ok i'm back... nak so please excuse any spelling/grammar errors..
first - you need to think of your home as a school - a place that needs rules, direction, a purpose and a 'principal'. it isn't a place of anarchy where 'anything goes' - it's a place where children and adults can come together to do great things.
i need you to write up a set of rules, print them out and put them on the wall. it doesn't have to complex, just basic stuff that *everyone* needs to follow.. similar to rules you would find in a classroom except these are adapted to home life.
'NO PINCHING, PULLING HAIR OR FIGHTING'
'PUT YOUR DIRTY CLOTHES IN THE HAMPER'
''PUT YOUR DIRTY PLATE IN THE SINK'
'PACK UP YOUR TOYS WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED PLAYING'
make sure you put these signs up on the wall - one in every room. use blutak to hang them.
formulate some consequences for breaking these rules. they can be strong consequences. you know your kids best and if they don't respond well to nice nancy then it's time to dish out some real stuff..
'if you don't pack away your toys at the end of each day, you are not allowed to play with them the following day'
'if you dont put your dirty clothes in the hamper, then they won't be washed' (with the exception of uniforms)
you said that your kids behave at school - this means they are fully capable of behaving themselves at home, they just choose not to. let's not beat around the bush - kids are NOT stupid. they know when they're likely to get into some serious trouble and when they're not. my 7yo was exactly the same.. perfect student at school and a very unhelpful, uncooperating child at home. i realized that she *knew* that there was no real consequence to her behaving that way at home, unlike at school. after all, what's mama going to do about it? yell at the top of her head or put me in time out for another 7 minutes? she knew that at home, she won't be berated by the teacher, sent to the principal or humiliated in front of her friends and so as far as she was concerned, she was SAFE regardless of her behaviour. now, don't get me wrong - it's a good thing that your child DOESN'T FEAR YOU. i never want my child to fear me, i think that creates such an ugly relationship.. but, in terms of discipline, it's also a bad thing. they should have what i call a healthy fear.. or moreso, a healthy level of respect for the parent. the parent should also reciprocate that respect.
anyway, what you need to do next is write out age appropriate chore charts for all kids. good examples are here:
it can also include basic things like finishing your food and reading a book, so the chart is not associated with negativity.. kids get a kick out of marking things off thier chart.. it gives them incentive to complete a task.
you could put on it:
put your dirty clothes in the hamper
read a book
brush your teeth
play with a sibling nicely
taste test mom's cooking
complete homework or draw a picture (for the younger kids)
.. and so on and so forth ..
decide on a daily and weekly award if the charts are completed.
one saturday morning after breakfast, gather all your children in one room and sit them down. point to the brand spanking new rules poster that is hanging on your wall. use a whistle to get their attention if need be. i get the impression that the kids simply don't give a toss if you say anything in general and often ignore, so you need to be a bit LOUD and attention seeking in your approach. :)
calmly but FIRMLY explain that there are new rules that this family has and explain why the rules are put into place. use examples 'timmy, do you like it when katie pinches you if you don't give her something' 'molly, is it easy to find your toys when they are not packed away in the same spot?' and so on.. pretend to be that teacher standing at the front of the classroom at the beginning of a new school year. prompt them to answer your questions so that they aren't just sitting there blankly staring at you. make it a little fun and say 'i can't hear you! louder! give me a yes - com'n shout it out'.. get them involved and get them laughing so that you have their undivided attention.
explain what the consequences are for breaking the rules. explain that more than one reminder won't be given for the older children (5+) and 2 reminders will be given to the younger children, then the appropriate consequence will be dished out.
show them their daily chore chart and explain that this is also part of the rules system and is to be completed everyday.
