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Middle Years

Once upon a time before homeschool co-op and drama productions, before part-time jobs and working out at the gym with Dad, before essays and research assignments, before pick-up soccer and youth rallies, before a big screen TV and the PS4, we lived in the land of love of learning.

And in the land of love of learning nearly every weekday morning, after the table was cleared from breakfast, the kids and I would grab books from the large library stack, we'd sit on the couch and I would read to them. This was the most consistent practice in our school routine, and many, many days this alone was our "school routine".

Sometimes we did math and handwriting practice, especially in early fall and at the New Year, when I was gung-ho about such things. We went for walks, went to the library, attended community concerts and events. We went to the farm every week. But mostly we stayed home and the kids learned how to work around the house, they crafted (and made a holy mess of hot glue, cardboard, feathers, glitter and fabric), built couch forts and fairy gardens, read their own books, studied slugs and played together.

I love the independence of my teens. I love our conversations. I love that they can cook and clean and I can be gone for the day and life goes on at home without me. But, oh my goodness, do ever miss the pace of the love of learning years. In this moment, tired as I am from all the teenaged goodness that goes on in our house, I am completely nostalgic for the relaxed, easy pace of the early homeschooling years.

I digress.

My point is, over the years I've read a lot of books to the kids. Reading stories was my predominant method to this madness (smile) called homeschooling. And it was the chief springboard for learning history, geography, and world cultures, the three of which grouped together I called world study.

My goal was to introduce the kids to the wide world through "classics"; chapter books and picture books, both fiction and non-fiction, that are worth reading over and over again because you glean something new every time. (It should be noted, early childhood bedtime books aside, that rarely did we re-read books, especially chapter books, over and over again because there were so many other books I wanted to read. But great books are the stories you hate to see end and wish you could read over.)

My work then was to find these great books. As a homeschooling mother, I have never "lesson planned" but I have spent countless hours sourcing good books. Finding titles, reserving at the library, picking up from the library. And in more recent years, installing book apps on devices, searching digital databases and downloading.

In the early years, I used Honey For a Child's Heart, subscribed to the Sonlight catalogue, searched Yahoo homeschooling forums, asked the librarians, and used a new thing called "blogs", to find great books to read to the kids. It was a lot of effort, but reading good books mattered to me.

What I would have given to have owned Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids Once Book at a Time by Jamie Martin.

It would have saved me so much work!

As much as I love reading and place a high importance on reading in our homeschool we don't own a lot of books, at least not hardcopy ones. We use the library and have a growing collection of digital titles. But this is a book I would own, happily adding it to my most-used homeschool reference materials (other books about books, and books about learning).

I've had the privilege of knowing Jamie for years now. She was the one who directed my attention to Leadership Education, the homeschool philosophy and methodology I most resonate with.

Jamie's own book Give Your Child the World has just been published. And it is an excellent resource for homeschooling, or parenting in general.

Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids Once Book at a Time is a book of "inspiring stories, practical suggestions, and carefully curated reading lists of the best children’s literature for each area of the globe, arranged geographically and by reading level".

The curated reading lists, for ages 4 through 12, are the part of the book that would have saved me so much work back in the day when I was trying to source good books to read to the kids (or have them read themselves) about the different areas of the world.

This is how I would use Give Your Child the World

Interest-led learning scenario:

Kid: "Mom, I'm interested in giraffes."

Mom: "Let's get a book about giraffes this week on our library visit."

Mom thinks to herself, "hum... giraffes are found in Africa. It would be great to springboard off this interest and read a good book (or two, or three) about Africa. Thank goodness Jamie's book has an annotated Africa book list. I'll start my search there."

Parent-directed curriculum resource:

Another way I would use Give Your Child the World is to help me find books that I want to read to the kids as part of the overarching curriculum for the year.

My kids' interests were always the starting point for their early years world study. But as our children got older I would plan a theme, or a focus, for the school year or that school term. I would choose an area of the globe, or periods of history that had been neglected in the children's own interest-led learning paths. And then I looked for ways to incorporate that focus into our learning and life routine.

I don't think the kids were necessarily even aware of "the plan". I didn't sit them down and say, "this month we're learning about Mexico". I would just read more books about Mexico, for example, and find other resources - videos, community involvement, etc. to augment those stories. Or sometimes it was the other way around. The community involvement (museums, cultural events) came first and then the stories.

