“Just two hours a day? Is that enough?” my father asks me.
His seventy-five year old voice is still firm halfway across the world. I have just told him how our homeschooling is going and he’s curious, a little doubtful but more skeptical than anything else.
Just two hours, I reply, thinking, This will never make sense to him.
I went to private school, beginning at age 3 and I loved it. I excelled at it.
I’m not sure if I liked it because I was good or the other way around but school was like my second home. I certainly spent most of my day there. Beginning in first grade I left my house at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t return until 4 in the afternoon.
Some of that was just commuting to school and back. Then there was recess and lunch break and time for down time even during classes, but I understood what my dad was asking – Is it enough?
Look, I get it. Frankly, I struggle with this question, too. And I don’t think I’ll ever be done struggling because school is part of life.
And it is a question life throws at everyone – is it enough? Did I do enough? Did I earn enough? Did I get enough sleep? Enough protein? Did I read enough? Have I done enough work today that I can be content within myself to rest now? Is it enough?
I remember when I quit my real estate work-at-home job to be a full time mom. My daughter had just turned two and my middle son was eight months old. I remember asking myself if it was enough to say enough – that I was working as much as I could and was beginning to get overwhelmed. It was okay to step back and admit I was human, limited, finite.
All I include into our homeschool attendance records is what I can document and test. But a good education encompasses so much more.
A good education does not necessarily break down into subjects, compartmentalized, organized, tested, completed.
Add to that the fact that I have no idea what skills the children will need in the future. Sure, there are the usual reading, writing and arithmetic – our heaviest emphasis at present – and I would never want to divorce wisdom from the fear and knowledge of God as revealed in the Bible.
But beyond these two givens, I think of their education as something organic and eclectic.
And for that, our two hours of seated work for a six and five year old are plenty of time.
On other days, I love the safe, solid, even stolid, routine we follow. And I begin to expect it. And then comes fall. Lovely, golden, orange, red and chilly fall. And, as regularly as clockwork, I turn inward, wondering more often than I expect, Says who?
In those moments, I am thankful to have cycles within cycles, a time to reap and a time to sow.
Fall comes along each year as a new beginning, a chance to restructure, reinvent, begin again, begin better. If you have children, you know you need those. And even if you don’t, a new starting line can be invigorating in time management and the achievement of specific goals.
Even as I say that, something inside me screams, “Lazy!” But I discovered that I could pour out my day tirelessly for the children if I only got to sleep in until eight or so instead of waking up at 5:30am to be “ready” for them when they awoke. So I did it.
They wake up, have breakfast, entertain themselves with video games and television (“Blasphemy!” something screams inside me again. “TV before 2?”) while I have time to wake up on my schedule and get ready for the day. It also forces them to learn to get along and do more things on their own without being told.
Self-motivation is high on my list for them as a desirable skill.
Another structural change to our day was embracing a looser structure for educating the kids. There are definite advantages to the classroom structure but I have always favored unschooling for doing more than one subject at a time and tackling learning organically.
My research background in Gatto, Holt, Elkind and the Moores convinced me how our homeschool was to be tackled and yet the classroom structure seemed more predictable and I stuck with it. Then I realized I didn’t want to make the mistake this mom made (and corrected, eventually.)
I want to teach the way my children learn best; I want to teach the way I teach best.
And if that means changing some habits, so be it. Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the ideal way. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will never run into difficulties or that now it’s a yellow brick road all the way, but it does mean that I am aware of what’s most important – I am free to change.
It has happened again. The homeschool schedules have attacked.
Or maybe the changing weather does this to me. October makes me want to escape, take a break, run into the wilds and never return. Except I really love my couch. And my bed. Oh, and let’s face it – I do love the internet.
But when a few days ago, I became aware that all my day dreams began to be about a vacation and not having to follow a schedule or to put more accurately direct a schedule, I decided something had to be done.
I grew up with schedules for everything – and I really do mean everything.
Television watching had a time. (I still have guilt feelings about turning on the telly before one p.m.) Bathing had a time. Eating was on schedule. Studying was to be done first thing in the morning. There was a time for coffee, tea, snacks, lunch and dinner.
If something, anything, was out of place, it was noticed, cataloged and commented on – by everyone.
I must have liked this eternal Groundhog Day or at least felt comforted by it but today, it feels like a straightjacket. And so I have to acknowledge that while, for the most part, schedules are amazing things that help us achieve everything we want to, sometimes, they make us feel like automatons.
So all this week I have labeled Unschooling Week. Not just for my children, but for me as well.
I’m de-scheduling myself.
