Friday, September 3, 2010

The Simplest Ideas are the Best

You can tell I love all this organizational stuff!
I get really into it for like two days each year.
School -- or in our case, homeschool -- has been in session full-time for two weeks now.  ALL of my freshman boy's classes are taught by other people, which means my task is merely to go through all the syllabi* and break all the tasks into edible chunks and then fit them into the context of each day.  This involves my daily flipping through a binder where I dutifully stowed my copy of the class info from the teachers into the protective sleeves, or just three-hole-punched and inserted, using labeled dividers.  I then pen the instructions for the day onto a spiral-bound notebook.  I stole the spiral-bound part from Mrs. Smallworld.  Yes, it is pathetic that an idea so simple and so low-tech had to be stolen!  Yet it works so well, I want to slap myself on the forehead 10 times a day and say "why didn't I think of this before?"  I draw a box beside each "to-do" and he puts a check in it when the individual tasks are complete.  I'm doing this for my 6th grader as well and am flabbergasted at how inspirational he finds an empty box waiting for a check!

No, this is not my family.  We are nowhere near this neat!
The second embarrassingly simple idea that I've adopted this year is twice-daily sit-down FAMILY meals.  Yes, I know that every other homeschooling family on earth probably already did this, but up until two weeks ago, I was very likely to slap something together, summarily drop the King's portion onto his desk in his cave, seat the boys at the counter to eat like cavemen and then crawl into my easy chair to catch CNN during our lunch break.  With the cooler weather -- and let's be honest here, the big pile of junk on my kitchen table that rendered it useless -- it became pleasant to just carry all the food out to the big table on the screen porch.  Well, the first day of school, the King decided he could take a few moments out to sit with us. He works from home and is here most days.  One thing led to another, and we decided to quiz one boy on his Spanish vocabulary and another on the status of his chore list (coming up next!).  Before we knew what happened, we were having twice daily check-ins on progress and a whole lot less was slipping through the cracks.  Not only is it making it less likely that any students get away with a sorry work-ethic, but it fulfills a real need in creating more focused family-time all around.  Our four-year old loves it, sets out the silverware, and demands his turn when it comes to asking the blessing.  It helps the King be more involved in the daily workings of our homeschool, as well.  And I sometimes needed the reinforcement of a "principal" figure.  After only two weeks, this program has been such a raging success that I am now sad for all the lost years I've spent not doing this.

I guess my idea of putting the kids
to work isn't a new one.
Which leads me to the Chore Charts.   My children and their habits have really suffered from my frequent failure to hold them accountable on various fronts over the years.  I admit I have failed in this, but I will save you the boredom of hearing me psychoanalyze myself.  The short story is that I'm lazy.  I am inconsistent.  I am overcommitted.  I am distractable.  We'll just leave it at that, shall we?  But I'm hoping I can still turn it around.  I think the humble checkbox may just be the answer!  For years, the King has encouraged me to require more from the kids in helping me around the house or at least cleaning up after themselves and I struggled with how I could do that consistently without having to be a constant nag.  So I spent a great deal of time before we started school re-doing their rooms.  Really, I just restored them to sanity!  So this created a "baseline" for them to aspire to in maintaining their private spaces, in addition to a number of other tasks they are perfectly able to do.  I created a very comprehensive list and designed a Chore Chart for each child.  For the younger school-aged boy, I included matters of daily hygiene and health (like drinking water and taking vitamins), as well as a reminder of piano practice.  There are things that must be done daily and then different things that are done in addition to the daily list on Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends.  Every item and every day has a place for a check mark.  I also included a comment line to record whether the duties were completed with too many reminders or with a bad attitude.  So far, so good!  There are no dust bunnies on my stairwell (middle son, Wednesdays) and no leaves on my driveway or decks (oldest son, Fridays).  My teen doesn't complain that his laundry hasn't been done because he has been assigned a laundry day of his own.

I feel as though these simple new initiatives are restoring a bit of control, hopefulness (on my part!), and joy to our household and family.  Even as I type that, I am reminded of something Beth Moore said in one of her "Beloved Disciple" bible study videos.  This is not a direct quote, but it went something like this:  We just think we're in control.  Then we realize we are standing there holding a leash with an empty collar attached to the other end and the dog is long gone!

What new amazing ideas have you incorporated into your homeschool this year that are simple enough for even me to try?

*I looked up the plural of syllabus and was flabbergasted to learn that either "syllabi" or "syllabuses" would work.  Who knew?  And that's my random grammar thought for the day.


  1. I am truly LOLing! PLEASE submit this to the Carnival of Homeschooling!!

  2. Awesome. . .just what I needed to read today. I am in the process of making a chore chart for my boy. . .can't wait to read your tips!

  3. Isn't it a wonderful feeling when you feel control and balance is restored? :] I like the Chore Chart idea!