Monday, August 24, 2009


This morning, after our scripture study, Sarah said the prayer. She was half-awake, her hair a tangled mass, and still in her pajamas, as she slowly and deliberately began the prayer. Most of it was typical thank-you-for-our-family things, but towards the end she said, "and thank you we have water. Thank you we have water that comes in our sinks."

I don't know where she picked up on the miracle that is fresh, clean water, and I'm sure I've never told her that we take it for granted, but I was grateful for words and for the reminder that I live in a wonderful time, where water is magically delivered to our faucets.

The clothing shuffle

(written in May 2009)
A few weeks ago, DH & I were at Payless Shoes during their BOGO sale. When we found a nice pair of all-brown gender-neutral shoes for less than six dollars, we began searching the shelves for the same shoe in other sizes (our school requires all brown or all black shoes). We were stacking the boxes five or six high when a sales lady came and gave us a funny look.

"We have seven kids," we said.

The light when on, and she began helping us look. Size 12, 13, 1, 2, 3, 4, how about 13 1/2?

We left the store with over ten pairs of shoes, two or three of which will be used now. The rest will be saved for next year, or the next, or the next. With seven kids, at some point, the shoes are bound to fit SOMEONE.

Here's where the shoes go, for now, lined up in order of size:

I've also got several boxes, not shown, of used-but-still-okay shoes, mostly sorted by size.

I like to buy early and buy on sale. I'm always looking for a clothing deal and I buy in advance. If I stay on top of it, our clothing budget stays reasonable and my kids always have clothes, shoes, and coats to wear. If I forget, like I did once in the fall when the weather turned cold and I realized I had five kids who had outgrown their coats, then I'm stuck paying whatever price the stores want to charge (that time? $150). I've since stocked up on coats ($5 or $6 each on clearance) and keep them lined up by size in the closet of our spare room.

In our old home, when we didn't have a storage space, I'd keep a box on the floor in each bedroom closet labeled, "Outgrown." In the boys' room, I had a box labeled, "Between Joey and Micheal," another labeled "For Joey to grow into," and a third for clothes outgrown by Michael. In the girls' room, I had four boxes, one of clothes the twins had outgrown and one for things they could grow into soon, and the same for Lillian. The box for outgrown clothes I kept fairly accessible so I could simply toss an item in anytime I found it no longer fit or was out of season and was going to be too small by the time it was in season again.

I don't save every item; my standard is if I wouldn't buy it if I saw it at a thrift shop, then I give it away.

At my current home, I'm blessed to have a nice storage room, with shelves for our outgrown clothes. Now I sort it all by size and by gender. I have three shelves. The top is for uniform clothes, the middle for girl clothes, the bottom for boy clothes. For gender neutral shorts and jeans, I try to just put the item in the gender of the child who will fit into it next. So, for instance, size 5 shorts Michael's outgrown go in the Girls 5T box.

It doesn't always look this nice, but since I just did the spring clothing shuffle, it's pretty organized.

How do you handle the clothing shuffle?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Q&A: Teaching Children (Including Boys!) to Love and Respect Each Other

From Amy:
I have six boys and often times seem to live in such a different world than you. I am such an oddity where I live, people actually know me as the mother of the six boys. It is in Mass. which gives a bit of a clue. Anyway, I wonder how you get your children to appreciate each other? I live in a community where material things and activities are so overvalued, however I find myself feeling so overwhelmed just to help my boys to fit in. I have no daughters in our family so I often feel like it is harder to help them to respect and cherish each other.
Well, Amy, the reason you think we live in a different world is that very likely we do! =) I'm not a native of Utah -- I always claim Idaho as my real home -- but families are valued here and even though I'm a bit of an anomaly because of how many and how close in age my kids are, people are generally positive about my family. I recognize that I am blessed to live in such an environment. Even though I still get looks and comments, most people understand why I value and love children. I really admire you for the way you're loving and raising your family in a place where things aren't as positive.

