Organization Tips Our Sanity
Systems, Schedules, and Methods That Work for Us
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
We've come a long way since those days when there were seven of us living in the nine-hundred-square-foot car-lot house. After living there for seven years, our next house on Johnson Road seemed like a mansion. It had three bedrooms, two baths and a Laundromat!
While we were living back at the car lot, Michelle had managed our family's laundry with a single washer and dryer. But in the wintertime, the washer, which was out in a detached garage, would freeze up. Then she would have to carry all the family's dirty clothes to a self-service laundry in town.
It was a chore, loading all the baskets in and out of the car, in and out of the storefront laundry, and then back to the house while sometimes having to also corral a bunch of children. But there was an upside too: it took less than half the time to do the laundry, because while she was there, she could use multiple washers and dryers.
That gave me (Jim Bob) the idea of having our own Laundromat right at our house. I suggested to Michelle that we install two washers and three dryers in the Johnson Road house as we were remodeling it before we moved in.
She thought I was crazy. What family has two washers and three dryers in their home? But after we talked about it a little more, she agreed it could be a timesaver. So, over the year of the remodeling project, we watched for opportunities to buy high-quality used washers and dryers, and we've had our own Duggar family Laundromat ever since. (Now we have four washers and four dryers.) It may have been that first set of multiple laundry appliances that helped us realize, with five children and possibly more in the future, we needed to live differently from other families, who had only two or three children. We started looking for ideas and innovative ways to make the household run more efficiently. In this chapter, we'll share some of the organization tips, systems, and schedules that keep our household running smoothly.
Up, Away, and Out of Sight
I (Michelle) am not a natural-born organizer, as some may be. But when we were living in the little house at the car lot and preparing to move to the Johnson Road house, I realized I had to get organized or I would go under. Someone recommended Emilie Barnes's book Survival for Busy Women, and I'm still using the methods and ideas that book taught me. After reading the book, I immediately started implementing Emilie's great tips for getting organized, including her system for simplifying a household move. The ideas I'm sharing here are based on or adapted from her ideas.
If you ask me, homes for big families, or maybe any size families, need almost as much storage space as living space. My goal has always been to keep most things like toys, games, books, and equipment out of sight and out of reach but easy to access. That plan keeps stored-away things out of the children's minds, so when they aren't using an item, they often forget about it. Then when we bring it out again, it's like receiving a new gift at Christmastime; they are so excited about playing with it again. Plus, it's something that hasn't been underfoot all the time. That practice, along with the children's lack of exposure to broadcast television advertisements promoting the latest new toy or game, keeps them from constantly asking to buy new toys and games. Another reward was that little hands or eyes were not reaching for or seeing those packed-away, out-of-reach items. I wasn't constantly tripping over things the little ones had pulled out or at least not as many things as I tripped over before! Emilie's system made things much easier.
Although we had "only" five children when we moved to the Johnson Road house, we had a lot of stuff, and moving it all when the remodeling was finished was going to be a really big job. It took us nearly a year to finish the remodeling, though, so I had lots of time to get packed. We were hoping to move before Jessa was born, and I met my goal of having everything packed a month before she was due in November 1992.
As it turned out, however, we didn't move until March 1993, so during those last few months at the car-lot house, we were living with the bare minimum while most of our belongings were packed in boxes. Emilie's system made that possible, and I loved getting a taste of how good it feels to have an uncluttered house! All the boxes were packed, labeled, and neatly stacked in a back room, ready for the move, but accessible in the meantime. Here's how we got organized for that move, and how we've stayed organized ever since.
The first step in getting organized, either for a move or just to simplify your life, is getting rid of stuff you don't need. If you move something you don't need, it can stay unused in a box somewhere for years, taking up space and adding clutter to your life. So I followed Emilie's suggestion to start by spending fifteen minutes at a time, cleaning out and packing one closet, one drawer, one shelf, one something.