Homeschool History

The point of this post is to share what a great resource Jamie's book is and to explain how I would use this book with homeschooling elementary-aged children. Writing all of this makes me want to share how we've learned history in our homeschool, something I haven't written much about. So I'll take the opportunity to lay that out here.

My overall strategy for teaching world study (history, geography and world cultures) in the elementary years was to follow the kids' interests (through reading, hands-on participation and play) and then fill in "gaps" over the years with a curriculum of (more) good books, family discussions, curated videos, community participation, travel, etc. You can read all about that here.

The focus in the middle and high school years (transition to scholar and scholar) has been Canadian history, geography, and government, and 18th through 20th Century world history with references back to the ancient history, middle ages, and renaissance periods studied in the elementary years.

Wars and the ways in which humans have caused suffering for other humans, in the contexts of power, greed, and "advancement", are the pivotal points and events that are the backbone of history; empires and despots, conquering and colonization. It's not pretty, or child-friendly, in my opinion. However, marching alongside these events are the positive, life-affirming aspects and advancements in humanity. And ultimately, it is in the heartbreak and human-break of oppression that we say yes to a Messiah, a Redeemer and accept the teaching of a better way.

Even with that hope (and as much as it was in my power to do so) I wanted to give my children an early childhood without fear of war and violence or excessive exposure to the darkness of human nature, a theme that runs through the course of history, that is the course of history. There is only one time in your life for this type of innocence and I didn't see any need to cut that period short. It ends quick enough.

I let them explore their own interests in ancient Roman warfare and medieval knights, read the Usborne and Kingfisher reference books etc. And we read stories together with references to the dark heart of humankind (just open the Old Testament for a dose of this), but I wasn't going to deeply delve into slavery, revolutions, Holocaust etc. until they were older (obviously as topics came up I explained things in age-appropriate terms). This also means of course I was careful with the media influences in our home.

I have to say, writing those last three paragraphs has tripped me up, to the point of a delaying publishing this post. As I wrote this I felt shame for the privilege in my life, that I could preserve my children's innocence for a few years at least by virtue of where I was born, the color of my skin, my socio-economic standing. That age is gone now but I still work to shield my children from certain experiences in our society, bullying for example.

I don't have anything more to say about this except that this is a tension I feel, in myself and in my parenting. I want to raise loving, aware, and courageous children. I want to be loving, aware, and courageous but I don't want nor do I need to know of all the evil that happens in the world.

Looking back on our homeschool journey, there has been a general progression from ancient to modern history, from generalized to specific. I didn't plan it out that way, ahead of time, it just unfolded.

On the small scale, interests jump around, a wide variety of books are read, we discuss things happening all over the world. But the overall progression has been ancient to modern. The distant unrelated past to the near past. And the near past includes these-are-my-ancestors, these are the wars they fought, and the lands they immigrated from. This is who I am. This is my story.

One more thing, our kids' homeschooled world study is simply the introduction to a lifetime of learning about the world. My goal has been to lay a basic foundation: where things are in the world and the overarching historical themes. My own personal understanding of history and the world-at-large has deepened with age, travel, reading, media and personal awareness. I anticipate the same will happen for my kids and what I wanted to give them was the foundation on which to build their adult experience.

This is just the beginning for them, not the be-all-end-all.

Give Your Child the World is a fabulous addition to the interest-led model of education, as well as a more parent-directed approach.

Is your child interested in a particular area of the world? You can find age-appropriate engaging books (many books), to support that.

Are you interested in teaching your child about a particular area of the world through stories? You can find a book (many books) to help you.

Give Your Child the World is a book about books. A book to help you share the world with your child.

This is not a homeschooling book, though I've explained how I would use it in our homeschool because homeschool is our life. And because I consider everything we read as part of the kids' education.

You don't have to homeschool to use this book, this is a book for parents who want to share the world with their children (or grandchildren), through the wonderful world of story.

Stories about the unique beauty in different cultures. Stories about our common humanity. Stories to help you go places without having to literally go there. Stories that share, with age appropriate language and details the struggle and suffering of being human, no matter where you live, but the hope and healing we find in friendship, families, communities, and faith. This is the story of the world.

I love books. I love reading. I love learning about the world, different cultures and world views through reading.

I love this book.

Thank you Jamie for all your effort and labor of love in putting together such an excellent resource for families.