The other major difference, as you noted, is that I have five girls and two boys, while you live in a world of all boys. I have some suggestions for helping children get along, which I'll post in another post, but because of your unique situation, I decided to ask Jacki and Allison to chime in with their perspective. Jacki is a mother of five boys who lives in Oregon. Allison has lived in many places, including Chicago and Massachusetts, with her five boys. They recently added a daughter to their family (see, Jacki, there is hope! =P)

First, here's Jacki:
I get looks too- I can’t go anywhere without someone saying I have my hands full and watching their jaw drop as they see that not only do I have 5 young children, but that they are all boys…

I heard the comment once to say “My heart too” after someone says “Your hands are full!” Now I need a comment for what to say when someone asks me if I’m done having children… or am I still trying for the girl! I don’t mind those conversations with a friend, but the grocery cashier, or the lady in the elevator and anyone else who gets a second to take us all in doesn’t need to know! And I’m tired of my boys hearing it all the time! I asked them what they thought of those comments and my 8 year old said “it’s kinda fun- like we’re famous or something.” So I guess they don’t think it’s bad.

Reading some of Christina’s posts have made me wonder if my boys love and appreciate each other. They don’t do the sweet things that Christina’s often do. But thinking about it I realized they have their own way of showing their love for each other…
* Teaching even a 1 year old how to use the Star Wars “force”
* Light saber duels
* Collaborative mischief
* Pokémon card talk and battles
* Helping each other build Lego creations
* Making silly faces and chasing the 3 year old to cheer him up.
* Playing peek a boo with the 1 year old
* Reading a book to the 3 year old
* Pillow fights
* Running in circles with each other
* Making silly faces or body movements to say sorry or cheer someone up
* Hugs that turn into tackles

I thought most of these things were kind of annoying until I realized it’s their way of showing they care about each other.

I do think there are ways to promote caring for each other, here’s a few of my ideas- I’d love more!

* Sharing a room- My children that share a room have a stronger, more personal relationship.

* Book time/quiet time- we have an hour of Book Time each summer day where they read upstairs while the younger kids nap. It often turns into quiet sneaking into each other’s rooms to read and hang out together. They seem to get along better in this time as they know they aren’t allowed to be loud or come talk to me.

* Helping them value each other’s personality- they truly are each unique and sometimes we think they have a flaw or are annoying, but it’s just a different way of being. I try not to let them say mean things. I often remind them “Kind words- kind voices!”

* Gotchas- We print out slips of paper that say “Gotcha!”. They get one when they are kind or obedient. When we have earned 100 collectively, we have a Pizza/Movie night and read all the nice things they’ve done.

* Love bear- a stuffed bear that we pass around. One person has it and they do a secret kindness for someone else and leave it on their pillow.

* I’ve wondered about sibling outings where one parent can take 2 kids and do something fun..but I haven’t thought out all the “make it fair” logistics. But, I think it would be fun to have 2 interact alone.

