Teaching Time Management

I should say upfront, that I have no idea what I’m doing.

That goes for a lot of what I do in parenting/homeschooling.  But I know what I’m trying to do, and I think that counts for something.

I’ve been working for months on trying to teach my kids time management.  It’s practically become a school subject.  I think the hardest part is getting myself better at time management, so that I can be a good example.  The trouble with that is I have 5 kids who are constantly interrupting what I feel I “should” be doing.  My kids do get disrupted by their younger siblings, but for the most part, I act as the gatekeeper, and keep them away while they are working on their schoolwork.

This also has been connected with our New Rules that I wrote about awhile back.  My kids waste time and then somehow it becomes my fault.  It annoys me.

Part of the difficulty with this, is I hold to 2 strong beliefs about parenting: 1)Parents should set them up with healthy habits from the beginning, 2)Natural consequences work better than all other kinds most of the time.

Because we have so many diverse personalities, challenges, and goals with our kids, I have found that routines work better than schedules.  Some of my kids need lots of breaks in school.  Some don’t.  They are all different ages and abilities.  To make some kind of defining-across-the-board-rule is tough.  I want them each to excel where they are at.

So the goal: make them want it.

Make them want to manage their time well.  Help them to see the value of managing their time well.

Because if I know anything about my kids, it’s that they are passionate, stubborn, ornery people, and if they want something, they won’t quit.  So get them to want it.

Enter: natural consequences.

Oh, this is the painful part.  I’ve been working overtime, trying to get through to my kids about this.  The hardest part is doubting whether or not my kids are mature enough for this lesson.  Am I trying to teach it too soon?  This is what Knut and I debate about.  Should I still be ultra-controlling of their schedule, so that they don’t miss out on anything fun, or should I hand some of the responsibility over to them, risking that they may misjudge and miss something fun.  I don’t know.  But I know I feel compelled to try.

Here are some things I have found to be helpful in teaching time management:

  • Have a printed routine on display for all to see.  Let them know the plan for the day.  Some of my kids have a daily assignment book.  My job is to make sure that everything on this list is done.  Allow them the freedom within this routine.  Our routine is loose with lots of white space so that I don’t let them fall behind, but they have the freedom to move ahead faster if they’d like.  Do they want to take 10 hours to finish their list with lots of breaks?  OK.  Do they want to get up early, take no breaks and push to have all their playtime at once?  OK.  Did they finish their math early, and do a good job?  Well, then I tell them, “You can have free time until the next item on the list.  You can choose to use this free time to work ahead in other subjects, or you can just go play if you like.  I’ll call you when we’re starting up the next thing.”
  • When they get distracted because of daydreaming, or whatnot, because I was working with a different child in another room, I don’t shame them for that.  Just say that they’ll have to work it into their schedule later in the day.  Point to that part of the routine where they can work on their reading, or writing, or whatever it is.  Just say, “You chose not to work during this work time.  So you’ll just have to work during your play time later.  The only time I see is right here.  Do you see a different time on the schedule today you’d like to do it in?”  This is where it gets hard.  Sometimes they have to give up something they really wanted to do in order to finish what they should have done.  Teach them that the more white space in their day, the more wiggle room they have for goofing off.
  • Start a list of “fun things I want to do” when they mention it.  “Hey Mom, can I work on a sewing project right now?”  “That sounds fun!  But you have science on your routine right now.  Can you find a good spot on your schedule to put in sewing?  Put it on your list.  That way, when you are trying to figure out what you want to do someday, you can have a list waiting for you.”  If your kids are like mine, their list will get insanely long.  They want to build a treehouse, train the dog to do something, explore the woods, ride their bike.  Put it on the list.
  • When the kids want to do a new, regularly scheduled activity, like instrument lessons or sports, we look at the schedule, and look at the list.  I find myself asking them a lot, “What on your list are you willing to give up in order to fit in this activity?  Remember you don’t have to give it up forever, just as long as you are in this other thing.”  This is painful for them.  They don’t want to give up anything.  Ever.  Do they want another animal?  Great!  Let’s talk how it will be paid for, and where in the schedule they plan to care for it daily.  What are they giving up to do that?  Free time?  Play time? Instrument time?
  • Teach them to schedule in white space.  I remember my mom had a rule when we were growing up that we needed at least one night a week at home.  I remember being so mad about that as a teen, because there would be something I’d want to go to, but it was the last white space on the calendar that week, so I knew it would be a “no.”  As a mom, I’m stricter than my mom.  I require 2 white spaces a week on the calendar, at least in the afternoon/evenings.  That’s partially because we have so many littles still in the house who just need to be home and taking naps, and not constrained in carseats constantly.  2 white spaces a week for my older kids teaches them to respect the needs of others, as annoying as that lesson is for them.

