Sunday, September 23, 2012

Problem Solving and Schedules Make Me Happy

You know what makes me happy?  Problem solving.  I'm totally not kidding.

It's why math has always been my favorite subject. 

It's why I have six kids and a mini-farm.  Problems abound, just waiting to be solved. 

Our latest problem that just had to be solved was the chaos that occurred each and every day between school and the evening activities.

I thought I had a good system, which started with locking the children in the van with me when we pulled into the driveway.   Once they were quiet and had their eyes on me, I'd say:

OK, guys.  We will be leaving the house at 5:10.  It is currently 3:15.  You will have approximately 2 hours to do your chores, have a snack, do your homework, change, and be ready to walk out the door. 

Pretty straightforward.  And predictable, as I said almost the exact same thing every single day.

And then I'd let them out.

And they would proceed to not only ignore my schedule, but stomp it, twist it, and spit all over it.

Instead of the simple, calm two hours we were supposed to have, mass chaos ensued from start to finish.  Someone would head straight to the bathroom to hide out for a good long time, where he would flush down every instruction I had given him.  Someone would get distracted by the little boys' pleas to play, then leave too little time to do his homework.  At least two kids would take waaay too long eating snacks.  (Who, I ask you, actually nibbles raisins?  According to Buttercup, each raisin takes at least three nibbles.  Times 35 raisins, and you have one annoyingly lengthy snack time.)  There's always a good possibility that two kids would get into an argument.  Guaranteed that at five minutes before departure, someone would be crying and in search of a sock, someone would be scrambling because he forgot to fill his water bottle, someone would have forgotten to do chores and had to rush out to do complete it, and I would be hollering at just about everyone to hurry the heck up.

Basically, we had a big problem, and I was sick and tired of it.  (If you don't laugh every time someone says "sick and tired", you must be too young to have seen Bill Cosby: Himself.  The first time I watched it, I fell off the couch laughing.  It is what started my love/obsession with stand-up comedy.  Go here to see a clip.)

Every time I have a problem, I stop and analyze.  I can't solve a problem unless I know what that problem actually is.  I name the problem, then decide what I want the end result to look like.  In this case, I wanted the end result to be children who took responsibility for their own work, for their own tasks, and their own schedules.  This is not just to make my life easier, but to help them learn how to do such things before they get older and out on their own.  I want them to be pros at this while they are still in our home, where mistakes can safely be made, where I can be there to help them work through the kinks.  Once the problem is named and the end result is pictured, the plan is made.

Insert solution.  (I have to say, when I presented the solution to the kids, I expected some whining.  I didn't get any.  Two of the kids were actually thrilled to do it.  I guess I have been depriving my little OCD darlings of some much needed structure and information.)

We have instituted the Sunday Night Family Scheduling Meeting.  Every Sunday, after the little kids have gone to bed, the big kids, Hubby and I gather, bringing pencils and paper.  I bring the calendar.  We go through each day of the week, one day at a time, and each child writes down the basics of his schedule; who has practice, what kind, when we're leaving, plus homework and chore time.  Once we get through the week, the kids then go through to decide where they can put their individual items; laundry, practice piano, speech practice, finish any long-term school projects, collect trash, relax and play time. 

Each day, instead of being locked in the van, they head to the house and get started. They go over their individual schedules, and I don't say one word.  The only help I give them is a little warning at 5:00, for those who are in rooms without clocks.  At the scheduled departure time, I leave.  No hollering, no crazy rush.  No forgotten to-dos.  It has been beautiful.

Now, before you get all impressed, they aren't following through with the schedule just because I asked them to.  They do have an incentive.

Even at the ages they are, a prize box is a wonderful thing.  I used one of my free mornings with only one child to gather small, cheap prizes; books from the resale book store, packs of Yu-gi-oh cards, Angry birds eraser puzzles, Silly Putty, candy.  There are at least a few things each child is itching to get his/her hands on.  There is no particular day that I let the kids choose an item from the box.  If I notice that a child is trying his best to get everything done and done well for several days in a row, I'll tell him to pick a prize.

I am all for incentives when a child, or even a teenager, is learning a new task.  It won't go on forever, but long enough for all of the kids to learn the new habit and get a handful of prizes.  And it works!

Does everyone follow the schedule every day?  Of course not.  But the moment I hand out a prize to someone, everyone is silently reminded to hop to and work a bit harder at getting their tasks checked off their lists.

There are still occasional arguments.  There are occasional searches for missing soccer socks.  But things are better.  Much, much better.

Another problem on its way to being solved.

And it makes me happy.

Have a lovely day!


  1. Hey I gave a shout out to you today in my blog {sept 25} because I posted an afterschool schedule for the kids... thanks for helping me think past my frusturations.

    1. Aren't you sweet? I'm glad I could help. Good luck with the new plan!

  2. great one here!how nice that you started a system in your home. basically parents are the first teachers so it doesnt matter even if our system is not perfect.. who does right? impt is we tried and somehow it worked!! way to go and have fun!

    1. Thank you! So far, so good. The kids were even tested yesterday. I had them go in the house and take care of everything completely alone while I stayed in the van with the sleeping toddler. Everyone was in the van at the right time with everything they needed. Sure, one was carrying one sock and his shoes, but they were out there!


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