Just as I was about to publish this post I popped over to The Art of Simple. I was seeking a distraction actually for the tedium of editing. My bad, or good, in this case because I discovered that Jamie has put together a summer book club, together with Sarah Mackenzie (from Read-Aloud Revival - another great resource for good books). If you have young children and want to read them good books this summer you might want to check that out.

Also, you have a chance to win Jamie's book by leaving a comment on that post. Bonus.

This is my second post in Heart of the home series.

A lot of the blogs I read and instagram feeds I follow are all spring, spring, spring these days. As a northerner, I'm used to early spring "down south". But a February spring in New England is disheartening to me.

I loved the mild November but it seems for some people that winter never happened and that makes me sad. I know that for people who don't enjoy winter sports or work outdoors a mild winter is a blessing, for us, it just ain't so.

The schedule I share below is our winter schedule, because that's the season we're in. We hope winter stays till the end of March, at least at the ski hill (they make snow) because we really enjoy skiing and snowboarding.

This schedule is quite similar to last fall, except for Monday, which I explain below, and Wednesday's ski day. It will remain our weekly schedule till co-op ends in May.

A note about the photos (because I care about that kind of thing). I haven't taken a lot of photos this winter. For me, the city in the winter is not as beautiful or inspiring as the city in the summer. Maybe in future years I'll see things differently. And with less natural light in our home I don't take as many indoor photos either. So I'm pulling some photos from my instagram feed and my phone to "illustrate" and beautify this post.


Monday - Co-op day

We belong to a homeschool co-op that meets on Mondays and Fridays.

Last October when co-op started I took the kids both days. I attempted to do other work while I was there, email and other correspondence/management tasks. It was too hard. Committing two of my days to co-op was getting very difficult for me emotionally. I was frustrated with the lack of momentum in my life in other areas.

The co-op requires parents to be present, it's not a drop-off center. So, as of December Damien started taking the kids to co-op on Mondays. The family leaves the house around 10:15 and returns around 6pm. On Monday the kids take personal finance, English literature, French conversation and drama class.

I am so grateful for Damien's ability to work anywhere. What I mean by this is that he can tune out everything to focus on something. Of course, this gift also drives me nuts sometimes, but for working in less-than-ideal environments, it's a self-employment win.

I can't do this, I'm very much a creature of habit when it comes to my work - homemaking, homeschooling, writing, etc. I'm sensitive to my environment and I work best with specific routines and rituals.


a picture from a walk in my neighborhood

I work on taxes or family finances in the morning (I help Damien with bookkeeping for our self-employed income) and try to take a walk at lunch usually to a neighborhood store to pick up what I need for supper. In the afternoon I work on a writing project that is still under wraps.

Mondays are one of my favorite days of the week. I love that weekday space to myself and the slow progress I'm making on a project that is near and dear to me.

Supper: I cook a double portion of supper: one to eat and one to freeze.

Tuesday - School & Grocery shopping day

Tuesday morning Brienne (13) and Laurent (almost 15) and I have our weekly school meeting. The homeschool co-op offers classes in all kinds of subjects, from "life skills" to academics. Most classes my kids are taking have homework. I use this homework to teach the critical thinking, communication, self-confidence, etc. skills that are fundamental to the Tougas family homeschool curriculum. Tuesday morning we take a look at each class and see what is required for the next class and the kids then work on that during the week.

I'm a co-op newbie and the kids and I were interested in a lot of the classes (FOMO), so we signed up for a lot of classes. Little did I realize we wouldn't have time for some of my own homeschooling intentions for the year, working in weak areas mostly. I plan to pick those up this summer when co-op is out of session and carefully consider my options next year to make sure we have enough time for the things we deem most important.

But overall, what they've gained from the co-op outweighs adjusting my homeschool expectations for this year.

Celine (16) manages her own schooling and I will check in with her throughout the week and offer to lighten her household load if she's having a particularly intense week, but otherwise, she's pretty much independent. Damien is a great assistance to Celine's technical and computer education and work experience. Her part-time job is working for one of Damien's clients.

On Tuesday mornings Celine goes with Damien to a coffee shop to work till lunch.

I try to walk at lunch time. In the afternoon I go grocery shopping and hit a couple different places depending on the week: farmers market, Costco, health food store, large grocery store, the neighborhood shops. This is my least favorite part of the week.


