When was the last time you went to hear a performance by a symphony orchestra? Do you remember hearing the orchestra warm up? Each player tunes, plays, adjusts, and plays again on his own accord, with no regard to others in the area. Although you can hear the beauty in the instruments individually, the overall noise is not particularly pleasant, except for the fact that you are looking forward to hearing them work together. You may actually enjoy the warm-up, but you know something better, something beautiful, is coming.

A Vision for Organization

An organized home can produce a symphony. One conductor stands in the front, and all the players, well practiced and well trained to use their instruments, play together to make a joyful noise. What you do not see, however, is the hundreds of hours spent in individual and group rehearsals that led up to the main event. Indeed, there is a conductor who knows the music, knows the instruments, and keeps all the players seamlessly performing together.

In an organized home, things are in place, people are busy about their tasks, and the home is peaceful. While homeschooling, having an organized home—especially when a home is a place filled with people working, eating, and playing all day long—can seem like a daunting goal. But a well-organized home does not “just happen.” There is a parent at the conductor’s stand who knows the players, knows the plan, and whose sole job is to keep all the players working together to accomplish something extraordinary.

One of the ways to create an orderly home is by establishing routines. Routines give everyone the opportunity to contribute to the smooth running of the household. They establish a sense of order. When each person does his job well, chores can be completed with efficiency, competency, and a pleasant attitude.

Training in Routines

Beginning around age 3, each child in our home is given a Morning Routine list. When learning his or her part to play, I will be alongside, training the child to become familiar with the list and explaining what each point on it means. This initial instruction is much like beginning music lessons. My daughters are taking piano lessons right now, and even though they can play duets together, each has to spend time learning her individual part. Once they can do their individual parts well, then they can work together.

Once the list becomes a normal part of your child’s day, a sibling can oversee his routine, or he can be entirely self-directed, depending upon the maturity of the child. For a 3-year-old, a simple morning routine looks like this:

  • Rise and shine (wake up in a good and sweet humor)
  • Go potty
  • Get dressed
  • Make bed
  • Groom
  • Eat breakfast
  • Straighten room and bathroom

Once all of these skills are mastered, i.e., they can be carried out by the child independently, I will introduce an evening routine that looks very similar. As the child matures, the routine list will grow longer. For example, at age 8, my daughter’s list includes some additional items:

  • Pet care
  • Laundry (switch laundry and put away a load of laundry)

When you train the children, you can make a game out of increasing their speed. Use a timer when you are training them (when they are less likely to dawdle). Then, once you have determined how long the routine should take, set the timer and help them learn to work at a pace that is reasonable. As you are establishing the routine, stay in a nearby area and offer lots of praise. Stay alert to what is happening so that you can monitor their work and make immediate corrections.

Start Small and Build Over Time

If your children have no routines in place, morning and evening routines are good places to start. Once these are in place, you will begin to notice how quickly they can learn and implement a new skill. Then you can think of other times when a routine might be helpful. For example, having a Saturday evening routine to prepare everything for church, as well as setting out the food for the Sunday meals, can be a huge benefit.

You can also have daily routines for mealtimes. These can include the entire family cooperating to clean the kitchen or training older children to clean independently. Remember that in order to work harmoniously, each family member must be able to independently complete all of the individual tasks he has been assigned. An attempt to put everyone in the kitchen together for a big cleanup, when none of the children have ever completed their individual tasks before, will fail.

Work individually with them on the “small parts,” so that when you put them all together, you are like the conductor, not like a music teacher who runs all over the stage during a performance, coaching everyone as they play their pieces. All this training takes time and consistent effort, but it will produce fruit in your family. Soon, your children will set about their tasks vigorously and with delight because they know exactly what to do and when to do it. They will be capable and well-trained to complete their tasks. They will enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of living in a well-kept home.

Establishing routines will be easy for some children. You may have children who delight in routines, but on the other hand, you may be met with resistance or even rebellion. If your children are resistant, start with a small list. Train them consistently and give ample encouragement and praise. If you stay with them as they learn their routines, they will move toward independence quickly. If you have many children, this may mean that you get only one child trained at a time. Invest whatever time it takes to help a child gain independence in completing his assigned responsibilities. Remember that there will be a learning curve as you establish routines. This is a season when you are investing your time and energy in order to reap a bountiful harvest in your home.

Think back to that orchestra with me for a moment. First, a musician works with a teacher to learn a difficult piece. This leads to independent practice. Eventually the student is ready to participate in an orchestra with other well-trained musicians.

When Routines Aren’t Working

Sometimes routines do not work. If a routine is not working, look for the underlying reasons for your child’s failure or frustration. If you find that your child is not growing in maturity and ability to carry out a planned routine, consider the following questions:

  • Are too many responsibilities included in his routine?
  • Am I asking a child to do a task he has never been trained to do well?
  • Are there too many distractions competing with the work?
  • Is there too much clutter?
  • Is someone causing friction?
  • Is this the wrong time of day to do this task?
  • Am I being consistent?

As you are casting a vision for the home you would like to have, from the very beginning, visualize that symphony. God has given you the music sheets (His Holy Word), the perfect players (your wonderful children), and all the instruments you need for the smooth and gentle running of a household. Training all the little ones in your care to do their work, and do it well, will result in a delightful chorus that glorifies the Lord.

Copyright 2008, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Malia is an author, home educator of six children ages 5 to 27, a grandmother to two children, an author, and conference speaker. Her primary ministry is encouraging and empowering mothers and home educators to seek God’s Word when facing challenges and encouraging women in their Biblical roles as wives and mothers.