Monday, January 23, 2012

Organized Chaos: Time Management for the Homeschooling Family

Let's be honest - homeschooling is not for the faint of heart. As a parent educator, you are responsible for the day-to-day process of guiding your kids as they learn how to learn. And while I can sum up the challenge in one nifty little sentence, anyone who's tried to hold the homeschooling reins on even one child knows that it's a time management nightmare. When you zig, they zag. The dog's lying on the math book, the cat just barfed again and did you know you were out of toilet paper? The load of laundry you started three days ago is still in the dryer and someone just accidentally knocked the pitcher of juice off the counter. This is no exaggeration.

Time management for homeschoolers: How to ward off the meltdown
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador DalĂ­

So when I ran across this article on ways to work productively from home, I was intrigued. Of course, the author is writing for adults who have paid jobs with the flexibility to work from their own homes. She surely did not have a parent educator's reality in mind. But all the same, it might be interesting and helpful to consider how those tips play out in the world of homeschooling.

Wait just a minute. I have some myth-busting to do. Please remember that homeschoolers do not spend all their time at home. Remember that the HOME in homeschooling reflects where the authority resides and not where we should be spending all our time. Many homeschooling families' weekly travel miles would make the typical soccer mom gasp, because we are interested in being out in the world and we are willing to go a long way for a quality experience. But. Even the most adventurous of us occasionally find ourselves dug in at home with a bold agenda for the day. And that's where this list of tips might come in handy. 

So, without further ado, let's tackle this list of tips and see what might be gained.

1. Understand that productivity isn’t one-size-fits-all. 
Fact. The schedules, strategies and structures that work for other homeschooling families will not necessarily work for you. Go ahead and try any idea that seems promising, but don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work at your house.

2. Give yourself structure.  
Hmm. I agree, with a qualification. The author suggests that you clearly delineate between working spaces and living spaces in your home. And some homeschooling families like to make a similarly black-and-white distinction, often by creating a designated school room or school area in their homes. But other families feel comfortable allowing learning and living to happen in the same places, and that's alright too. What matters is that your physical structures match your philosophy of learning. If you prefer specific times for learning in a more regimented fashion, then better make space for that. But if you are down with kids lying across the couches and calling out math questions to you while you cook dinner, then maybe all you need is a space on the coffee table to stack up the books at night.

Formal homeschooling space.
Informal homeschooling space...called a couch.

3. Set a clear schedule every day. 
Oh gosh. That sounds so easy, doesn't it? But life with kids is always full of surprises. So by all means, set a clear schedule but be prepared for reality to throw that schedule right out the window. Plan for the best and prepare for the worst..and don't take any of it too personally.

4. Rank your priorities. 
I absolutely agree. Let's face it, given the nature of family life and its never-ending ability to throw monkey wrenches into your path, you are probably never going to accomplish all the things you'd like to do on any given day. So you might as well start with the top priorities and hope for the best.

The question then becomes an issue of how to set priorities. Some thoughts: Make sure that each of your children gets a fair share of your best time and positive energy...not necessarily every day but perhaps over the course of a week. Keep an eye out for disruptive energy and make it a priority to give that child some positive attention in hopes of keeping the roof on the joint. Think creatively and don't be afraid to shift priorities at any moment, if it seems like the right thing to do.

5. Eliminate interruptions. 
Yeah, right. Perhaps there are some ways to minimize interruptions: don't answer your phone, ignore some of the chores, set timers, have your kids set goals and give them incentives. But let's be real. If you have kids, you are going to have interruptions. And once an interruption has happened, it takes a great deal of patience and cleverness to get everyone back on task. Some days, it's worth throwing in the towel and saying, "Tomorrow is another day."

Oh, sure, we all have days when we throw ourselves 
on the floor, weeping till we hear voices in our heads. 
Don't feel bad about it at all.

6. Get familiar with your energy cycles. 
YES. It was a brave and bold day when I finally decided that not only my kids but I as well benefited from a few extra hours of sleep in the morning, which was obtained by gladly shifting some of our work hours to the evening. There are plenty of studies demonstrating the changing sleep needs of the adolescent and teenage brain as well as the inborn propensity to be a lark or a night owl, and our health, happiness and homeschooling achievements all improved when I let go of my Puritanical shame and admitted that neither my kids nor I are not at the top of our games in the mornings. There is nothing wrong with writing essays or doing algebra at ten p.m. - in traditional schools, they call that "homework." On the other end of the spectrum, I have a friend who gets all her kids up and marching by 7 a.m. because that is when she is at her peak; she wraps up her homeschooling day and is off the clock by dinnertime. No right or wrong here; just do what works for you and your kids.

7. Schedule time for planning.  Yes. Of course, there is the annual process of charting an overall course for your children's education. But to implement that grand plan requires a daily cycle of planning, executing, evaluating and then planning again. Be sure to block out a few minutes of relatively quiet time for reflection each day. I know, easier said than done. Perhaps you can throw everyone out of the house for 15 minutes in the late afternoon so you can sort our your thoughts, or maybe Dad can run the evening bath water while you jot a few notes for tomorrow's action plan. It's also really helpful to meet with some like-minded homeschooling mommies on a semi-regular basis to compare woes and troubleshoot each other's rough spots. As much as it is difficult to find time for this sort of thing, the timeliness and thoughtfulness of these mid-course corrections is what will allow you to accomplish your homeschooling dreams and bring joy to your work.

Breathe. Relax. And remember, no one ever ruined a kid in one bad day.

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