Adrift on a Sea of “To-Do’s”?

shipadrift

When we have little ones in our home, or are homeschooling our children, it can feel like we don’t have much time to call our own. Sometimes I feel like a ship adrift, being tossed around on the waves of all the things I have to do. I can’t ever get to the end, no matter how frantically I paddle. Have you ever felt this way?

Throw an anchor overboard! It can stop the tossing tide from making your life crazy.

There are anchors in every day. They can be mealtimes, or baby’s nap, the time your husband comes home, or when your teenager leaves for work. These are pretty stable, even if they don’t follow a specific clock time. Even when your day is unpredictable, those anchors nearly always happen and they can help keep you on course. Here’s some of mine:

Family scripture study
Lunch
Nap
Dinner

Moms are hard-pressed to work on a punctual time schedule, but we can use those anchors to get control of our time. I have decided that between our early morning family scripture study (my first anchor) and lunch (my second anchor of the day), I need to exercise and I want to teach homeschool. Those are my top priorities. I have a very long to-do list that tries to wiggle its way into that time . . . making phone calls, checking email, helping my husband with the business, grocery shopping, doing dishes or laundry, mending, church work, going to dental/medical appointments, reading the book I am interested in, etc. But if I focus on those two priorities during that time slot—exercise and homeschool—and accomplish nothing more, I will have had a very successful morning!

As each day passes by, if we focus on the most important “to-do’s”, all the extraneous and less important time-consumers just end up falling away. There is no time for them. Even though I enjoy several of those activities, or feel obligated or pressed to do all those things on my endless “to-do” list, my priorities cannot— they must not—take the place of what is truly important in my life. Besides, doing lesser things does not give the satisfaction that comes from making progress on the things you value most.

It helps to get a clear perspective on what really matters. I ask myself questions like this: “If I were to die in 2 weeks, what would I want to do with my final days?” It also helps to pray about priorities, getting another viewpoint than our own. Heaven’s light shed upon our plans makes us think clearer. Another consideration is that some things can only be done once in life, and you cannot go back and re-do them. Such things as marrying the right person, having children during your childbearing years, giving your children a happy childhood, teaching good habits to your kids, training them to love God and be good Christians, etc. are one-shot deals, and should receive top priority.

Did you notice that bedtime is not on my list of anchors? That is because it needs working on at my house! But, it should be the most important anchor of the day, because it determines how you are going to feel the next day! If you have young children, it is crucial to set a bedtime as an anchor that you can depend on. Even the most loving mother can turn into a witch as the hour gets late and too-tired, accident-prone, crying children are still running around. If you can set a bedtime, both for yourself and your children, life gets in control much faster!

Jot down your anchors on a piece of paper, creating a time block between them, and you will have a great guide for each day. Reality sets in when you can see on paper that if you do your priorities, you can’t stretch yourself much thinner! The page you create could be a template for a daily calendar. If you can’t fit something in without bumping out your priorities, it probably isn’t realistic to say “yes” to that time commitment.

Here’s how it looks:

stormsoflife

 

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A Plea to Homeschoolers: Do it!

ammonlouisa_firstgrade

“I hear you are one who really does homeschool”, someone in my community told me in a casual conversation.

“Oh, really?”, I replied. “How do you know?”

“Because Vi told me you do it,” she returned.

“How does Vi know?” I asked.

“Because she’s your neighbor. She should know.”

“Well, I don’t know how”, I laughed. “She sure hasn’t come to sit in on my homeschool!”

This conversation left me disturbed and pondering. It brought to mind a similar conversation three years earlier when an acquaintance introduced me to her visiting mother. “She’s one who really does homeschool”, she had said to her mother in reference to me. When I asked her what she meant by that, she explained, “Everyone that I know that homeschools really doesn’t do it. They just take their kids out of school and then don’t teach them. I guess they use them for babysitters or to do their housework. Or maybe they think they will teach them but never get around to it.”

