Homeschooling and Housekeeping

Homeschooling and housekeeping . . . a seemingly never-ending battle. I’m quite picky about my house staying clean, but with each additional kid that comes along the level of cleanliness seems to drift further and further from my ideal.  I hate that crazy feeling when I start the day with a clean house, but all of sudden I look around and realize that messes seem to have exploded from every nook, cranny, and doorway.  Shoes in the bathtub.  Toys in the coat closet.  A bike helmet on the tv.  How long have those shoelaces been in the plant?  

Not a day goes by that I’m not painfully aware that if I just sent all these kiddos off to public school my house would be a lot cleaner.  Over years of homeschooling and housekeeping though, I’ve figured out a few things that have helped me to balance two of my loves – teaching these cute littlies of mine and living in a clean, organized house.  Here are my tricks for combining homeschooling and housekeeping.

Homeschooling and Housekeeping

Tip #1: Establish Clean Times

My house can’t be perfectly clean every minute of every day, but it can be clean at times during the day.  {Right now as I type my kids have my kitchen transformed into a play-doh restaurant and I’m getting served fantastically fancy plates of plah-doh entrees.}

I'm told this is chicken with a side of pasta, cheesecake, chimichangas, the hugest burrito, and macaroni and cheese.
I’m told this is chicken with a side of pasta, cheesecake, chimichangas, the hugest burrito, and macaroni and cheese.

Your house shouldn’t be clean all the time, because that wouldn’t be realistic or a very fun place to live.  The kids will have to pick up when the play-doh fun is over, but messes are perfectly okay.  We paint, color, do science projects, build things, and generally get messy a lot, but we also have clean-up times.  Our clean times are before school starts, at lunch time, and before dinner.  

Before school starts we do a quick whole house pick-up, make sure the breakfast dishes are done, and I throw a load of laundry in.  {I say “Have you gotten ready for your day?”  And that means Are you dressed with hair combed and teeth brushed?  Is your bedroom picked up with your bed made?}  At lunchtime, we pick up after any school projects we’ve done in the morning, then also clean up our lunch dishes and switch the laundry.  The rest of the house is still clean because we’ve all been busy making messes studying in the school room.  Then before dinner, we do our formal chores to get the whole house cleaned up before we eat (more about formal chores later!).

Tip #2: Offer Free Bed-Making Service

The second thing I’ve learned is to offer free bed making service.  This has big stipulations though.  I’m only willing to make the bed if the kiddo jumps out of it right away when I awaken them.  Our morning starts pretty early (about 6:30 A.M.) because my big kids have violin lessons every morning, so it’s my incentive to get them up and moving.  If you get right up and get going, Mom will make your bed.  If not, you’re on your own.

Tip #3: Have a School Bin For Every Kid

School Bins

The school part of our day is actually the messiest time at our house.  All of the kids have their school stuff, and my little ones also have toy bins, puzzles, bean bags, art supplies, and other little things to keep them busy and happy while I’m teaching and helping others.  This year I switched from storing everything on bookshelves to having bins for our school stuff and it has made life better all around.  Each kid has their own bin with their books, paper, flashcards, etc.  At the end of the day, they can put their stuff in their bin and shut the lid.  The mess is all inside instead of on display on my shelf.  Hallelujah.

Tip #4: Keep A Donate Bag By The Door

Too many people keep stuff around that they simply aren’t using.  I believe if you aren’t currently using something, you should let it be useful to someone else.  There are very few things that I’m willing to store.  I keep a donate bag handy and then when I notice that my son’s pants are high waters, I toss them in the donate bag.  When I get new cookie sheets for my Christmas, I toss the old set in the donate bag.  I immediately put things in the donate bag when I notice we just aren’t using them anymore.  The less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to dust (and pick up, and put away, and vacuum around!)

Donate Bag
This bag sits in the top of my coat closet near my front door. When it’s full I drop the contents off either to friends who could use it, or to a thrift shop if I don’t know anyone who could use it.

Tip#5: Keep A Snack Basket or Snack Bins

I teach piano lessons every afternoon, and it seems that my children get hungry for a snack smack dab in the middle of my lessons.  In the past, they scoured the fridge, heated up leftovers, spilled milk, and got out more food than they needed to be eating.  I started piano lessons with a clean kitchen and by the time it was finished it looked like a food-filled tornado had struck.  Hence, the birth of snack bins at our house.  When I get home from the grocery store I spend a few minutes making snack-size baggies of snacks to fill the snack bins.   My kids know they are allowed to choose ONE snack, and then throw the baggie away.  

