I've been waiting to write this post for over a year... I've waited so long, because it was super important to me that everything I'm about to share was tried and true and actually worked for our family. I'm happy to report that our "Family Command Center" has worked miracles for my kids and me. Being organized is a personal virtue that I strive to maintain. Organization is absolutely necessary when you are the mom of 4 kids and wife to a busy husband! Managing the schedules, menu, homework, papers, routines, goals, and chores is a huge job! I admit that I run a tight ship, but once the work is done, our kids still have plenty of time to play and just be kids. I'm also the first to admit that when we have visitors, or a snow day, or something unexpected, I'm the first to throw the routine to the wind, and just go with the flow! I do love being organized... (especially because I know how it feels to be completely unorganized-- my life used to be utter chaos, and my kids had no responsibilities. We all much happier when we know the expectations). Every family has certain ways of maintaining sanity, and here's what works for us!
(I really hope the green doesn't blind you... that color choice was an epic fail, darn it, haha)!
At quick glance, here's what's going on...
Menu- I write the week's dinner meal plan
Calendar- to keep track of everyone's activities, appointments, birthdays, etc
Family Theme- a goal we set together at the start of the new school year
Bulletin Board- to hang reminders, party invitations, lunch menu, etc
Kid of the Day- this has saved my sanity!
Clip Boards- the kid's responsibilities
Here are more details about each of these...
Yay... everyone can quit asking me what's for dinner! "Just check the menu!" I plan out my menu on Sunday, then do all the main shopping on Monday, with a "pit stop" on Friday or Saturday. I'm the type that must have a cooking plan for the week, or we end up eating scraps. I also have a typed-out grocery list (I print it off every week, and just circle the items I need. I also keep my weekly menu plan hand-written on my grocery list for easy reference).
The way I plan my meals goes like this:
Sunday- Meat & Potatoes, or something ethnic (Hungarian, Russian, Asian), Dessert
Monday- Soup, Salad, or Seafood
Tuesday- Taco Tuesday
Saturday- Restaurant, Leftovers, or FYO (find your own)
I keep a personal planner, so all the things written on our dry erase board are also written in my planner. But with so much going on, I needed to have a main place where everyone in the family can refer to plans, and add their own!
I got this idea from Stephanie at NieNie Dialogues years ago. She is a wonderful mother and inspires me in so many ways! At the beginning of a new year, we decide on a theme that we'd like to focus on as a family, and write it down. Maybe in a few years, I'll make them all into decorative printables!
In our next house, this needs to be bigger. This space is mainly for anything related to the kids; school lunch menu, birthday party invites, spelling words, etc. It isn't very pretty, but I have found that if it's 'out of sight, its out of mind.' If the kids have something super important for me to remember, it needs to be on this board.
Kid of the Day-
A few years ago, I was sitting in the waiting room at the pediatrician's office, reading Parenting Magazine. I read a small column written by a mom who invented "Kid of the Day" at her house. She used this system starting when her kids were toddlers, up until they were teenagers! It was like an ah-ha! moment for me, exactly what I needed to hear, and I felt very inspired to implement this immediately. At home, we had been dealing with the pettiest little arguments- who got to sit at the special dinner seat, who got to eat with the fancy spoon, who got to choose the first bedtime story, who got the longest snuggle at night, and on and on. Most of the time, I had no good answer for who got to be first or who deserved the most special treatment. I try hard to treat all the kids the same, but some nights, I just didn't have the energy to snuggle every single kid. (We had three at the time, all two years apart. Now we have four kids)!
You can probably see where this is going... I introduced "Kid of the Day" to my kids, and it has honestly worked wonders. It just rotates day after day. The Kid of the Day gets the special treatment, whatever that may be. This has alleviated so much nonsense, arguing, and stress! It's great to let one kid feel a little extra special for a day. The other kids understand that if its not their day, then they get to be "happy" for the special kid. If an argument begins, all we have to say is, "So-and-so is Kid of the Day," and it puts all objections to a stop right away.