For school, we will be visiting pumpkin farms, museums and zoos. Worksheets will be banned. I will be doing nothing on schedule or at the very least I will be doing everything with a heaping dose of creativity and ease. It’s an experiment of sorts.
In my supposedly brutally honest moments, I will admit that there is no such thing as starting over.
Each time I fail, starting over gets harder.
That time I quit writing every day, that time I decided to sleep in instead of waking up early to exercise, that time I started to get lazy about cooking homemade dinners, they all add up and starting over gets harder each time.
After all, isn’t the definition of perseverance keeping on keeping on when you have nothing left to keep on keeping on? Maybe not.
Sometimes, perseverance (and the ensuing success, no matter how hard won) can be as simple as letting go of the previous effort and making a complete break with it. And the best way to do that is to establish a new starting line.
So you lost the last race. Or stumbled. But you have the freedom to start another.
This became clearest to me when I started a 365 Days of No Yelling (at my children) Challenge with my friends. I realized that most of my temper tantrums occurred in the mornings – the most challenging of times with my children because there were chores to be done, then school and, let’s face it, sometimes working with children is like herding cats.
But there was another piece to this challenge and that was me. Because the way I saw my success or failure contributed to my struggle.
My internal dialogue told me early on in the morning that it was no use, they had already started to be difficult and it wasn’t even nine, and I should just give up and call off this challenge because, hey, if I didn’t scream and lose it, no one paid attention to me anyway. I needed a new starting line or lines, many, many little starting lines.
If one hour went badly, there was always another. Every day was another opportunity, every week a new beginning. A new starting line was available when I wanted it.
There has been an article floating around the internet lately and chances are you’ve seen it.
“Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids play on iPhones or iPads!” it announces, making those of us who have come to appreciate the ease of use and creativity Apple offers our own kids feel guilty.
Should we really let our children play on our handheld devices, laptops, video games?
After all, aren’t there countless studies out there about how technology negatively affects their growing brains, their ability to function in “real life,” whatever that is?
Look, I get it. I find it quite annoying when I’m trying to have a conversation with my husband at breakfast and he’s looking at a computer screen, too.
But then I think a few decades ago, that same head would’ve been in the pages of a newspaper. Those same eyes that I complain are reading Google news would be scanning the latest stock quotes in the print version of the Wall Street Journal.
What is so different except the medium?
But these are kids, you say. There is difference between a grown man reading the daily news on the computer screen and little children addicted to their electronics. And to that, I would have to cry “False dichotomy!”
We throw the word “addiction” around far too lightly.
I am on the computer almost all day. My work as a homemaker and blogger requires it. Our bank accounts are online, the details of our investment and retirement accounts are online, the fastest way to get a stock quote is online, most of our school curricula is online, recipes as well as my meal planning happens online.
Also, I am a writer. Much of my research for home and school and work happens online.
In short, I am on the internet and using my laptop almost all day. Am I addicted?
My husband is an electrician – is headdicted to his power tools, his electric meter, his smart phone for filling in his time sheet at the end of the week? Sure, almost all these things can be done with a pen and paper, but they take much longer and I don’t see any inherent goodness in pen and paper over a laptop screen.
I struggled with this stigma of letting my kids use electronics for years.
I felt guilty for chatting with my friends on Facebook. I should be out plowing fields, I told myself, milking cows, herding sheep. After all, my children should know how to live in the real world. Oh, wait a minute. We didn’t live in a little house on the prairie. We live in suburbia and we homeschool.
I should be out plowing fields, I told myself, milking cows, herding sheep. After all, my children should know how to live in the real world. Oh, wait a minute. We didn’t live in a little house on the prairie. We live in suburbia and we homeschool.
The children have all day to play freely in their rooms and in the backyard. They have imaginative toys, colors, paper, pens, stickers.
They sing, they fight, they do chores, they play act, they learn to cook. We read together, they have pull up bars to hang on, trees to climb and, oh yeah, they also have controlled access to a computer where they learn to do math and read. They get one on one instruction from me but they also get to practice and play at their pace and learn when they want. Is that really so horrible?
If you have a well-developed conviction about avoiding technology and you’re the sort of person who doesn’t use it yourself, trust me, I totally get it.
I have friends like you who would rather live in the countryside and be perfectly happy churning their own butter, raising hens and never seeing a computer screen again. But I’m not one of them.
Recreating the past without my modern conveniences does not appeal to me and I don’t have any reason to think either is better or worse.
And for those of you who equate all technology with television – have you seen kids play video games? I don’t mean in an arcade. I mean, really have you watched the difference between someone playing video games and watching television? Do you notice how different that is from watching television? Someday, I will actually get a video of my son playing video games. He barely sits down.
