Friday, February 27, 2009

Assignment List Time I Guess

Two yeas ago I was hoping my older son would be more self-directed regarding time management of his homeschooling studies, assigned lessons specifically. He really resisted when I tried to institute a kind of schedule and check list in fourth grade.

In the start of fifth grade I came up with a schedule on paper that he could highlight the assignment when completed. Younger son asked for this too, so I obliged. No TV could be watched for the day until the work was done. That worked well for about one month until it started to slowly crumble. One sickness, a change in the day’s plans that meant we were out of the house doing something else, and other such things interrupted the studies as planned out by date. Then the whole schedule was off.

On a whim, this last fall in September I bought a student planner while at a university book store. I hatched the idea to use that type of planner to parcel out assignments to the kids. I asked my older son if he wanted one (with the university’s logo on it) and he said yes. Of course my younger son wanted one too. But we were busy and when I got home they sat in a drawer and I forgot about them! In January I finally got around to trying that system. I write in the subjects to do on a day and the kids pace themselves to get it done. This year the thing is they have no video game playing until it is all finished.

I had hoped they’d work ahead on some days, when in the mood to do more math and so forth. It has worked a little bit like that but not much.

Today my younger son complained that his ‘to do’ list is empty. I guess I’ll sit down and map out a bunch of days in advance so it is ready. I don’t write lesson numbers or other details so it is not too much of a problem if a child is sick one day and no lessons are done.

You see it is against my true nature to have schedules for myself. I hate them. I feel so liberated after having left my corporate job where we were mandated to use the Franklin/Covery planner. I did love that planner but I found it enslaving rather than liberating. My own desire to not have a life all scheduled out for myself is being put onto the kids, which is not necessarily good. I realize that. It is time to get over my own desire for what I want in my own working life and do what is better for my kids in their educational experience.

My two children are very different in personality. Oddly their results for learning styles are identical (per a test in “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” but they are different in their brain dominance, polar opposites in fact.

My older son is very right brained (visual spatial learner). He doesn’t like ‘to do’ lists. He is more spontaneous and doesn’t like to plan ahead. Therefore trying to get him on a schedule and get him to be more independent with work I want him to do is not so easy. His ideal day has no appointments and allows him freedom to do what he feels like doing in a day. If he is so inclined to work on reading a book for three, four or more hours, or to build with LEGOs for six hours in a row, he will. He loves projects but only if they are of his choosing. It gets tricky to try to have a child learn certain topics and skills when they want to be so autonomous with their actions that may have nothing to do with stuff that say, the state says they want homeschooled kids to be learning or things that are required for college prerequisites even in the career field that he thinks he wants to enter.

My younger son is very left brained (concrete sequential learner). He loves ‘to do’ lists. He likes to be told what to do. He hates to have wide open spaces of time and told “go find something to do” or “do what you want to play”. He wants to be told what to play or have another child be the leader to direct the play they’ll do together. He likes to know, when he rises in the morning, or even the night before, what is planned for the next day. He likes order, routine and predictability in his day. This son loves to check off completed work. He likes hard work such as shoveling snow. He beams with (a reasonable amount) of pride at a job well done. The harder the task is, the happier he is when he has finished it with satisfaction. Learning comes easy for him and he would like to get 100% accuracy on every assignment that is easily graded. However when learning is a challenge in the least, he is unhappy and doesn’t necessarily put the same amount of effort into working toward accomplishing that thing as when he’s sweeping the garage or mopping the floor (he loves to clean).

As you may have gleaned from what I’ve said, I wish my older son was more self-motivated instead of me having to parcel out assignment after assignment. I wish my older son did more work on his own instead of (still) wanting me to sit right next to him while he does his work.

I have no desire to push my younger son who is in grade three to have ‘to do’ lists and to self-pace his independent work, but that is what HE wants. It is so strange to see two kids who are (just under) three years apart who are three grades apart approaching the same thing differently. One is trying to put off a responsibility until later than I want for him while the other is begging for more responsibility at an age that I think is too young.

As my friend said over time as the kids get older we need to help prepare them to do more and more work on their own. Kids in upper middle school and in high school (homeschool) should not still be getting spoon fed information from the mouth of the parent. More of their work should come from source materials (books, textbooks, etc.) and they should gradually be more self-paced in their work instead of having the parent micro-manage each assignment. If the plan is to attend college, they do have to learn time management and self-discipline regarding their studies at some point. I’d rather have slow gradual learning than spring it on my kids in eleventh grade in our home school!

Another thing we need to accept is that certain kinds of learning require long periods of self-study through reading. If a student is to do well in college they need lots of practice reading and processing information and gleaning meaning from what they read, comparing the information they take in, and thinking about it analytically. Kids need to get used to the idea that certain kinds of learning really do involve them alone reading a book (or alone doing assignments). The older the kids get the less learning is all about fun and discovery through playing. In certain content areas, the information just doesn’t come from ‘living real life’ of a typical American family either, so actually doing academic assignments using educational materials is necessary.

These kids keep me on my toes, that is all I can say. I feel like I am constantly juggling my ideas for what I want for them for good and reasonable workloads for their ages, versus what they want for themselves and tying to have a harmonious home environment without me turning into super-strict drill sergeant mom. Just with my two kids I cannot implement a “one size fits all” approach. I surely don’t know how school teachers are expected to do it, but that is another topic entirely.

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christinethecurious said...

I blogged a little about your post at

although I didn't get as philosophical as you did, or as I meant to.

-Christine in Massachusetts

christinemm said...

Christine the Curious, I didn't know you had a blog! Nice to see your photo and now I can read your thoughts too!