I try not to use this as a behavior method. I feel like each child needs to be included in the rotation on a regular basis. There have been a few times when one of the kids lost the privilege of being Kid of the Day, but that honestly makes me sad, so I try not to revert to that.
These days, Kid of the Day comes in handy for ipad privileges, helping me cook dinner, and the nightly massage and snuggle. (If I didn't have some system in place, they'd all argue over who gets my ipad, I'd have 3 little helpers underfoot in the kitchen every night, and I'd be up until midnight snuggling each kid! This way, I at least get a little bit of one-on-one time with each kid, without feeling guilty for not having the time to do this each night with each kid).
Anyway, its a great little system, and I love that it evolves with the needs of family. Give it a try if you think it could help your family!
As far as keeping track of who is "Kid of the Day," I made a chart to hang on the wall with our Family Command Center. To make it, I found a rectangular shaped frame. Then I went to Home Depot and bought a magnetic piece of metal. I removed the glass from the frame and used it as a template to cut a piece of metal with metal cutters. Then I replaced the glass with the metal in the frame. I hung a wallet sized picture of each kid on the metal. Then, because I am a seamstress, and I wanted a touch of handmade somewhere on my wall, I decided to embroider the words "Kid of the Day" onto a piece of linen, backed with interfacing. Then, like a tiny little pillow, I sewed on a backing, and stuffed it with batting. Before I stitched it shut, I slipped in a small magnet, which works perfectly for rotating each kid on the "Kid of the Day" board.
I drew a few for practice...
And worked on them while my girls were at gymnastics classes.
Clip Board Jobs-
As far as the kid's jobs go, this could be a whole separate blog post, but I'm running out of steam typing this all out, haha. I spent a few DAYS creating these charts in Word. I personalize them according to each of the kid's needs. I didn't feel it necessary to write out morning routine since its fairly easy, and the kids have me
ramming down their throats serving as their reminder. But their after-school routines are very important to me, and I'm very happy that they are each learning good habits and successfully contributing in our home.
For each job, the kid either gives her/himself a CHECK (done) or an X (undone). Sometimes, we have exceptions, and on those days, they write a LINE. (For example, we decided to eat out, so there weren't any dinner chores that night. A line counts neither for or against them). See more Family Store below, for an explanation of the bottom of this chart, and how we do allowance.
For my kids who need help with reading, I found clip-art pictures to insert in the chart. It describes what the job is, and they can help themselves without me having to stand over their shoulder reading off every single job. One improvement I've made to this Job Chart since I photographed it, is that I have made each day have a different color of ink. (Just in the row where the Days are typed). That way, I can tell them that today is the "blue day," and they can follow the column to fill out their chart on their own.
Here is a link on Google Docs if you'd like to access my Job Chart. Hopefully you'll be able to save a copy, and then you can personalize it the way you want for your own kids!
Back to talking about the Family Store... when I was a newly-wed, I looked up to a young mother who ran a family store, but I never thought to ask her the details about it. So I racked my brains to come up with something that I knew would work for my family. In my efforts to teach our kids about responsibilities, I also want to teach them about money. One night, I literally laid awake in bed half the night, as ideas kept flooding my mind on how to set up our family store, and how to manage the "bank." I honestly believe that this system is inspired and was an answer to my prayers on how to manage and teach my children. The math is simple. The rewards totally work for each of our kids, in surprisingly different ways.
The reason I believe in allowance, is because I feel that my kids need the opportunity to make financial decisions.
Here's how it works:
Each Monday evening, we hold a special Family Night. At the end, we do the Family Store to tally up all the charts and pay allowance. The kids count all the CHECKS they earned, and multiply that number by 10. They count all the Xs and multiply that number by 10. They subtract the X total from the CHECK total, to come up with the TOTAL amount earned for the week. (They see how those Xs can really deduct from their total earned amount, which has really motivated them to get their jobs all done)! So, once the total amount of allowance is recorded, I physically pay them the total in cash. From there, we calculate 10% to charity, 40% to savings, and 50% to spending. Each kid has a piggy bank with 3 sections to organize their money. Once a month, they empty out the tithing and take it to church. Periodically, we deposit their saving money into their real savings accounts at the bank. The spending cash is theirs, and they can do whatever they want with it. Some of our kids spend it immediately on smaller ticket items, and others have saved up for larger purchases. It's a lesson in immediate gratification vs. patiently and wisely saving. (Our 8 year old daughter saved all her spending money last summer, to earn a set of golf clubs. Once her Grandpa heard about this, he said that we would pay for half once she had earned her half. It was such a special lesson for her)!
