A Different Kind of ‘Homework’ : The Value of Incorporating Chores Into the Homeschooler’s Life

Cleanliness is half of faith

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Sahih Muslim]

If you ask a homeschooling mother about the struggles and challenges of home education, chances are she will express the constant struggle to keep up with the messes that come along with it. Homeschooling is a fulfilling, enriching, and explorative journey that the family embarks on together, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, the journey is messy, sticky, and can be dreadfully disorganized. When we turn our learning loose, and we trade in our lengthy, dull, drawn out curriculum for experiences, it can get messy. Tossing the math book aside and using cookies to teach fractions or using flour in a pan to practice letters, can get chaotic.  Not to mention the heaps of laundry that are ignored or the soap scum in the bathroom sink or the dirty dishes piling away because we are immersed in these incredible experiences with our kids. But let’s call a spade a spade, we cannot physically do it all. Our homes bear the brunt of home education, and it’s extremely difficult to find the time and energy to do extensive cleaning after a long day of enriching studies with our kids.

Thankfully, we are not alone.

Dr. Martin Rossman from the University of Minnesota undertook a longitudinal study (subjects were followed up over a period of 20 years) which revealed that one of the best predictors of a child’s success is if he or she began helping with household chores at age 3 to 4. These children were less likely to use drugs and had better relationships, were far more likely to go to college and hold steady careers. These are just a few among many other significant benefits.

There are so many opportunities for young children to help around the house. At an early age, they are very keen to help us in any way.  However, this isn’t easy for parents. Every parent has watched his or her child clean up a mess, and somehow make more of a mess then there was to begin with.  Every parent inevitably feels the same.

                                                               Forget it—It’ll be faster if I just do it myself.

The problem with this mindset is it’s shortsighted. For a while, it will be more work than it’s worth, but as homeschooling mothers, we understand the ebbs and flows of the natural learning process. Learning anything takes time. Our kids do not make the transition from counting their numbers to algebraic equations in one evening. We understand this in terms of formal education, in the realm of our Dīn, but we generally lose our patience when it comes to chores.  Maybe, because having a clean home quickly is so crucial, whether it’s to swiftly tidy up for our own sanity or because we have dinner guests and the clock is ticking, we don’t let the kids truly understand how to clean.  We use the mastery approach in most areas of study, but in this regard, we lose the patience and don’t feel the need to train them to handle chores. We throw up our hands and scoot them aside, rushing to just get it done. This whole mindset goes against our mantra as homeschooling mothers.

Diligently training our children to do chores is a crucial part of life skills. We aren’t doing them any favors by not properly equipping them to handle this part of life. A child who is raised to be organized and keep up neat surroundings grows into an adult with the same ethic. Being organized and neat is crucial to becoming a successful adult. The studies that correlate success with children who are given chores at young ages are endless. When children are given chores when they are younger, they will develop confidence in their ability to complete tasks. This work ethic will move gradually and naturally into school work, and moreover, into their eventual careers.

Where to Begin?

No matter the age of your child, you can train them to clean like you. What does this mean? It means that they can clean a room and it will result in a pristinely cleaned room, just as good as if you did it, or with a little practice, perhaps even better! But all good things come to those who wait- give your kids the time to learn each task and stick by them until they get it right. 

Training Ages 2-4 (Age Appropriate Chores

 

This is the perfect age window to teach how to clean up. Don’t push your kid into a messy room and expect them to work miracles, start by creating the mess and demonstrating how to clean up the mess.  Here are some simple activities to begin cleaning practice:

Blocks/Toys

  • Pour the blocks out and place them back in their container

Cleaning a table

  • Using a spray and washcloth, demonstrate how to clean a table surface; collecting crumbs and dust first, discarding, and then cleaning the surface with spray.

Putting shoes away

  • Scatter shoes in the front entry and demonstrate how to match up pairs and place them in the right place. Make sure to keep the shoe closet or organizer neat and tidy.

 

 

Sorting silverware

  • Show the child the appropriate way to restock clean silverware. The child should have easy access to a stool to facilitate their work in spots they can’t reach.