You'll need three black plastic garbage bags. (It's important that you can't see through the bags so you won't be tempted to retrieve something from a bag once you've already sorted it.) One bag is for the stuff you're going to throw away. The second bag is for the things you're going to give away or sell at a yard sale. The third bag is for the items you're going to keep, either putting them back in the closet or drawer if you're simply organizing, or packing them into a box if you're moving.
If you're busy (as most moms of young children are), make it your goal to work just fifteen minutes at a time. It can seem overwhelming if you think you have to organize or pack a whole room at once, but knowing you're just going to work at it for fifteen minutes makes it seem more doable. Sometimes I would even set a kitchen timer so I knew when the fifteen minutes were up. Then I walked away until the next time I had fifteen minutes free.
Once you've sorted out that drawer or closet, you're ready to pack the keepers into a box. Even though it cost some money at a time when we were saving every penny possible, I chose to buy cardboard file-storage boxes with lids that were all the same size so they would stack easily and could be labeled clearly. I didn't want to use clear plastic boxes because I didn't want the children to be able to see what was inside and be tempted to dig stuff out.
2. Label Boxes and Corresponding Index Cards
The most important part about packing for moving or for storage is labeling the boxes according to an organized system and recording the contents on index cards. Yes, this takes a little time and is a bit tedious, and a lot of people skip this step. But it's absolutely crucial, especially if you're packing well ahead of your move, as I was.
Using a felt-tip marker, I color coded every box at the upper corner to show what room it went in. Then, on its corresponding file card, I used the same color to fill in a triangle covering the upper corner. I put these cards in a little recipe box. The color coding made it easy to see that like-colored boxes were stacked together when we moved them to the new house, with each color going to the appropriate room, right from the get-go. We didn't have to move the boxes again once we got them to the new house.
Each box was also clearly numbered. And on the index card numbered to correspond to that box, I wrote down each item I packed in that box. I wrote at the top of the card where the box was stored: in the pantry, the garage, or one of the bedrooms. I wrote everything in pencil so that later I could erase things that were removed from the box.
The system worked wonderfully when we moved, but it also made life lots easier before we moved. For instance, we were all packed up in November but didn't move until March so when we were hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner, I could get out the card file, go through the cards that were color coded for the kitchen, and easily find the big platter I wanted to use for the turkey. The system eliminated having to unpack and dig through twenty kitchen boxes. I would say to one of the older children, "Please go get box number twenty-three from the pantry shelf and bring it to me."
I packed seasonal things like Christmas decorations in those boxes for moving, and many of those decorations have been in those boxes or others like them ever since! The cards and the color-coded system let us know exactly which boxes contain specific Christmas things. So if I want to set out something early, like the ceramic Christmas tree that is a keepsake from my mother, I can send one of the kids to get box fifty-four out of the garage.
We asked a friend to design and build shelves in the pantry and laundry room at our Johnson Road house to custom fit the box system. This one thing helped tremendously to keep our cabinets and shelves clutter-free and much more organized. Every time I would go to get something out of a cabinet, I wasn't reaching around or knocking over items I used only occasionally to get to the one item I was really after.
We're still using the same system. Now we also store folded off-season clothing in labeled and color-coded boxes. Hanging off-season clothes go to an out-of-the-way closet.
3. Write in Pencil So You Can Weed Out
The system was also helpful in weeding out things we didn't need when it was time to move out of the Johnson Road house twelve years later. I went through the cards and put a little check by all the things I wanted to get rid of: items that were obsolete or those we had outgrown or no longer used. Or, if I planned to pass along items to other families that I knew could use them, I wrote their names beside the item on the card. And when it was time for a garage sale, I would tell the children which boxes we needed so we could remove an item and price it, then erase it off the card.
What a blessing this system has been to us every time we've moved and all the times in between too.
I probably spent six months packing boxes in the car-lot house, and I had everything but the things we used every day packed up a month before Jessa was born. There were probably fifty or so boxes packed, stacked, labeled, and ready to go. And even though we ended up living in that house another five months, we had no problems. The color-coded boxes and corresponding file cards made it easy to find whatever we needed. And when moving day finally arrived, it was easy to load up the boxes and the furniture and go.