Part of our difficulty in this lesson is that I require these 2 open spaces a week because I’m an introvert too.  My husband does not require these 2 spaces a week (or at least won’t admit it yet) and so he will book his schedule more full than I’d like, and take the kids out on days I have marked blank.  The thing is, that’s ok too.  It’s good to be consistent, but it’s also good to recognize the personalities of each parent.  Each one is important, and one should not trump the other.  The kids go on way more adventures because their dad takes them when I have no more energy to do so.  I will often stay home with the little girls and enjoy peace and quiet on those times.  That’s our usual compromise.  But I’ve also learned to let my husband know, “You can, but I’d advise against it.  The kids are exhausted and this is their rest day.  So take them at your own risk.  Tomorrow they have to do _______ and you’re risking a meltdown then.”  I don’t (and shouldn’t) control him as a dad, but he deserves a good “heads up.”  Communicating the kids limitations to him is part of the equation.  Letting him be a dad and make his own decisions is part of the equation.  I have to live within my limitations, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else has to live here in them too.

But this does require a lot of conversations, and negotiating back and forth in our marriage…which also makes it tricky to teach the kids.  Tricky…but realistic.  They might someday be married too, and need to know that time management does not always revolve around them, but it’s a give and take.  I think when we work to make a lesson perfect and easy for kids, we are setting them up for an unrealistic view on life.  All those complexities make the lesson so hard, but it makes the lesson that much more important.

These are all things I have learned, but it’s been a road.  It’s still a road we are traveling, not a place we’ve arrived.

I feel like I constantly frustrate people in my family by pointing out that our time is finite.  We can’t just shove it full and hope it works.  To live with integrity, and keep our word, we have to recognize our limitations.  I say often, “I am not God.  I did not invent time, nor do I control it.  I’m just asking that we live within it’s limits.”

To live with integrityand keep our wordwe have to recognize our LIMITATIONS-3

That’s not to say we will always have these limits.  I want everyone in my family to grow and mature, and get a greater capacity to do more things.  But we can’t live outside reality.  We have to work to grow it, not just wish it.

My kids will miss activities sometimes because of their poor time management.  That’s really painful for me to see, but I let it happen.  I let it happen.  Who let’s their kids miss out on fun stuff?  Me.  Who lets the kids feel the consequences of a job poorly done?  Me.

They will have to opt out of some things that are fun, but not important enough to them to give up something they already do.  I do get a lot of flack for this outside our home too, because as you know, my kids are homeschooled.  Therefore, if I keep them home to finish their schoolwork, chores, or commitments, I’m keeping them from the all-important socialization.  I think I frustrate other people that I’m prioritizing learning time management over the mysterious “socialization” that apparently doesn’t happen in my house.  We don’t speak together, play together or anything I guess.

If I had a nickel every time someone who barely knows us says to me, “but you have to let them come out and be with other kids sometime” because I said “no” because we can’t fit another activity in our schedule…

So my kids are annoyed with me, my husband is (occasionally) annoyed with me as his personality loves to be out and about more than mine does, and people outside our home get annoyed with me because of their prejudice against our schooling choice.

Sometimes I feel like training my kids is an uphill battle.

And I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, or at least know that what I’m doing is working.

But the last few weeks?  I’m beginning to see a glimmer.  I’m beginning to see my kids anticipate the questions I will ask them, and prepare ahead of time their plans, and how the plans will work out.  I see them work ahead in their schoolwork, forfeiting their breaks so that they can do a project on their list that keeps getting pushed back.  I’ve even overheard them tell someone, “That sounds like fun, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that right now.”  They’re starting to take ownership of their time.  They’re starting to want it.

They’re not there, but I can tell you that seeing them start to want it…

and that’s all the encouragement I need right now.

I Have a Job

Dear friends, I have job.  My kids do too.  It’s a self employed job.  Talking with other writers, artists, or even my husband who farms, I think there’s this strain on relationships when you are self employed.

I’m a homeschool teacher.

This job comes with a lot of freedoms, especially in the younger years.  Kindergarteners and 1st graders take only an hour or so to teach a day because a large portion of their learning at that age is in their play. As they get older, the play time shifts to more academic work as their brains are developing and they are grasping bigger and bigger concepts.  My 6th grader now, has heaped so much on her plate (she has some big goals) that she struggles to be done at 3:30 each day, and often has still more work to do in the evening from time to time.  It’s just her job right now.