Cleaning baseboards

  • Give the child a small bucket of soapy water and an old sock for their hand. Teach them to give the baseboards a “shower”. Teach the child that less is more, and demonstrate that a little bit goes a long way so you don’t have a soapy, watery mess all over the house.

Putting clothes away

  • This age group generally cannot properly fold or hang, so the best thing to do is have hooks in their room.  Demonstrate when they are done with the clothes to either place in hamper (if they are dirty) or hook them up for later use. Explain that clothes never go on the floor.

When the child is practicing these tasks, stay with them. Give them ample time to really get the hang of each chore until they are doing it with ease and doing it well. If a child is repeatedly making mistakes in this practice time, kindly correct them, making sure never to admonish or reprimand them. This is their time to understand the work that is expected of them without stress or anxiety. A child should be able to truly understand a chore, depending on the difficulty of the task in four to six weeks (if they are doing it daily) and for chores being practiced less often, give them up to two months.  When the child has truly mastered a chore, then and only then move onto teaching a new chore.

If your child is older, whatever chore you entrust them to, whether it is cleaning the kitchen or vacuuming a rug, stay with them consistently for two weeks until they are doing it pristinely. My son took two months to learn to make his bed in an acceptable fashion. Make sure you are teaching them each part of the task, and until they are confidently doing 100 % on their own, don’t leave their side! Equip them with the skills to complete the task and feel successful in their ability to truly help in the running of the home.

A Home for Everything

I believe in the power of imagination. Truly there is nothing more beautiful than the power of a child’s imagination. But I draw the line when it comes to chores. To truly expect a child to clean up, nothing should be left up to the imagination of the child or chance when it comes to cleaning up. Everything should have a designated spot in the home, and the child should be taught where everything goes. This way they aren’t shoving shoes under sofas or dirty clothes in their drawers. They are aiding you in cleaning, not creating more work.

Declutter

Take time to declutter your home, and work to create a spot for everything. Look at your home through the eyes of a child. Do you own a lot of clutter? Does everything have a designated spot? If not, then take the time to establish real order in the home. I went through and made sure everything we owned was in a spot that was its true home. I got rid of unnecessary trinkets that floated around the house, and décor were all tossed. I went through each room, trying to think about how easy this would be for my children to clean up on their own. It was unreasonable for them be expected to pick up décor and dust and clean around it or to distinguish what was to stay on display and what was to be put away. So we have left most surfaces empty, to help the kids understand exactly what a clean room looks like.  Give yourself ample time to make the necessary adjustments to your home.  Rome wasn’t built in a day. Do not simply organize things. Decluttering is vital in this step, because at the end of the day, organized clutter is still clutter. Evaluate the things that have a place in your home with these simple questions to see if they deserve that coveted spot:

  1.  When was the last time I used this?
  2.  If I get rid of it, will I have to go out and buy a new one?
  3.  Do I have a place for this?

These questions will give you a little perspective on how to deal with items that don’t belong to a category and cannot be easily placed in its own home.  If you consider the space you live in as very exclusive and only the most essential, wonderful, material objects get to have a place in it, it makes decluttering a lot easier.

This can be especially hard with kids, and teenagers. But it’s important for them to understand that we don’t mindlessly just collect things for the sake of collecting. We don’t want to raise hoarders after all- and this is how it begins. This is an excellent time to teach them the Islamic perspective on collecting mindlessly, as RasulAllah SAW taught us to live like travelers.  Teach them to place a high value on quality vs. quantity. Have them pick up each random thing in their rooms that doesn’t have a designated space or that takes up senseless space, and train them to know that it doesn’t then deserve to be there.

Organization isn’t about perfection, it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money, and improving your overall quality of life.

Christina Scalise

Tried and True Tricks and Tips

 

Toy Organizers

If your child has toys in her or his room, invest in some sort of organizer that will hold one type of toy in each bin. This is what we use in the girls’ room. It’s a pretty popular toy organizer, purchased from IKEA.

