By Mary

Every now and then someone asks how other home educators manage home ed and household tasks such as cleaning and cooking because they’re struggling to get on top of everything. This is especially true of families with younger children who are new to home ed, families who do not have any support nearby or families with an older child where the parent feels this child is missing out due to the needs of the younger siblings.

I’m not convinced one can be a home educator and have a picture-perfect house. Stuff will be everywhere like your six pairs of scissors that can never be found when you need one. I’ve often heard home educators say their houses are rarely perfectly neat and tidy but that’s okay, because they look well-used and well-loved. Others like to think of their houses as interactive art spaces for the latest home ed creations. That worked for me when visitors were walking around the train tracks that stretched from one end of the house to the other!

For some, it helps to focus on cleanliness as opposed to mess. Instead of stressing about picking up the latest mountain of LEGO (‘mess’), it might help to get the ‘cleanliness’ jobs done first such as laundry, cleaning toilets and making sure the food preparation spaces are hygienic. The messes created by people can be dealt with later.

When new home educators say they are struggling with trying to keep the house tidy and do their home ed, I want to say, ‘Forget the housework!’ however I know it’s not always as simple as that. I also want to say, ‘Forget the home ed!’, but more on that later.

Housework can cause a lot of anxiety and feelings of failure if our own expectations aren’t met. If your mental or physical health isn’t in the greatest space then tidying up can seem an impossible task, even when you don’t have home ed in the mix. It’s very important that you work out what you can do realistically, taking into account your personal circumstances. We are all wired differently and so if you are struggling with the housework and home ed and want to get on top of the housework-overwhelm feeling, I encourage you to look up some YouTube videos to see what applies to you and appears manageable. There are videos on managing housework with ADHD, depression, anxiety and chronic health conditions. These videos often have great tips and encourage a gentle approach.

Regardless of the housework approach you use, such as getting the kids involved or having it be an adult’s job, an important factor is time management. This is still very important for me now that my kids are older. Part of time management for me involved jotting down ideas of activities that would keep my younger children occupied while I tried to get things done. Both my children went through long phases of not wanting me out of their sight and I had to be quite selective about what I could do, and when. Housework effort at this time was at an all-time low and I was exhausted. You know the story: kids having meltdowns while you’re trying to cook or clean and having to run back and forth, sometimes with a child in each arm and as soon as you get started on a housework task you need to go and attend to the cat vomiting and a child who has missed their aim on the toilet.

I encourage you to think of what can keep your kids occupied for 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Think of this when you’re in a moment of calm and (hopefully) not being interrupted. Even at those times where I felt like wailing that there was nothing that could keep my kids busy (both kids had additional needs that warranted close supervision), in my calmer moments I knew there was always something that would work, such as bringing out a selection of toys and activities that were only used for the times I needed to get other stuff done. I remember putting all the cutlery on the table and asking the kids to ‘polish’ it while I cleaned the kitchen and got lunch going. That was a half-hour where they were so absorbed in their activity and I was able to get stuff done. Another popular distraction was a game called Tantrix, where you use tiles to arrange coloured lines that must match up. Mixing up a deck of cards and asking the kids to sort them was another keep-em-occupied activity (they’d end up doing their own thing which was fine of course!).

Cooking is another subject that comes up often in the discussion of how to manage home ed and housework. To this, I offer two pieces of advice: meal planning and bulk prep. Meal planning helps alleviate the hassle of standing in front of the fridge wondering what to cook for dinner. Planning ahead also helps you factor in what you can do with leftovers. When I stop meal planning I become more stressed about cooking and the meals aren’t as well balanced nutritionally. Meal planning goes hand in hand with time management too. I’ve also found meal planning means I spend less on groceries.

Bulk preparation is where you prepare a double, or more, batch of food to freeze for later use. Being able to take a ready-made meal out of the freezer, especially when you’re sick or don’t have the time to cook from scratch or when you’re having a down day is such a relief. It’s also a great relief when you have family members with different dietary requirements. Bulk prep also involves things that make it easier for you tomorrow or the day after, such as cutting up vegetables in advance. If you are prepping the veggies for the next day and can afford to take a little time, consider getting the kids to wash or peel vegetables or some other food prep task, to allow you to spend that five or ten minutes doing something else.

A cleaning technique that has always worked well for me is using a timer. You can set the timer for a short period such as five minutes, and in that time work to clean a room or perhaps focus on a specific task such as clearing space on the kitchen bench or picking rubbish up and taking it out of the house – whatever you feel is your priority at that moment. Your children can help, so give them a little cleaning cloth to dust, or a task like picking up their toys, or do your five-minute task when the kids are having a snack. Getting kids involved doesn’t have to be about kids doing housework, more that you want to get a certain task done and you have kids you need to keep an eye on so give them something to do with you close by. Kids often want to help, and get great contentment and satisfaction from ‘helping’ (though of course sometimes we need to clean up that help later!).

Now, back to ‘Forget the home ed!’ If you’re finding it very hard to manage both housework and education, I suggest you take some moments to look at what you’re doing on the home ed front. Can you relax your home ed approach a bit? Let it go for a day? Even a week? The kids will be fine with no official ‘homeschool’ for a week, promise. Can you use a selection of DVDs or audiobooks to give you some uninterrupted time? I avoided TV screen time for my youngest, but she was given Dora the Explorer DVDs as a gift when she was little and as a result, I had a five-year-old teaching herself Spanish, an interest she still has as a twelve-year-old. Gracias, Dora! 

Have you placed home ed expectations on yourself that just aren’t working? Are you trying to emulate what you’ve seen other home educators do even though it doesn’t seem to be working for you? If there’s anything you can let go, then do it. This is the beauty of home ed: you can adapt on the fly and be flexible. If something isn’t working, leave it and look for alternatives. You can always revisit things later. It might take some trial and error but you will find a balance that works for your family.

What do you do when you’re sick? Do you still soldier on with doing the home ed stuff, or do you rest up and forget home ed for that day? I’m happy to bet that if you haven’t done any homeschool on the days you’ve been sick, that your kids were and are fine, and having a day or two off from your usual routine hasn’t caused them to suddenly fall behind drastically and ruin them for life. Why not treat your ‘I need to get on top of the housework’ day like a sick day, even a sick week if you feel that you need that week to get on top of the housework? Remember, home ed allows you to be flexible!

Those of us who have experienced the housework-home ed struggle, and with the benefit of hindsight are happy to tell you to take it easy and don’t stress, we all understand that you want to provide your kids with opportunities and learning and attention and all the good stuff. 

But what about you? You deserve to feel content in your own space too. The various home ed philosophies do not mean you need to put yourself last when there are things you really feel you need to address in other parts of your life. It’s okay to have a week off from home ed. Even longer! It’s okay to say to your kids that you can’t sit and play with them right now because you have a job you need to finish. It’s okay to put on some audiobooks, or set out a game or craft activity or whatever it is that lets you get some time to do what you want to do. And it’s okay too to relax your expectations of how the house should look.

Can you ask friends or family for help, or have them watch the kids for a while so you can catch up? What can you do to give yourself up to half an hour you can use for housework? Sure, half an hour is a drop in the ocean when it comes to housework, but if you prioritise a few tasks, or choose to spend that half-hour on one job or in one room, then it all contributes to your end goal. Even if you can only spend five minutes at a time given your personal circumstances, then you will still accomplish something. Just don’t feel guilty about home ed while you’re doing it. 

Your kids will be fine. Kids learn all the time, no matter what they’re doing. So take that time out to work on the things that you feel you need to get done in your home. Just don’t forget to look after yourself!

Otherways 165

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