Monday, December 28, 2015

Large Family Preparations to Leave the House - This, too, Has a Plan

  • Make lists and notes
  • Prepare as much in advance as possible
  • Start early - it takes what it takes
  • Be the manager, not the primary "do-er" 
  • Three examples
  • Preparing to arrive home again

I was often asked how I prepared to leave the house with our family of 11, especially when our 9 children were all 12-years-old and younger. And people who know me knew that I would have a plan to implement! *chuckle* It was not complicated, it's just a matter of being proactive - being ON PURPOSE - in creating and implementing a plan.  Like my sweet friend Wendy Jeub (mother of 16) said to me once, "Make a plan, implement the plan."  Failing to plan is planning to fail. Here's my plan...

Make lists and notes

I make lists for just about everything in life, because I don't like to be unprepared when it's so preventable.  I like to be comfortable, relaxed, and prepared when we're out and about.  

Sometimes my lists take up two 8x10 pieces of paper (when leaving for a few days), and sometimes my list is only 2 items on a post-it note stuck to the table.  But there is enough going on in our house and family before we leave to go somewhere that without notes to myself it's been fairly likely that things get missed, and this can negatively impact the entire outing. If you are digitally minded and have a smart phone, iPad or other such device, you can use the calendar and set reminders, put in check lists etc. I prefer paper and pen but the media is not really the issue here. Having a plan and putting it in writing before the time to leave comes is the issue.

Lots of things seem to come up in the last 5-30 minutes before we are striving to walk out the door.  For example, some children seem to get stressed when there's commotion.  Not necessarily chaos, but just people scurrying about getting their selves ready, and their things ready, getting him ready *chuckle*.  I'm giving a lot of verbal directions to multiple people, his day s not going in it's usual, predictable routine, and I'm usually prompting people to move right along and stay on task because we're striving for a certain time frame.  His stress level can bring on additional complications such as wet pants and therefore pee on the floor, requiring then a carpet clean up and a new outfit for him.  We always have everyone use the bathroom before we leave so that we can try to avoid making bathroom stops (which take a lot of time with a large family) - this takes time at home, too.  Sometimes someone needs an outfit change because we just realized that what they're wearing is inappropriate for varying reasons (weather, season, length of time we'll be out of the house, etc.)  Finding shoes for someone that were not put on the shoe rack where they belong.  One of our youngest 4 children usually needed a diaper change at the last second (how do they always seem to know right when we need to go out the door??)  So - I make lists and notes to myself so that despite the business everything gets remembered that we will need.  *smile*

I write down everything we need to pack to take with us.  If we're leaving the house for 3 days, then I make categorized packing lists, simply grouping things on my 8x10-inch tablet in a way that helps me think through it simply and easily, and helps me me catch items that I missed.  One giant list is hard to order in my mind, so I bunch things in to groups.  Such as sleeping things:  sleeping bags, pillows, pj's, diapers and pull-ups, special teddy bears for young ones or a familiar blanket, pack-n-plays, tooth brushes, hair brush and squirt bottle, hair holders, older girls overnight bags, alarm clocks, menstrual items if necessary, etc.  Daytime items, such as:  appropriate shoes, jackets, snacks, activities, outfits and underpants, bottles & formula if we have a real little one, etc.  But most of the time, preparing to leave the house requires only a short list for a short outing - even only 2-5 items!  But I don't want to forget them none-the-less.

If we're leaving to go to the park, then I write on my list:  picnic lunch, waters, strollers, toddler harnesses (in case "littles" are refusing to stay close enough to us when not in the stroller, or if there are larger crowds than we anticipated and a toddler could get lost), sweatshirts (weather can change quickly in the Great North West and if everyone's really cold then we have to cut the outing short). I have forgotten each of these items at different times when I haven't written them down, and it's so paralyzing!  Any of these forgotten items can either cancel or greatly shorten our planned outing - such a bummer.

I also put a star next to any items that require preparation time from me.  Usually I'm packing things that need to be grabbed and put into the car.  But a lunch needs time to be prepared, so I star that item.  This helps me plan my timing accurately.  Sometimes I'm making taco popcorn to take to a friend's house to enjoy while kids play, and that needs to be prepared in advance as well.

Another thing I do that helps me to make accurate lists is to make notes to myself about certain annual events and stick those on my calendar for next year so that I'm sure to remember things that I forgot that current year.  When I get a new wall calendar each year, I go through it and write down things like family birthdays or annual events such as the county fair; and I move any post-it notes to myself to the new calendar, too.  I'll make a note for the 4th of July so that I remember to pack bug spray, have the children wear matching tee-shirts so that they're all easier to keep track of, bring kids pj's so that they can go to sleep at our friend's house, etc.  For the Easter Egg hunt in April I want to remember to have the kids wear rubber boots as the grass is usually still muddy from spring rains.  To the county fair in August, I want to remember to have the kids wear their red shirts again for easy identification, bring the toddler harnesses, bring hats for all the kids as the sun is hard on everyone's eyes all day long, and bring water bottles to help kids keep hydrated without having to buy expensive fair beverages.

