Picture this with me: a peaceful home with children going about their daily work with confidence and diligence. Everyone understands his personal responsibilities. Work is completed without friction or aggravation. It sounds blissful doesn’t it? I can’t promise that every day will work smoothly and perfectly, but there are some things you can do to achieve more days that are like this and are less like the chaotic ones I have experienced in the past.

After a couple of years of homeschooling I realized that the first few weeks of school often set the tone for the entire year. I used to be really enthusiastic and start all the new routines, schedules, schoolbooks, and activities at one time. With a detailed schedule and a pile of books, I was ready to get started. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm usually waned quickly as I was met with resistance, grouchy attitudes, and a feeling of never being able to accomplish the plan.

Fortunately, one year I decided to start things a little differently, and I will never go back to my old ways again. The first change was to spend time over the summer training everyone to do his or her new chores. Next, I started our school year a little earlier—but a lot slower. The result was happy, confident children who were proficient at their tasks.

As our children grew older, it appeared we were in a bit of a rut. Just because my oldest could do most of the chores with ease, there was no reason some of the younger children could not take over the simpler chores so that my firstborn could advance to more difficult tasks. This became important as my oldest began working outside the home and eventually graduated and got married. By making a conscious decision every summer to see which chores should be passed down to the younger children, we are often able to make a smooth transition. Everyone loves “graduating” to more “grown-up” chores and the older children enjoy teaching the younger ones.

Here is how we methodically teach about new chores. First, I explain that I think the child has demonstrated enough maturity to be able to learn some additional chores. This announcement will usually be prefaced with plenty of praise for all the skills he already does well.

Next, I will demonstrate the new chore or skill for him. This will be a time with relatively little talking, giving the child an opportunity to watch and learn and ask questions.

I then explain the process and let him try it with plenty of supervision, praise, and some corrections or adjustments as needed. I try to emphasize the praise but always give cautions about safety or foolishness that can be costly in the long run.

Finally on the next opportunity, I let him practice the skill alone, with me in a nearby area in case he has questions or problems. If he is able to complete the task independently and successfully, I again give lots of praise, and he may even get to hear me call Grandma or Daddy at work to brag about how grown-up he is becoming and about what diligent workers we have! Since I sometimes forget about giving lots of praise, I really try to remind myself to do a lot of it during training times. If the child struggles with doing the task, that is okay. You are training him long before you actually need him to be able to do the job, so there is no rush.

The reason this works so well is because with no pressure to perform perfectly the first time, everyone can be more relaxed. When you are rushed and stressed, it is not a good time to teach your children new skills.

This plan also works well for introducing new school subjects. Often, a few weeks before I begin our new school year, we will start looking through each of the books and doing a lesson or two so we can see how long it takes, what is expected, and what problems may occur. Doing this outside of our normal class time gives us extra time to deal with starts and stops, and it also gives us time to see how the subject could be handled best: with Mom’s direct supervision or independent learning or some combination of these two.