Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Holding Their Feet to the Fire

The homeschooling thing on my mind this week is trying to figure out a way to switch from our daily homeschool lesson assignments to a weekly plan and holding my kids feet to the fire to complete their work.

The daily assignment list that I began using in September 2009 is not working out. I made a generic list where each day is the same. A challenge is our appointments for outside paid classes with subject matter expert teachers, Scouts and sports interferes with getting all of this done. At present the list is the same list, not different by day of the week.

It would not work either, to have a list by each day since some things we do are once monthly, twice monthly, or 'one off' things. Then there are enough orthodontist appointments and other random medical or dental appointments (for the kids or me) to mess up that too. Let's not even get into illnesses (the swine flu really knocked one son out last fall, and me too).

I was trying to not do a list every Sunday for the upcoming week in order to reduce my own time spent doing administrative prep time.

My biggest concern is my seventh grader. He likes the lists; there is no problem with that. He likes the freedom to decide what to do and when. The issue is there have not been consistent consequences when the work is not done. My son, at this age, should be able to handle some time management. Honestly school kids have much more time management practice than my two kids do. I see this with my son's friends and the Scouts I know.

Part of this is not over-scheduling outside classes. Since the start of 2010 I have declined some excellent opportunities for my children in order to have more free time in our lives. This means we now have more free time at home to do lessons at home. I am setting priorities and trying not to let the fun extra-curricular stuff take the place of The Three R's. Some is okay but too much of the extra's and not enough math and language arts is not good.

We already limit TV and video game playing, and computer/Internet time. I am curious what other homeschool families do that works.

The people who criticize me for being 'too strict' and having too many limits let their kids do a lot more fun things (video games etc.) but also have lower academic standards (at least for quantity) than I do. The thing is I do limit screen time already but my kids are finding ways to dawdle in between lessons to drag the day out and then by 4pm they claim they are so tired they can't learn anything else. I've given them a pass but lately am thinking, the school kids have to do homework at night, some of their friends decline invitations to do things with us at night due to homework, so why can't my kids do some academics at night if they didn't finish in the daytime?

Another example is sometimes when we're at my mother-in-law's (nearly every week for a meal that my husband prepares) my kids will sit and watch TV but my niece will show up with homework in hand and is made to sit and do homework. Why are my kids not touching any academics on the weekend if their work was not done during the week?

I've put some feelers out to ask for input, detailed information like how many hours of TV is watched Monday-Friday and can they still watch it if the lessons aren't done? Are the work lists weekly or daily? What other privileges must be earned after finishing the work rather than viewing entertainment as an entitlement? I mean, my kids saying, "Today's Saturday so I get to play my video games just because it's Saturday!" (even when only half their home lessons were completed).

I've asked for real feedback from families who have these standards and if they are working. I don't want to hear pie-in-the-sky ideals that the mom is not making work in her home. And of course I'm not hearing from anyone with low expectations or no expectations.

I have about a handful of detailed responses. Most are contacting me privately afraid to post their "strict" guidelines or personal information to an email discussion list I guess. This list has a sad history of some people getting slammed by the ones who don't like what was said, i.e. ask for a math curriculum idea and an unschooler says something about just making recipes using fractions and that's good enough. Or ask for a sample schedule and someone says, "no parent should mandate assignments, let them do what they want and they will naturally learn wonderful things".

Anyway I'm open to hear what you have to say if you are willing to share it via a comment at this blog.

Perhaps what I'm really looking for is permission to not only have a certain standard for home education academics but also to have some kind of parental follow-through to make sure those expectations are fulfilled. I need to take responsibility for the part of this issue that is my fault.

I think part of this issue is with me, that I don't necessarily like feeling like a drill sergeant, taskmaster homeschool mom. Honestly leaving most of the pacing to my kids has not fared as well as I'd have liked. I think my kids need help learning time management skills, and that will be half the battle. I'm trying not to cop out by taking the easy route. I need to do what is best for my kids, that's all, and right now I think it's time to tweak the way we're doing things.



