No, the Housework Can’t Wait- 6 Tips on Keeping a House Full of Kids Clean

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A recent conversation in a Facebook mother’s group got me thinking about balancing housework and kids. The conversation went something like this:

“I feel like a horrible mom because I can’t just let the housework go and focus on my kid. I want to spend more time playing with them, but I stress out when the house isn’t clean. I know I should just let it go and focus on my kid, but I can’t or I get anxiety! I try to turn it off, I try to not care, but I can’t!”

“uggg, me too! I just can’t relax in a dirty house!”

“I also struggle with this, I know my kids need all of my attention right now, but I need to get my work done too!”

“Just relax ladies. They’ll only be small for so long. Your kid needs you right now, just be ok with it being messy.”

On and on an on. Mommy guilt galore and advice to just learn how to relax if it’s messy. Well I call shenanigans! Having a clean house is important. Doing what is healthy for you as a mother is important. If our lives revolve around our children to the point of neglecting ourselves and our homes that is not a good thing! Our children need a well-organized clean home just as much as they need face to face with mom time. Also contrary to popular belief your children do not need, or in most cases even want, unlimited “mom plays with me” time (that’s a new post for a new day).

Now my house is no Martha Stewart magazine, but it is neat and clean. My laundry isn’t folded, but it’s washed. My sink has dishes in it, but they are rinsed and stacked neatly. My living room has toys all over, but there isn’t any trash and it gets swept regularly. You do have to accept a certain amount of clutter as a mom, but you shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to keep order and avoid filth!Large Family|Clean House tips|Homeschool|mother

1. Timed Tidy

When Cameron feels like the mess is getting to be a bit much he will set a timer for 5-15 minutes (depending on how much time he has and how much of a mess there is) and just tidy the one room that is bugging him the most. When the timer stops he’s done. He feels better that the room is cleaner and he hasn’t got caught up in a whirlwind of deep cleaning that takes away from the other things he needs to accomplish. I don’t usually set a specific timer, but I will do a quick ‘pick up the junk’ shallow clean of a room then move on to something else guilt free.

Housework|mother|cleaning|homeschool2. Full Hands In, Full Hands Out

Every time I walk from one room to another I check to see what needs to go with me. Is there a plate in the living room? Toys in the bedroom? Dirty clothes that need to go to the laundry room? Just grab a handful of things that are out-of-place and put them away on your way from one room to another.

3. Make it a Challenge/Game

Kids love it when you give them a challenge and they succeed. There are so many ways to make cleaning a fun challenge. You can set a timer and see who can pick up the most things. You can give rewards for finishing in a certain time frame. You can see who can balance the most toys on their head while carefully walking to the toy box. You can pretend the floor is hot lava and they have to walk along the couch and chairs in order to put all the toys away. With smaller kids you can practice counting, shape sorting, and color identification as you put each toy away Get creative and make it fun.

4. Have a Schedule/System

It is really easy to walk past that sink of dishes stress free when I know that I have budgeted time in my day to do them after dinner. Having a system and schedule in place helps me to be more efficient. I start the dishwasher right before bed, I empty it in the morning, then we put dishes in it all day as we are done with them. This keeps my sink and counter relatively dish free and saves me time on having to load the dishwasher later. I know that right before bed is toy pick-up time. I can happily walk through the minefield in the living room knowing that in the evening it will all be picked up so I can enjoy my quiet time with my husband in a clean room.

5. De-junking

Clean House tips|de-junk|clutter|Large Family|Homeschool|mother

My mother would say that this should be tip #1. Growing up there was a sign taped on my closet door that said “When in doubt, Throw it out!” As a kid it always drove me nuts, but as an adult I may be an even better de-junker than my mother was! The less you have the less there is to clean. Kids don’t need ten million toys. Haven’t you ever noticed that most toddlers prefer to play with the box? In our home we try to stick with open-ended imagination encouraging toys such as dolls, cars, and building supplies. Clean-up doesn’t take very long when you only have about 20 toys on the floor instead of 200. Observe which toys get played with the least and get rid of them. If you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of most of the toys then sort them into boxes of about 5-10 toys per child and put all but one box away. Every few weeks you can rotate the boxes, getting a new one out and putting the current one into storage. It’ll be like Christmas, all new toys to play with!