Prepare as much in advance as possible

Also due to so many things happening simultaneously just before we leave the house, I like to prepare as much in advance as possible.  Items brought to the van in advance, food prepared, diaper bags filled, and such.  If I know that on Monday we're going to go to the library, then when we still used them I would try to put the strollers into the van even over the weekend if I think of it, or at least the morning of our outing.  We can't go into the library without having the 4 youngest kids in the double strollers, so we cannot afford to forget them.  If I had not thought to get the strollers into the van in advance of that day but I would think of it a couple of hours before we leave (and it would still very possible to forget them completely!), then I'd ask one of the older kids to go get the strollers in the garage and put them right by the garage doors so we'd have to trip over them to get to the van.  *smile*  Not likely to forget them, then.

If we're responsible to bring chips and pop to a picnic, then those just stay in the van after we purchase those from the store so they're sure to arrive at the picnic with us.

Diaper bags get re-filled with diapers and things upon arriving back at home having used them, and put back in to the van so that they're always there ready for our use; we never have to remember to bring them as they "live" in the van ready for us.

If I need to remember to return something to my parent's house when we go there next week, then I'll put that item into the van as soon as I think of it even if it's days in advance, so I'm sure not to forget it later.  The less to try to remember at the last minute the better, and the simpler actually getting out the door becomes, and the happier we all are as we're preparing to leave.  *smile*

I practice organization and preparedness for our vehicle as well, in case of emergency (food, water, band aids, flashlight, etc.), or if items are forgotten (baby bottle and formula, hair holders, sunscreen, etc.) or in case things come up unexpectedly (nuts for a snack because we're late for a meal, toddler harnesses live in the van all summer just in case, etc).  This has helped me greatly countless times as well.  But even being prepared in advance doesn't help us if we have not left an adequate amount of time for ourselves to get ready before we leave.

I also have our environment prepared to enable us to successfully get from the house to the van as time efficiently and successfully as possible.  When I say to the kids, "Okay!  It's time to go, let's clean up!"  With my direction they start picking up toys, straitening couch cushions, Karen (when she was 13) would pick up the twin babies and take them to the garage to get their shoes and coats on, and help Spencer (when he was 2) follow her to the garage to do the same.  The "middle kids" when they were ages 9, 6, and 5 would run to the garage to get shoes and coats on.  I checked my list on the table for last minute items I need to get and Melanie (12 at the time) helped me bring all that down stairs while I grabbed my purse and took Tyler (at age 3) down with me to help him get ready.

Down in the garage the older kids help younger kids get shoes and coats on, and if kids are especially rowdy that day then I'll have them all sit down on the carpet in one place while they wait to go to the van.  And they all take turns using the bathroom if they haven't done so yet.

We keep the kids shoes on a huge shoe rack (a heavy-duty, plastic shelf unit for the garage, from Costco), with the shoes generally in order (one of our children's weekly job is to straiten the shoe rack, finding all the pairs and putting them together so that we can easily find them when it's time to leave).

We have the children's coats on a hanging rack also in our garage "mud room" so that we can quickly and easily put everything on out there (and when we come home shoes and coats get put away in the mud room and put away before they head inside).

When it was appropriate we had a pack-n-play out in the garage as a place where we could put the youngest ones that was safe and clean, so that they were not wandering around aimlessly, getting in to trouble, or leaving the garage to the street.  (In the back of the photo is the pack-n-play)

And we require and teach the children to stay on the large carpeted area in the garage mud room, to help them be successful in obedience, and to help kids remember not to run out of the garage to the street.  When I do open the garage door and encourage the kids to go get into the van, they are expected to go strait to the van and get in and buckle their seat belt immediately.  No running around the van or into the cul-de-sac where I would have to then waste time corralling them all back.  And no causing problems with siblings inside the van or climbing over the van seats which would eventually rip the car upholstery.  Straight to seat belts.  *smile*

Start early - it takes what it takes

I used to make plans for our timing by saying that it should only take 15 minutes to get us all ready and in to the car - but the fact was it took longer than that, and I was only successful at being punctual to arrive places when I planned for the amount of time it actually took. When we had lots of "littles" it took more like 30-40 minutes from the time we started getting ready to go (cleaning up, gathering items, getting everyone's shoes on, using the bathroom, etc.) to the time we were driving out of the drive way.  It doesn't matter how long I think it should take, and then get frustrated when it's taking way longer and then we're late.  It takes what it takes, so I need to plan for that and just go with it.  *smile*