then stop there and start a fun activity to get them feeling like part of a team. my suggestion is making popcorn: 1 child to fetch the popping corn, 1 child to fetch the butter or oil, 1 child to pour it all in, 1 child to sprinkle the salt and one child to put them into bowls when they're done. if your children have trouble taking turns then it make so painfully clear whose turn it is next, even if this means going slower than normal.. 'first we gather the corn and butter - WHO will do it for me?' pick 2 children and say 'okay everyone, molly and peter will be gathering the corn and butter'.. then when they've done so, tell them that it's time for the other children to take a turn in doing something and repeat. keep your voice a little louder than usual (not yelling, but perhaps an over enthusiastic volume). i find when i speak in my usual non attention seeking tone, the kids regard my talking as background noise.
once it's all done, sit down popcorn in hand and go back to the rule chart. explain it all over again, this time to allow more of it to sink in. explain that today we will be practising the rules and also practising receiving the *rewards* for a job well done. then ask 'what are one of the rules with dirty dishes?' and get them to respond.. so what do we NOW do with our empty and dirty popcorn bowls? we put them in the sink. com'n everybody, show me how it's done!' with a big, encouring smile on your face. if they don't want to cooperate, chase them around a little or get them to march... lol.. i am not kidding.. be very playful about it and they will WANT to please you just so they can have a chance at joining in some of the fun. i sometimes sing the song from peter pan 'we're following the leader' when i need for them to do something that requires going from one spot to another. i march and sing like a 5 year old. they find it funny, sing and end up doing what i originally asked for. sometimes i'm the scary witch and chase cheeky little girls who don't put their dirty clothes in the laundry.. the magic way to get the witch to stop is by putting all your clothes in. the more clothes that go in, the slower i get in chasing them and they love being able to say 'ner ner ner witch, you can't get me!'
i must admit that my approach is a little childish, but kids do love it. i'm the whacko parent at the park, the one that you see playing with all the children instead of sitting down talking to the other parents. i've never had a child complain that i wasn't mature enough for them.
you mentioned some examples of messes:
*drawing on the walls with a marker. from now on, i would remove all markers from the house. the school aged children can have markers to use at school only, but not at home! washable pencils and washable crayons ONLY. if they seem a little annoyed, explain your reasons and tell them that they can pick a packet of 'special markers' to take to school to thank you for their understanding and cooperation e.g stamp markers, color changing markers etc i'm sure they won't turn your offer down.
*not putting wet pull-ups in rubbish. make this one of the chores and make it so that even if EVERYTHING ELSE IS COMPLETED but not this one chore, the others become null/void for that day.. it's not asking too much of a 5, 6 or 7yo to put their pull-up in the bin.
*pulling pillows and cushions off the couch. explain to the children that you understand pulling pillows/cushions off the couch is fun for them, because of the mess it creates, it is not fun for mama. suggest that if they can manage to keep the couches in good order on the weekdays, then on the weekend you'd be willing to let them:
A) build a fort using the couches and
B) have an awesome pillow fight to boot
i know that building forts should not be seen as a 'priviledge' but when things are very chaotic with many young children, you need to make that distinction between playing and plain old mess making very, very clear to children.
your goal is to get the older kids to behave and cooperate, so that the younger ones will follow suite. and even if the younger ones don't behave, then at least it will be more manageable overall. plus the pleasant-ness from having some children behave well may be enough to help motivate you when the younger ones don't.
i'm not sure if you do this but set aside special times like 'story time with mom' after dinner where you pick a book and they sit down on the rug and listen..
also, give them specific tasks to do.. when mom is washing dishes after dinner, child A will take care of and play with child B and child C and D will do this together etc etc. include this on the chore chart and call it 'after dinner' activity.
not sure if it is financially feasible but is your housekeeper able to stay back for a paid hour after she comes to clean your place every fortnight and you use that hour to take the kids to the park? she can mind the 3yo and you mind the other children..
hugs mama. i hope my advice helped some. apologies in advance if i've come on a little strong. after reading your post, two thoughts came to mind: one was the way my house used to be and i know how hard it is to be stuck in the middle of such chaos and two was the movie nanny mcphee.. with the kids running riot in the kitchen.