6. Ditch the Chores

I know, that doesn’t sound like something that should be on this list, but ditching chores was the best thing we ever did for our home. Instead we do family work. Everyone, including mom and dad, work together to complete on task. This doesn’t mean I’ve hovering and supervising. This means I get down on the floor and help my kids. While working together we are spending time together and having fun. They are learning life skills and they also feel like they are on the same team with Mom and Dad. Work gets done quicker with a lot less fighting and complaining. For example, last night our living room and dining room were way messier than usual. Daddy and Maddy were out on a date so the rest of us got to work. Ben was picking up all the trash, Leah and Rachel were picking up toys, and I was picking up all the other random odds and ends and then swept. Even Jack at age two was able to help pick things up and put them away. While we worked we talked about their day, answered lots of random questions, and sang a few songs.

As a mom have you ever felt mommy guilt over spending time cleaning instead of playing with your kids? What are your top cleanliness tips?

Homeschool Objection Obliteration- Socialization

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Let’s have a conversation about the number one objection I get about homeschooling; socialization.

“How will they be socialized?!?!” “My kid needs to have more interaction with his peers.” “How will they learn to interact with other children, stand in line, wait their turn, converse intelligently etc.?”

So what is socialization?

1. a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.
2. the act or process of making socialistic
Let’s pull that apart a little bit. Socialization is defined as a continuing process. This means that it is NEVER over! How many graduated from high school 18 year olds do you know that have perfected their social graces? Not many right? This is because every time we are thrown into a new situation we must once again redefine our social place in that situation and the appropriate behaviors for that situation. The more new situations we are allowed to encounter the more fluidly we can adapt to future situations. In this area homeschoolers are at a great advantage. One of the huge downfalls of public education is that children are in the same classroom with the same 20-30+ students and the same teacher day after day. This significantly reduces their ability to experience and understand new social situations. The homeschooler, on the other hand, is able to associate with people of all ages in many different situations on a daily basis. There seems to be a common image of homeschoolers sitting at home alone all day. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Homeschooled kids have plenty of practice with taking turns, sharing, using kind words, and so much more by simply interacting with their families. On top of that we go to the park, the grocery store, the museum, our friends homes, playgroups, and so much more. Each new situation allows them to take another step down that endless path of learning social skills.
The next few words are the most important to me: “whereby an individual acquires a personal identity”. In my homeschool, my children’s unique personalities are embraced and celebrated. Their strengths, weaknesses, passions, and interests guide our learning, allowing them to embrace what defines their personal identity. The structure of public school is not designed to create personal identity. Rather, it is designed to squash it! There are AMAZING teachers out there who do a wonderful job of recognizing the individual, but the system as a whole is not built to do this. With so many children in a room, a teacher can only do so much to individualize for each of them. They must prepare for the test. They must follow the standards that are laid out for them concerning what to teach and when. Even the best teacher is severely restricted in the amount of personal identity that she is allowed to embrace in her students. Now lets throw some peer pressure into the mix. If a 5-year-old is in a room full of girls who love princesses while she adores Thor, how likely is she to speak up? Well, that all depends on how much personal identity she has. I guarantee you the other 5-year-old children in the room are not going to encourage her to speak up. Quite the opposite, they will probably tell her she is weird. The personal identity aspect of socialization is developed outside of the classroom, even in those who attend public school. It is not something my child needs to be in a classroom to learn.
homeschool|unschool|confidence|unique|socialization|social skills
Rachel dances to her own music with confidence.
The final piece of this definition is, learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position”. This is the part of socialization that is learned regardless of where you attend school. The real question here isn’t whether homeschool vs. public school does a better job at teaching norms, values, behaviors, etc. The real question here is who or what defines their appropriate social position? In public school this position is defined primarily by peers, with some input from teachers and administrators and even less input from parents at home. In homeschool, this position is defined primarily by the parent with some input from peers, mentors, relatives, and others. How much input do you want when your child is seeking to understand his social position? I prefer to be the main voice that helps him discover who he is and where he belongs in this world. 
At age 5 Ben is perfectly confident talking to the ladies at the counter, and was even so well spoken that they gave him a free ice cream cone!
Now before I wrap this up lets take a quick look at definition #2 the act or process of making socialistic”. I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly interested in making my children “socialistic”. If this is the goal of going to school, then I am more than happy to say, “Count me and my kids out!”
What do you do to give your children enough opportunities to learn appropriate social skills? How do you as a parent combat the negative skills they learn outside of the home?