In order to determine if I need to get up earlier than usual in the morning if we're leaving, I need to figure out our timing for the next morning, the night before.  When they were all little I knew it took 9o minutes to get all of the youngest 7 children up by myself in the morning, get them dressed, groomed, any wet beds stripped, call older kids back to pick their clothes up from the floor and such, and to get everyone up to the table for breakfast.  It doesn't matter if I think it should take less time, it always took 90 minutes.  I knew how long it took me to have my Bible time in the morning, to shower, to prepare the house for the day, make breakfast, and check my to-do list and email, before then getting all of the children up in the morning.  It will also take time to pack a picnic lunch for us all, to gather all of our sweatshirts, etc.  I take all of this in to consideration and then determine what time to wake up in the morning if it's different than my usual time, and then we're sure to be on time.  There's really no need to be perpetually late to things if one prepares in advance (generally of course - we can't always be prepared for every thing).  We need to just accept the fact that it takes what it takes, and go with that.  And now I do not try to do everything all by myself, by the way; I employ the whole family to get the whole family ready!  *smile*

Be the manager, not the primary "do-er"

It is impossible for me to do everything myself to get the whole family ready, and simultaneously manage kids who are unoccupied; and it's important for the kids to participate in the functioning of the family, to serve, to be patient, to be creative with little ones who need help, and to be productively occupied.  Everyone can help get shoes, get socks, help younger siblings, bring things down stairs, gather sweatshirts, or even just have the job of sitting and "guarding" the pile of stuff to go to the van.  *chuckle*  It takes all of my time, energy, and attention to be directing everyone to what they can be doing, to be monitoring that and managing behavior.  My job is to be the Manager of my Home, not the primary "do-er". 

Three examples  

Here are 3 examples of types of planning we used to do to leave the house.  I've been asked specifically about all 3 of these, so here's a glimpse into how we would do things at the Shupe household.

Church - Preparations were not too revolutionary really, they just take a plan like everything else.  I actually begin the week before by making sure we have everything we need for our Shupe Surprise Sunday morning breakfast that daddy makes for us each week.  It's an egg, sausage, and hashbrowns skillet called Shupe Surprise only because the kids know that I don't eat anything with the word "surprise" in it.  *laugh*  So they named this one for me.  It does vary a bit each week and is a bit of a surprise in a way as my husband is a creative chef, cooking with the "some of this and some of that" method, but it always tastes great.  We intentionally choose a high-protein and fat breakfast which will help everyone easily make it through the service without feeling hungry and tired, until we get home again for lunch.

Bob and I get up in the morning early enough to have a shower, prep for the day by checking email and plans on the calendar for errands and grocery shopping, opening up the window blinds, and sometime eating a bit of something to help hold us off until the hot breakfast is ready.  We have time to talk about things as we go (not being too rushed), and see the teenage girls who are showering themselves right after us.  Then we jump in to getting the youngest 7 children up.

The children's clothes are organized in our all-kids-clothing closet, and the boy's church clothes have their own basket (slacks and button down shirts and belts) so selecting an outfit for church is quick and easy.  The girls dresses are hanging and also easy to select from.  The oldest 3 daughters dress themselves, and I select clothes for our 6 youngest ones.  I also try to remember to get out those youngest 6 children's church shoes and socks for them so that they're ready when the boys come piling in to the garage.  This way I can also be sure that they wear church attire and do not grab play socks ans shoes to go with their slacks.  *hmm*  When I wake the kids the teenage girls and I do the youngest children's hair and teeth for them, supervise getting dressed in a timely way, and put away pj's while the children watch a documentary and wait for breakfast while daddy cooks.

When we had mostly all very little ones we would sit them all straight up to the table after getting dressed and doing hair and teeth, which also saved a great deal of time not having to clean up the toys that they can get out in a short amount of time just before we leave the house.  So the littlest ones would pretty much get up, get ready, sit up for breakfast and eat, and then go strait to the van with everyone else.  The older children would have been choosing easy-to-put-away activities such as books or computer learning to occupy their time until breakfast is ready.

Once I have the 7 youngest children done then I dress myself (if I do it earlier my church clothes get all wrinkly and might have water on them from hair and teeth) and eat breakfast.  Then while the children are eating, Bob dresses himself for church while I manage the children at the breakfast table, and our oldest 2 daughters begin cleaning up the kitchen and loading dishes.