I keep the Family Store in our basement. It is comprised of 3 bins...
1- Where I keep all the money. All the coins and bills are organized in separate, labeled ziploc bags. I only keep about $50 total in the bank at a time. It recycles itself when the kids purchase items out of the store, so it lasts quite a long time. I used to have fake money, until I realized that the kids took it more seriously with real money, plus they can actually take their money to church or a real store and spend it, which is also a great learning opportunity.
2- Where I keep smaller items, usually very cheap items from the $1 section at Target.
3- Where I keep bigger items.
Occasionally when I'm at the store, one of the kids sees a toy they really want. Instead of saying NO all the time, sometimes its nice to be able to say YES. When I do, I say "Yes, I will buy this and save it for you in the family store. You can save your money and earn it." Sometimes I also let them save their money and earn an actual trip to the store, instead of only being able to buy from the family store.
For now, ten represents $.10, meaning that each check earns them a dime, and each X causes them to lose a dome. Perhaps in the future, we'll increase the earning potential up to a quarter, but right now a dime is all that works for our budget. This translates to each kid earning on average $5 a week.
In case you don't think I'm organized enough (hehe), here's something else I thought I'd share. It's my personal list, my saving grace. It's inspired by my mom, who also swears by a daily checklist. I won't go into all the details, because I've personalized this for myself, but it really helps me stay on top of my game. I prioritize my Good, Better, Best. I no longer feel like a chicken running around with my head chopped off. I have focus and direction. Important to note... I don't think there's ever been a day when I checked every single thing off my list, but hey, at least I try!
I also have a list for grocery shopping, a monthly to-do list, an annual to-do list, a budget spreadsheet, a vacation packing list, a food storage list, a list of longterm projects, a blogging calendar, an important date list, and yeah... now I'm just embarrassing myself. :)
The last thing I'm throwing into this post is how I organize my kid's school papers, projects, drawings, cards, certificates, etc. I throw out a lot, but the things I want to save get put in here. At the end of every school year, I empty the basket and hole punch everything. I put it in a simple notebook, labeled with their name, age, school year, and grade. It's a really simple scrapbook.
The scrapbooks look something like this (not a very special photo- just keepin it real, haha). I make some for myself as well.
Don't ask me how I organize my family photos. This is the department that is STRESSING me out like crazy! All my photos are saved on my computer, and I've never done anything with them. This will be a priority soon, and I've got some great ideas up my sleeve...
Well, you made it to the end of my craziness. I'm slightly embarrassed by how crazy I must sound. But I only share because these systems have literally changed my life, and I'm hoping they can inspire you with some new ideas. If you read this, I would honestly LOVE to hear your thoughts about it in the comments!!! I'd also love to hear any inspirations you've had, or your own ideas and systems. I would love to learn something from YOU!
Edited to Add:
I thought I'd share a few of my favorite products that help us at home. I took several trips to Target and Hobby Lobby to buy items for my wall (and then to return some that didn't work). I found my favorites on Amazon.
Hands down the most helpful thing are the banks that my kids use. We have these...
But I have had my eye on these. I love them because they have 4 compartments that actually would work better for our needs. There's a place to save their spending money, or to spend their spending money, donate (such as tithing), and invest (save for college).
I love these chalk markers to use on my chalkboard menu.
This is the dry erase calendar that I have.
Metal cutters (that I used for my Kid of the Day board. They cut through sheet metal like butter).
These are the mesh metal file holders that I use for the kid's papers.
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