Saturday, June 4, 2011

Time Management? First I Need Time in Order to Manage It.

I sometimes find home-schooling advice in unlikely places.

Marion Zimmer Bradley is one of my favorite authors for light sci-fi reading, and I loved reading her editorials to new writers. One thing she said over and over that’s stuck with me for 20 years is that if you want to write, you have to do it despite constant interruptions from children, expectations of dinner and overwhelming piles of laundry. Using those as an excuse isn’t acceptable. If you can’t write while carrying on a conversation with a toddler, then you need to try harder.  I think the same goes for homeschooling.

5 monkeys and 1 one mom. You do the math. It’s true that not all of my monkeys are young children, but another gem of advice MZB said was that, yes, little kids can be constant interruptions, but their problems are usually along the lines of “I want a pb&j sandwich.” Whereas the problems pre-teen, teen and young adult monkeys bring to you are less often but so much more emotionally draining. Oh boy, was she right!

One more thing that Marion said which also applies to the home-school mom: make prolific use of your crock-pot.

Of all the things I do well, time management is not one of them. Not even close. I say this as I sit here writing rather than thinking of dinner, doing the dishes, getting dressed or a dozen other things that should be done by now.

I’ve tried several methods over the years to help be a more productive person. Lists. Schedules. Dry erase calendars. Computer programs that make awful noises to remind me of things.

I could argue that I have logged more hours creating the lists and schedules than using them, and my husband would agree. It’s not an onerous task; I love making lists and schedules. One might say that I love making lists and schedules a little too much, but I can’t deny their effectiveness – if followed, that is.

One book I am incredibly glad a fellow home-school mom recommended is Managers of Their Homes (MOTH) by Steve & Teri Maxwell (, who at the time that they wrote it home-schooled all 6, or was it 7, of their kids.

It has a strong religious bent (and yes, I am a secular homeschooler) that should be taken with a grain of salt, but I’ve never found a better book on making schedules for a homeschool family. Some of our parenting techniques clashed big time (she is not the attachment parent/extended breastfeeding/natural whole foods foodie that I attempt to be), but she gives advice that I still use.

 A few good kernels I learned from MOTH, other books and personal experience:
  • Use MS Excel or another database program. It’s much easier to copy and paste when adjusting your schedule than erase and rewrite.
  • Break the day up into 30 minute chunks, which are easier to handle and divvy out.
  • Break your schedule up into days. I use a different page for each day of the week (no, I don’t make one for the weekends). Our Mondays look nothing like our Tuesdays. It was impossible to fit everything in at the same times everyday. So I prioritize and schedule the core elements in the most flexible time slots every day after I’ve plugged in our floating activities, such as co-op, scouts or park day.
  • If possible, have at least one main schedule for each day that has everyone’s itinerary on it. That way I don’t schedule an intense math lesson with Meme at the same time as I’m reviewing reading with Bobo.
  • With large families, kids must help. One of the most important lessons we can teach our monkeys is that we actually do have to work to be successful at anything. If your child does no chores, doesn’t help with his/her siblings and simply lounges around during all of their free time, the rude awakening they get when they step out of your house as an adult will be large indeed, and they may never recover.  Having your child do no chores does them a great disservice.

Here’s a sample schedule I made years ago when we only had 3 monkeys.

A pretty simple lay out. I love using colors to help read the columns more easily. 

Here’s another with more monkeys.

As the kids get older, I’ve tried both segmenting their days into half-hour chunks with different subjects and lumping them into 2 to 3 hour chunks of “school-work,” and I can’t tell you which method works best. It all depends on the child. Jojo does better with a whole list of things she should be doing, and then she one-by-one knocks them out. Meme likes knowing what she should be doing at what time. It’s 1:00 and you should be on your math work now, works best for her.

Most of all, be flexible. I can say that I spend all that time making a schedule and then never stick to it. It gives me a framework upon which to hang my day and something to refer back to when I can’t remember what we haven’t done, but I don’t have to stick to it no matter what.

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