Cleaning Fun

A few months ago, I posted about how we’ve been focusing on the life skill of cleaning recently. It’s been a summer of slowing down, back to the basics, working together. And it’s been paying off.

Yesterday, 3.5yo E declared, “I’m good at cleaning!” And you know what? She is. She has been given appropriate jobs with support and practice, and she does a good job.

Even kings get to clean

It’s been rewarding, seeing the meltdowns diminish and the “I can’t”s turning into the “I can”s. I’m not saying we have it all put together, and I still have a couple clutter piles that I haven’t dealt with yet, but my kids are helping, and we’re all reaping the rewards. 

5 Steps to Learning a New Skill

Learning something new isn’t easy. As adults, we sometimes forget how hard it was to practice and develop the coordination necessary to swim, ride a bike, or tie our shoes, but at one point, we all went through 5 basic steps of learning a new skill.

I post this because we sometimes think that we (or our kids) should be able to jump from step 1 to step 5, from modeling to independent mastery, but we forget the steps in between that are so vitally important.

So here we go. These steps are largely necessary, though some people may occasionally be able to skip some of them. And they may also take longer or shorter amounts of time to move through.

  1. Modeling. An expert shows a beginner how something is done. A parent reads a book to a child. An older sibling shows a younger sibling how he ties his shoes, narrating the process. A potty training video breaks down the steps with visual cues “potty potty wipe wipe flush flush wash wash”, anyone? Grandma mops the floor while the grandkids watch from a safe distance.
  2. Participation. The expert still has control over the situation, but the learner is allowed to give limited input. This could involve the learner chanting along to the tie your shoes rhyme, a little stirring or pouring while baking cookies, throwing the socks into the washing machine. Rather than one plateau, this is a gradual stage where the learner takes on more and more responsibility until we get to
  3. Self-direction. The expert/teacher is still right next to the learner, but now the learner is in control of the situation. It’s the driver’s ed student finally sitting in the driver’s seat, though the instructor still has a brake pedal and is able to grab the wheel. It’s a 4yo deciding which toys to put away first, but his babysitter right there next to him, helping with the process and finding the missing pieces. The 6yo holding his own shoelaces and going through the rhyme, with helping hands right there to steer the process or catch some slack as needed.
  4. Partial independence. The learner is now in charge of the situation, but the expert/teacher still checks to make sure it was done properly. The mom still checks her 5yo’s teeth to see if he missed a spot. The dad runs a brush through his daughter’s hair just to check that she got everything. The teacher walks around the room, glancing at papers to make sure her students are carrying the ones in their subtraction lesson. The 8yo bakes a cake with her mom in the next room. By this point, students feel confident in knowing what they need to do, but they still need oversight, just in case. 
  5. Full autonomy. The skill has been learned, and the individual can be trusted to accomplish the task without outside help of reminders. You send your 10 year old into her room, and when she comes out everything is clean & put away. It’s time for bed, and you don’t double check that your child has remembered all the necessary steps because you’ve practiced so much that it becomes habit. The kids do their own laundry, no questions asked. You trust their math calculation at the farmer’s market and don’t double check it. This is the holy grail, what we’re working toward.

But so often, we forget that the intermediate steps are vital. And messy. Some may take a long time, and you may have to go back & repeat earlier steps. 

Learning is a process. And as much as we want our kids to have learned, we want, even more, for them to know how to learn. To be comfortable with asking for help and being learners, in those messy intermediate steps. We don’t want to shame them for not moving along fast enough, because that will diminish their desire to try again and learn something new.

So if I could encourage you with anything today, it would be to remember the process and be a willing partner to your kids along the way. 

No, we can’t have a beach day. And that’s ok.

We spent 2 wonderful hours at the beach this morning. 

It was beautiful. The kids did really well. And after two hours? It was enough. Time to pack up our stuff and hightail it outta there.