This woman was a very nonjudgmental person and it surprised me to hear her make such a statement. Of course, I felt defensive! I felt like coming to bat for all my fellow homeschoolers. Then I looked around and realized that her experience with other homeschoolers had certainly formed her opinion. She had seen homeschooled children at church, not able to read at eight, nine and ten years old.

Mothers, may I plead with you to do it! If you choose to homeschool, make the commitment to be devoted to making sure your children get a better education than they could get at public school. This type of devotion means that homeschooling must take priority over the phone, drop-in visitors, meetings, appointments, personal projects and housekeeping at least for a few hours everyday. My purpose in homeschooling is to ensure that my children are taught the truth. But if my own efforts to teach my children are so lacking priority that I cannot help them learn to read until it has become a burden and an embarrassment to them, then I will contribute to the bad name that homeschooling has become to many.

Yes, homeschooling is a tremendous task! It takes the best of what I have to give every single day. It keeps me from doing much shopping, cleaning house and socializing. But I feel so very blessed to be very good friends with my children and to be the one to give them the keys to understanding their life. Education is a marvelous liberator! When you teach a child to read or do math or in any other way to make sense of things, particularly with a Christian perspective, you give a precious gift. In the process, you become soul-mates. Enjoy that blessed opportunity!

 

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Jump In

ammon_cornstocks2010My son is making goals. It gives him a lot of satisfaction to think and plan about the goals he wants to set. It almost makes one feel the satisfaction of accomplishing something, doesn’t it?—just to dream and plan about it.

But planning to do something is not doing it! It is just thinking about doing it!

So often, this can be the case with homeschool. A malady can set in for homeschool mothers—the “I-Need-to-Plan-First” sickness. Now, I don’t think there is a thing wrong with planning. Things go very well when there is pre-planning. But if the need for planning is delaying actually getting started doing something, then I would advise you to just “jump in”!

Jumping right in and doing something is somehow magic. Just taking action has power. And when we jump in and do something, the desire to do it well sets in and replaces inertia and procrastination.

I wanted to teach Louisa real art. She loves art and I thought that ceramics, sculpting, watercolor painting and working with other media would be exciting to her. I bought some clay and mentally planned to do a unit on ceramics. I could see the outline and lesson plans in my mind. First, we’ll learn about the origin of clay. Then we’ll do a simple pinch pot. Then a coil pot, then slabwork, then sculpture. . . . As usual, it can get pretty grandiose in my plans!

jumpin1Well, as it turned out, I was still in my nightgown when Louisa got the clay out and showed a lot of interest in opening it and making something. I wanted to say (and probably did), “No, no, no! Not now. I haven’t got it planned out yet!” She was eager and what ended up happening was that the clay got opened, and we ended up making slab pots (still in my nightgown). This was not how I wanted it to happen, but it was really fun. And doing the more advanced slab work first helped me to be realistic, simplify and mentally organize. Spontaneity is a good thing. Procrastination and inertia are our enemies.

Don’t let the desire to “do it right” keep you from acting. Weeks and months fly by and looking at it now, a slab pot made without any planning is a lot better than no pot at all! Besides, we got hooked and made pinch pots soon after. Now we are planning to paint octopi on them, like the Minoans did. Louisa carefully looks at our history book photos of artifacts and sighs with new-found understanding, “How did they make those pots so big and good?”

Glad inertia didn’t stop us!

jumpin2

Ancient Minoan ceramic pot

Jump in!

 

 

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Interruptions

dianereading2girlsQuestion:

Interruptions seem to be the order of the day . . . each and every day. How do you manage homeschool when there is the phone, doorbell, visitors, dentist appointments, holidays, and more. Sometimes I feel there’s just not time to do schoolwork!

Answer:

I think we all have felt that way! It is especially hard if you are transitioning from a public school lifestyle to doing homeschooling for the first time, where you—and others—may be used to having those daytime hours free.