I’m thankful to be a mom and for the joys of having boys.
And now Allison's ideas:
Having all boys and also having lived in MA, I can totally relate to both of Amy's issues. People would look at me like I had 3 heads when I had all of my boys with me (which was all the time). What saved us from people being totally horrified was that boys #3 and #4 are twins. Our first two were boys, so in other's minds it was okay to 'try for a girl'. Then we got twin boys, but it was okay since we got a 2 for 1 deal. :-) I'm glad I didn't have to explain our decision to have our fifth child, also a boy [since we moved before he was born]! There is no way people could comprehend WANTING another child after 4! Quite honestly, what saved me during our 5 years in MA was church. Having people around me, at least some of the time, who also might have a larger family, or who at least understood my desire to have a larger family, was a lifesaver. I can't imagine how alone I would have felt without those friends. Somehow, going out with another mom who had 4 little ones made me feel much less alone - even though the shocked looks and comments were even more prevalent. I don't know if Amy has friends who have larger families, but seeking some out would probably help a lot! I know lots of great LDS families in Belmont......... :-) As for having boys who appreciate and love one another, that's a bit harder with boys, I think. My problem is that I look at families with little girls and think/hope that my boys are going to respond to each other in that way. The truth is, that's not the way boys are wired. What looks like fighting to me, can actually be bonding for them! My husband helps me to understand this dynamic. Boys are going to be very physical, lots of wrestling, jumping, running, and yelling. I can't understand it, but I'm trying harder to see it for what it is - the way my boys show each other they like to be around one another. We do have a few rules at our house that help keep the noise and fighting to a dull roar! First, we emphasize 'watching out for one another'. I encourage my boys to stand up for one another when they're playing with friends, and tell them they have a responsibility to help protect their brother's. Not that they are in any huge fights or anything, just that I want them to feel a responsibility towards one another - especially when I'm not there. Second, if boys are playing with friends, their brothers are always invited to play, as well. The one time I make an exception is if a younger brother is being extremely whiny/crying. Then I'll take the younger brother and separate him for awhile. I don't like my boys to exclude one another, so as long as everyone is behaving, it's a rule that no one can be excluded. Of course there are times when an older brother is going somewhere or doing something where younger brother's aren't invited. But for 99% of the time that they're just hanging out playing, they are not allowed to exclude their brothers. Boys are tricky. I read a great book called "Bringing up Boys" by Dobson that really helped clarify the type of boys I want to raise. I'm not usually a Dobson fan - I think he's way too harsh and I don't spank. But this book struck a chord with me. It discusses the 'feminizing' of our boys in everything from school, to expectations about the way they will play with one another. Boys need a bit of an edge, a competitive streak, in order to find the inner strength to stand up for what they believe in. I try to balance allowing this strength/edge to develop, with keeping them grounded and emphasizing what is important - the gospel of Jesus Christ, making good decisions even when it's difficult, working hard (WORK FIRST is a family motto), being kind, especially to those who are weaker then themselves. These are lessons I want to emphasize because I think they help boys develop into the type of men I want to raise. Keeping these ultimate goals in mind, help me to look past the daily challenges of raising boys!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I haven't blogged for a while

and I'm likely not to get caught up anytime soon. Tomorrow is the first day of school! For the first time in my life, I'll have more kids in school than at home. Allison and Sarah are thrilled to be going to morning kindergarten. Today, we walked over to the school to "practice" the crossing of the streets. The girls did great. They met their teacher and Allison started dancing when Mrs. Y told her that they will have a hamster in the class. "I'm SO lucky! A real hamster!" she gushed.

"Do they get this excited at Christmas?" Mrs. Y asked.
"They get this excited every day," I told her. Enthusiasm is never a problem at our house. I just hope she's ready for their exuberance.

But back to blogging. I really do have a good excuse why I haven't been blogging (Besides the fact that I'm really not ready for school to start tomorrow.)

The truth is, I've been really busy doing exceedingly important things far from home, such as:

With all that sun and sand and sunshine, I didn't even touch a computer for over a week. We had a great time!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Q&A: Chores Again

I got a few follow up questions about chores.

From Kim:
Did you make the tickets?
Yes, I did; I made them in Photoshop with some basic frames and money backgrounds and then printed them on photo paper. I also made tickets that are worth 5 and 10 tickets since we quickly used up all our single tickets. I think anything would work, though; I've even heard of people using monopoly money for this type of chore system.

From Crystal:
How early did you start having your kids help?
I don't have formal chores with my kids until around age 4 or 5, depending on the child and what else is going on. We have family work day every Saturday where we clean the whole house, and the younger kids help a little here and there as they are able. This Saturday time, when both DH and I are working with the kids, usually on cleaning the house as well as some bigger projects or maintenance, is our time to model and teach how to do the work.