Over the years, living with multiple children with over-active sensory responses and heightened anxieties, I’ve developed a sense myself – the “it’s time to get out of here” sense. That tensing up, the glazed over eyes, the hyper-reactive responses to stimuli… they tell me it’s time to be done.

With 3 kids 6 & under, it takes time to go anywhere. Today at the beach we had a pop-up tent (necessary for sun breaks), and 3 bags – snacks, tools (shovels & pails), and towels/dry clothes. We needed 5 minutes to pack up, 5 minutes to get to the car, and another 5 to get settled in the car, sand removed, buckled and ready to go. That’s 15 minutes, which in the eyes of a 3yo at the end of her rope can be an eternity.

Respect your child’s limits. Sometimes, yes, they need to be encouraged to persist and see something through, but other times, and your mom sense probably knows, it may be time to call it a day, even when you’re the first to leave. 

A Trick to Help with Difficult Transitions

We’ve all been there. He’s busy playing and doesn’t want to stop for a new diaper (or to go potty). She doesn’t want to get dressed to run errands.

Especially with strong-willed children, we  can sometimes see a battle or refusal coming, and for the sake of all involved, it would be nice to have some magic words (other than a bribe) that get the kids moving and on their way.

You want to know what those secret words are, at least some of the time?

Here you go. Problem solved. 

“What do you want to do after we ___________”? 

It seems so simple. Here’s why it works.

  1. It gives kids control. They may not have control over going to the store, but they can maintain that sense of independence. 
  2. It takes the focus away from the current interruption and lets them focus on something they want to do.
  3. It activates the logical part of the brain, helping them control their emotions.
  4. It reminds them that this transition or change isn’t permanent. 
  5. It reinforces that whatever needs to be done is not optional, but does leave other choices open. 

So … the next time you sense the fight coming, give this a try, and let me know how it works!

Note: this works best after about 3 years of age and not so well when the activity itself is dreaded.

Mundane Magic

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Sometimes, life is big, flashy, exciting, post-worthy. But most of the time, life, especially with littles, is pretty repetitive.

Lots of manners and social skills, toileting, hygiene, basic respect and self-control. Over. And over. And over.

It’s not flashy, not “Pinterest-worthy”, but it is so worthwhile.
I thought I’d share a few of our mini-milestones along the way.

1st time interacting with an abacus – they counted, sorted beads to one side or the other, and started grouping them by 2s. One of my favorite things about the Reggio Emilia philosophy, as I understand it at least, is that we don’t have to show our kids the “right way” to explore something like this. Instead, we can follow their leads and see where it takes us.

It may not look it, but a water fight (got these little squirters at the library summer reading program) actually involves sophisticated social interactions. (Can I spray you? Where is appropriate? When is enough? How do I ask for help?) Younger siblings are perfect partners for developing social skills. They accept you for who you are, don’t have preconceived notions of how it should be different, and are often working on similar skills themselves.

Screen time. Our kids’ screen time is extremely limited. None in the morning (unless we go somewhere like the auto mechanic like we’re doing tomorrow), and it will be immediately taken away if they treat each other unkindly or refuse to share (we have 1 family device). This incentivizes them working together and shows me what they are capable of when they’re motivated enough.

Discovery. The kids are slowly internalizing the language and methods we’re using, and it’s exciting. I filled an empty Voss water bottle (plastic) with a few water beads (aff) and some water, and the kids all interacted with it in different but meaningful ways. It was so rewarding to hear 3yo E verbalize, “I wonder what happens if I do __________”. That’s what we want – for our kids to think through possibilities and outcomes and then trust themselves to see what’s next (within safe boundaries, of course).

Chalkboards doors. I love these. It’s the Contact brand chalkboard paper (aff) – and for about $10 I had multiple writing surfaces covering my very 90’s cabinet fronts. The kids all have separate spaces to create, or I can start a “doodle” for them to add to, and they love cleanup as well (spray bottle with water and a paper towel). It’s great for so many motor skills and for strengthening the shoulder muscles.