You cannot convince me that it is passive in any manner.
In fact, Megan McArdle says perhaps the most appealing thing about video games in her book The Up Side of Down a book I think every parent ought to read. She talks about how failure is fundamental to learning and there is one place that children realize as fundamental to learning by failing and trying again and again – their video game console. Here is the same idea reiterated in a blog post.
A wise parent once said about technology, “Do you know you can turn it off when you don’t need it?”
We laughed, perhaps you did, too, reading this, but most people who shun technology don’t seem to accept that. Instead of shunning technology altogether, why can’t we learn to use it as the tool it is?
I taught my older kids how to play tic-tac-toe today.
My four year old didn’t like losing. You can see his attempts at solving this problem.
First, he tried making his Os over the Xs to escape the inevitable end. Second, he made his own board and decided he would fill it with only Os so he could win. When that didn’t achieve the desired response, he connected random Os from three different boards and declared that he had won.
Unfortunately, stickler that I am, I had to remind him that there were rules to this game and he wasn’t playing within them.
It was only then that he cried and gave up. And whined, “But I want to win!”
I think many moms would do well to remember and ask as he does, in his own way, “Says who?”
Says who? It’s a decent question. Ask it, ask it humbly, truly wanting to know the answer, but ask it.
It is not rebellious to question why you are doing the things you are doing especially when you’re spending all day doing them.
I am not referring here to convictions, I have written about those elsewhere. I am referring here to the thousand things moms think they ought to do because, well, there’s no because. Why do you cook a certain way, spend a certain way, do the work you do, make the choices you do, or don’t?
Who says things have to be done a certain way?
Sure, there are some things we just have to grit our collective teeth and work through, some others must be embraced and loved, but a large part of the day is clay, waiting to be shaped into something useful, something beautiful.
And by not asking that all important question, we allow our time to slip away to whim.
And then try a million little ways to tweak your day, your schedule; use all your creativity, all your resources before you give up and say you can’t win.
Because somewhere along the line you might just hit the mark.
Ah, for leisure. For the days that advertisers sell us on. Days with nothing to do and nowhere to go – lazy summer days, hammocks, the beach, you know, lies. You know that’s what it is, right? You know what else days like that are? Boring.
Vacations aside, work – given focus and the right amount of time, with controlled interruptions – can be incredibly fulfilling.
So here’s a technique that will help you fit it all into your schedule. Well, mostly all.
In Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit,” he talks about a technique called sandwiching.
He explains how developing a new habit sometimes can be jarring. (Anyone who has started a new exercise routine, a new job, even a new year’s resolution knows this.)
He gives the example of how radio stations playing new songs. Sometimes, he says, the effect of a new song was so jarring, that even though it would have been liked by almost everyone, just because it was new, it was rejected. DJs refused to play it. People switched radio stations.
Why? Simply because it was new. It was not a habit. Yet. It was different.
Here’s what you do instead: sandwich it into your schedule.
Find two things that are normal in your routine. Say, coffee and a shower. Then add in the one new thing you wish to do between them. Say journaling or reading or working out. Wake up just fifteen minutes early to leave time for that extra activity.
Do your first (habitual) activity, set the timer for fifteen minutes and do the new activity. When the timer goes off, stop and move on to the second (habitual) activity.
Voila! You just sandwiched something in.
Now go pat yourself on the back for doing something radio stations have been doing for a very long time!
Before I became a mom, I sold real estate for a short while – make that a very short while. Selling, I soon discovered, was not my forte. Well, not unless you count making a “customer” (read: kid) sit in the corner and say Take it or leave it, which is all I do now and, well, it works surprisingly well.
Anyway, to get back to the point, the biggest thing I learned in real estate was that the oft-repeated adage of location, location, location is true.
You are better off buying a decrepit house in a great neighborhood than you are buying a beautiful model home in a not so nice area. As you can tell, I clearly did not obey that rule when buying our house. See, I told you I wasn’t very good at selling real estate.
I did however learn that the rule about location, location, location is a perfect one when it comes not just real estate but also time management and also space management which ultimately leads to better time management. Let me explain.
If you haven’t had a toddler in your home for a while, you will notice that every glass jar, indeed every object in your home is sitting at exactly the wrong spot the moment said toddler walks in the door. I know this because years ago my parents rearranged our entire home when my nephew visited. I did the same as soon as my husband and I had children. Everything became too fragile or a weapon. So it moved and occupied the higher realms of real estate aka shelves. As the children grew older however I began to then realize that certain things could then be moved lower to save me time.