Organizing the Laundry
Not only did we create a laundromat while we were remodeling the Johnson Road house, we also made some major changes in the way we organized our clothing and put away the laundry.
"Bedrooms are for sleeping!" became our motto. We thought about all the trips made to carry our clean clothes from the laundry room back to the bedrooms and put them away neatly in the right closet or drawer. The "neatly" part would last until one of the children needed something out of that closet or drawer, then things got stirred up, moved around, and strewn all over the place. A lot of times, clean, never-worn clothes ended up back in the laundry again. It was frustrating.
So, in the Johnson Road house, we created a whole new system of organizing our wardrobes. We would no longer use bedroom closets for clothing. All the family's clothing was organized into a clothing room next to the laundry room. On racks installed around the walls, we hung everyone's clothing, sorted by item (dresses, shirts, pants, etc.), and we sorted those categories by color and size. No more carrying clean clothes all the way to the bedrooms and putting them away in drawers and closets. Now they're sorted and put away right in the laundry room or in the space next to it.
On top of the dryers in the laundry room we set buckets (actually they're plastic washtubs, but we've always called them buckets). There's one for each child, and each is labeled with the child's name to hold his or her underwear, socks, and pajamas. Each child has five to seven sets. Rarely do we need more than that because we do laundry almost every day. Extras and mismatched socks go in other buckets on the floor along the wall. The little ones play a game of matching up the socks sometime during the week.
Bedding and towels are also folded and stored in the laundry room area, sorted by size and stacked in tubs and boxes that are labeled according to top sheet, bottom (fitted) sheet, and pillowcases.
Each night before bed, the children go to the laundry room to collect the clothes they're going to wear the next day. They take them back to their bedroom, ready to put on the next morning. Older siblings help their younger buddies collect tomorrow's clothes. Laundry baskets in the bathrooms collect dirty clothes at bath and shower time.
Another thing we do to simplify the work of doing laundry is having as many of us as possible wear the same color on any given day. When I was doing all the laundry by myself, this was a huge timesaver and headache preventer because there was less to sort and fewer worries about the purple shirt fading onto the pastel yellow blouse. If we all wore red shirts one day and purple shirts another day, those problems were nearly eliminated.
Now the older children help with the laundry, alongside Nana, our angel sent from the Lord, so they choose to wear whatever colors they want. But a lot of the time, they still put the little ones in the same-colored shirts on any given day to make things easier.
The boys wear primarily knit, pullover "golf" shirts with two or three buttons at the neck. I (Michelle) have always preferred seeing my boys in collared shirts rather than T-shirts, and of course the knit ones don't have to be ironed, as many of the woven shirts do. We buy almost all our clothing at area thrift stores, usually on half-price day. So when you see us in those family pictures and we're all wearing the same color shirt, don't think I went to the mall and bought umpteen copies of the same shirt in umpteen different sizes. They're all from thrift shops.
The exception to our thrift-store wardrobes are the outfits our older girls design and make for themselves, one another, and me. They are becoming very talented designers and seamstresses, and they make many of the dresses we wear.
So, what do we do with the clothes-closet spaces back in the bedrooms? In our current home, the boys have converted the space that would have been their walk-in closet to a graphic-design and video-editing studio. The girls wanted a sewing room, so that's where our family's sewing machines are placed. There's no need for them to put away a project when it's time to do something else because everything's tucked away, out of sight in the former closet, but ready to be started up again at any time.
When we lived in a smaller house than we do now, we didn't have room for dressers or chests of drawers in the kids' rooms, so they kept their personal things (such as toys or games they'd bought with saved-up money or things they'd gotten as gifts) in labeled bins on shelves. In our current home, we have chests and dressers so everyone can have a drawer for personal things they want to keep in their bedrooms, like pajamas and some special toy, book, or game. But also in our new home we have lockers in the playroom, the same kind used in schools. Some of the kids even put locks on their lockers to keep younger brothers and sisters from borrowing something without permission.