We do have freedoms, though, especially as this year I pieced together our curriculum.  I made the master list of what needs to be completed from various bought curricula I have chosen, and some I made myself.  When I first started homeschooling I really needed the hand holding of a printed out list that professionals provided me, and I followed it very imperfectly.  I have taken seminars, studied what other professional teachers to, read countless books, and dedicated myself to figuring out what this should look like for our home.  I have prayed over these plans.  This is not just my job, this is my life.

There are reasons we leave our plans all the time, but those reasons always fit our overall goals for our children’s educations.  Field trips to museums, or the zoos.  Then there’s activities, especially music related, that we just incorporate into our day as though they are as important as math or science, because in my mind…music is as important.

As my kids grow older, and our freedom of open hours dwindles, as my kids’ work of learning grows more intense, I find this pushback.

It’s very subtle, but everyone who is self-employed has felt it.

“Yeah, I know you have to work, but couldn’t you just do it later today?”

Well, yes, except later today we are doing different stuff.  The trick to successful self-employment is to not get distracted by every butterfly the flies your way.  Our days are full, and I have not figured out how to invent time yet.  I’ve looked into it.  I’m thinking about making it next semester’s science project.  But as of now, we don’t have the power to invent time.

“But I thought they were homeschooled.  I don’t understand why they can’t come during this time.  It’s not like they have to listen to any schedule.  Homeschooling is freedom, right?”

Actually they do.  They have to listen to the one I lay out for them.  And with much freedom comes much responsibility.  During that time time, maybe they’re normally doing their math.  Homeschooled doesn’t mean they don’t have things to do.  It means they do them at home, using different methods.  It doesn’t look like a traditional school in our home at all.  One of my students likes to take a 15-30 minute recess after each subject.  It helps him focus.  It means I consider open play a subject, because if you look at the science of learning, it kind of is.  Another one of my students likes to be in her room where it’s quiet, and just push hard.  I only spend a max of about 2-3 hours a day actually instructing the kids, and the rest of the time I’m coaching them, holding them accountable, grading them, and teaching them how to have a strong character through it all.  You know, general parenting/stay-at-home-mom stuff.

“It feels a bit like you’re making them do this because you just say so, like a power thing.  It’s not like the school district is making you give them this assignment on this day.  You aren’t reporting to anyone.”

I wonder, just a bit, if we would ask the same thing of our traditional school teachers.  “It feels, teacher, that you’re making him do this assignment just to make you feel like you’re doing something and you have the power, and he could actually skip it if you let him.”  We don’t (or at least shouldn’t) because that is the teacher’s job: to help the student learn.  To give them jobs and inspire them, and set boundaries, and expectations.

I don’t work under the school district in this state.  I don’t need my curriculum approved by anyone.  In this state my kids just have to take a standardized test each year, and I don’t even have to turn in the results to anyone.  (But if you want to know, my kids rock the standardized tests.  I’m not worried.)

I do work under authority, though, and honestly, sometimes a bit more intimidating than our local government.  I report to God, as all parents do.  I have to give an account to him, someday, on how I raised my children.  He calls each parent to a path he has laid out before them, and the path he laid out before us is homeschooling.  If I don’t teach my kids, I am not walking in obedience.  I can’t just skip it.  It’s a job God gave me.  I may not get paid, but it doesn’t make it any less my job.  It’s my profession.

When I first started homeschooling, I was obsessed with keeping up with whatever the public school kids did, and making sure we not just met it, but surpassed it.  I thought school had to look like that.  But the more training I attend, the more I read on the subject, the more I see that I should not hold my school standard to the world’s standard, but to God’s.  God’s standard is by no means lower than the world’s.  But it does look different.  I spend more time on spiritual things.  We spend more time in the Word.  Not only a religion class, but I study my kids, and see what their gifts are and pray about what God wants to prepare them for.  Then I dedicate more time to developing their gifts, and not spend their whole day working on what they are not suited for, to try to bring them up to some standard.

Granted, one of my kids hates reading, but I feel reading is important in the Christian life.  If you don’t love to read, you won’t love God’s Word.  If you don’t love God’s Word, you have to get your truth filtered through other people.  You can’t read it yourself.  I will push a subject that isn’t their favorite, if it’s one I feel is required for their future.  They may hate math, but they need to know how to manage their finances, and at least have a respect of all math can do.  Sometimes I push them because I do see their potential, when they don’t see it in themselves.

I am a teacher.  I have a job.  This means I have to set expectations, boundaries, and inspire my students.  That means I rarely pick up the phone during the school hours, so I can be available to them.  If I finally get my highly distractible kid working on a math equation, and I just stop and chat for a few minutes, I could possibly lose his attention for 2 hours.  I don’t pick up my phone when I’m at work.  I sometimes have pockets of time here and there, and if you hit the pocket, it’s your lucky day.  I can talk.