There’s nothing showy, viral, or awe-inspiring in this simple, faithful, day-to-day model, but even though it is mundane, I want to stop and recognize the wonder of it all.

Some days are magical. Some are not. And that’s ok.

Yesterday was a beautiful day. The kids were getting along well, thinking of others, and when we pulled out the sprinkler obstacle course we’d gotten at Aldi the day before, they played happily together for almost an hour, giggling and squealing with delight.

We followed up with frozen juice pops on the deck, and all seemed, more or less, right with the world.

Today, we tried to repeat that magical moment. Same weather. Same kids. Same equipment (even added a kiddie pool). Same time of day. 

Did the same magic happen? 

No. We had fighting, sprinkler malfunctions, potty emergencies that caused emotional distress because she was missing out on the “fun”, swarms of mosquitoes ignoring our bug spray, and we ended in consequences rather than rewards.

Did we do anything wrong? Anything differently that caused one day to be magic but not the other? 

No. I don’t think so. Some days you see the fruits of your efforts, and other days you’re weeding, sweating, and dealing with the hard stuff. And that’s ok. 

Homeschooling Reflections

I was homeschooled in the ’80’s. Before it was cool, and before it was even legal in some states.


My sisters and I (4 of us) weren’t primarily homeschooled for religious or cultural reasons, but mostly because we lived in a rural area with mediocre schools and a long bus ride, and my parents thought there was a better way.

We called our “school” Harmony Hollow and even had pencils made with that inscription.

All four of us did eventually transition to public schools once we moved to a different location, but the years we were able to stay home were magical, even though I’m sure, especially for my mom, there were many days she wouldn’t have described it that way.

What I Loved

  • We had time. Lots of time. School didn’t take that long, and then there was the required music practice and helping around the house, and we still had hours to play. We played in the basement playroom, outside in the treehouse and on our 2.5 acre property with a creek in the back, and read. A lot.DS090302100715
  • We went to the library. Every week. And maxed out our book limits. We read, and read, and read. Except for math and science, most of our curriculum was sourced through the library.
  • We went at our own pace. When we were done, we were done. No need to turn over your paper and doodle on the back. No need to be told to find something quiet to do. We could be done.
  • We worked at our own levels. Spelling words, math questions, book reports – they could all be adjusted to our abilities, skipped if not necessary, or enhanced as needed.
  • We were self-motivated. There were no report cards to work towards, no fancy incentive systems with tickets for meeting expectations or participating. It was expected that we would learn for the sake of learning, not for some external reward.
  • We were flexible. Beautiful day? Let’s read outside. Field trip or museum visit? Sure! A couple hours hiking on a local nature trail? Why not!? DS090302095835

What Could Have Been Different

  • One thing that was difficult transitioning to public school (5th grade) is that I’d only been around “nice” kids before. We had church, music, & homeschool friends, but they were typically well supervised and on their best behavior. It took a while to adapt to a public school setting, and middle school girls can be mean. I wish I hadn’t been as clueless, but I don’t know what my parents could have done differently.
  • I wish we’d spent more time throwing a ball around. We were plenty active (dance, running, biking, swimming), but somehow I managed to largely avoid any interaction with ball sports, with the exception of tennis. As a parent, I wish my ball handling skills were better as I seek to work with my own kiddos. At least right now we’re learning together!
  • My handwriting stinks. My mom even got me a handwriting tutor for a while in 3rd grade or so, but it was bad when I got to public school and is still sub-par to this day. Not sure how much of that would have been different with public school, but maybe it would have been better.


I’ve been thinking a lot about this experience as our family now starts on its own homeschooling journey. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I’m grateful to my parents for the opportunity they gave us to be home for a while and all the benefits that entailed. Hopefully, when my kids look back on the experience, they can find the “magic” in our days as well. 🙂