Of course we work at teaching the youngest ones not to touch anyone else's things, but it is a learning process. When we see three-year-old Johannah coming down the stairs with candy smeared all over her face, we know she's been in someone's snack stash!
We teach our children that being part of a family means having responsibilities to make that family successful. One goal we strive for is keeping our home clean and orderly (relatively speaking!). Another goal, of course, is keeping everyone fed and clothed. We all work together to meet those and other goals, and jurisdictions are our way of doing it.
The Maxwells' book and system Managers of Their Chores has helped us assign appropriate and creative jurisdictions. In its sample-assignment worksheets, we discovered helpful tasks we hadn't even thought of asking the children to do regularly, such as putting fresh hand towels in the bathrooms or emptying the pencil sharpener.
Using the Maxwells' suggestions, we identified jobs that almost every member of the family can do, depending on their age and capabilities. They range from specific assignments related to doing the family laundry, like folding sheets and towels or, for the youngest ones, matching socks, to more complicated jurisdictions like cooking meals and cleaning the kitchen.
We've learned that it's important to not simply assign jurisdictions but to carefully explain them and show the child exactly what that job entails. If the child is a young reader, we also provide a written checklist for a specific chore. For instance, this one is taken from the Maxwells' book:
Putting Away Your Pajamas
1. Neatly fold your pajamas.
2. Place them neatly in your drawer. Be sure to close the drawer when you are finished.
3. After wearing them for three nights, place them in the dirty-laundry basket.
Having had this task demonstrated and reviewed with them by a parent or buddy, when each young one pulls the "Put away pajamas" card from that day's chore packs, he or she knows exactly what to do.
Everyone also has quick-clean jurisdictions, which we try to do each morning, usually at the same time. I (Michelle) or one of the older girls will call out, "Quick-clean time!" and we all scurry to get our specific jurisdiction taken care of so we can go on to the next activity, whether it's school, playtime, or music practice.
On scheduled days, we do a more thorough cleaning, and again, everyone but the very youngest has an important job to do. When we're finished, we stand back and look at our amazing accomplishment a big, clean house with everything in its place and we celebrate with a treat or by doing something together that we all really enjoy.
Many people ask us about our budget, but the answer is, we don't use a set budget that we discuss at the start of every month. Instead, I (Jim Bob) use Quicken computer software to track and categorize all our expenditures. Then we look at last month's expenses, consider expected expenses in the current month, and shoot for roughly the same amount, plus or minus the extras that occurred or are about to occur.
Our income is generated primarily by real estate sales and rentals, which means no two months are ever alike. There are also times when I (Michelle) happen to be walking past the door to Jim Bob's office, and he'll look up from balancing the checkbook on the computer and say, "Honey, don't spend any money for a while, until the next rent check comes in." (We moms just love to hear that kind of off-the-cuff warning as we're heading out the door to the grocery store, don't we!)
We still pay cash for everything. (And by cash, we mean with a debit card that acts the same as writing checks when we make store purchases.) When you are paying cash, it tends to make you more frugal, looking for the best buy. And sometimes you learn a lot of patience waiting for just the right buy to come along in your price range.
We don't give our children allowances, but we do pay them three pennies each time they complete a chore, and they sometimes get money as birthday gifts from friends or family. For a while we paid off the checks on their chore lists at the end of the month with coins and currency, but as the family grew, that became cumbersome for us and a problem for the kids, who put it in piggy banks or their personal drawer or in a pocket of a jacket that got washed. It seemed more money was getting lost and laundered than was being safely tucked away.
So we decided to set up a Duggar Family Bank, with Dad as the president and Mom as teller, and now all the children have an "account" in the bank. When they've saved up for some special thing they want to buy, they come along to the store the next time we're going. Then we buy it and they deduct the cost from their account, which is recorded in a small notebook in Mom's purse. This practice not only eliminates most of the lost and laundered money challenges, it also gives them hands-on experience with math and banking, subjects they also study in homeschool.