Rayann said...

I use folders for my 6th and 7th graders.

Each of them has a folder titled "Today's Work" which contains everything they need for each school day except books and pencils. Stapled to the front is a booklist and on the inside is a 2010 calendar.

Inside the folder are pages for their assignments. For example, in my oldest child's folder, the "Math" page is a simple piece of notebook paper on which he writes the date, the assignment he did, and the grade he scored. On the "Copywork" page he writes the date and starts his copywork. Then the next day he skips a line and writes the day and does that day's copywork. On the "Poetry" page he writes the date, the name of the poem he read, and a paragraph or so about the poem. On a "Book" page I have the name of the book written at the top and each line has a reading assignment, and he writes the date completed next to the assignment as he works through it.

He can rearrange the papers any way he likes, do the assignments in any order, but the school day is not over until every paper has been written on.

Every evening, he turns in his folder. I ask for oral narrations and then assign essays or other written work for the next day by adding notebook pages with the assignment written at the top, change out any worksheets, etc. He knows that and deficient narrations or other work will result in extra work the next day.

"Screen time" is NOT allowed unless all of the work for the day is done.

The folders and books travel with us if we have appointments. They can read in a waiting room just as easily as on our sofa. Copywork can be done on anyone's dining room table, not just ours. The booklists on the front of their folders make loading a backpack a breeze.

This system is also flexible enough that I can tell them, "Hey, really busy day today, just do math, copywork, and essays," and they can do that.

I hope I've explained clearly enough that this will be helpful to someone. I like that they'll get the minimum done every day, and they like having a little control over when (in what order) to do their work.

Darlene Y. Pineda said...

What I do:

my 14 yo gets a schedule for the week that will read like this:
math ch 5
book x read 10 chapters
writing assigment # 6
lectures 40-44

every day he must do some reading, some math, PE and music practice. Other then that he can structure (or not) his week how he likes.

On Sunday evening he has to show me his completed work. If he has completed everything mostly correctly he earns TV and video privilages for the coming week. If not, he doesn't.

If his daily stuff isn't done he loses privilages the next day until after lunch (he likes watching TV with lunch, so this matters to him).

This gives him freedom to stay up late and cram a bunch of work into one night or do a bit each far it is working well.


dstb said...

Hi Christine,
I'll get to what we do below, but wanted to give you some info upfront. I have 2 boys, one in 7th grade, one in 5th grade. They do not watch TV except for an occasional football game on the weekend (and occasionally Jeopardy on a night my husband isn't home for dinner). If they ask, they probably get to watch one movie a week. If they don't ask, we don't bring it up. They recently purchased a PS2 system with their own money and they get 1 hour of playing time per week.

The no TV thing has always been the case with them, so it has never been an issue. The only issue is for me. So often the experts will recommend taking TV away as an effective disciplinary strategy!

Anyway, I agree with you that my kids have not had to learn the time management skills that their schooled peers seem to have to deal with. I am taking baby-steps with this by using a modified workbox system (I use plastic drawers). I plan for the week ahead for what I want each day to look like. Each night I put the following day's things in the boxes: math, history, music practice, etc. They can do them in any order, although I try to have them do their math first. For the longer term projects, like our local International Fair, I have them choose a task for the week, like make the flag for their selected country. Everyday, their International Fair folder goes into a drawer as a reminder that on Friday I expect to see the selected item done. They do not need to work on it everyday, but if they put it off, come Friday they still have to get it done.

Also, when I fill the drawers the night before, I know what outside appointments we have the next day and can plan accordingly. I can put in things that we can easily take on the road and save other things for another day.

Each day, when they finish an assignment, it goes in a box on top of their drawers. Every night, when I get things ready for the next day, I can see if they did, or did not, do something. It holds me accountable, which I think has been a problem in the past. Of course they will try and get away with not doing something if mom never follows up!

