Revolving Focus

IMG_6110 recipe planning

If I had a job outside the home there would be an expectation that I continue to hone and improve my skills. I would attend training to keep me abreast of current findings and research, look for opportunities to develop skills in new areas or advance the skills I already have and be continually working to progress across the board. There would be a budget set aside for training and development and a certain number of hours nominated for this purpose.

Mothering and educating my children and running a household is my full-time occupation and as such I need to set aside the time and resources needed to improve myself in these areas. What does this look like? Reading and researching from bought books, books borrowed from friends or the library, scouring blogs, web sites and picking the brains of like-minded friends, praying, thinking and planning.

I do not have large blocks of time available so I use the time that I do have. I choose one area that will be my focus for the next week or even several weeks. Usually the area that I like the least at the moment is the one that I need to focus on. Hate cooking? Get out the recipe books and get inspired. Search Pinterest, blogs and websites for great ideas and print out a stack of new recipes. Write a weekly menu. Set up a shopping list. Sort out the pantry. List the contents of the freezer and the weird ingredients that are moldering in the back of the cupboard. Buy a new tool that will help you get organised. Take a class. Set up a recipe swap with friends. Research the latest health research and try some foods you’ve never made before. Make the changes to your own diet that you have meant to do but never got around to.

I find that after a period of time of focusing, organising and up-skilling in an area I get excited about it. I look forward to implementing all the new ideas I have found and no longer dread it. I don’t want to sit around resigned to the fact that I’m just not that good at …… (fill in the blank.) If I’m not good at it, I want to get better!

After a couple of weeks fully focused on cooking for example, other areas start to scream out for my attention. The kitchen is now running well, the pantry is organised, the shopping systems are in place, the freezer is stocked with meals and snacks and I have a menu for the next week or two. Time to change the focus to the next area and use all my little minutes to make progress there.

In the business world there is a phrase “eat that frog” – from the book of the same name. The basic premise being that the tyranny of the urgent will always crowd out that large long-term project that needs doing (the frog!) and it just never seems to get started. If we spend a little time each day focused on our goal we will see progress and the frog will eventually be eaten! Now go eat that frog!!

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How do you store children’s jigsaw puzzles?

puzzle cupboard after IMG_8719

The “after” photo. All those melancholy organisation junkies out there say aaahhhhh!

After unsuccessfully searching for a suitably priced storage solution for our woefully disorganised jigsaw puzzle cupboard, I decided to come up with my own system. I have been frustrated at constantly having puzzle pieces mixed up, missing and the whole lot in an untidy jumble and sorting the mess out had finally risen to the top of the project priority heap! After looking at several different options that were going to be way too expensive for us, (we own a LOT of puzzles) I settled on clear plastic containers from Kmart.

puzzle cupboard before IMG_8607

The “before” photo. The really scary thing is that I had already taken out about 15 puzzles when I thought to take a photo of what we started with.

We had a marathon puzzle session where the children completed every puzzle we owned and I photographed the finished result. I threw out any that had been missing pieces for years and were unlikely to suddenly be found and those that were broken or very tattered. We gave several of the least loved away to friends and that still left a rather extensive collection, gathered from secondhand stores and markets over the years at a dollar or two each.

I taped the photo of the finished puzzle to the front of the boxes so the kids can see which puzzle is in the container and choose what they would like to do. I also photographed the base boards from puzzles that had a back and attached these photos to the lids of the boxes so they knew to look for the matching board when they took the pieces out. The boards are now standing at the end of the bottom shelf.

I separated the puzzles into three age or difficulty groups so that I can simply direct the twins for example to take any puzzle that has a white dot on the front. (Very frustrating for them to tip out and start a puzzle they have no hope of completing.) Finally, each box is numbered and every piece inside the box is numbered to match so that when a stray piece is found we can easily see which box it belongs in.

I cut the pictures off the boxes of the more difficult puzzles, folded them and stored them in the box too so that the children can use them as a guide if they need to. (The pictures on the front of the box do the job for the simple puzzles but are not large enough for the very complicated ones.)

The peg puzzles are stored in plastic bags that zip or press-stud together that I have kept from blankets, grobags and other gifts that come in suitable packaging. If they get accidentally tipped off the shelf, at least the pieces will stay in the correct bag.