Farewell Father- RIP Jerry T. Smith

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Early in the morning on Sunday March 29th the world lost a very great man. Cameron’s father, Jerry T. Smith, passed away peacefully at home with his loving wife Martha. The funeral was held the following Wednesday about 7 hours away from us in North Carolina.

One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is that it goes with us wherever, and whenever, we want to go. We didn’t have to stress about missing school, getting assignments from teachers, excused absences. We just packed up our family and hit the road. Being able to spend this time with our extended family was such a blessing for us and our children. We didn’t attempt to do any sort of formal lessons. We were able to simply allow the children to feel what they needed to feel regarding their grandfather’s death and be a part of the family.

As Cameron has reflected on his father’s life the most important things he remembers are the lessons his father taught him. His father taught him to work with his hands and work hard. He taught him to keep his eye on the ball and always follow through. He taught him to face his fears and his pain and never be afraid to follow his dreams. More than anything Jerry taught Cameron that he was important, he mattered, and he was loved. These are the most important lessons in life. These are the lessons that aren’t taught at school. These are the lessons that come from living a good life and loving others.

Jerry you will be missed. I will always be grateful to you for the lessons you taught your son, without which he would not be the husband and father that he is today. We love you.

(A poem written by Cameron when he was 20 years old)

Today there’s a man
Who I wish would feel honored
For the wonderful things that he’s done.
He never was lucky to have any daughters,
But he sure has one hell of a son.

I look at this man
And see blood, sweat, and tears
From trials of life now gone by.
I’m grateful that I’ve known
All these twenty years
A man far more wise than am I

Who sacrificed pleasure
And worked through much pain
To keep me alive and well fed,
Who shaded me from
The incorrigible sun,
And helped me to keep a straight head,

Who taught me quite early
To tie my own shoes,
And helped me with loving to learn,
Who threw balls with me
And bought me a glove
And a bat. I never did yearn,

For he is a man
Who cared when I hurt,
Whose word I could take to the bank,
Who selflessly, endlessly
Went off to work–
A feat that I never can thank.

I look back at my life,
And through all that I cried,
I realize it wasn’t half bad!
I always had love and a friend standing by.
I thank the good Lord for MY DAD.

Beginning Photography Educational Resources

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I (Emily) am a photographer. I have always loved photography, but hadn’t felt confident in myself to actually do more than take pictures of my own children. Educating myself on both the art and technicalities of good photography is the #1 thing that allowed me to find the confidence to take the jump and go pro. Here are a few of my favorite resources for the aspiring photographer.

Adobe Photoshop|Photography|Smith Squad|HomeschoolAmazon is having a special right now on the Adobe one year subscriction to the photographer’s bundle ($9.99 a month billed monthly for Photoshop and Lightroom). If you purchase by April 11th they will give you a $25 Amazon credit.

I read many books on Photoshop while pursuing my BFA in Digital Design. Adobe Photoshop for Photographers is the most comprehensive nitty gritty how to book I read. It is my Photoshop bible! It is always on my shelf and I pull it out whenever I need a reminder on how to do something or inspiration to try something new.