We also keep a fruits and veggie tray on the counter that we can all get a snack from.
We also keep a fruits and veggie tray on the counter that we can all get a snack from.

Tip #6: Hold 20-Minute Pick-Ups

Every so often our schedule gets crazy or things get out of whack and the house gets messier than normal.  Then I call for a 20-minute pick-up.  I set the timer and we all (Mom and Dad included) race around the whole house cleaning up as much as we possibly can in 20 minutes.  It’s rare that we don’t have a pretty spotless house after 20 minutes, right down to the floors vacuumed and the toilets scrubbed.  

The kids know there’s something good at the end if we’re successful – a family game, an outing, or a yummy treat.  If they don’t get things picked up, I either take things away until the kids do jobs to earn them back or donate the items to charity. This game alone is what saves us in the homeschooling and housekeeping department. It’s how we clean up at the end of our school day before company comes, and any other time I just notice we need it.

Tip #7: Use Chore Charts

Our formal chore time is managed by chore charts that I made years ago.  Our chore time is when the vacuuming and dusting, glass cleaning, and garbage removal get done.  It’s when the floors get mopped and the toilets get scrubbed.  There are a million chore systems out there, and I’m sure many of them work well.  Here’s what works for us.

These little charts I made stay on the side of our fridge, one per kid.  See the little stars on the right?  Those are cleaning superstars.  When they do a good job on their chores they earn a cleaning superstar from me.

It also allows me to rotate their chores.  They look at their chore chart and then go to their room assignment where they can find a little cleaning checklist card hidden on the backside of each closet door.  

Tip #8: From The Mailbox To The Trash


Mail and paperwork pile-up is a big, messy problem in most households.  On my way back from the mailbox I’ve made it a habit of stopping at my outdoor trash station.  Recycle all that junk mail before it ever makes it inside your house.  I take all the bills out of their envelopes and discard the envelopes before walking in.  We have a clip hanging on our wall for the bills that haven’t been paid and a little box for non-bill items that need to be taken care of.  Once a week I “push papers” and get everything taken care of and filed appropriately.

Tip #9: Laundry Responsibility

I do most of our household’s laundry myself.  It’s one of the few chores I do on my own.  I cycle it through and then it all goes on to my bed for folding.  Often I recruit help from my kiddos, but for the most part, I consider laundry my responsibility. Once it’s folded, I give each kid their own basket and they are responsible for putting it away.  They are also responsible for getting their own hamper of clothes down to the laundry room when they need things washed. I do laundry daily. If I do one or two loads a day, I never have an overwhelming pile-up.

Tip #10: A Kid At My Side

I keep a kid at my side whenever I’m doing a household chore.  If I need to fix dinner, I ask one of the kids to come and help me cook.  When I need to take the garbage out to the road or haul in firewood or water the plants, I ask one of my kids to lend a hand.  We do the jobs together and chat as we go.  

Often moms lament that they can’t get their teenagers to keep things clean, but usually that’s because they didn’t expect them to when they were toddlers.

I don’t do this because I need help or can’t stand to be alone.  It’s more work for me, and alone time is something I crave.  I do it because I want my kids to learn to be hard workers and appreciate all the things moms do – the things I do for them every day. And it pays off.  If I have the flu, my nine-year-old daughter can cook dinner without any help.  My 11-year-old will take care of hauling in the firewood and starting the fire.  My 5-year-old can water my plants.  They can all change diapers and take out the trash.  They have learned how to work and take care of things when I can’t, and they’re willing to because they see how much I do for them every day.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we intersperse work in everything we do.  We don’t let the house get totally out of control and we clean as we go and all work together.  We really don’t spend huge chunks of time cleaning up – just a bit here and there as we go.  Hope you found at least a tidbit or two of knowledge that you can use in your quest to combine homeschooling and housekeeping at your place.  Do you have any tips for me?

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15 thoughts on “Homeschooling and Housekeeping”

  1. With laundry my kids help sort into piles. When done, the socks all go in a pile for the younger ones to match. There are some things we do not fold. Everyone picks out their underwear & lays them flat out in a pile; it goes in the drawer that way without folding. Sweatsuits get folded in half & rolled into a ….well roll & put in the drawer that way ; even the youngest can do that. I started mine out as toddlers helping but I had to adjust how we put stuff in dressers. They all gather to help as soon as they see the basket in the living room.

