Our nearly 6 week long winter break is over and we feel refreshed and restored.
I’ve never been one for resolutions, I am a gardener at heart and therefore spend most of the year weeding and tweaking things here and there. In January, I tend to recalibrate our schedules to make the most of the pleasant weather, make space for more individual projects (like Faces of History and the Science Fair) and start making early preparations for whatever new phases are on the horizon.
I strive to be diligent in observing my boys as they grow. How are they learning best these days? Are they increasing in responsibility and ownership over their learning? How reliable are they? Is there a good balance between rest and learning? As all mothers know, these sorts of evaluations tend to stem into many different areas such as physical activity, diet, supplements, emotional health, etc. Then you start multiplying the evaluations for each person in the home and the number of things to track increases more and more.
For example, here is one small area we spent time recalibrating last fall: my children are involved in a sport that meets M-F in the late afternoon/early evening. This may surprise you to read, but it is wonderfully convenient for us! The boys adore the practice and exercise and I love that I get the chance to unplug and read for an hour while they are active and growing in discipline. They love ending their afternoon with friends. I love ending mine with a book.
However, for this good thing to take place in a way that blesses our family, I must plan in advance. Before we leave the boys must 1) complete their individual work 2) finish blessing hour 3) set the table for dinner and 4) get themselves dressed and packed for practice. I usually have dinner in the slow cooker or take the boys’ preparation time as a pre-dinner prep time (if its a simpler throw together kinda meal). When we leave the house is relatively clean, dinner is in place or well on its way and I have a bit more peace knowing that when we return we can begin the rest of our evening on the same page. Upon return the boys all shower while I finish getting dinner together and then we sit down with Jeff for fellowship and dinner. We enjoy reading from whatever missionary’s biography we are reading at the time (wrapping up Livingstone right now!), then we clean the dishes, clear the table, the boys have music lessons with their dad and we relax before bed. **This is on a good day. Sickness, Small Group meeting, meltdowns from children (or parents), HUMAN NATURE can change the way this all pans out. On our good days, it works well and serves us well***
To figure this one block of time in our schedule, I had to go through a few years of motherhood to figure out what style of planning worked best for me. I went through seasons of freezer meals and special planners and all sorts of tricks and tips from other mothers before realizing that few tips ever really worked for me long term. Knowing myself and how I work best and reaching for better habits, helped me better than anything else. Essentially, taking ownership and growing in discipline instead of looking for shortcuts and quick fixes. Here is where I landed:
I have to think about my entire day before I go to sleep the night before. I take ten minutes to look over my schedule, write out what needs to be done, make sure things are in place for meals, enter reminders into my phone (ie. pack snacks or work for any therapists office if we have an appointment) and group them into bite sized chunks throughout the day. I usually make 4-5 groupings depending on the day, making sure that the priority items are listed first. Whenever the kids break from lessons, I begin to knock out everything I can from a grouping. Anything I don’t finish gets moved to the last grouping of the day. Most days, I can knock out about 80-90% of the list. Whatever is left over, gets moved to the next day and placed on a higher priority level. For example, I know that on Monday morning I need to wake up early, read my bible, wash and dress, pop our favorite quick quiche in the oven, set dinner into the crockpot, feed the animals, water the garden, brew the tea and lay out the supplements before 7AM. I’ll look on the schedule and remind whoever needs to set the table to get it done and just before the quiche comes out, I’ll make sure the lunch items are grouped together in the fridge so the 7 year old can find them easily (its his turn to make lunch!). We begin morning time fully immersed in learning and being together. I don’t have another grouping until later that morning, once we’ve returned from speech therapy and just before lunch.
Guess what? Turns out this way of thinking works really well for *most* of my kids, too! One of the best homeschool tips I ever got was from Sarah Mackenzie (who got it from her friend, so pass it on!). It was quite simple. Invest in cheap spiral notebooks for the kids and write their school work (I also add appointments, errands, chores, etc) in it the night before and go over their next day’s work with them so they know what to expect and what is expected of them and if our big 12 passenger van will be transporting them anywhere. Over time my boys realized that they could group things to knock off the list (copywork, spelling, chart work, geography, etc) and save longer tasks (Plutarch, math, narration essay writing) for longer pockets of time. They brought books along on errands and carved out spaces of time to complete their tasks. They started thinking ahead and planning for themselves. “Hmm, we’ll be at speech tomorrow. I’d better bring along a snack and water bottle to enjoy with my book while I wait!”
This level of thinking did not happen right away, of course. They are male and under 12 years of age! Like their Mama, they had to slowly come to value ownership of their time and take hold of discipline and skill over shortcuts. We’ve been using this system for over a year now and I’m happy to report that it was just the thing to transition the older boys into taking more responsibility in their learning and managing of their time. This was crucial for one boy in particular who struggles mightily with executive function. (This book was also a tremendous help!)
Our first week back was lovely. Even though the kitchen flooded and we had to rip out flooring in the dining room and kitchen and I find myself without a dishwasher (the latest in the battle of adoption discouragement frontlines). We really enjoyed our time together. The older boys feel so grown these days. I don’t have to remind them to complete their work as often as I used to. They’re interests are expanding and growing. They’re outgrowing shoes at an alarming pace.
A few quick highlights from our first week back…
We are enjoying Ernest Seton’s book “Wild Animals I have known” and are having deep discussions over Gerald Thompson’s book, “The Presidency“** in light of the upcoming impeachment trials. (** This is out of print and was written during JFK’s time as President) We’re continuing our catechism study and memorizing hymns. We started reading “A Tale of Two Cities” and the boys have flown their kites nearly every day. We’re digging further up and further in with latin and math. I am so pleased with the foundation we’ve laid using Right Start Math.
The boys are also learning to compose music with their Dad, a pianist and drummer, who is now trying to learn the guitar so he can teach it to his children. What an encouragement this is to me as I ponder the things I’m trying to teach myself right now so I can teach them to the boys in a few years.
I found myself washing dishes for long hours while enjoying audiobooks. I managed to knock out 5 in two weeks! I nearly broke a glass listening to Shusaku Endo’s Silence and wept through Hannah Coulter again. The garden is growing and the radishes will be ready soon. On Friday we celebrated my eldest son’s 12th birthday with his friends at our favorite beach and they caught a moray eel of all things with a small net. It coiled and snapped at us, while we marveled at him. We still can’t believe it.
Dishes, radishes, good books, dangerous sea creatures. How lovely it is to be back in the swing of things. The road ahead is uncertain this year. New therapies added to the mix, a young man starting Challenge A, our adoption still in limbo. I can only keep praying, surrendering, recalibrating and loving. Oh, I must keep loving! The truth is I can keep observing the boys and making my notes, but really, the best thing I can do to serve them well is to spend time with them and love them.
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