New Year, New Habits!
Seven months before my husband and I decided to switch from public school to homeschooling I sat on a beach in Florida and talked with a lovely stranger, a mom of seven who homeschools, and told her that I would never ever homeschool. I told her she was crazy. Although, she didn’t seem crazy. She was calm and peaceful, even while taking 5 children under the age of 10 (including a baby strapped to her chest) to the ocean by herself. She talked about how when their children were in public school they didn’t have time to teach their boys how to be men. They didn’t have time to teach their children how to do chores. She told me (and this is where my homeschool resistance started to crack) that she hadn’t done laundry in two years.
I was overwhelmed at the very idea that not only would the Mom be expected to do all that I was already doing, taking care of the children, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc, but would have to teach them at the same time. But she said that when the kids are home instead of at school they are the ones that take some of the “Mom Chore” burden. They can more thoroughly contribute to the household.
When we switched to homeschooling I took that advice to heart. I still help with laundry, I fold mine and my husband’s clothes, I hang up the stuff that can’t go in the dryer and if there’s a lot, like after camping or vacation, I’ll do loads by myself. Other than that the kids do the laundry. They start the washing machine, switch it to the dryer (after taking out anything that needs to be hung), take it out of the dryer, fold their own laundry and put it away.
They almost never complain about it, and they mostly do a great job.
If you want your children to start taking control of the laundry (and I admit that it isn’t for every family with young children) the first thing you need to decide is if your laundry set up is child friendly. For me, I had to put the detergent in smaller vessels so they kids can wield them and I had to get a stool so they can reach the dryer.
I got a nice sturdy little step-stool to solve the stacking washer-dryer portion of my problem. Then I went to Dollarama and got matching water bottles to put the detergent in. The blue water bottle has laundry soap and the green one has fabric softener. This really makes it easy for the kids to be able to do the laundry.
Adding the Laundry Detergent:
The last thing I added to make it so my children can do the laundry was a can of knock-off Pringles.
- Step One: Eat the Pringles…best job ever.
- Step Two: Give the container a little rinse and allow it to dry.
- Step Three: Cut an X in the lid and put it on the can.
Now you have a receptacle for the lint! (For what to do with the lint you should check this out: DIY Fire Starters). The laundry detergent, fabric softener and lint can are all kept under the sink right beside the washer and dryer. The simpler you can make the steps of any chore, the better chance that it’s done correctly.
My next concern was that the kids wouldn’t know how much of each to put in. I drew a line with permanent marker on the area in the washing machine for laundry soap, so they’d know to fill it to the line – this usually works, but sometimes they put in too much. I’m willing to accept that in exchange for not actively doing the laundry.
For the fabric softener they just put the smallest amount in they can, then fill the lid of the water bottle with water and add that.
Putting the Laundry in the Dryer:
For now my son does a load of laundry by himself, and my daughters do it together. The reason for this is that we rarely have more than two loads of laundry, and my youngest is a short little thing so it takes her forever to throw everything from the washer into the dryer.
My husband is tall, and if his shirts and pants go in the dryer they are too short for him. So I have taught the kids to leave Daddy’s washed clothing in the laundry basket and I’ll come and hang it up. Occasionally they make a mistake, but again, that’s fine with me if it means they’re doing the laundry.
Folding the Laundry:
Okay, here’s the lovely part. We wait until all the laundry is dry and gather in the living room. I turn on an Adventures in Odyssey audio drama and throw out the laundry for the kids and I to fold. We have three couches/chairs in our living room and they all have chosen which couch/chair is their laundry folding area. There is no switching or complaining. I throw the clean clothes on the floor in front of their couch and they fold it and put it in piles on the couch. I fold mine and my husband’s and the hand towels, tea towels and cloths. They do their own bath towels.
*A note on folding, or doing anything, while listening to a story: Sometimes the story gets so compelling, so all-encompassing, that the children completely forget that they’re supposed to be doing something. I’ll see them sitting completely still, eyes glazed over, holding a half-folded piece of clothing. When this happens I let the scene end, then pause the story and say, “We’re folding too slowly! We need to catch up!” And they’ll fold super speed so that I’ll turn the story on again.
What is a Laundry War?
And now for the explanation of the title: Laundry War. After all the work the kids have already put into the laundry, getting it put away in drawers is always a little daunting. Until Laundry Wars. When the last kid has finished folding his or her laundry (always the same “her” in our house) I shout, “Laundry Waaaaar!” The kids take off like a shot, running to their rooms to put away their laundry. The laundry has to be in the right drawer, and the drawers need to be closed in order to win. I have no idea how I came up with this, or when. One day I just shouted it, and they looked at me like, “What’s wrong with Mum?” So I just said, “Who’s going to win the war? Go put away your laundry!” And the rest is history.
There’s no prize for winning, beyond bragging rights, and nobody really cares who wins (except my youngest who wins repeatedly). It’s just lovely fun, and a happy way of finishing off a chore.
Some Thoughts on Family Laundry
- We do laundry consistently on Mondays and Fridays. Having this system in place has made things so much easier. There are usually only two loads when we do it that frequently.
- Kids think harder about how many outfits they wear if they’re the ones who have to fold it and put it away.
- We try to have the laundry done by lunchtime, so it needs to be started before we start school at 9.
- When there are three loads each child does their own (with help from me as needed)
- Don’t underestimate your younger children. My youngest would always go help the big kids sort Daddy’s laundry from the washer, even when she was 3. She has a good eye for things like that! Figure out your little kids’ strengths and
- Take the time to teach your kids over and over how to do laundry, first by showing them. Then by standing right beside them, watching and prompting. Then check every step after it’s completed. If you teach them properly they’ll almost always pick it up. But don’t expect them to learn it quickly. Repetition is the key!
Laundry War works so well for our family. I am very proud of my kids, that they can do the laundry essentially by themselves (actually, sometimes as a punishment I’ll make them fold all the laundry, and they do a great job of the adult clothes, too). But I know it’s not for everybody. For example, my sister-in-law seems to have a passion for doing laundry (I totally don’t get it), so this might not suit her family. Don’t feel like because it works for me it should work for you.
Side Anecdote: I was talking to a friend this week and she was feeling down that my kids do the laundry, another friend’s kids clean the bathrooms, and on and on… She felt like she hadn’t done enough to teach her kids how to do chores. But after talking about it she started to remember things that she has taught her kids, that they are great at, but are different from what I have taught my kids. We, together, saw that every Mom has something that they excel at teaching their kids. If you feel discouraged reading this, rather than excited, make a list of the things that your kids are good at. Maybe it’s keeping their rooms tidy (not likely). Maybe it’s cooking or sweeping. Maybe it’s feeding the chickens or walking the dog. We need to be proud of what we’ve instilled in our kids, and we need to recognize that every Mom will impart different skills in her children at different times.
I hope you can try out and love Laundry Wars, or at least teaching your kids to do the laundry. If you do, let me know in the comments. If you have other chores that you’ve found fun ways of encouraging your kids to do, let me know that in the comments, too! Let’s help each other make chores fun!