When everyone is done eating breakfast we go strait to the van to leave for church.  We've planned to arrive at church 30 minutes early so that we have time to visit with our church family before the service begins.  We have very little time to visit after the service because the children are all tired and hungry and we really need to get them home for lunch and a 2-hour naps for the youngest 4.  Planning to arrive so early also enables us to have some grace time if we are running late due to unexpected things at home.  If we leave the house later than desired then we only miss the visiting time, but not the beginning of the service.  As you can probably imagine, and may have experienced yourselves, it's not very inconspicuous to have our family of 11 enter the services late.  *chuckle*  If we are able to leave the house even earlier than we planned, then we get to go on a little drive through the farm land in "our valley", which is beautiful.  This time is so relaxing, and the children really enjoy it, too.  This is a great incentive for us all to be on task in the morning on Sundays so we get to have the blessing of this time in the van.

This plan has worked really great for us for a long time.  Of course you can choose your own "plan of attack" for getting ready for church - but having a plan is instrumental when there are so many people.

Three days away - When we go to the annual homeschool conference we look forward to every year here in Washington state, or when we go camping for a long weekend, I begin making packing lists to be gone for this duration of time about a week in advance.  I just start brainstorming my packing lists, grouped in to categories that break the list down for me and help me to see it more clearly, as I mentioned earlier.  This gives me several days to be remembering more items for the list as I go through our days, experiencing everything that we do and use or could need so that I can add those items and not forget anything (ideally).  I'm sort of in pre-packing mode in the back of my mind that week, trying to always be aware of what I use during the day and what I could need to bring for our family while we're away.

I begin the actual packing process a day or two before we leave.  I ask Bob to load the van for us with items that are bulky and do not need to go into a bag.  Things like strollers and/or pack-n-plays.  Then I get out duffel bags and backpacks and decide who's things will be packed together into single bags, and how to bet orchestrate clothes, etc.  I think through who will be eating what, what activities we will be participating in, and what our family may be responsible for bringing for others.  The more I can pack in advance the better, and the more that can get in to the car in advance, the more relaxed I can be the day that we are planning to leave.  And, the less likely it is that someone will desire to have something that I've so carefully packed, and remove that thing unbeknownst to me!  (Not a happy mama *chuckle*)

I also keep my packing lists with us while we're gone so that when we pack to come home again I can re-pack from that same list, preventing us from leaving items behind.  This has been a great tool for me, and has helped me remember easy-to-forget things like alarm clocks, toiletry bags, and jackets when we head for home.  *smile*

Another unique place we plan to leave the house for, usually annually, is to have professional photos taken (for free!).

Professional photo shoot - This happens to be an example I've already done an entire blog post on if you would like to read about that and see the pictures.  I share about all of the preparations we make to ensure (as much as possible) a successful photo.

Preparing to arrive home again

This may sound funny, but I do actually prepare to arrive home again!  We all appreciate walking in to an orderly home which feels relaxing and ready for the next thing on the agenda.  By this I mean before we left the house earlier we had the toys cleaned-up, family room orderly, and kitchen all cleaned up.  We need to be able to prepare lunch in our tiny kitchen immediately upon arrival home and we cannot do so with breakfast dishes and pans everywhere from the morning.  I do not want to clean up just so that I can prepare lunch; what a waste of time.  And after lunch kids will go down for naps.  I do not want to spend the first 30-60 minutes of those 2 hours cleaning up the morning's mess; I would like to have those entire 2 hours of play-alone time to be productive and to sit down for a little while.  I need this time to re-fuel for the rest of the day.  When we proactively plan our time for when we get home, to be able to then get in to the things we need to do or would like to do, we maximize our time.

Now I don't want you to see this post as a whole list of to-do's that will stress you out!  *smile*  *hugs*  I hope you might get some ideas of how you could approach getting out the door smoothly.  And primarily I hope to help you learn a new way of thinking about your approach in order to help mainstream managing a lot of kids and keep the family on time and prepared.  Preparing to leave the house does not have to be stressful or completely full of "C'mon-c'mon-c'mon!"  We don't have to be perpetually late every where we go, I don't have to leave the house without make up on because I ran out of time, or forget to bring items that we need in order to make our journey pleasant and enjoyable.  Remember:  Make a plan, implement the plan.  *smile*  By making lists or notes to myself, preparing as much in advance as I can, starting early, managing the children instead of being the primary "do-er", and cleaning up the house before we leave, we can have a very enjoyable time out of the house, and look forward to arriving home again in a little while.

I'd love to hear some of your family strategies for preparing to leave the house!  I am learning more great organization and planning strategies from you guys all the time, and often find myself saying to our children, "I just learned this great strategy from one of our readers..."  *smile*  Keep up the great sharing!  *hugs*

Blessings on your efforts for your family,

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