I often treat myself to a croissant on shopping afternoons

Supper: We eat a meal from the freezer.

Wednesday - Ski Day

Mid-week skiing has restored our family's one day a week outdoors together ritual/intention.

Damien and I realized that between Sunday church (which we all love), socially active teenagers with friend gatherings on weekends and our kids' desire to sleep long and hard on Saturday, setting aside a family day on the weekend just wasn't going to happen. Wednesday ski day has been our answer to this dilemma. And it works for our self-employed/homeschooling family.

This is a favorite day of the week for all of us.

Supper: Freezer meal.

Thursday - School & Family finance day

Thursday morning, like Tuesday, I am available for homeschool help. I also use this dedicated homeschool time to work on my co-op contributions, I occasionally teach the junior high science labs, in a rotation of other parents.

I try to walk at lunch time. In the afternoon I work on finances.

Damien and I set our family financial goals together but I'm the one who manages the budget to meet those goals. I pay bills, keep track of expenses, make the yes and no calls on routine financial decisions. Our self-employed cash flow is unpredictable, the billing is good (Damien earns enough to support us) but the rate of inflow is not yet steady because clients pay on different schedules.

Our cash flow problem has been a source of considerable stress for me over the last few years. It's high, it's low... not steady. I feel secure in systems and consistency. This part of self-employment is not necessarily the "best" fit for me. But we're working this out because self-employment works for our family on many other levels. Not the least of which is that it provides Damien the freedom he needs.

Finances is one of my anxiety triggers. And at the root of this trigger is the fear I will be destitute and without support. One of the ways I'm working to improve that situtation is to be really proactive about resolving the issue, instead of feeling helpless. Things don't have to just "happen to you" (except when they do, says my inner skeptic).

This is one of many areas that Damien and I really diverge in our thinking. He almost always feels capable and competent that his intellect, skill set, and relationships will help him solve problems. When I am outside of the familiar, outside of my comfort zone, I doubt my abilities to create the systems and support I need to find solutions.

This was one of the big things we learned on the trail. And for a few years prior, basically in moving back to Canada, I had been relying on Damien's sense of self-competence and the belief that if it "feels good for him" it's ok for me. Wow, did that ever cause some strain in our marriage when the shit hit the fan, which was on the trail and in the period right after.

As for the financial problem, it's not rocket science, you have to save a fund from which you draw your "paycheck". This is tricky when we need most of what comes in each month to meet our financial obligations.

This year our financial focus is to resolve this problem, which means less money spent elsewhere - travel, household purchases (we don't have a couch, for example), extra educational stuff, etc.

Last November I started using YNAB. I started with their new app. I've always used our own spreadsheet system for tracking all our expenses and preparing monthly budgets but I wanted a more "modern", app-friendly tool.

My first go at it was fairly awful and resulted in a complete YNAB meltdown in January. I decided to start fresh in February. And low and behold, as my education philosophy supports, by making a bunch of mistakes the first time I learned what not to do the next time around. I'm doing much better with our Fresh Start (it's actually called that). What I really like are the easy bank record imports and the reconcile feature, something I couldn't do with my spreadsheet system.

I don't know that it will be the life changer it is for people who aren't used to budgeting, but I think it will be an improvement on my old system once I master it. That's my sweet spot and when I get there, watch out, I'll be a YNAB ninja.

We still own our house in Maine (anyone want to buy a house in Central Maine?) and I manage the just-enough finances for that and work with our property manager, this is another one of my family finance responsibilities.

Supper: I cook a double portion of supper: one to eat and one to freeze.

Friday - Co-op day

We leave at 9:30 and return home between 7:00 or 8:00 pm. This is a long day but a good day.

The kids have science classes (Physics for Celine, Physical Science experiments for B & L), Canadian History, Painting (Laurent), and Phys. Ed with an honest-to-goodness gym teacher who teaches actual team sports skills, which our kids love.

I help facilitate Physical Science (parents rotate) and volunteer for little jobs around the co-op, mostly organizational tasks, since that's what I enjoy doing. I sometimes assist in classes. I try to take a walk in the afternoon.

The co-op is run by an executive committee, they use the member fees to pay teachers (homeschooling moms, community members, professional tutors) to teach the classes. The classes are offered as enrichment to the teaching/facilitating/overseeing that the parents do at home. This is not a private school.