Is this perfect? No, because I still wimp out sometimes. This usually happens if I think that perhaps I wasn't clear in my expectations. If I know I was clear (and the workboxes seem to help with that) then, there will be no movies, PS2, etc. until the task is completed.

BTW, they have been able to earn up to an extra hour of PS2 time per week by doing things that I'd like to do, but haven't fit into our schedule: Sketch Tuesday, Think! Challenge, helping prepare dinner, making musical instruments and working on projects like Lego Mindstorms or a science kit. They get 10 minutes for each thing they do and can only earn time once per week for that particular item.

So far, this has been a win-win. They spend some time on something I think is worthwhile and they get 10 minutes of playing time. Sometimes they use it right then, other times they save it.

Also, if they have a friend over, we don't make them use their time up, but we still generally limit the playing time with the friend to an hour.

From past experience, I have found that if I am wishy-washy on how much screen time they get, it is a disaster. They keep asking if they can play and just lay around hoping I'll cave. With the strict limits, they know when the time is up (and they are very good about policing this themselves) and they go and find something else to do.

This workbox system has worked for me because it gives me and my kids a visual on what has or has not been done and I know that I have been clear in my expectations. It gives them the flexibility to do things in the order they want or to skip working on a longer term project on one day and get back to it another.

I hope this helps. Sorry it's so long and went off topic a bit.

LivingByLearning said...

I'll give this another shot.

My 10yo son homeschooled son is pretty good about getting his work done quickly so that he can be free to do whatever he wants.

My 13yo daughter, however, is just like I was, excelling in the art of procrastination and feet dragging. She knows that the longer she takes to get her work done, the less time she has for herself. But, she can't seem to help herself.

Right now, however, she is passionate about ski team and this seems to provide the motivation to get her work done in a timely fashion. We'll see this weekend if it's working. She'll either ski, or stay home to finish her work.

kimberlycrowley said...

We are a family that utilizes our computers on a daily basis. So it only made sense the website: - would work for us.

It did take some time entering the courses and daily activities. But it is free, run by a homeschooling family, and most of all you do not have to re-enter the information if something doesn't get done.

Your students can have their own access, so they can't edit the day or change scores. Or you can print out the daily assignments for the week, and your student never has to log on.

If you're looking at schooling into High School, and are going to need transcripts (which I think you should just do, so you're ready for whatever your student decides to do) it is a great tool that uses your existing schooling activities.

This way your student sees what needs to be done for the school week, with the appropriate consequence if not done. But also gives you some leeway when life does fall apart. The nice thing is even when we have things comes up during the week we weren't planning, the boys usually see what still needs to be accomplished and work accordingly.

christinethecurious said...

Hi Christine,

This seems to be such a hard topic - we want to see our kids have time to follow their own interests, but they don't seem to have the developmental discipline to pull it off, yet how much scaffolding do we provide and are we keeping them from growing if we do?

I have heard from administrators at Federal Academies that homeschooled kids make terrific students in all areas accept deadlines and schedules. So I think this is something to put appropriate emphasis on.

I've gone through 5 different organizational structures with my 6th grader this year alone! We've finally settled on a system like we used when he was a young student: a pocket chart with cards he can move from the to do pocket to the done pocket. His daily work is printed out, I give him his weekly assignments as cards, and he is to show me his work as we go along. He decides what order and when to do the assignments, I just care that they get done before supper.

Picture and pdf download for the pockets here:

I've been reading the Charlotte Mason Book about habits that was a free download from Simply Charlotte Mason a few weeks ago, on that suggestion, I told my oldest boy that if he finished his daily work and portion of weekly work (he decides what order to do that in) before 5:30 in the evening , the balance of time was his to use as he pleased.

screen time is reserved for 1/2 hour in the evening if it's not educational, creative, or someone is sick and just needs to vege (that could be me!)

I've also cut back on my oldest boy's chores: he is growing of something and does not jump start in the morning. He still runs errands, watches his toddler sister, and does his own laundry, so I don't think that will hurt his character in the long run. I also (last week) began him having to put in 2 hours on Saturday, because he looses 2 afternoons a week to band practice at the local middle school, and just needs that time to get things done.

