As previously mentioned, each year of homeschooling has brought new challenges. While I have had to entertain little ones in years past, this year new strategies were needed to corral four young children eager to play and interrupt me or their older siblings while we attempt to learn new grammatical concepts or pursue mathematical endeavors. In order to succeed this year, I desperately needed a solution to the question, "What do I do with these rug rats?" (I do mean that very affectionately)
1. My philosophy has been simple-- to contain. Contain the little ones and the havoc they seem to wreak on every room they entered. I put up a barrier that corrals them in the family room. They are free to play with whatever they like in that room, but they must stay in the room. I put up gates that block them from escaping to other areas in the house. Yes, they are capable of climbing my barriers. The barriers are placed as a visual reminder to them not to leave the room. They know there are consequences to moving outside their humble confines. I use a Super Play Yard to accomplish this in my house. I pull it out after breakfast and place it between my kitchen and living room. A smaller gate blocks off the other entrance to the room. Both are easily placed and easily taken down so that at the end of the school day my house returns to normal.
Before corralling the kids, this room was a disaster every single day. Now I can snap a picture without picking up first.2. Baskets, buckets, containers, and more baskets. The truth is, the living room being the primary play area on a school day is a necessity not a preference. In my ideal world, the living room would be a picture perfect room to relax, grab a good book, play a board game, or converse with a loved one; not an obstacle course of dolls, rocking horses, balls, and puzzle pieces. This compromise has been accomplished through fancy baskets and containers. Basically any toy that has multiple parts is stored in some type of container, even if it is just a ziplock bag. Experience has shown me that kids are more interested in playing if there is some organization. If everything is just thrown together, they lose interest quickly.
My living room can be quickly returned to an orderly "lived in" but not "ransacked" state in a few minutes using the basket system. In my living room there are bins for Little People (a favorite staple in this house), baskets for Leapster equipment, a basket for books, another basket for baby toys, a bin for the tea set, and a rather large bin for the extra toys that seem to accumulate. Just to name a few. There is even a shoebox in a cupboard for diapers so I have them on hand when needed. I also have one corner dedicated to the few toys that won't fit in the bins, the doll stroller and rocking horse. Each morning the little ones destroy that room, but as I am making lunch, I challenge the older girls. If they can pick up the room before lunch is made, they may have a piece of candy after lunch. It works.
Every house needs a high shelf or closet to store toys that are painful to repeatedly pick up. Toddlers like nothing more than to dump out any nicely organized bin of toys, and so it is necessary to keep them out of reach. Otherwise, countless hours will be spent sorting toys into their appropriate bins. I am fortunate to have a closet in our basement play room and a well-placed high shelf in the play room (it was one of the first updates we made to this house). In the closet and on the shelf I have bins of building blocks, a box of alphabet blocks, a container of stringing beads, a box of counter pegs, giant floor puzzles in bags, you get the idea. These are things that I don't want to pick up all the time. I keep them out of reach and pull them out one at a time on particularly rough days. The kids get a kick out of a toy they haven't seen in awhile, I get a few extra minutes. Pulled out one at a time, these things aren't the chore to pick up.
It isn't just my toddlers who needed this. This year is the first year as a homeschooler that I put into place a specific start and end time to our school days. It has been wonderful. In the past, we schooled until Dad was on his way home, or until I felt we accomplished enough, or until one of the girls folded under the workload. None of this was good, dh comes home at a different time each day, some days early others late. I quite rarely was able to accomplish all I wanted to finish any day, and I had a tendency to demand more and more out of the girls. With a set end time, we do what we can, but at the end of the day we're done. The girls work harder knowing they will have some free time. I have some time to recover and finish some housework. We all are much happier. I tend to want to cover more and more material, and this system has put balance back into our schooling.
Balance. That's what it's about for me. Striking the right balance and again reminding myself to do the best I can right now and offering that, and the rest that isn't done, to God.