It cost a total of $62 for the containers which was more than I had hoped but a lot less than some methods I came across. It also means that the children are now regularly choosing to sit down and do a puzzle which had not been happening at all in their jumbled state. Plus, every time I walk past I give a little sigh of satisfaction at that organised shelf! One more thing to cross off my list. Now for project 982….

Other posts you may find useful:

Overview of several chore systems; House tidy and spring clean continues

Chores and responsibility: Suggested chores for every age

Fussy eaters and 2 plate dinners

Emergency Visitor Scramble

s cutleryHave you ever walked around a display home or perhaps one of your friend’s homes and admired the perfectly arranged, tastefully decorated and incredibly neat rooms? On occasion I have to confess that I have wished for a house that is always “visitor ready.” With 6 homeschooled children however, the reality is that our house is functional, never filthy, but sometimes slightly (oh, ok downright) untidy.

It also seems that it is on the days when things are at their worst that the phone rings to let us know that someone is just around the corner and about to pop in for a visit. Thus, the emergency visitor scramble was born.

All the children have regular daily responsibilities (chores) and throughout the week we cycle through the main cleaning jobs so as a general rule, the house isn’t too far from presentable. We are working towards the long-term goal of fully equipping our children in all areas of responsibility relating to running a household so that by the age of 14 or so they will have all the skills involved in being able to manage their own homes well.

Because we have taken the time to train them to clean the house, organising our visitor scramble wasn’t too difficult. I simply call out “Emergency Visitor Scramble, come to Mummy!” and all the children report for duty. Knowing that the visitors are only a short time away gives us the incentive to work hard together, knowing that it will only be for a short time period.

The house is divided into zones and these areas are quickly parcelled out. We all dash like crazy to get the worst of the mess stowed and tidy before the knock sounds on the door. The little ones are paired with an older sibling or myself who give them specific small jobs to do (pick up the dinky cars) or are sent on deliveries (take the socks to the laundry basket etc.)

The toilet is checked and spot cleaned, the floors are picked up, bedroom doors shut and offending items tossed out of sight. Some families like to have a list for this, but I prefer to just look around and tackle whatever is the worst at the time. The older children who have enough initiative are sent to the most conspicuous areas with their little helpers while I direct the others.

Another strategy that we employ on a regular basis is a whole family house sweep. It works very similarly to the scramble, except instead of everyone heading off in different directions to try to cover the whole house, we all start in one room and work together until it is done before moving to the next area and so on throughout the house. This is a 5 or 10 minute per room tidy-up, not a deep clean and Mum and Dad are the directors. The eldest children who have enough initiative to handle it choose what they will tackle in each room, while little ones are given specific instructions to complete small bite-sized tasks. The adults do whatever else needs to be done while marshalling the troops.

We now can transform a pigsty into a reasonably tidy looking house in a very short time. All that’s left to do is throw a brush through my hair and fling that door open with a cheery smile and the visitors are none the wiser!

Related posts you might like:

making pack away time fun

cleaning bedrooms

variety of chore systems

what to do with models and artwork

Making pack-away time fun

Junior spy!

We do have chore systems in place and regular daily responsibilities but some days the house just looks like a bomb has hit it and needs a concerted family effort to pick-up and tidy away; a “house sweep” as we like to call it. (A house sweep is also useful when visitors call unexpectedly to tell you that they are just around the corner and will be dropping over in a couple of minutes.)

A house sweep is when we all start at one end of the house and sweep through every room one at a time, picking up and putting away everything that is out of place. Little ones are sent off with simple objects to deliver, middlies are given a specific task in each room and adults and older children work on whatever else needs to be accomplished to get the room looking good. It is not deep cleaning or vacuuming/mopping type of stuff, just tidying, straightening and delivering until it looks good at a glance.

It is quick and easy and with everyone working together it is not too tedious or difficult to do. Some rousing music to sing along to while we work helps to make a positive atmosphere.

A while back though we tried a different variation on the house sweep which was lots of fun and we must do again sometime soon. After a spy birthday party was attended there was lots of talk about spy missions and spy-type activities, so I capitalised on this interest and held “the spy games.”

First mission: Collect ammunition for subsequent missions (aka pack up time.) I had the children wait around the corner while I hid their ammunition (Nerf bullets) all throughout the mess in the games room. The rules were that every item they touched while searching for bullets must be returned to its proper place regardless of whether ammunition was found or not. The spy with the most bullets when the room was tidy was promoted to head spy. The room was picked up in record time – amazing!