The Buddy System
Children age eight and up look forward to being a big buddy. That means they're finally old enough to have a little buddy assigned to them. The buddy system brings much joy to our home. Our little James, number thirteen, who is now seven, was oh, so excited when he found out we were expecting baby number seventeen, Jennifer. Soon we found out why.
One afternoon as James and I (Michelle) were going over his phonics lesson, he said, "Mama, could I please have baby Jennifer as my buddy?"
I said, "Well, James, you really are mature. You would make a great buddy. Why don't we talk with your buddies, Jill and Joy." After a visit with the big sisters, who were also looking forward to adding sweet little Jennifer to their buddy team, we all agreed that big brother James could officially "call" Jennifer his buddy and that their buddy team would be the first to have four team members.
When Jennifer was born, you could see the joy James found in his new little buddy. If Jennifer made a peep, James was right there to entertain her. To this day, just a glimpse of James's face causes Jennifer to smile and respond with a happy little shriek. He takes very seriously his role as big brother and protector, and he is constantly singing to her or sharing a cracker or Cheerios with her. He makes sure we have her diaper bag when we're headed somewhere, and he loves to push her in her stroller when we're out and about. Of course he has been generous to share his buddy with the rest of us, but there is no doubt that James is Jennifer's big buddy.
Big sisters on the buddy team get to help out by buckling the baby into the van, helping with bath time, fixing her hair, and picking out her outfits, which sometimes ends up being two or three outfits a day just because they want her to try out all of her wardrobe! (You know how big sisters can be.)
Having those extra sets of hands and eyes helping tend to the youngest children are such a blessing to Mom and Dad, especially compared with the days when we were the only "big ones" capable of buckling everybody into the car seats. Of course, we never leave anywhere in our van or bus without a complete head count. But the buddy system reduces much of the worry about losing a child while we're out in public.
We aren't the only ones who use the buddy system. Many schools recognize the power of having older students serve as positive role models and mentors for younger children. Even when I (Michelle) was in school, Teen Involvement was a popular program that had teens mentoring younger students in making wise choices and avoiding negative peer pressure.
I'm constantly amazed at how much my younger children pick up from their older siblings. Whether it is playing a phonics game or helping with music practice, I find the younger ones learn so much faster and have much more fun than our children did back in the days when it was just Mommy as their playmate and teacher.
The little ones really do love the older ones and look up to them and want to be like them. That admiration encourages the older ones to rise to the call and demonstrate good character as they realize they have little eyes watching them. While I marvel at how quickly the younger ones learn with older children as their mentors, I'm also amazed by the way a mentoring relationship fosters responsibility in the older children. They want to set a good example for the younger ones to follow. I can see that this consciousness has blossomed into other relationships in their lives, as our older daughters now enjoy teaching music, sewing, or hairstyling to others outside our family, and our older sons have included other young men in mechanical and building projects.
Of course, we have to be flexible in our household; the buddy system and assigned jurisdictions are just tools we use to help cover all the bases. Our goal is for all of us, parents and children alike, to have a servant's heart and a ministry mind-set. We help each other out whenever there is a need.
For example, one daughter who enjoys styling hair might help get all the little ones' hair ready in the morning while big brother helps serve the younger ones their plates of food for breakfast. As a team, we all enjoy a great sense of satisfaction from accomplishing huge tasks in a short amount of time when we all work together. We are one big team with lots of little buddy teams, and we accomplish much with the least amount of energy expended. Many hands make light work and leave much more time to play!
The Duggars' Homeschool System
Way back in the beginning, when Josh was four and I (Michelle) was overly eager to start homeschooling him, I asked the very few homeschool moms I knew what materials they were using. One of them told me she had taught all her children to read with a simple phonics program called Sing, Spell, Read, and Write. I've used it ever since with all of our children. It's very simple, and my children and I love the fun little songs that helped teach them the thirty-six phonics rules.
Recently I tried another method using the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, and Elaine Bruner. This year I tried it with Justin, age five, and sure enough, by the time we had worked through all the lessons, he had successfully become a beginning reader. We worked through two or three lessons a day, usually five days a week, so it took a little more than a month.