The co-op is an amazing group of people (40 families) who come together to offer our kids more than we could do on our own. It's a community, and we help each other and watch out for each other. I have been so encouraged by these families.

The co-op meets in a space we rent from a Christian youth organization. The location is a 30 minute drive from our house, with no traffic.1 hr+ drive with bad traffic from our home.

Supper: A friend in cooking class at the co-op prepares supper for our family (for real, I told you these people were amazing). Or if that doesn't work I'll bring frozen pizza to prepare so the kids can continue their pick-up soccer game that is the continuation of gym class. Plus, at that time of the day, it's better to leave after 6:30, the traffic isn't so bad.

Weekends - Homemaking, R&R, Church, Hospitality

I try not to schedule things for myself on the weekends. One of the kids, usually Brienne but sometimes all three, will have a social engagement and need chauffeuring. Most of the kids' friends don't live near us. Damien and I make a good team in this regard. I usually do the drop-off and he does late night pick ups, or morning after pickups.


My favorite Saturday morning breakfast

Saturdays is my day for puttering. My goal is to work on creative homemaking projects: lotion and lip balm making, candle making, sewing, organizing, prettifying.

Because we ski on Wednesday the kids often have more homework/studies to do on the weekend.

Saturday Supper: Frozen store-bought food, something easy homemade, impromptu pizza with friends, etc.

Sunday mornings we go to church.

Sunday afternoons I like to nap and do little homemaking-creative projects. Once or twice a month, Damien and I will go on a long walking date to explore our city, an activity we both love. (A dating win!)

The kids clean the house after lunch, it takes less than 1 1/2 hours to completely clean our home: vacuum, mop floors, and scrubbed bathroom.

Sometimes we'll have friends over in the evening, almost always that works best impromptu since I don't like to schedule myself on the weekends (outside of driving the kids places). This is not a heavy hospitality season for our family, because of our full week schedule, especially with skiing. Most of my relationship-building happens at co-op and thankfully I've made some wonderful friends there, just as the kids have.

We all enjoy spending time with people in our home, playing games is a favorite activity, and when that happens it's a treat.

If our week was particularly busy or emotional for me (parenting teenagers can be emotionally taxing) I will take time on the weekend to completely relax, no agenda or projects unless doing it makes me feel great. Having no plans and no place to be a certain time makes me feel great (after a scheduled week). I might grab this time on Saturday or Sunday afternoon but sometimes I'll skip church and have a morning to myself. A divine experience of the non-church going variety.

Sunday Supper: Damien cooks

Chores, Cleaning, and Kitchen

The kids do garbages, recycling, cat litter, daily kitchen sweeping, folding and delivering laundry as part of their daily chore routine. I wash and dry the laundry, we average five loads a week. (I've never been hypervigilant about sheets.) Our stacked washer/dryer is in a closet right across from the bathroom, right around the corner from the kitchen, it's very easy to maintain a good system.

We clean the house once a week, usually the kids do it all but I will step in to help if someone is sick or if school/study/employment demands are especially heavy that week. There isn't any "deep cleaning" required in a small space like ours, except for keeping up with the fridge, which is my job.

This is a big perk to uncluttered, small-ish space living. Maintenance is really low. This includes routine cleaning and bigger stuff, that you generally don't do in an apartment rental anyway. This arrangement works very well for us since I don't want to do a lot of house maintenance or cleaning, and Damien's focus is on building a thriving business and doing fun stuff with his family.

Dishes. We don't have a dishwasher (as soon as we can afford one I definitely want to get one). People are responsible to wash their own dishes throughout the day. They don't always do this. I do most of the miscellaneous and food prep dishes. The kids do the supper dishes.

Cooking. I don't like cooking. I think I used to be ok with it, back when I would think nothing of spending the whole day in the kitchen preparing special occasion vegan, gluten-free foods for my family. I've lost that enthusiasm and I'm always looking for ways to manage/delegate/optimize my way out of my responsibilities in this domain.

Which is why I continue to sing the praises of Whole Foods Freezer Cooking.

For fall 2015/winter 2016 putting supper on the table is my responsibility. The kids are not cooking this season because of increased study requirements, part-time jobs, scheduling issues and other priorities we have as a family. And Damien is working so I'm responsible for suppers and I'm ok with this (because of freezer meals).

