(Ali holding a color-it-yourself puzzle from Auntie Kandi)
A friend and I were talking about the challenges of homeschooling two different grades. Every mom I know who homeschools more than one child struggles with getting everything done and feeling like they are giving enough attention to each child. Lori and I were especially concerned about our oldest kids' getting their stuff done. And then I had a lightbulb moment! Both of our oldests are EXTREMELY motivated and organized little girls who can accomplish amazing things when they set their minds to it. Ali can clean the entire house and vacuum every room without even being asked if she is in a cleaning mood, and can somehow find the energy to color 20 or 30 pictures in a day if she feels like it. Ansley, my friend Lori's daughter, makes me laugh because she is so mature for her age and such a little mother to her siblings. One day when she was 7, she turned to her 5 year old brother Caleb and asked him who he was going to marry and what he was going to be when he grows up. He, being the typical boy, was like, "Huh?" She put her hands on her hips and said, in an exasperated tone, "I cannot believe you don't want to think about these things! These are important life decisions Caleb! Get your act together!"
So, with daughters like these, I wondered if we could somehow harnass their zeal and intelligence to help our school day run smoother! I suggested to Lori that we might make our lives easier by placing some of the burden of our kids' schooling on their own shoulders. Just as they are responsible for their daily household chores, we decided there are a few things that our girls can definitely do, without our help, to meet their schooling goals for the day. We each decided to sit them down at the beginning of the new semester and explain what they were in charge of for schoolwork. I made a little sign with Ali's 3 tasks for the day and hung it up. Lori made a chart of all the spelling lessons that she wants Ansley to do in order to catch up to her grade level.
So far, it's going really well. I used to feel torn between taking advantage of Ali's academic energy right after breakfast or getting dressed, doing some dishes, etc. and then getting to school. Now, I can do a little cleaning in the morning and get ready for the day, knowing that Ali is taking care of some basic things that are improving her everyday learning, and then we can jump in and do the lesson time together a little later, without feeling like we're already behind. One of her tasks is to read for 15 minutes, and the boys love curling up beside her to listen. I can be loading dishes into the dishwasher or fixing a meal when she's doing that and still help out with the occasional difficult word she is sounding out. Her other task is to do 2 worksheets in Explode the Code and to color 1 page in her Anti-Coloring book (which is an awesome coloring book that encourages creative drawing instead of just filling in a picture with color.)
Of course what works with first-borns may not work with our boys. Since my boys are very easily distracted, I think we will have to start with 1 independent learning activity they are in charge of doing each day when they are a little bit older.
Both Ali and Ansley are thriving under this system (so far) because they like having a game plan/map/schedule and it motivates them to get it done. Ali even does extra pages in her workbooks and reads extra minutes because she is enjoying herself!
If you implement this idea with your child, follow these tips:
1. Keep it simple so they don't feel so overwhelmed by a lengthy list that they give up.
2. Pick tasks that you are sure they can do on their own.
3. Praise them when they follow through on it! They will be encouraged to continue!
4. Make sure they are following through on it by checking their work and communicating with them about what they are learning.
Though this is a novel idea for newbie homeschoolers with younger children, like me, I'm sure that this is the main mode of operation for large families and folks with older children! So, if you are a pro and this is "old hat" leave me your tips in the comments!