Once he was reading on his own, I went back to Sing, Spell, Read, and Write and incorporated some of its writing and spelling lessons. Now Justin is both reading and writing. I've enjoyed using a variety of teaching tools because each child learns differently, and certain techniques work better with different learning styles.
For years we used ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) materials for our individual studies of math, English, and spelling. I appreciate the way the curriculum is geared for homeschooling. Children are able to work at their own pace, and when they have a question, they can ask me for help. There are not a lot of bulky teacher's manuals to deal with, and I still prefer this system for first and second grades.
Just this past year we started using Alpha Omega's Switched-On Schoolhouse (SOS) for grades three through twelve, and we have been pleased with the new system, which lets the older children complete the majority of their schoolwork on the computer. It explains the subject in text, pictures, diagrams, and video tutors, then the student answers the questions or problems. It then gives them three opportunities to give the right answer while grading after each try. Then it shows the answer. There's a quiz at the end of each section. If our children don't answer a certain percentage on that section correctly, it is reassigned to them. Of course they can come and ask questions anywhere through this process if there is something they don't understand.
We use Typing Tutor to teach computer-typing skills, usually starting them at age five or six. Piano, violin, and harp also help them develop hand-eye-brain coordination.
About 2 p.m. most weekdays, I sit down at our eighteen-foot-long dining table with the older ones, five years old and up, and we work our way through a booklet, reading aloud, discussing the topic, and asking one another questions.
I teach our children other homeschool subjects based on the Wisdom Booklets from Advanced Training Institute, a part of the Institute in Basic Life Principles. ATI offers more than fifty different Wisdom Booklets on a wide variety of subjects. Each one begins with Bible principles, including those basic character qualities mentioned earlier. The booklets then weave that information and teaching throughout the specific topic being studied. I like these materials because I appreciate their biblical basis and their sound academic teaching. There are no big, heavy textbooks to buy. Everyone who's old enough to read can sit in on the family study time with his or her own Wisdom Booklet. It's great because we are all on the same page, literally and mentally. We keep the booklets in a plastic bucket in a cabinet so that one child can easily retrieve the bucket and pass out the booklets.
We start with Scripture memory and the character quality we're focusing on that month. We have a chart identifying forty-nine character qualities, and we work on specifically practicing one quality for a month to six weeks, along with reciting its operational definition each day during school.
For example, one of those character qualities is thriftiness. During school time we memorize and recite its operational definition. Then for the next month or so, we all look for ways we can cut corners in the ways we spend our money. When we're at the store together, we compare prices and decide which products would be examples of thriftiness and which would be wasteful for the Duggar family.
Afternoon is naptime for the youngest ones, but they have learned that I give out candy as a reward for memorizing Scripture and the character quality definition during homeschool. Even though they might not completely memorize it, they repeat each word after I say it, so they can earn their piece of candy. Then they lie down nearby on blankets for their naps. Little children absorb a lot more information than we realize. Someone said it's as though they accumulate a big pile of snow (knowledge); eventually, as they grow older, that knowledge melts and starts sinking in. Even though the younger ones are not officially students, they're obviously learning as they sit or play quietly at the table while big brothers and sisters discuss their lessons. With each passing year, they spend more time at the table with the rest of us.
Now that Justin is five years old and starting to read, he's in school too. But there are times when we're working through a Wisdom Booklet and he says, "Mommy, I'm falling asleep. May I go get my blanket?" Then he lies down on his blanket and falls asleep with his younger siblings. He tries to stay at the table because he really wants to be included as a big boy, but right now he just can't hang in there the whole time. Still, I've been amazed at how much information a five-year-old can retain and recite when we review our Wisdom Book resource.
We study science, history, law, and medicine resources together in a slightly different way. For example, if the children and I are studying the eyeball, we first study the picture together, identifying the various parts. Then we talk about the function of each part and how it works.
As we move into more advanced and detailed facts about the eyeball, the younger ones may drop out of the discussion and do some related work while I continue into greater depth with the older ones. The young ones might draw a sketch of the eyeball and label the parts they've learned while the older ones proceed into more advanced details of the eyeball and how it works.