    I LOVE the chore chart idea. We also take a 20 min clean up time before studies too.

    1. Layers of Learning

      Those are great laundry ideas. I think I use laundry folding as my ME time. It’s the only time I turn on the tv (and turn off my brain!). I should absolutely have my kids match socks though. They’d think it’s a fun game and I think it’s the worst! Thanks for the ideas!

  2. I think these are some of the wonderful and practical ideas I’ve heard. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by housekeeping. My house has been a disaster for most of the 2.5 years we’ve been homeschooling. I start chore systems every six months or so and they usually last 1-2 months. I’m exhausted by the time I get done with our school day and struggle to have the energy to enforce chores with my kids at that point. I think most of your ideas sound like they really might work in my family. My question is how do you get morning chores done without delaying the start of your school day? I like doing a load of dishes, having the breakfast table cleared, and at least the family room picked up before starting our day, as well as having my children dressed with hair brushed and teeth combed… but I spend so much time nagging them to do their things so that I can do my things that we end up starting later and later. I want to start by 8:30, no later than 9:00 am so that we can finish the bulk of our work by lunchtime so the toddler can nap at the right time (and not be too fussy during lessons). But in order to do that it seems I’ve had to let morning housework go. I get up between 5:30 and 6:00 am for my personal study and prep time, my kids are up around 7:30… we are not starting lessons until 10:00 am or later and that is just not working. This week I’ve been very focused on starting our school day “on time”, but then no housework has gotten done.

    1. Layers of Learning

      Good questions Lisa. The best I can do is tell you how my morning goes. I wake up at six to exercise (only about 20 mins), shower and get ready, and study my scriptures. I wake the kids up between 6:30 and 7:00 once I’m ready. We set their clothes out on the foot of their bed the night before and while they get dressed I make the bed. We keep breakfast simple – toast, cereal, smoothies, or pancakes. I only cook big breakfasts on weekends usually. The kids all clear their own plates, and put them in the dishwasher. While they are getting teeth brushed and hair combed, I wipe off counters and put the food away. Then we do a quick pick up if there’s anything out. We leave for violin lessons every morning by 7:30 and get back at 9:00. We start school right at 9:00.
      One thing I did a lot when my kids were learning this morning routine was to start with really fun things in the morning. If they weren’t done picking up their rooms, they missed out on a cool art project or a fun story. It didn’t matter to me if they missed this stuff, but it sure mattered to them. They cleaned like the wind so they could join in the fun! Now we start with scripture study together and a few morning things, and then math. They are still so much in the habit though, that they just know we begin and they’d better be ready.
      I honestly think the real trick is picking up often enough that it never gets messier than you can clean in 10-20 minutes. If you’re cleaning often but still can’t keep up, you need to get rid of things so it’s easier to clean up. Simplify! Good luck!!

    2. Layers of Learning

      I forgot to mention – I often assign one of my big kids to go check the chores before dinner. They quickly walk through the house and come report to me which rooms still need work. The chore charts are sitting on my fridge right in the kitchen, so I also pop over there and see who forgot to put their stickers up. They can’t come to dinner until their stickers are up, and putting up a sticker is promising me that you’ve done your jobs.
      For the first couple of weeks you’ll need to clean right by their side and make sure they know what you expect. Do a little less school time and a little more cleaning time for a few weeks, then once they’re trained they can do it on their own. I keep those little cards in each room as a reminder to them of what each room needs. You will save yourself tons of time by teaching them to do it right and do it on their own. It will be a few weeks well spent even if the school schedule suffers for a bit.

  3. I love ALL these ideas but my older ones go to public school and i’m home schooling my 5 year old. I’m not quite sure what I should assign to the girls when they get out of school and what my 5 year old should be responsible for other cleaning up after school