Second mission: Defuse the bombs. Moving on to the next mess; the toddler toys, which after mat time were spread half way around the kitchen and dining area and had not yet been cleaned up by said toddlers. (2 toddlers = 2 mats = 2 times the toys to clear up.) Although we usually require the twins to pack up their own mat toys, it can be a long process and as mat time comes just before dinner, we sometimes skip it in favour of everyone getting up to the table while dinner is still hot. The spy mission was to collect all the bombs (toys) in each spy’s designated area before they detonated and place them inside the super strong bomb proof boxes (The toy crates and/or shelves.) The egg timer came out (counting down to detonation) and the bombs were set. Again, clean in record time.

Third mission: Couriers. Spies are given top secret information disguised as ordinary household objects and must deliver it to contacts in a variety of locations before safely returning to the collection point. The contacts of course must remain anonymous so the top secret info has to be delivered to it’s usual place for collection at a later date.

Fourth mission: Bug sweep. You never know where enemy agents have left their listening devices. Areas must be meticulously clean in order to spot the tiny bugs left  for spying on the spies. Blue glass jewels hidden throughout the room provided the impetus for tidying up with the same rules as mission number 1 – if you touch it you must put it away regardless of whether there was a bug or not. The spy with the most jewel bugs is rewarded with a spy knighthood.

Fifth mission: Under attack. This one was just for fun but with a devious purpose. These rainy winter days and coughs and colds mean that no one is getting much outdoor time and excess energy always seems to show up just around bedtime. This one wears them out so we can get them into bed early to catch up on much needed rest. Out came the beanbag missiles (small, hand-held bean bags like you used to use at primary school.) Your mission; to make it from the lounge to the kitchen door in safety while Mum and Dad launch beanbags in all directions. We moved couches out from the walls to create some cover and had at it. The kids giggled uncontrollably the whole time and we had a ball bombing them with beanbags as they crawled, ran and weaved their way through the furniture to safety. We will definitely do this one again, it was a blast.

The new year organisation and tidy-up continues…

Christmas has come and gone and left behind lots of new toys and belongings to store and old ones to be sorted out and passed on. The spring clean and cupboard empty continues throughout the house. (My husband thinks I’m nesting – I think I’m just getting the house under control again before school starts up and a new baby makes these projects all but impossible!)

The previous year’s projects, papers, drawings, paintings and crafts need to be sorted, chucked or saved. Some of the methods we use to keep precious projects under control are outlined below.

Desks/Ledges: Each child has a designated ledge, windowsill, shelf or desk for displaying models, junk modelling and any other bulky items they have built. When the area is full, they have to decide for themselves what comes down. No mean Mummy throwing out things they love, they make all the culling choices for themselves.

Digital photographs: To make the transition to the bin easier, we photograph the models with the digital camera and print them out to be added to their scrapbooking albums or personal homeschool diary writing books so they have a permanent record.

Pinboards: The children’s rooms have pinboards for displaying their artwork and other projects. When they are full and they want to add a new item something must go into the bin or move to their workboxes. A limit of one item per child is displayed on the fridge at any one time otherwise the forest of paperwork on there gets quickly out of control.

Workboxes: Each person in the family has an A3 box with lid that we long ago covered and decorated with coloured contact. Throughout the year, all paperwork that is not on display (other than homeschool work) is placed here if the children want to keep it. Even Mummy and Daddy have a workbox for all the pictures, paintings, crafts and cards given to us. We show they are valued by keeping them in our special place and try to remember to date them as they go in. As the children’s boxes get filled, they empty them out and only put the most precious items back in again, throwing out the rest. After some time has passed it is easier for them to be more objective about what is and isn’t precious. EVERYTHING is precious when they have just finished it!

House Tidy and Spring Clean Continues…

Sorting the cutlery is one of the first responsibilities we give to our children, usually just after the age of two.

As part of our spring clean week and before the new year really takes off we usually sit down and take a look at our responsibility (chore) system and evaluate how that is working for us. This year, with the twins not yet ready to take on any formal responsibilities, nothing will be changing and our job allocation will stay the same.

We have used several different chore systems over the years, all of which have worked well for a time. (See this post on chores and responsibilities for  more information on chores, which chores to give what ages and much more.) Here are a couple of chore system ideas:

Index cards: Digital photographs of the chore to be completed are stored in a flip box (photo storage container, lunchbox, Tupperware container or similar.) The child starts at the first card, completes the job and puts the card to the back of the stack. Occasionally a “reward” card will be randomly included and a small treat given.