This is called the bus-stop method because everyone gets off at a different place and works independently as needed. The older ones will continue gathering more facts about the eyeball and then write a brief report on what they've learned. Or they might make what we call a "minute book" to show Grandma and Grandpa later. They draw pictures and describe the various parts and capabilities of the eyeball as though they're writing a book about the eye. The oldest ones continue the furthest, doing deeper research for a longer, more detailed report with attributed sources.
When something comes up that we want to know more about, we go on a field trip or invite an "expert" to come in and talk to us. For example, most of our family members went to an eye doctor's office on a field trip where professionals explained in detail about the exams and procedures they administer.
One of our "experts" is Grandma Peggy Bennett. Peggy really isn't the kids' grandmother, but she's so dear to all of us that we think of her that way. She was Jim Bob's science teacher during his school days, and she has taught several different lessons in our homeschool in the past. She was also a lifeguard and first aid instructor, so she has shared a variety of topics related to health and science. She has also been a mentor to me (Michelle), and she's been our family's prayer warrior, praying for us every day.
Preparing for Adult Life
We pray with each of our children about his or her future vocation. We teach them that any kind of vocation is a way to minister to others. We believe the people we work with and come in contact with during our everyday lives are there by divine appointment, not by chance.
Also, we say to our kids, if you're going to work at some job for the next thirty to forty years of your life, wouldn't it be nice if it was something you enjoy? We hope each one of our children can spend a few days shadowing someone who's working in the field he or she is interested in pursuing in order to find out if it's as appealing as expected. We will encourage them to do that before going to college for four years, then deciding they don't like the job they've trained for.
We also want them to consider any health hazards associated with the job they're considering (such as a body-shop worker might face) and whether it would require them to spend a lot of time away from their own family (such as an airline pilot might have to do.) And of course they need to consider what the pay would be, whether it would allow them to support themselves or a family, and if there is some way they could spend their time more wisely doing something else.
If one of our children is called to a specialized field, such as medicine, we will help him or her prepare for it. But our main educational goal is to give them as much knowledge and as many skills as possible to prepare them for adult life. While we value academics, we also want to prepare them to run a household or support a family with skills such as cooking, sewing, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, money managing, negotiating, and sales experience. For some occupations, college is required, others are learned in technical school, and still others come through apprenticeships with someone already working in that field. Josh earned his GED at age sixteen. He then played a big role in helping build our house, and in doing so he acquired a lot of valuable carpentry and construction skills. He worked long enough in construction to know it wasn't what he wanted to do all his life. He has mentioned pursuing a career in law, but for now, he and his brother John-David have opened their own business, buying and selling car trade-ins and consignment cars on a lot they're renting from us in town. They've been in business about a year, and they're enjoying their work and learning valuable lessons every day.
An important part of our homeschool is music. Initially, our children started piano lessons back when Josh, our oldest, was about six. A precious widow, Ruth-Anita Anderson, offered to teach lessons for half price to those in our church fellowship. What a blessing those lessons have been! We really wanted the children to learn to play some type of musical instrument, and we had been praying about how they might learn when neither of us had much if any musical abilities. (Jim Bob jokingly shares that he was named third-chair saxophone after only six weeks of lessons while he was in junior high. Then he goes on to say that there were only three saxophone players in the school's band!)
We explained earlier that Mrs. Anderson is our beloved "Nana," and she has faithfully taught our children piano lessons now for fourteen years. It is such a joy to hear the piano being played throughout the day as each one practices his or her lesson. Many times I will notice that if a child is struggling with a difficult subject in school or has something weighing on his or her mind, some piano time brings relaxation and an opportunity to worship the Lord with music. And besides teaching piano lessons, as mentioned earlier, Nana is the angel sent from God who helps us twice each week with our laundry. What a double blessing!