Like most moms, I also encourage any and all "helping" from the little ones, from picking up the bath toys when we are done to carrying in the groceries from the car. Here's a quick age by age guide of what we try to do -- keep in mind that these are rough guidelines and there is a lot of overlap:

Ages 18 months - 3 years: This is a great age to let your little ones know how much you love to have their help. Let them pick up toys and put them back in the bins or stand nearby while you're cooking, handing you eggs or rolling cookie dough into balls. I know some families are really good at having their child pick up one set of toys before getting out another, but we're not. We usually clean up the toys once a day or several times a week. Working with your child works best at this age (and at any of the other ages as well, but this is the age where constant supervision is the norm).

3 to 4 years: More can be expected of this age, and it's a great age to start teaching them basic organization skills, such as where the toys go, what to do with their dirty clothes, etc. As soon as my kids are able, I expect them to pick out their own clothes and dress themselves. This is also a good age for them to learn how to brush their own teeth and to clean their own room, with some help. They can also get their own cereal.

4 to 6 years: This is when some independence can start to be expected. My kids start cleaning their own room, picking up the family room, or cleaning up the mud room at this age. Emptying the dishwasher or setting the table are great tasks to give kids this age. Other chores can be done on a shadow basis, including cleaning bathrooms, and helping organize. Allison still talks sometimes about the day she helped me sort all the lids in the kitchen. She did a great job and was so proud of the herself. Keep in mind your own circumstances and the personalities of your kids, however. Encourage and model and work with your kids at this age, but don't push them so hard that work becomes a daily battle -- trust me, there will be plenty of years for battles, so just be patient and reasonable. Lillian has always been naturally organized and seems to know instinctively where things go and when something's out of place. Some of my other kids just don't have that internal sense of order and it's taken a lot of years and a lot of effort for them to understand what goes into even basic tasks like cleaning the family room (i. e. "Yes, you do need to put the dirty socks away, too." or "didn't you notice all the papers halfway under the couch?"). Joey has always been very mechanically minded and he started helping DH work in his woodshop when he was just two years old and by this age was wonderful. He would sit quietly and intently focused, ready to hand his dad the screws he needed every few moments. That capacity has continued even as he's aged, while we've found that most of the other kids are just not able to focus in the same way.

6 to 8 years: This is when daily chores, filling out charts, and independence can be given. Kids can be taught to take pride in a job well done and be expected to take responsibility for their own specific tasks. This is still a bit of a practice stage, and a lot of follow-up and reminders will most likely be needed.

8 to 10 years: This is a wonderful age where responsibility is a matter of course and less reminders should be needed. I've also found that around age 8, kids are able to take a more significant role in doing the dishes and can even clean the kitchen independently, though at our house the job is so big, we usually break it up, work with our kids, or have several of them work on it together. I only have two kids in this age group, though, so I'm still figuring out what works and what doesn't. During the summer, I expect more than during the school year, when I'm concerned about balancing school, homework, playtime, activities, and chores.

10 years plus: Who knows? I'll let you know here in a few years!

Anyone else have suggestions or ideas about working and chores?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

So, um,

Anyone know how to get a huge amount of blue sidewalk chalk out of brown carpet?

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Q&A: Chores

From Lana:
I would like to know your kids chore list.=)

I think it's important for kids to learn how to work and be responsible. I also think it's sometimes a major pain do it! We've used lots of different systems through the years. For several years we've used a ticket system where they earn tickets for each chore they complete and then use them to buy prizes once a week. They also have to give me a ticket for every thirty minutes of time on the computer. They get tickets taken away for bad behavior.

Back in February, I wrote this in my weekly email about our chores:

Want to know a secret? It doesn’t really matter what system you use to get your kids to do their chores. What matters is that you change it every once in a while. We’ve had good results with the system I worked out at the beginning of the school year, where we wrote down the chores for each day and then let the three older kids choose which ones they wanted to do. We even broke down the dishes into four separate chores – emptying the dishwasher, clearing off and wiping counters and tables, filling up the dishwasher, and sweeping. It worked well because no one had too much of the chores and each day was something different. Joey might have lots of kitchen duties one day and then none the next. After a few months, the kids (with the exception of Lillian, as usual) were not as motivated, so I changed it up a bit, re-working a few of the chores and adding two “Help, Mom!” boxes. If they had an extra tough job, they could use one of their “help moms.” If not, then they’d earn extra tickets for the empty boxes. The chore charts were posted on our bulletin board and filled in each week, then exchanged on Monday for tickets the kids could use towards prizes and privileges. It worked for a few months pretty well.