For learning the basics of digital photography and editing anything by Scott Kelby is going to be good. I have read several of his books.

The Photographer’s Eye is the best book out there for learning the artistic side of photography. It discusses different artistic principles such as rule of thirds, leading lines, and utilizing triangles and circles that you can use to improve the composition of your shots. The author discusses different lenses and how they affect your image. He also gives several examples of one scene photographed in several different way and discusses the pros and cons of each shot.

If you only ever read one book about photography it has to be Understanding Exposure. This book will teach you how to get your camera off of auto and fully take control of your images. It discusses how different apertures and shutter speeds affect your images. It will enable you to see in your mind what you want your image to have (motion blur, depth of field, etc.) and actually achieve it! Also by getting your exposure correct in camera you avoid editing problems that degrade the quality of your photos such as overexposed highlights and excess noise from underexposure.

One of my favorite resources for continuing my education is Creative Live. Creative Live streams live classes by professionals on every topic from shooting to editing, posing to documentary, and more. If you watch the class live then it is free and you can jump in the chatrooms to interact with other students and ask questions. They also have a small live studio audience. I have been blessed to be in that audience twice now. Attendance is free, you just have to cover your own travel costs and hotel stay. There are two studios, Seattle and San Francisco, so if you live near one of those areas then you should definitely apply to attend some classes.

There are a million and one other resources out there. The most important thing is to just jump in and learn all you can then get your camera in your hands and shoot everything until you feel comfortable with what you are doing.

What other photography resources do you love? What photography questions would you like to have answered?

Painted Portraits

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One of the digital art services that I offer is custom painted portraits. I believe that these portraits are a beautiful way to liven up your traditional family photos. I can take a simple snapshot and transform it into a wall worthy work of art. Every photo session I do I paint at least one of the images for my client’s gallery and can paint more on commission.

This is an image I photographed during a lifestyle newborn session and then painted in a watercolor style.
This is an image I photographed during a lifestyle newborn session and then painted in a watercolor style.

Each portrait is painted by me using both Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. I take a reference photo, either one I’ve taken or one sent to me by a client, and turn it into a beautiful painting. Each image is color corrected and styled in Photoshop to prepare for painting. They are then taken into Corel Painter and painted by hand utilizing my Wacom tablet as my paintbrush. Each image is a completely unique custom work of art. I can then send digital files or have your painting printed on fine art canvas and gallery wrapped. I believe these portraits are the perfect mother’s day gift and I would love to paint one for you!

This was a photograph I took during a breastfeeding session and painted in an oil/pastels style.
This was a photograph I took during a breastfeeding session and painted in an oil/pastels style.

I am able to do many a few different styles of paintings. My specialties are watercolor and oil/pastel. Corel painter has an amazing selection of brushes that allow me to mimic pretty much any medium I choose! I do most of my paintings with the oil and pastel brushes.

This is a photo I took of my daughter. Those beautiful eyes were just begging for a traditional oil painting style.
This is a photo I took of my daughter. Those beautiful eyes were just begging for a traditional oil painting style.

As you can see each image is a one of a kind custom work of art. I can deliver a digital file alone or have your image printed on fine art canvas and gallery wrapped ready to hang on the wall. If you purchase the printed product you will also receive the digital file.

These painted portraits make the perfect gift for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas and any other event you can think of. Mother’s day is only 6 weeks away, why not get your mother a custom work of art she will treasure forever! You can order your image in my etsy shop.

Un-schooling- How do They Learn Without Formal Lessons?

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The idea of un-schooling often scares people. How on Earth can a child learn if you don’t have regular formal lessons? I thought I’d give a snapshot of one day to show exactly how this works in our home. Here is our day Tuesday (I chose Tuesday because I got some great pictures to share!)