An organizer like this really helps keep all similar toys together and makes clean up a breeze
Soft plushies and finger puppets
Jump ropes
Lincoln logs
Barbie dolls
Purses
Puzzles (bagged and labeled)

When it’s time to clean up toys, even the youngest children will be able to understand the very simple system of putting all the toys in the right spot. Each bin is designated for a specific toy and this makes clean up and playtime much smoother.

 

Clutter-Free Kitchen

We all have certain idiosyncratic behavior when it comes to cleaning the kitchen. Some people store clean dishes on the counter top to dry, some people leave appliances against the backsplash. When my son became old enough to clean the kitchen, we established the rule that the counter was to remain bare. We have a very small kitchen and even less counter space, so to make it a rule to keep the counters bare was just an exercise in keeping our sanity. The only appliances that stay out ares our kitchen aid and our coffee maker. No exceptions.

Handle everything as they are coming in!

I don’t have a “command center”. I don’t have a spot to organize mail. I feel that these spots in homes can become nightmares. Additionally, this would be almost an impossible chore for a child to handle—to sort or understand what to do with mail, and if my kids can’t handle it, I don’t let it linger in the house. So as soon as mail comes in, whilst it is still warm in my hand, I file it, or recycle it. Immediately. Letting mail collect is truly one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate how it creeps into our homes and shoves itself behind the bamboo plant on the counter or under an ugly paper weight. As it comes in, handle it and don’t put it down till it’s done!

Simple Systems

The kids should have designated chores that are to be completed on a daily basis, of course, but more importantly, moms should have a system to complete our own chores.

My system:

Monday-  Bathrooms (I only do tubs and toilets, my kids are assigned the counter, mirror, organize under cabinet and sweeping)

Tuesday-  Sweep and Vacuum

Wednesday- Laundry: Whites and Kids laundry only (Make sure all the kids help with folding/hanging and putting away their own clothes

Thursday-  Mopping

Friday- Bathrooms (Tubs and toilets) /Sweeping and Vacuuming

Saturday-  Food Pantry and kitchen appliances /Car Cleaning

Sunday- Refrigerator and Freezer /Laundry

*We do a general cleanup twice a day, once after homeschooling, and once before bed

(this way we wake up to a clean house)

* These chores are beyond the general cleanup.

This is the system and the days that work for me. Take some time to jot down the schedule that would work best for you, keeping in mind to spread the big tasks throughout the week to prevent burnout and work build up!

Kids’ Chores

Kids should know their chores, and be expected to be responsible for those chores all day long. They should have time to attend to those chores. Try to give a chore time during your school day. This breaks the monotony of consistent school work, and it gives them a chance to stretch their limbs. Make sure they understand their duties and that they have a place where their responsibilities are visible on a chart.

The Power of Self Discipline

There are many things in life that we must do, even if we don’t feel like doing it. It’s often said that successful people are good at doing what other people don’t want to do or couldn’t be bothered doing – their secret is they have inordinate self-discipline. It’s essential to be able to ‘show up’ in areas of your life even when you don’t feel like it. Teaching kids that certain things must be done, regardless of how we are feeling about it is essential to establishing an excellent work ethic in kids.

In a moving speech, Naval Adm. William McRaven a former Navy Seal, talks about the importance of making one’s bed:

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

Make sure you give your family the time to learn and enjoy their chores, and enjoy your little helpers for years to come, Insha’Allah!

 

Having had a bitter taste of different educational systems growing up, Alina Jaffery came to the realization that for her children there must be a better option. She decided to put her career and work life back seat to home education. Currently in their seventh year, she has managed to weave homeschooling into their everyday life. She is committed to the belief that learning should not be limited to a classroom or to any one place. Amongst her favorite pastimes is reading aloud to her children, which has developed into a deep love of reading in her own trio. She believes in the holistic power of homeschooling not just to educate, but to strengthen the bonds of family. She is mother to three wonderful kids (ages 10,7, and 4) and her goal is to nurture a love of lifetime learning, a profound respect for the gift of knowledge, and above all, to raise strong Muslims who live a life of which their Rubb is pleased with.

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