As for other meals, for breakfast everyone fends for themselves. Leftovers and sandwich type lunches are packed for co-op days and on Fridays the co-op serves soup. Tuesday and Thursday, Laurent and Brienne make lunch, usually salad. Wednesday we pack store-bought or homemade freezer foods that we can microwave for a hot lunch at the hill. Weekends is mostly fend for yourselves.

For snacks I've made peace with stocking store-bought convenience foods for when we're out the house; granola bars, trail mix, crackers and cheese. I have become a card-carrying Costco shopper and I love it. When kids are at home I require them to "prepare" something like popcorn, muffins, pasta, tortilla and salsa, smoothies, eggs, veggies and dip for snacks.

I'm the same mom I was to my littles but I have some different priorities at this stage of the game. Things that were so important to me then just don't matter much to me anymore.

Doing things I love and not running myself ragged with busyness is important to me and must be weighed in the balance of cooking everything from scratch. My cooking everything from scratch days are over, at least until the kids are gone. Also we don't have food allergies or intolerances these days like we did when the kids were little. Damien still avoids corn and wheat but our family diet doesn't rely on those foods very much and he prepares most of his daily food except supper.

I don't menu plan much these days. I hit repeat on easy winter meals. As it is, I only cook three meals a week. It's not hard to make a menu plan for three meals.


Some of you are interested specifically in how we organize our space. What does it look like for a family of five to live in an apartment? Although apartment living is the norm in the core of Montreal and many places the world-over, it's not the typical North American family living arrangement.

I hadn't intended to do a full apartment tour in this series but I feel it fits really well. The problem is that some of our spaces aren't "done" yet to my satisfaction. I still don't have the pictures on our bedroom walls, we don't have a couch, our dining room table is very ratty, so I haven't done the "house tour" photos.

However, if I wait for perfection, it won't ever happen so I'm going to get on that. I'm going to "stage" our space just a wee bit (I have some standards), take photos and walk you through our apartment. But that will have to wait. Because next up is Personal Care and Making and Breaking Habits Through Seasons.

Kids in the kitchen may not seem like the most logical place to start a month of homeschooling posts but it's perfectly logical for me.

As the kids' educational needs get more intense, not only do I have to, but I want to, devote adequate time to their education (and activities).

We are interest-led homeschoolers. Our kids are responsible for their learning, but I am responsible for preparing the environment, facilitating habit formation, sourcing materials, record keeping, getting them places, and showing up for my job enthused and inspired.

I spend a lot more time "homeschooling" during these years than I did when the kids were little. (This time does not necessarily equate to teaching them directly, but I'll get into that in another post.)

Having kids contribute around the house meets several objectives.

They learn "real life skills", which is core part of their curriculum, and they learn responsibility (character development).

But just as important for me, is that their participation frees up my time so I can "do everything" I need to do.

Kids contributing is my way of making sure I have enough time for their education, my other household work, and my own needs.

Taking care of my own needs is not trivial in the scheme of things. Showing up for my homeschool responsibilities enthused and inspired means that I am both inspired about what we're doing but also refreshed from doing things I love as a regular part of my day.

Damien and I have attempted to divide our labor, as much as possible, according to personal interests, strengths, and gifts. Our recent rebuild was largely about this.

Managing the kitchen, the kids' education, our household finances, and the basic care and cleaning of our home is my job in this life season.

I'm the one who makes things flow around here. I keep things in line. I manage "stuff" and schedules. I like that job.

Life with three older kids, kids period, can get kind of out of hand if you're not careful. I don't know about you, but my family will take as much as I am willing to give and then they'll ask for more. Not because they are mean or nasty or even trying to take advantage of me but because they are human.

We all have a tendency to look to other people to solve our problems, make life easier, do our work. As my kids grow older it is especially imperative that I'm not the mother who enables that.

I'm a dedicated, invested homeschooling mom, yes, but I want my own life also. A life that largely revolves around my kids, my home and hearth, but a life with time to read (in the middle of the day), exercise and be outdoors, time to write, time to make stuff and be creative, time to connect with other women - those are things I want to do.

It's my job to set my personal boundaries, and not to expect other people, my husband included, to intuit and advocate for my needs.

Having my kids involved in the kitchen is about learning important skills, like cooking, but it's also about sharing household responsibilities so I'm not taking on too much of the household burden.