Breakfast: The kids helped to set the table. First I asked them how many place settings we needed then had them each set one item and count out that item themselves. They learned teamwork, negotiation (who set what item, everyone always wants plates for some reason), counting, adding and subtraction (we talked about 3 boys plus 3 girls makes how many people etc.)

Outside play: Next up was outside play time. They decided to use a large bucket and fill it with mud and dirt and make soup for their restaurant. They learned teamwork, role playing, business principles, salesmanship, cooperation, negotiation, and got lots of physical exercise.

Therapy session: Next it was time to take the older four to their weekly therapy appointment. While we were in the car on the way there we kept the radio off and talked to each other. We counted how many “popcorn” trees we saw and when they were sick of counting (somewhere around 50) we discussed why trees blossom and how blossoms can turn into fruit. We then looked at all the construction vehicles we saw at one point and started talking about what it would take to build a building. At the session the oldest ones learned about nightmares. They were able to talk about their nightmares and draw pictures of them. they then destroyed the pictures and discussed how they could also “destroy” the real nightmares. While they were in the session Jack, Wally and I get some alone time in the waiting room. Wally learned about getting stuck under chairs now that he is getting mobile. Jack spent the first 30 minutes or so playing with a box of legos. He was learning about shapes, building, and refining his fine motor skills. After that he played some piano on my iPad and then watched an episode of Diego.

Lunch at the Park: Park time is one of my favorite learning activities. It gives the kids a chance to practice their social skills, not only with other children, but also with many adults. On this trip there was the added bonus of several families that spoke different languages. I heard at least three languages other than English being spoken while we were there. Ben made a friend with another child that didn’t speak English at all. This was no barrier for them. They communicated by using body language and had a great time playing together. The park is also a great place for kids to learn self confidence. They are given the chance to take managed risks by climbing all over the play equipment, build large and fine motor skills, and face fears of heights, things that spin fast, meeting new people, and more. I was especially proud of Jack on this trip. He watched Rachel climb up a playground feature that he had never seen before and decided he wanted to try to. He couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t lift him up or move him to a new spot. I used gentle touching to show him where to place his hands and feet in order to climb the feature. The first three times he needed help, but each time he needed less help. By his fourth attempt he was climbing on his own. Not only did he build his self confidence, but he also learned about balance, trial and error, and developed his large motor skills.

homeschool|unschool|education|teaching self-confidence
After a little teaching form mom he was able to climb on his own.

The kids were pretty quiet on the way home because they had expended all of their physical energy. We did have a small conversation about why your body feels tired after you play in the sun and the importance of drinking water.

Nap/Quiet time: In the afternoons the three youngest take their naps and the other three get to have quiet time. Sometimes we’ll watch a show, other times we read or do art. On this particular day the older ones watched an episode of “Nova Science Now” about the challenges of traveling to Mars. They were especially excited to talk to me about the special exercise rooms designed to combat bone and muscle loss in space as well as the ability to fly because of no gravity.

Free Play Time: Once the little ones woke up the kids had free play time. They chose to spend most of that time outside. Boy I love this nice weather! During this time I was bouncing the baby on my knee singing Yankee Doodle. This led to a fun impromptu conversation about why the American Revolution had occurred.

Dinner: Dinner went pretty much the same as breakfast with all of the kids assisting me in clearing and setting the table.

Bedtime Routine: Every evening after dinner we clean brush teeth and get into pajamas. We then have our family time. First we clean up the playroom together while I have music playing. We are learning to calm our bodies and minds as well as care for our home and work together. When that is done most nights we read a chapter from “The Story of the World” which the kids absolutely love. They usually request, “can we read more?”  and we’ll keep reading as long as attention spans remain in tact and the parent’s voice and eyes can hang on. After history it is scripture time. Sometimes we read from our Friend magazine, other day see practice or learn a new song or talk about a prophet or scripture story. We do whatever mom and dad feel is right for that day. Then it’s prayers and bed time.