But lately, all but Lillian have been balking, “forgetting,” or pouting their way through their chores. When that happens, it’s tempting to push harder with the system you’ve got, but I’ve found that it works best to change it significantly. A new system sometimes gets motivation going again. So now, we have zones. Lillian has empty dishwasher, kitchen garbage, feeding the cats and cleaning their litter, and dinner helper. Joey has the great room, kitchen pick-up (non-food items like backpacks, socks, shoes, etc.), and the front room, and Michael has the mudroom and the downstairs family room. Then we all – including either mom or dad – are in charge of cleaning the kitchen after meals. It’s been working great the last two weeks, and it has simplified things somewhat. I’m sure that by the time summer hits, though, it will be time for a new system again, this time one that incorporates Sarah and Allison a bit more.

We did indeed change the schedule at the beginning of the summer, one where we broke up the work into three time periods during the day. In the morning, they were to work on their talents (reading for Michael and the twins, piano for Joey, piano and violin for Lillian), then go outside to pull weeds or move wood for thirty minutes. By this time, Harmony was usually down for her morning nap, so I went with them. Mid-day, all but Lillian worked to clean up their rooms and the family room before lunch. Lillian made lunch during that time. Then in the evening, we cleaned up the main floor of the house while I prepared dinner.

It worked, but since there weren't specific assignments and personal responsibility, it was a lot more work for me to keep up with everyone. So several weeks ago, we switched it up again, going back to zones. We now have two main times for chores, the first of the day and then just before dinner. Depending on what activities we're doing that day or when we get back, sometimes we do it later or earlier. Each child has a zone they are in charge of, so if I simply say, "Go take care of your zone," they know where and what to do.

My chore list for each child:

10-year-old girl: Own room, Practices violin and piano, feeds cats, 30 minutes outside work, helps make lunch, Zone: great room pick up, dinner dishes twice a week

Joey, age 8.5: own room, 40 minutes outside work (wanted to do this rather than practice piano), Zone: family room, dinner dishes twice a week.

Michael, age 7: own room, 30 minutes outside work, reading, Zone: Mud room, empty dishwashers, dinner dishes once a week (with help).

Allison and Sarah, age 5: own room, help as assigned, some outside work.

We're not perfect at it and I have one child that hates any kind of work and is very vocal about it, not to mention sitting around moaning about doing it for two hours rather than taking the ten minutes it would take to do the job. We do the outside work about three days a week now rather than all five. Assigning the zones has helped a ton. If each of the three oldest picks up their zone, the house automatically looks clean. It's wonderful.

The prize bin is full of books, videos, science kits, art supplies, and even occasionally a candy bar. We tend to put things in the prize bin that we come across on good sales and that we know some of our kids will like. Sometimes, a child will fall in love with something at the store, and if it's reasonable, we'll buy it and put it in the prize bin. At the beginning of the summer, my husband and I found a microscope on sale. We were excited, because we knew that such a prize would translate into at least three weeks of good behavior from Joey. Last week, Allison used her tickets to buy some sidewalk chalk and she and Sarah spent the next day wearing that chalk down to nubs (after Sarah spent time playing with the hose, so ignore her funny hair):

We also have the kids give us tickets for certain experiences. A few weeks ago, DH announced he would take anyone who earned thirty tickets out to see the new Harry Potter movie. Lillian earned those tickets through extra chores, then earned twenty more so she could go out to Tucano's for lunch beforehand. (By the way, the movie was a disappointment. Too depressing)

We keep track of it all on a bulletin board in the hallway near the kitchen. The tickets go in both the pockets and on the pushpins because I set up the pockets back when we only had three kids using the system.
We also do Family Work Day every Saturday.

What tips and tricks do you have for chores?


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