Our kids are required to help in the kitchen for the following very practical reasons:

  • Meal planning, grocery shopping within a budget, and cooking are life skills. This is part of their curriculum.
  • Our health is largely dependent on what we eat. Food related disease (of some kind) is rampant in our society. Learning to cook, eat, and enjoy healthy food is habit formation of the highest order.
  • Kids eat a lot, it just makes sense to have them help prepare that.
  • Learning to cook, to plan meals and prepare them according to a schedule teaches excellent time management skills. (I don't give my kids school assignments, daily meals are natural "deadlines" in our days.)
  • I actually need their help for us to accomplish everything everyone in our family wants to do in a day. I just can't do it all, and when it comes to cooking, nor do I want to! We all have to pitch in, it's simple as that.

Looking Back

Six years ago (the kids were 10, 8 & 6) I wrote a post about the number of hours I spent on food-related chores.

Managing a buying club, weekly trips to our CSA, gardening, making most everything from scratch, and regular hospitality in addition to menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking, tipped my daily average into full-time hours. I spent approximately eight hours a day on food related chores. It's as unbelievable to me now as it was then.

When I wrote that post I resolved "it's time to get the kids more involved in the kitchen... I would love to work myself down to a part-time job."


our kids cooking Ramen noodles on the trail, a first for them

That particular summer was probably the height of my kitchen and cooking related time investment. It wasn't until a couple years later that I admitted on the blog I don't really like cooking, at least not all the meals, and such a high amount of food related chores, though noble (and I think I took some pride in how noble it all was), wasn't really how I wanted to be spending my time.

Since that summer six years ago I have been actively working myself out of that full-time job, down to a level that feels more manageable. Publishing that post, taking a hard look at the numbers, was a light bulb moment for me, illuminating where I needed to make changes.

Another lightbulb moment came this past summer when I watched my kids thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I realized what they were capable of and decided upon our return home that they would take on more household responsibilities.

Before our hike the kids were helping somewhat in the kitchen. Celine was cooking supper once a week, the kids were making snacks, and on their own for breakfast. And at the height of my online work Damien was also helping in the kitchen.

Since coming home from our hike Damien and I have changed the division of labor so I am back to being responsible for home, and he's responsible for the income, he's mostly out the picture in the kitchen. But the kids are more involved than ever.

Currently in our kitchen

We have a weekly cooking schedule and I divvy up the daily food responsibilities - cooking lunch, dishwasher and lunch helper, snack prep, and cooking supper - among the four of us. (Damien does supper dishes and helps me cook on the weekends.)

Each of the kids is responsible for planning and cooking one lunch, one snack and one supper every week. They also will assist either me or one of their siblings in preparing lunch two days a week.

What this means is the everyday each kid is doing something in kitchen, on a rotating schedule.

I am responsible for two lunches, two snacks and two suppers. And on the weekends one lunch and one supper.

I am now down to preparing less than 50% of our family's meals and snacks.

Meal Planning and Scheduling

First of all, participation is not optional. If you want to eat, you have to be a part of the cooking.

For the record, participation in household chores has never been optional in our home. If possible, I will divvy up chores according to interest and strengths, and the kids sometimes swap things around on their own, but participation is not voluntary. Because this has always been the standard, since they were toddlers, the kids may sometimes whine to me about their chore woes (to which I mostly laugh, and then usually tickle them, yes really) but they know resistance is futile.

At the beginning of the week everyone is responsible to choose their recipes for the week. There are a lot of repeats, each of us has our favorite recipes we like to make, but I "encourage" the kids to regularly try new recipes. I provide some guidance so we're not eating rice every night, etc.

The meals are written on a weekly menu plan that looks something like this.

I prepare the grocery list from this menu plan and do all the shopping. The kids aren't old enough yet for that!

The kids have dietary guidelines (our house rules) they must follow when choosing recipes. Vegan, minimally processed ingredients, lots of veggies, gluten-free and corn-free for their Dad.

Some of our current favorite recipe sources are:

You can find recipe inspiration for the type of food we eat on my Pinterest.

Breakfast:

Fend for yourself. I like eating the same thing, most every day, some variation of oats, nuts, fruit. None of my kids likes oatmeal anymore, they may never have "liked" it but it was what we ate for breakfast for years.