But I have a job.  I’m a self-employed teacher in my own school.  It’s nothing against anyone.  I don’t avoid people.  I’m sorry I don’t always pick up my phone.  We can’t go to everything.  I just have a job.  My kids do too.  (They don’t get paid either, but they find it equally as rewarding.)

Yarn Along

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I’ve been in a stash-busting mood.  I’ve also been in a non-thinking-knitting mood.  That means I’m knitting lots of patterns written by other people that I’ve been longing to knit for years.  This week I cast on Francie by Rebekkah Kerner.  This is such a beautiful, well thought out pattern.  It’s interesting but not all-attention-consuming.  The ribs in the sock are winding and gnarling like a tree, and the designer had the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  in mind when she was designing it.  (One of my all-time favorite books.)  I love patterns based on literary characters.  It’s like my 2 favorite hobbies hanging out.  Last time I was in the twin cities I stopped by a little yarn shop and was introduced to “Dream in Color” yarn.  I could not leave there without a skein, and picked this lovely, smoky blue.  I intended it for some kind of shawl.  But when I was looking up on Ravelry some great projects using this yarn, this pattern kept coming up.  I hadn’t connected before that this was the yarn used in the original design.

My reading has been limited to books for the kids lately.  In our morning hour, one of our subjects is Shakespeare and we are using How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, which is just so great.  We’ve finished all of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and are now moving to “Twelfth Night” now.  My kids are absolutely loving this unit, possibly more than any unit we’ve done in years.

For our morning tea time, I read aloud a chapter book directed towards the younger kids, but one the older kids would still enjoy.  This year it’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  We read this author last year too and loved her then.  This book does not disappoint at all.  We are all in love with Edward Tulane, and are watching him slowly learn to love as well.

After the little girls go to bed at night, I read a book directed more at the older kids.  Little Britches has been on our reading list for awhile.  This story is told so well of a little boy moving to a ranch and learning to be a rancher, horse man, cowboy…he calls it by various names.  The kids have been begging me at the end of each chapter to read more.  My voice hasn’t been able to hold up to that, as the chapters are a bit longer than the books for the little kids.  But I have to admit, I wish we could too.

Dear Mom Starting to Homeschool Kindergarten

I’m on a few homeschooling groups on Facebook.  I see this common theme over and over in each and every one of these groups.  It starts by stating that their child is 5 years old, they are just starting kindergarten, their child is resisting seated work, or reading isn’t clicking, they can’t spell at all, or they are fighting all the time.  They are weeks into homeschooling, their families are watching and critiquing, they want to do this right.  They feel like they are failing.

Oh dear mamas.  Take a breath.  Pour yourself some tea.  Let’s have a chat.

I know you have pressure from relatives to make education formal and school-like.

I know you are trying to kill all the birds with one stone.

I know you are researching where your child should be, researching state standards, worried you are failing before you’ve even started, and calling yourself crazy every step of the way.

But deep, deep down, you’re doing this because you feel called.  You are aware of your weaknesses, and you’re scare you won’t live up to your calling.  I know.  I’ve been there.

Consider these words:

1) What you are doing is hard, but it’s important.  I know you know this.  But I want this to sink in: it’s supposed to be hard.  Hard doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.  Sometimes it means everything is right.  You are at the front lines of a spiritual battle.  I’m going to be honest.  Satan will do everything that he can to discourage you.  You will get a flood of lies daily that you have to fight off with truth.  You will get exhausted if you fight all the battles.  God does not intend you to fight every battle that comes your way.  This will require wisdom.

Wisdom of when to push your kids and when to pull back and watch what happens is paramount.  That is goal #1.  You need wisdom, and the only way for this to happen is to ask God.  Ground yourself in Scripture and prayer, daily.  Since this is the #1 most important thing for you to get done each day, expect it to be the #1 goal for the Evil One to foil.  Seriously, if you have to choose between you getting your time with God or your child learning spelling that day, choose the time with God.  There is no subject in your school that should stand in the way from you getting your daily fill of wisdom from God.

2) Your child is designed to learn.  I know it doesn’t feel like that right now, but consider all your child has learned so far.  Could you have stopped them from learning how to roll over as a baby?  Could you stop them from climbing?  Do you do language drills to get him talking?  I remember pushing my first child to walk, but with all other children, I put on slippery pajamas on them all day so they wouldn’t crawl so stinkin’ early.  Good luck trying to get your child to NOT learn something.  They will memorize t.v. commercials without coaching, they will study their baby food without your training.  Yes, there are times when you see your child isn’t walking, and it’s time to bring in some specialists.  But when your child is 10 months old and they’re not walking, don’t lose sleep.  It’ll happen.  Your child’s brain is a sponge.