I think the answer to the question of interruptions is priorities. If we truly feel it is our God-given responsibility to educate our children, then it must move into a top priority position in our lives. I caught the vision of this when I worked on a luncheon committee once many years ago. The mothers on the committee who “worked”were not expected to be available during their work hours, and no one thought less of them. They had a job. If we deem our homeschooling job to be important, then we have to carve out a block of time that becomes inviolate and dedicate it to our children’s education and nurturing.We have a job!

If you personally do not infringe on that time by allowing interruptions, others will be less inclined to ask you to do so. But if you ever schedule visits, appointments, committee work, etc. during your homeschool hours, others will consistently expect it and feel irked if you decline. Personally, I had to make some rules for myself as I am prone to get carried away talking to people, and I feel a lot of compassion if someone is in need—I am likely to throw homeschool right out the window so I can rush to their aid.

There is a time and place for all things and it is a test of patience to keep things in their order, for me. I don’t answer the phone or door during school hours. I have found I just can’t seem to recover and get the troops back on track if I do! One 30 minute phone call (and trust me, that 30 minutes feels like 5 minutes) is enough to blow your history lesson to smithereens!

ammonjournalbooks

My son Ammon writes in his journal.

So I dedicate 3 hours each morning, 3 uninterrupted hours, to my children and their education, and I make the world wait until noon before I become an involved part of it (unless there is a crisis, but that is the rare exception!) What this does is speaks a loud message of importance to my children. They see that I feel education is important enough to make it a priority. And they personally feel that they are important enough to be put first for a few uninterrupted hours of my time each day.

When my part in homeschool is over at noon each day, I feel good! I know I’ve put their education first. We’ve had a good time together learning, so I don’t suffer from that nagging “I’m not spending much time with this child” feeling. And both myself and my children are ready to move on to the bigger world outside our homeschool!

 

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Self-Discipline for Mother: the Crux of Homeschool

My 7 children

When my first son, Daniel, moved out on his own, I found myself looking at homeschool and mothering with a new perspective. Although he was 19 years old, I was still getting around to the things I’d put on hold while I had babies, moved, planted my garden, endured chicken pox, etc. The music lessons, the family vacations, the trips to the museums, the mountain hikes, reading classic books together—somehow they all never happened like I’d hoped they would. (We did do a lot of them, to be sure.) Truly, life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.

I don’t really have regrets because our relationship is very close and strong. Over his childhood years, we did do many good, positive things together. We talked, laughed, worked, confided in each other, discussed life and God’s laws, shared favorite scriptures we found with each other. Our hearts were knit together in love. There are skills that children learn in a close relationship that are priceless. No other experiences of life draw us nearer to heaven than those that exist between happy parents and children.

But as I watched him clean out his closets while he packed, I winced at the things I had hoped to teach him as he was growing up such as woodworking, first aid skills, writing succinctly without frustration, taking notes and studying effectively, and so much more. Basically, I wish I had given him every opportunity to learn and develop himself (every mother’s dream!) I wish I had a plan and had carried it out no matter what distractions developed in my life.

lego-708088_1280Homeschool is only as good as the mother’s ability to discipline herself. If you can’t get up, get dressed and be on time every morning for school to begin, you will likely find yourself with unruly children that can’t discipline themselves either. Getting dressed can be a problem! I want to do it right; meaning exercise, take a hot shower, dress nicely for the day, brush my hair and put on lipstick, straighten up my bathroom and bedroom, etc. Since the opportunity rarely avails itself, I find myself thinking that I will just attend to this spill, explain that math problem, or fix my girl’s hair while still in my nightgown, and then I will go get showered and dressed. Operating in that mode means occasionally I am still in my nightgown until noon. Arrgh! I have learned to just get dressed! I slip on my clothes and am done with it. Not a fashion statement, but at least I look together. It has a very positive effect on the homeschool for Mom to be dressed and start at the same time every morning. For one thing, she can expect the same from the children.