As you can see there are plenty of opportunities throughout the day for our children to learn about a variety of subjects. Every day is different. Some days we go to the store and learn about prices and all the fun math that comes along with that. Other days we do art projects or go on field trips. We often read lots of books and write letters to our friends and family members. The world is our schoolhouse, and we never stop learning.

Homeschool Objection Obliteration- I am not a trained teacher

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“I would love to homeschool, but I don’t know enough to be able to teach my kids everything.”

“How can a mom who is not a trained teacher possibly teach everything a child would learn in public education?”

“I can’t teach my kids math/science/music/etc. because I’m not very good at it myself.”

Have you ever had these thoughts about yourself or the homeschoolers around you? It is probably one of the most common objections to homeschooling that I have heard. Many parents would love to pull their children out of public schools, but are afraid of their own abilities to be their child’s teacher.

Time to obliterate this objection.

#1 You’re smarter than you think!


Can you read? Do you know how to use the internet? Do you have friends and family members that know things you don’t? If you can answer yes to these three questions then you ARE smart enough to teach your kids.

One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling for me is that I get to continue my education every day along with my kids. If I don’t know something we look it up together. For example last week Benny wanted to learn more about how big trucks were made. This is a topic that I have absolutely zero knowledge about. We jumped on Amazon and found a great documentary called “Raw to Ready“. It showed him step by step how they took raw materials from the earth to form parts of the vehicle. It also discussed what those parts did and why they used the materials they used. He LOVED it! Leah wanted to learn about how babies grow inside mommy’s tummy. Now that’s something I was able to tell her quite a bit about on my own, but after I had exhausted my personal knowledge we rented the National Geographic film “In the Womb“. Not only did I get to learn a few new things, but all the other kids wanted to watch and learn something new as well.

#2 You aren’t the teacher


I do not consider myself my child’s teacher. I am their facilitator. I don’t just give them answers to their questions. I show them how to find those answers. I believe that teaching my children HOW to learn is far more important then filling their heads with the facts that I think they should learn. Learning should be a life long process. We should never feel held back by what we don’t know. With the ease of access to the internet everything we could possibly want to know is at the tips of our fingers. There is absolutely no reason why we should ever limit our knowledge. In addition to the internet we have the public library, yard sales, thrift shops, and Kindle for accessing an amazing amount of knowledge through books.

There are certain things that just need to be learned by example and hands on application. For these things it is my job as facilitator to locate an appropriate mentor for my child. I do not need to learn how to do ballet, paint, build a cabinet, fly a plane, make jewelry, play the violin, or any of the other myriad of topics that my children want to experience. I simply need to find them the best mentor to guide them in that subject. If I’m not great at math then I find a math tutor. If I don’t understand biology then I find a biology tutor. A lack of knowledge or experience on my part need never stop me from filling my child with the knowledge that they want and need.

#3 Public school teachers don’t know everything either


The people who have chosen the life calling of teacher are amazing individuals. I truly admire and respect them. This does not mean that they are founts of endless knowledge. They all have their specialties and limitations. The math teacher is not as well versed in Greek literature as the English teacher. The history teacher isn’t going to be teaching ceramics class. The foreign language teacher would not be the one a child goes to for a question about their cell membrane homework. The elementary school teacher isn’t going to be tutoring calculus. They all have their specialties. They are very knowledgeable in their specialties and more than happy to pass off questions to the appropriate specialist when it does not fall within their body of knowledge. They are a tribe of educators who work together to give our children the knowledge that they have. Not a single one of them is capable of taking a child from Kindergarten through 12th grade and teaching them every single subject that they will ever use in life. Why do you expect that of yourself? You aren’t in this alone. No homeschool mom is or should be an island. Remember #2, you aren’t the teacher, you are the facilitator. Build your tribe of educators.

Is the fear of not knowing enough stopping you from homeschooling your child? Has this objection caused you to judge the homeschool families around you unfairly? What other objections do you have that need obliterating?