They may not be learning what is on your agenda that day but they are learning.  Work with their brains; don’t force it.  This will take a lot of reading your child’s signals.  One of the beauties of homeschooling is to be able to customize their schooling, but sometimes when we do exactly that the world tells us we are coping out.

The same goes for reading, and school readiness.  Do you know the range of my kids reading?  My earliest reader was just before she turned 4, and my latest reader was around age 8.  Both age 3 and age 8 are normal.  My child who learned to read at 8 is not any stupider than my child who learned to read at age 3.  In fact, each of them have their areas of genius.  All of us do.  There’s not much you can do about it.  It’s their design.

Consider several countries that consistently outscore the US in education don’t start school until age 7.  Also consider that even compulsory school laws here in the US start at age 7.  That is because the science firmly points to the fact that not all kids are ready before then.  Science also says that kids learn best at this age through play.  Occupational therapists dealing with kids with IEPs in school are shouting this from the rooftops, on deaf ears of the politicians.  Educators are angry about things like the push for Common Core because it does not follow the science they know.  Their brains need play.  If you are letting them play, you are ahead of the game.

What you CAN do is create an environment where learning is constantly happening.  Turn off those screens.  Bring out books.  Have educational toys.  Replace entertainment-only toys for toys requiring building and imagination.  Bring them alongside all your chores, cooking, cleaning, and train them.  Have them shadow you.  If they can’t sit down and do a worksheet, then put the worksheet away and do some other learning activity.  This isn’t giving up, or giving in.  It’s moving forward out of being stuck.

The problem isn’t that your child can’t learn, it’s that he can’t learn on demand yet, or learn like a 10 year old.  Make it easy on yourself.  Focus on making the home a delightful place for their brain to wander.

3) The longer I homeschool, the more I believe that character training is more important than academic training, and should take a priority.  The reason for this, is the character training will pay huge dividends of making academic training a piece of cake.  Character training is the foundation to all other learning.  Teach them about God.  Teach them about kindness.  Train them to love, and show them what that looks like.

Pause a moment and consider if you would rather have a child who grows up to love the Lord and love his neighbor, and lives by grace, or would you rather have your child be a top notch surgeon or lawyer who holds no regard for human life, and whose personal life is falling apart?  You don’t have to pick between whether or not your child will have a good spiritual life or academic life.  But you do have to prioritize.  You do not need to smash a lifetime of learning into their kindergarten year.

Character Training

Character training, teaching them to bring their cares to Jesus will have a more profound impact on their lives and on the world than any other school subject.  Therefore, consider Satan to set his sights on making this a low priority in your homeschool as well.  Expect your feelings to be manipulated in this area.  Expect a lot of false guilt for not getting math done, because you had to have a heart to heart with your child that lasted forever training him not to hit his sister.

Expect the lie that this isn’t what you are supposed to be doing, or that you shouldn’t have to do it.  Because that’s what Satan does.  He lies.

The truth is that training them to follow God’s ways is exactly what you should be doing.  Training them not to hit, scream, disobey is exactly what you should be doing.  When this foundation is there, teaching school a few years down the road will be much smoother.  Their hearts will be turned to following God, and their curiosity about his world will be intense.

Academics is frosting the first few years of school.  Still keep in on your calendar.  If your child loves it, then great!  Do it!  Try to get it done each day.  But know your battles, and know the lies that will constantly be thrown your way.  Write down on a piece of paper what your goals are for that day, when it comes to training and discipling the hearts of your child, and tape it up in your kitchen.  Look at it often, and don’t be baited into every battle with your kids that will be thrown your way.

You are living in a sacred space, with these children of yours.  These souls under your care?  God cares so deeply for them.  Delight in their ideas, pull them on your lap, and tell them stories.  Foster their imagination, their creativity, and keep feeding them the academics watching them closely on if they’re full for the day or need some more.  Their brains are wired to hunger for knowledge like their stomachs are wired to crave food.  Lean hard on wisdom on the Lord for this push/pull issue.

Take a breath.  Lean on Him.  Keep speaking truth to yourself, and guard yourself from lies.  What you are doing is important.  Pray for wisdom to see the truth from the lies.  Forget everyone else’s standards.  Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  Satan will tell you that isn’t enough.  He’s wrong.  Jesus will not lead you astray.  He will not leave something important out.  Fix your eyes there.  Dig into the Word, beg for wisdom in prayer.  Rest in God’s faithfulness.