I learned from my friend, Melanie Tiner, mother of three, that their snacks could be placed in a strategic location at their height so that they could get to them and I didn’t have to do the dispensing each time. Dishes could be placed on a lower location, so that the children could set the table. Cereal could be within the arm’s reach of the oldest child so she could feed the rest breakfast. Simple changes in the kitchen helped save me time and get the children involved in basic tasks.
Second, the more direct aspect of location: time. I have found that placing a specific task in a different location of my day causes it to be done more efficiently, thereby saving me time in the overall day. Exercise, for instance, works best when it’s sandwiched between a shower and my morning coffee before the kids are up. I know, it doesn’t sound efficient, but that is where its perfect location lies.
Also, I recently learned from another friend, Jen Opie, mother of four, that prepping dinner right after eating lunch and before washing the dishes from said lunch, saves an immense amount of time in preparing dinner. My energy levels tend to be lower in the evening and usually I want to relax with the rest of the family, so what gets done efficiently and quickly during the twelve o’ clock hour can take at least another half hour in the five o’ clock hour. Location strikes again.
If you’re struggling with a specific task in your day, try and change the time or space location and see if there’s a perfect fit. Chances are there is something you are not seeing just yet.
Location, location, location works for more than just real estate.
Ever have one of those days when you’re just sick of it all? Not because you’re stressed but because suddenly nothing seems appealing?
Chances are, the fall into such a day was not sudden.Will power is like a muscle as I have mentioned elsewhere and it does get tired. Maybe you’re getting sick and you don’t know it yet. The seasons might be changing. There could be any number of reasons you don’t want to do what is important, what you set out to do and have every intention of getting done.
But getting started. Ugh. Therein lies the rub.
I’m beginning to find out that there is an aspect of my will that is hugely emotional. My mind can go down an incredible array of excuses, emotions and otherwise, escapes, that will convince me not to pursue and get done what I have named as the one thing I need to do to consider the day a success. And it usually starts with just getting started.
Once I get started, the momentum carries me through but the herculean effort to just get going is where I like leave off, too. So what to do?
I have learned to battle emotion with emotion. People talk about how you should picture the “What’s the worst that could happen?” game. That’s not a favorite of mine. Somehow it always ends with, “Well, someone could break in to my house, I wouldn’t be able to get to 911 in time and I could be murdered and my children left alone by themselves screaming.” Yeah. Too vivid. Too unnecessary. I agree.
So I play the “What if?” game. “I know,” I tell myself, “You don’t want to do this. But what if the day goes by and you haven’t done it at all? How horrible will you feel then?” And it works. Every single time. I get going.
Now, why is that? Why does it work?
I think the reason is this: I am driven more by avoiding pain than pursing pleasure. The motivation to do something fun later does not drive me as much as the inclination to avoid feeling bad. What kind of a person are you? What drives you the most? Seeking good things or avoiding bad? Both exist in all of us to a certain degree, but which one ranks higher in your life?
Think about it and plan your day around that. Sometimes it’s the only piece of information you need to get going.
Above is a picture of a chore chart I use for my daughter who recently turned six. She isn’t reading proficiently yet but she does know a few sight words so I have used those. A little bit of a control freak herself (learning from the best!) she loves the checklist.
We do pay our children a small amount each week with which they buy toys and candy and save and tithe. Since this is a daily sheet, they get one quarter for their personal chores like cleaning up their room and bringing me their dirty laundry to wash and then the second quarter is earned by doing “mom’s chores.” (Yup, that’s supposed to be me up there.) These include anything from sorting and putting away laundry, bringing in groceries, cleaning the car, wiping down walls, sweeping, mopping the floors and so on. My littlest will turn two next month so these are a bit much for him, but he does put socks away, wipe up spills and do other smallish things to help. (We buy his candy – for now.)
But the big question: does this save time? And the answer absolutely is YES!
While the children are putting away laundry, for example, I will be washing dishes, or sweeping the floors or cleaning the bathroom. While they are cleaning their rooms, I can plan dinner, pay bills and so forth.
We assign one hour every morning to playing outside (while I write) and one hour to chores, after which we begin school. Doing chores together streamlines the day as nothing else would. The house is clean and we start anew every morning. It works.
That said, this is clearly not the only way. I have heard other moms share that they have two times in a day when they break to put things away and do chores. There are apps you can use, chore charts that hang on every child’s wall, some people choose to “pay” children with stars that add up to something special.
I say, do what works. This works for us for now.
I’m sure as the children get older, it will change. The way I see it, this style helps me achieve four things: teaching my children to work, instilling in them a desire for a clean and well-run home, saving me time and giving me less to do, not more (I haven’t put laundry away myself for six months!) and connecting the concept of earning money to work.