    1. Layers of Learning

      I can tell you the kinds of things my 5 year-old does. She is in charge of cleaning her own bedroom, setting the dinner table, cleaning our playroom (she picks up the toys and dusts, but I still do the vacuuming for her), and cleaning our 1/2 bath (It’s the easiest of our 3 bathrooms to clean because there’s no tub – just a pedestal sink and toilet). Because my kids are in charge of separate areas of the house, there’s no confusion. However, if any kids leave a big mess in a room, they are expected to clean up after themselves.
      During the day your 5 year old should clean up after herself, but at chore time she can still do her part along with the others as they do chores too. To me, chores are a way to learn responsibility and family contribution. I designate different areas of the house to each kid.
      When my kids are little and not ready for full-blown chores I get creative – I have my 3 year old sweep the front porch in the summer because he loves to be in charge of the broom and it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not it’s done well. But he’s learning how to check the chart, complete a chore, and put his stickers up before dinner. Other jobs I have my little ones do – wash the walls on the stairways, dust, set the table, vacuum sweep our kitchen, clean the glass on the fish tank, bring me all the garbage bags to take out on garbage day, wipe down the bathroom with bathroom cleaning wipes, picking up toys and books. By the time they are school-aged they have all the regular chores other than vacuuming (the vacuum is too heavy!).
      Best of luck. I’d love to hear how it goes if you decide on a system. (:

  4. you are BLOWING MY MIND right now! As a new homeschooler (it’s our first year and my oldest is in 2nd. I also have a 4.5 and a 2.5 year old), I’ve been getting my feet wet and figuring out exactly what is working and what isn’t working. It seems like I have some new “system” each month for housework, scheduling/routine, and school time. It’s driving me crazy!

    I’ve felt before that I needed time away from my kids (I am a homeschooler after all. We’re together ALL.THE.TIME!), but in reality, I needed to connect with them more! The four of us (me and the girls. Daddy stayed home!) went on a road trip and it was GREAT having them help me in ways I don’t normally ask them to! I’m going to have a kid around, like you do, while doing chores. I totally would love to see them appreciating hard work (not just my own, but to be able to recognize it when they see it in themselves and others!)

    Thanks for a great read!


    1. Ah Katie, I think every new homeschool mom has been in that stage of trying a million new systems. I know I have. You’ll soon settle into what works for you. I’m glad some of my ideas may help. Teaching my kids to work consistently has been one of the best things I’ve done. Not only are they great little workers, but they are also much more grateful of the service I give them and its helped us connect in wonderful ways. Best of luck to you and your girls!

  5. Great ideas!! We are trying to implement the very same things 🙂 do you offer the templates for the chore charts? The bugs and stars and tasks?? I would love to use this in our home/school environment…

    1. Betty, I wish I had templates for you. Honestly, we’ve been using this system for so many years (like 10 I think!) I have no idea where my task cards would be! The bugs and stars are actually stickers. I just picked some cute, small stickers from the store, stuck them to colorful cardstock, laminated the sheets, and cut them out. It’s all attached using sticky back velcro. All the best!

  6. What a fabulous post! I think most moms can relate to wanting to have a clean house but striking the right balance that kids are going to be kids and being able to have fun. I think you hit the balance spot on!! I will be implementing a few of these tips right away and some I will begin working on. The homeschool baskets per child is great. I’ve tried a couple metheds and they didn’t fare so well. But I think the closed boxes is a much better route and has more potential then the last couple plans we tried 🙂 Thanks again for sharing.

  7. Love these ideas! What wisdom ? I’m curious about the stars. Do they earn a reward from receiving them? Do you pay and allowance, or do they receive incentives for completing chores?

    1. We don’t give allowance to our kids. We feel their chores are just part of their responsibilities as members of our family. We do let them earn money by doing extra jobs if they want to. Instead of chore money, we have marble jars for each kid. They earn marbles for being especially kind, obedient, or helpful. They also earn a marble for each day they earned a superstar on their chore chart. When I take down the stickers at the end of the week I deposit their marbles in their jars. When they have filled their marble jar they get a date of their choice (within reason) with Mom or Dad – bowling with Dad, mini-golf with Mom, shopping trip, out for milkshakes, late night video game night together after all the other kids are in bed, etc. It’s fun to be one-on-one with our kids, so our dates make sure we have that time together.Marble jars

  8. Thank you!
    Great list! It’s so true that we need to implement responsibility into our children early on.
    I am a single mother with three children all of them of preschool age so I know how important keeping organised. The eldest child I raised with a variety of printable charts. The stars chore chart works best. Printable cards and magnets are constantly lost. Now I use the Manini app for three children. These are the same printable cards but in the phone. In the app, you can mark the completion of tasks and children like it very much. And the app has a goal Board that lists all chores and self-care for kids under the age of 5. We mark together with the children the tasks that have already been mastered. Also they actually ask for tasks themselves to make a mark the task. I felt much better. And I’m not nervous and it’s easy for children to become independent. And I have time to take self-care.

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