Educator, Administrator, Writer, Mom to 4, Guest Contributor to the Maileg Blog
When I started to homeschool, I tried to replicate the schedule that I enjoyed at The Children’s House. At school, the day ran smoothly. Circle time and lessons, work time and snack. Recess, lunch, story, nap, play time. Math lessons, and science projects. This is what we imagine when we think of school, and this is what I expected to do at home. I made calendars. I made schedules. They didn’t work so I made new ones.
At school, the schedule is set, and there is one single schedule for the class. The whole group of students flows together and that momentum carries them. But at home, there are too many distractions. Without the benefit of that momentum, it is harder to follow a strict schedule. Trying to adhere to it adds unnecessary stress. Instead, find a rhythm that works for your family. Start by making a schedule together. Giving your children ownership of the schedule will help them to buy into it. They may have set online class times and assignments; giving them choices when they have free time will help them to attend class and focus when they need to. A to-do list can be more empowering than a schedule (and I will say more about that next time). Let your schedule evolve.
I worked with a Head of School who said “children arrive at school knowing what they want to do”. She insisted that we let them arrive and dive right into work according to their own interests instead of asking them to sit and wait for instructions from us. I find that this is true at home, even more so, and it is a wise parent who makes the most of this. I learned the hard way. I used to greet my children with a schedule, a lesson, and a project first thing in the morning. When we were done, they looked to me for the next thing, and then the next. By stepping in and taking over before they followed their own inspiration, I had robbed them of their independence. But when I flipped the schedule, they could work independently all day long. When we allow children to follow their own ideas, they grow in independence.
My children were the most creative in the morning. I am a morning person, so I woke up at 5 a.m. and got work done while it was dark and quiet. When my children awoke, they ate a simple breakfast and got to “work” themselves, usually staying in their pajamas and out of my hair until lunch. The four children used this time creatively. They usually pretended, something that is better when mom is not watching anyway. They set up entire worlds, stories that took over the entire house with Block City set up in the living room and stuffed animal villages climbing the stairs. If they got stuck, which happened occasionally, I would jump-start the play by setting up something simple (and often messy.) And for those hours, while they played, I ignored the messes they made and the arguments they had.
At lunchtime, we came together and started the school day, most often with our favorite read-aloud. From there, we launched into our lessons. By now, they had had a full day of doing their own thing, and I had addressed any pressing concerns at work. School was done before dinner, leaving me time to jump back into emails or finish a project before the workday was done. It is true that there were days that my children played all day. Play is critical for their development and is just as important as their schoolwork. Don’t interrupt your children if you can help it. Allow their imaginations and attention spans to grow, and make the most of the time to get your work done.
Most importantly, don’t fear boredom! Don’t rescue them with a movie or a video game. But do have a few tricks up your sleeve. My children loved little bottles with colored water. They experimented with color mixing and funnels and before long there was a story about magic potions or a Shakespearean drama with poison. Another favorite was a pan of cornstarch and water. Simple, yes. Incredibly messy, kind of, but easy to sweep up when it dries. They can play with it forever. And when farm animals or dinosaurs jumped in, the pretending took over. These simple solutions are great ways to build their attention spans and inspire the imaginative play that is so important to their development.
There will be days when your children play all day; use these days to get your other work done. Let them work (and play!) Don’t interrupt them (if you can help it.) This is important; their attention spans, problem-solving skills, and creativity are like muscles that grow stronger with use. There will be days when your children get all of their schoolwork done. And there will be those other days, when nothing gets done and they constantly need your help. But if you find a rhythm that works for your family, instead of struggling against a schedule, you’ll all be more productive. Be patient with yourself, with them, and with the mess! Let go.