Upside:

  • Photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • Easy to update with new chore cards.

Downside:

  • Children flip through entire box every time before starting to see if there is a treat card included and mope when there isn’t.

Scrub the toilet chore card.

Chore packs: photographs or descriptions of the chores are clipped to the child’s clothing (a lanyard could possibly be used) and the child carries this with them as they work, taking out the finished chore and putting it to the back of the pack until they are complete.

Upside:

  • Photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Child doesn’t have to come back to a central area to see what is next.
  • Easy to update with new chore cards.

Downside:

  • Mum can’t see what chore they are up to and if progress is being made.
  • Easy for cards to get tipped out or out of order.

Folding chore card.

Velcro chore picture cards and chart: The child moves the velcro backed picture cards from one side of the chart to the other as they are completed.

Upside:

  • Pictures give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • Motivating to the child as they can see their progress.
  • Easy to update with new chore cards.

Downside:

  • Older children can’t be bothered moving the cards after each chore is complete.
  • With larger numbers of children, these charts take up a bit of room on the fridge.
  • The velcro backed cards make a great sound when they are ripped off and are very attractive to toddlers who like to rip them on and off and lose them in the process!

    Doing the folding??? Jock and knicker hats are all the rage.

Laminated chore charts: These have spaces next to each chore for the child to cross off or tick that each job has been completed.

Upside:

  • Photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • Children enjoy seeing their progress.

Downside:

  • Not easily updated as chart must be re-made for chores to be changed.
  • Children soon loose interest in ticking them off although they can still follow the chart regardless.

Also "helping" with the folding. Singlet hats are the latest thing!

A simple picture and description list: This is what we are using at the moment. It is simply an A4 piece of paper divided into three columns (one per child) with labelled thumbnail sized pictures representing each chore. It is slid into a plastic sheet protector on the fridge.

Upside:

  • photos give clear indication of what is expected.
  • Mum can see at a glance what they should be doing.
  • It is small, covering 3 children’s chores on one A4 page.
  • Easy to update as it is stored on computer.

Downside:

  • Uses ink to reprint every time you need to update.
  • Not as interesting to use as some of the other systems.

    Dustbusting is another easy job for a toddler to do.

New Year House Tidy and Re-vamp: Kids Bedrooms

This week our whole house spring clean has begun as the new year approaches and bedrooms are the focus. With twins soon to go into big beds, we have had some major room overhauls and re-arrangements to our previous systems, but I thought I’d post how we previously managed room cleaning as it has worked well for us for many years.

Tidying their bedroom is one of our children’s morning responsibilities and must be completed along with a couple of other chores before they come to breakfast. (Nothing like food as a motivator!)

One of the best tools I have found for assisting children to tidy their rooms to the standard I am expecting is to photograph every single part of the room as you want it to look in it’s tidy state. Each child has a poster of these photographs in thumbnail size (plus labels for those who can read) pinned on their bedroom doors.

They simply start at the top of the list and work their way down, making each part of the room look exactly as the picture does. It gives those who struggle to know where to start a specific order and system which helps them not to be too overwhelmed and the older children simply use it as a check after they think they have finished to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything.

When you make your poster, break down the room into the smallest parts or jobs you can think of and photograph each one individually, it’s as simple as that. Our door posters end up with around 12 or 14 pictures which sounds a lot but really helps the little ones to break a large job into smaller parcels that they can easily tackle. The same system works well for any room in the house.

If children come out and report that they are done when they have not completed areas, all I have to say for example is “Does your desk look like it does in the picture?” The child is forced to admit that it does not, which eliminates whining and arguing. I couldn’t begin to count how many times before we started this system a child has come to me and said their room was done (and fully believed this to be the case) when I could immediately see a dozen things that still needed to be put away. Children just don’t see mess through the same eyes we do!!

A few of the photos we have used are included below to give you some idea of what you may choose to photograph in your own child’s room.

A picture of their fully made bed with teddies in place is included, along with a picture of dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and pyjamas under pillows.

Tidy desks and a picture of the inside of drawers too as certain children who shall remain nameless like to tidy their desks by simply sweeping everything into the nearest drawer!

Shelving and contents as they should look.

Yes, this is a picture of the carpet, or in this case a mat on the floor. How else do you show a tidy floor?

Empty bin. The children do not have to empty their waste paper baskets until they are full but before they are overflowing!