It's a tricky balance. He is old enough to resent my telling him what to do, young enough to blame me for not reminding him to do it!

We've also bought a kitchen timer and alarm clock. He has to show up to breakfast at 7:30 dressed and alert enough to eat, so he sets it for 7:20. Most of the time he's been awake since 6:30, just reading library books and unaware of time. The kitchen timer is so he knows when he can stop doing Latin (so he HAS to study to fill in the time after finishing the homework that isn't quite enough to learn everything) and when to STOP his math and flute that he loves to do and would spend all day on- never getting to language arts at all.

So far, the machines and mechanical reminders don't hurt his pride like Mom speaking up did.

My 1st grader still just follows the day, breakfast, chores, school, play time, lunch, story, nap/quiet play time (it's really for me and he knows it!) afternoon free time, supper, bath, story, bed.

My 2 year old has yet to sleep all night. But she puts up with her nap time if the crib is full of toys and books, enough to let me rest at quiet time and keep up with her more or less the rest of the day.

Miranda has a cool series on re-structuring her homeschool. They are an unschooling family in Canada with an emphasis on music and mathematics and travel. She has quite the chronicle going:

I think we all wrestle with this no matter what our homeschool philosophy or practice.

Christine in Massachusetts

christinemm said...

Thank you everyone. Keep the comments coming. The variety of responses is wonderful. I have so many ideas to choose from!

I am going to submit this blog post to next week's Carnival of Homeschooling and I hope there will be even more responses so check back if you want to hear other's ideas.

What was said about young enough to need to be told what to do and when but old enough to start to resent it is correct.

I also have an issue with this child wanting total silence when doing work. Maybe having him wake up early to an alarm would be good. I'm going to discuss this with him.

Both kids have complained I booked too many paid outside HS classes and activities last fall. We are home a lot this week and the kids love it. We usually are not self-isolating. We are just keeping busy here doing lessons and fun things. They are happy to also not do tons of errands for running around (for now at least).

Thanks again everyone.

Karen said...

A thought from my own observation and introspection on/for the procrastinators out there.

Do you find that you work better under a tight deadline? Perhaps the stress of needing to GET IT DONE NOW gives you a bit of an adrenaline push. As I can be this way myself, I wonder if it isn't realated to the under-stimulated brain patterns of ADD. The meds that are used to treat ADD are stimulants; perhaps some of us deal with it by waiting until the last minute when the task isn't such to help raise the level.

Shez said...

My kids are only 3rd graders, so what I do won't be relevant to you. However, everything you, and your commentators said, has relevance to me.

We've made no bones about the fact that we homeschool for academic excellence but that within that boundary, we want our children to have a stress free childhood. We want them to have a lot of free time. The only way for us to achieve this is for us to homeschool.

Right now my kids don't do a huge amount of work on their own. I still do an enormous amount of teaching and I suspect because of my particular philosophy that this system will continue in the higher grades.

Because they are still so young, I don't set weekly schedules for the kids, instead I set daily ones the night before. The kids know that they are on "school time" until everything on the list is checked off.

I sat down with the kids a few months ago and we went through each subject and how much we had to do to finish up the grade. We then chose an end date together. once we knew when we wanted to finish up with third grade we could then work backwards to work out how much work needed to be done each week.

The kids chose the end of May as the end date for the school year. In order to finish Shurley English the kids know that we have to do a chapter of 5 lessons each week. They know that if we miss a day and don't make it up, it is going to extend the official school year,

It's amazing how much of a motivator is. We had a lousy week and yesterday had 3 English lessons that had not been done. I was going to let one or two of them slide till next week but the kids held me accountable. They insisted on doing all three lessons yesterday.

I'm hoping that by encouraging participation in planning and by not letting them have any options about when to do daily schoolwork that my kids will be firmly entrenched in the school work groove by the time we reach middle school. However, you know what they say about the best laid plans.......