I know from sad experience that if homeschool does not start on time (whatever you deem to be the time, 8:30, 9:00 AM or whenever), it usually will get thrown off track by everything else (doorbell, phone calls, toddler’s messes, etc.) and not really get underway until 10:00 or 11:00 in spite of your good intentions. Children need a solid 3 hours a day if they are going to get a basic academic foundation. That’s not possible to manage if you don’t get started on time, dressed and ready to learn. That is one good thing about public school: children must be there dressed and on time! We could take a lesson.

Ammon during a homeschool soccer game

Ammon during a homeschool soccer game

I listened to my 16 year-old-son, trying to substitute for a parent and teach devotional to the family one morning. Oh, it takes years to learn to teach well, to be patient with children, to know how to keep interest, to rely on your belief in God. Children need guidance! They need supervision and teaching and nurturing and love. Our responsibilities are great. Each parent must choose what is most important for their children to learn, but learn they must! It is our God-given duty to train and teach, and to prepare them to the best of our ability.

Mothers are still on the hook as far as disciplining ourselves, when it comes to the content of the studies. If every morning of homeschool is a scramble to assign something, you can bet you will feel disappointed when your children graduate into adults. There is barely enough time to teach them what they need to know if you have an organized plan!

The older my children grow, the more I feel opposed to the “unschooling” approach (in children are allowed to follow their interests freely, with no constraints). I wasted two years of our homeschool this way. Why? Freedom looks so appealing! It looks easy for Mom, especially if she is childbearing. There is no flack from the children because they are basically doing what they want all the time. (I don’t complain when I get my way either!) There is usually no accountability or stewardship, meaning neither Mom nor child has to feel guilty. The sad news is that while they are under your thumb, it seems to work okay. As soon as they get out in the world, they see their inadequacies and academic weakness in glaring clarity! A person doesn’t have as much influence in the world if he can’t speak, write, think and reason clearly. He doesn’t have much confidence if his peers are debating Plato while he is struggling to read!  And guess who he is mad at? Right!

If a mother is not able to discipline herself to plan out the education of her children, her children may be better off academically in a private school or another setting. Education was not the issue when I took my children out of public school. They could probably get an adequate education there. I have other concerns about the public school system. But I do not want to hinder my children’s development in a helter-skelter homeschool either. I want to do better than that.

My sons Nathan and Mark made their own armor from tin cans and other metal!

My sons Nathan and Mark made their own armor from tin cans and other metal!

Children need to be accountable for their work, to be able to show what they’ve done and receive your approval or correction. This seems to be the hardest part of homeschool for me. I can start on time (usually), I can get the course of study planned ahead (usually), I can write up their assignments in their planners, I can even search out the best materials so that my children will enjoy learning and feel enthusiastic about it. But, when lunch time rolls around, thoughts of “checking up” seem to vanish. If you don’t follow up, children may not always finish their work, or work as hard as they should. Questions will go unanswered. Learning won’t seem as important as it really is. You will have succeeded in training them that it really doesn’t matter so much.

We all need the opportunity to give an accounting of our efforts. We are only “half-homeschooling” if we are not following through to make sure the job is done. I have tried several different approaches to motivate my children, and have them check off charts, to have a sense of completion. The school year can slide right into the next year without much progress if you don’t keep track and work diligently.

So as Daniel left home, I turned to consider how ready my other children will be as they start their own lives. I know mothers all say that the time flies by and the children are so soon gone—now I understand it! There is so little time to teach them. It takes self-discipline for Mom to create the plan and follow-through so they will be given every opportunity to develop. It seems they are just learning to read, and you feel you have forever. The next time you notice, they are 8 years old, reading fine, and eager to learn everything. Next glance, they are teenagers and a bit resistant. How you wish you had taught them more when they were eager 8-year-olds! Suddenly, they are grown and homeschool is over for that child. We have only 10-14 years to prepare them for life. It is a grave responsibility! I feel a deep resolve to sacrifice my time and discipline myself to give them the best education—spiritually, academically and socially. May the Lord bless all of us homeschool mothers to catch the vision of our important work!

 

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