Everyone fixes their own - potatoes & salsa, leftover supper, rice, miso wakame soup. The only time we have convenience store-bought breakfasts (toast or cereal) is on the weekends.

Lunch:

Now that each of the kids are responsible for one lunch per week, our lunch menu has expanded and now includes:

  • green meal salads (I wrote an ebook about that)
  • grain, vegetable and bean salads
  • soup (I'm the soup master of the house and at least once a week, especially in this season, I make soup for lunch)
  • occasionally a sandwich-type lunch


generally cats are not part of cooking

Snacks:

Oh, these kids need to eat a lot.

Snacks are either something baked (according to the house rules), popcorn, rice pudding, or veggies and dip.

Whole-food, plant-based snacks are some of the trickiest things to find recipes for and we're always tweaking recipes and making modifications. We have a few tried-and-true but we're always looking for more. (And we're all tired of Lara bar type foods.)

Supper:

As has been the case for the last fourteen years, suppers are built around either rice, potatoes, pasta or beans, with the addition of a hearty amount of vegetables, beans or tofu, in some kind of sauce.

Suppers are One Pot Meals though most often two pots are involved - one for the grain, one for the bean/tofu/vegetable sauce. Almost all of our meals are eaten in a bowl.

The kids cook much of the same fare I've been cooking for years. The following links give examples of the type of meals they make:

With the kids helping more in the kitchen I feel inspired once again in the kitchen to experiment with more complicated recipes. Yes, I can make hearty soup with my eyes closed but I am enjoying trying new recipes these days and reserving the soup usually for lunch.

Training and Technicalities

My kids have been working with me in the kitchen, in some capacity, since I could sit their diapered bums on the kitchen counter, or stand them on a chair to help wash dishes.

They know their way around the kitchen but I was still surprised how little "they caught" from this when it came time to start cooking a full meal, like supper.

At fifteen Celine has been cooking supper for a couple years. She's a pro in the kitchen now. She can modify recipes, make substitutions. Her repertoire goes beyond pasta.

Brienne, twelve, is my most inclined-to-cook child. She likes experimenting in the kitchen especially if sweet things are involved, which they aren't very often. She likes to dress the part.


House of Anubis inspired "boarding school" look,
lately Brienne prefers wearing a lady's maid/servant attire while preparing meals (or anytime of day really)

Laurent is fourteen and his biggest challenge in the kitchen is following the sequential steps of a recipe and also not having the experience to fill-in-the-gaps if the recipe if vague about something. Processing a long list of instructions is difficult for Laurent (because of dyslexia) so the practice of reading and following recipes is really good skill-builder. To assist him I will often re-type recipes, making sure the instructions are very explicit. Eventually he'll have the experience to fill-in-the gaps on his own, but in the beginning I need to help with this.

When the kids are first responsible for a meal or snack preparation I work with them, as their assistant. I did more of this hand holding pre-hike.

When we came back from our hike and Brienne and Laurent started cooking supper, as well as Celine, I helped them as an assistant for two weeks and then stepped out of the kitchen. They've had years of lunch cooking experience, my kids are master salad makers, so I knew they could work their way around a kitchen but there was still lots to learn.

Generally, I'm in the house and available in case they have questions. I've scheduled Celine's supper cooking with my weekly big grocery trip (in other words, I'm out of the house when she's cooking) because I know she can manage without me in the house.

Most of our recipes are now stored digitally. I chucked out my recipe binders in our last move, it was time to purge. I keep recipes now either in MacGourmet (the program I use for writing my own recipes), or as simple text or pdf documents stored in digital files, organized in the same manner as my old hardcopy recipe binders. (Beans, breads, curries & stir fries,... ferments, grains,... potatoes, remedies, rice...)

Brienne and Laurent like following printed recipes so we're rebuilding a much simplified recipe binder with our current family favorites.

That's the short version of what it looks like to have five cooks in the house.

It feels somehow selfish, and slightly ironic, to admit that having the kids contribute more in the kitchen has increased my overall enjoyment in my vocation as homemaker.

Although I identify most strongly as a homemaker, I'm happiest in my role as manager of our home as opposed to family chef. I am more comfortable with being a domestic maestro than a kitchen goddess.

My kids of course can make their own choice of who they want to be, and the roles and responsibilities they'll assume when they leave home and eventually start their own families. But one thing's for sure, all of them will know how to cook.

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