In addition to piano lessons, every Duggar child, beginning about age four, takes violin lessons every week. We are so grateful to have as their instructor a wonderfully talented young lady, Mandie Query, who is certified in the Suzuki method. She and her sister Heidi, who assists her with teaching our children's lessons, come to our house every Friday and give lessons from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It takes a special team to work with lots of little ones! The Query sisters teach with such enthusiasm that our little ones don't even realize they're taking lessons. They think violin is just plain fun! The added benefit is that our older ones get to sit in on their younger buddy's lesson and are learning how to teach from professionals.
And that's not all...
Our oldest daughter, Jana, prayed for years about her desire to play the harp. In an amazing turn of events, a precious lady heard about our family and wanted to do something special for our girls. This is another wonderful "nana" Paula Linde. First, she felt God urging her to give our girls her sewing machine, serger, and supplies. She reminded us that God has said we shouldn't lay up treasures for ourselves here on earth but in heaven. She believed our girls would use the sewing machine and serger for God's purposes, so she gave them those "treasures."
Then came the next surprise. Nana Linde gave Jana a beautiful harp! Now our older girls take harp lessons from Rebekah Swicegood, a dedicated young lady we've all come to appreciate.
Each child is expected to practice each instrument every weekday for approximately thirty minutes. Most of the time, we have to be flexible with these practice sessions, even though we have two pianos, one downstairs and another one upstairs, plus an electric keyboard. The children work in their practice times whenever the pianos are available and when their buddies are able to help tutor them on violin. The older children are such "fun buddies" they make practice time enjoyable as they help their siblings practice.
The Duggars' Daily Schedule
We get lots of requests from people who want to know our daily schedule. Like the Duggar Family Guidelines, our schedule isn't something we rigidly adhere to, but it gives us a goal for what we want to get done each day. But as I (Michelle) always say, there are goals, and then there is reality. We simply do the best we can.
8:00 a.m. Our daily routine begins with personal hygiene. We get dressed, brush our teeth, and fix our hair every day. With rare exception, we don't see pajamas downstairs. As we eat breakfast, we read the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds with the day of the month. Then we quick-clean the house, with buddies working together to complete their jurisdictions.
9:00 a.m. The older children help their buddies with their studies in phonics, math, violin, and piano. Then the older ones start their own individual studies in math, English, spelling, and typing.
Noon. We break for lunch that Jana (now eighteen) has prepared for us with help from her sisters. We eat on paper plates, and everyone helps clean up.
1:30 p.m. The youngest ones go down for naps. I (Michelle) and the rest of the children gather at the dining table for Wisdom Booklet group studies in science, history, law, or medicine. We also review and memorize Scripture verses, hymns, and definitions of character qualities. The children especially enjoy these recitations because of the hand motions we use to help with memorization.
4:00 p.m. (formerly known as the crazy hour). We break from group study to finish individual studies; otherwise this is music-practicing time or free time. Youngsters play quietly indoors or out. Those who can't play quietly do sit-down time at the kitchen counter, either helping Jill and the other big sisters prepare dinner or simply watching them work.
5:00 p.m. Dinner. Afterward we do another quick-clean of the house, then we have free time. Some may still be finishing up music practice.
8:00 p.m. Snack time. Then we get ready for bed, taking baths, brushing teeth, picking out clothes for the next day.
8:30 p.m. Bible time with Daddy, our favorite time of day. In our pajamas and robes, we gather in the boys' room. The boys are in their beds, and Mom and Dad and the girls are on the floor in a circle. We begin by giving each child a chance to say something about his or her day. Then we discuss any upcoming events. Next, Dad reads a passage from the Bible, explaining it as he goes. We discuss it as a family, suggesting ways we can apply it to the day. Sometimes we even make up skits and act out right and wrong responses to different situations. Then we take prayer requests and praise reports, and we pray together as a family. Most evenings the youngest ones fall asleep as Daddy reads.
These times of reading and open discussion have created some of our most special moments. They have strengthened our family, given us direction, and laid the foundation for our children to begin understanding their need for a relationship with God.
10:00 p.m. Bedtime.
© 2008 by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar