile for THEIR OWN STUFF. This is my ultimate goal. It’s not to have everything perfect, or even have everything the way I like it, but rather to empower the kids to be able to organise themselves. I need this to stay sane, because with four kids to organise, I can’t micro manage everyone on a daily basis (plus I believe it’s important that children are as independent as possible).
My children need to wear two different shoes to school, depending on the day: formal shoes and sport shoes. They also need to have sport socks with the sport shoes, and formal socks with the formal shoes. It drives me nuts.
We have a shoe rack at the back door and the children put their shoes on the rack, because then they always know where to find them (plus it keeps the clutter out of the bedrooms). We also use this rack to hang hats and bags.
Socks — sorting
All my children wear different sized socks, and it’s important for me to easily (and quickly) sort them. I use a Sharpie Fabric Pen (in four different colours) to mark a dot near the toe section of each sock.
Socks — mid-week
I don’t wash my children’s socks every day, and I don’t have enough for every day of the week. So yes, my children wear socks a few times in a row before I wash them. Don’t judge me. In the in-between washing times, the children put their socks inside their shoes for the next day, as this makes it quick and easy in the morning. So the socks either go inside the corresponding shoe (sport or formal) OR in the dirty clothes basket.
Socks — Storing
I keep clean school socks in a box in the laundry, rather than in the respective child’s room. I know there are fancy plastic boxes for storage around, but currently, I use an empty shoe boxes in the laundry for the clean socks. I use one box for socks, and the other for school hair bands.
Having three girls means we have a variety of school hair bands and ribbons, which I keep in the laundry, separate from our regular pretty stash. This makes it quick to find things in the morning. The pretty hair things are kept in one big communal drawer in one of the bedrooms. I don’t section them, or keep them neat, as it’s easier to just have a dedicated drawer to throw them all in. Organised chaos, I call it.
I wash, and then immediately hang the uniforms on a hanger on a drying rack I purchased from Howards Storage World. The children help themselves from the drying rack, and because I hang the uniforms while they are still wet, they don’t need ironing.
Family Life Organisation
I explained this system a little more in depth last year, so if you’re interested, you can read the post here: The Epic Job of Organising a Family. To organise family life, I use the combination of a year planner and my iPhone.
The year planner is a reference for the entire family. I use it for the routine school, school and family holidays, plus things like parties or miscellaneous school events. My iPhone holds appointments for the children, and my own schedule with times, addresses and other detailed information.
Day by Day
I use a code system as a reference for myself and the children.
This is how it works: I use a different permanent market colour for each child, then, abbreviations for each event, like L for Library day.
So you can see in the red week highlighted below, on the 18th, Jim (in pink) has a talk, Son (in Green) has music and Library, and Pip (in Purple), will need to be in sports uniform. This way, the children can look at the calendar each morning and find what they have on (with no input from me).
If one of my children have something on the weekend, like a birthday party, then I will write something like ‘Party’ in the child’s respective colour, and the details, like time and address, will be on my iPhone.
I’ve tried quite a few systems but this works best for the family and myself.
Hats go on the hooks on the shoe rack.
Bags also go on the shoe rack. The shoe rack becomes very much of a school station.
After school jobs
Lunchboxes goes on the bench and any school notes. The younger two children (5 and 7) also put their homework on the bench for us to look at later (my older children — 9 and 11 — are at the point now where they organise and do their own homework without much, if any, supervision).
I’ve established these micro systems for my kids in an effort to help them help themselves, but if they want to deviate, that’s fine by me, as long as it WORKS. For example, one of my daughters prefers to keep her hat on a hook in her room, rather than on the rack outside. Also, my eldest children tend to keep their bag in their room (as they have more home work at that sort of thing) rather than on the rack. As the kids get older, I need to establish less and less systems for them as they work out their own.
2. Teaching (as patiently and reasonably as I can)
It takes a good month to establish all these micro routines successfully. I don’t just ask the kids to do it, I tell them why.
Son, remember to put your shoes on the rack, as soon as you take them off…every time. Because then you know exactly where they are in the morning or whenever you need them.
3. Consequences -> Responsibility
I find that natural consequences are one of the best way for kids to learn responsibility. So, for example, if my daughter forgets her hat, then she won’t be able to play at school. Or if my son forgets to put his shoes on the rack, and then is rushing around in the morning stressed, trying to find the shoes, I can put it back on him: it’s his responsibility to look after his property; I’ve patiently taught him how and why to do it, and I can point out the consequences of his choices.
Rather than nagging the kids all the time, I let the natural consequences run their course. This is something I have to consciously allow to happen, especially as the children get older, because it’s really hard to do sometimes.
4.Your Responsibility, My Responsibility
I want the kids to see me taking responsibility too, and how in a family, we all have a part to play. So, for example, in terms of school, it’s my current responsibility to have the uniforms washed and do the lunches. Now, there have been times when I haven’t been organised myself, for whatever reason, and say I’m late to do the lunchboxes, and then we are late getting in the car, I will apologise to the kids.
Like every aspect of parenting, it’s time, time, time. Nothing happens quickly. It’s years and years of nurturing, communication, and encouragement. It’s knowing when to be the hero, and making everything all better, and when to allow natural consequences to be the teacher. There are often times when I throw my hands in the air, wondering if I’m doing anything right, and trust me, this isn’t a perfect system. But I remind myself, that this parenting gig is a long term thing.
I’ll leave this post with a cute conversations with my almost 12 year old. She is in year 7, and she has an iPad for school, and so we iMessage each other often. This girl of mine has struggled with organisation in the past, but she is incredible, hard working, insightful, determined, and over the years, I’ve seen her go overcome and go from strength to strength.