Tools to make our Day Work

I’m doing a short series on looking back to our early days – days when I had little children.

You can read part 1:  Our beginnings – Homeschooling to Discipleship.

Let me recap the ages of our children in the first few years of homeschooling.

Year 1:  1998 – Josh was 4.5, Jess 3, Nomi 1

Year 2:  1999 – Daniel was born

Year 3:  2000 – Josh 6.5, Jess 5, Nomi 3 and Daniel 1

And so on it goes.  There is roughly two years between each of my children.

Here are four tools that I used to make our days work in these years when I had young children.

A Plan

You might call your plan a routine.  But I think it is worth separating the two ideas.  A plan is something that you can write up every day if need be.  A plan starts out being very clear at the beginning, it is intentional, it has direction.  A routine is equally helpful – it is what happens regularly, it is predictable.  A routine can be broken down to aspects of your day.  We have a morning routine, an afternoon routine and an evening routine and these aspects of our day have been fairly consistent for many, many years.

To write my ‘plan’ I had:

  • a list of lessons for Josh and Jess, these included the lessons that I wanted to teach as well as any independent work they could work on
  • a list of activities for Nomi, some of these were with me, some with her siblings, and some by herself
  • an expected (or hopeful) routine for Daniel – as a baby this doesn’t give much variety – eating, waking and sleeping!

I correlated, or paired up certain activities so I knew what each child would be doing at a certain time – e.g. I would do math and language arts while Daniel was a sleep and Nomi had room time.  I would do story time (FIAR) when Nomi could join us.   I would use Playschool (ABC TV) to keep Nomi occupied while I worked with Josh and Jess.  They would all go outside to play while I hung the washing, made phonecalls or did something from my to-do list.  I never just planned for our ‘homeschool’ students – I planned for our family life.  It had to work for all of us.

Of course life never, or very rarely goes 100% to plan but by knowing what activities worked for different children at the same time meant that if one got out of whack I could quickly and effectively tweak everyone else’s activities to match.  I also had to learn that some days my priorities just had to be different.  Some days Bible study, math and language arts was my priority, other days just getting everyone to be fed and to be loving and kind was my priority.  Recognising the priority for the family rather than for individuals helped me in these early days.

Using our Time Wisely

Though there are many ways that we taught our children to use their time wisely, the aspect that most helped our day go smoothly with little children underfoot was the combination of patience and punctuality.   A patient person will make the most of their free time and a punctual person will prepare for unexpected delays and be at the right place at the right time.  (These definitions both come from Character First).

If I was not available to my children (due to interruptions from other children, the phone or other tasks I had to do) I taught them to

  1. Go onto something that they could do by themselves (independent math, or another unfinished assignment)
  2. Read a book (and stay at their desks)

I found if they moved away from their desk, or away from the area where we were working, it took a long time for me to bring them to attention once I was ready to go again.  Teaching them to show patience and be punctual (and respect my time) has had a big impact on how our mornings go and how we handle interruptions and yet remain on task.

Independent Play

Another key for our day was to teach them independent play.  Each child – from a very early age – was taught and expected to be able to occupy themselves.  For some children this took a lot of practice and encouragement, for some of my children they loved it and took to time by themselves with delight.  I wanted my children to be able to play by themselves; to be content with their own company.  This started with cot-time and/or mat-time, grew into room time, we now have ‘time to yourself’.   When we were in training (that is, they were learning how to be by themselves for at least 30minutes though we aimed for 1 hour a day), we kept this time the same every day.  Once they had the skill down pat then I could say I need you to …… (have cot time, room time, reading time, etc…) any time of the day and they could do that.  The general guidelines for this time was that they couldn’t see me, couldn’t interact with anyone else, had a few toys or activities and had the timer on for the set time I knew they could do well.  Slowly we would stretch out this time to 1 hour a day.

Use the tools correctly

Daniel painting (if I remember correctly the others were inside working on math and reading at the time)

I found that if I taught the children how to use art supplies correctly we had less mess and more fun.  I gave them a process for every different art medium we used.

  • For stamping it was – push the stamp on the ink 1-2-3, push the stamp on the paper 1-2-3, repeat or if you are finished, rub the stamp on the damp cloth 1-2-3, and turn it upside down to dry and be ready for others.
  • For painting we had paint brushes for each tub of paint and they had 3-4 colours each.  They were taught to pull the brush out, wipe the extra paint off the side, paint in long smooth strokes, put the brush back.
  • For watercolour paints I taught them to wet the brush, and go round and round in circles withough squishing the brush on the paint disks, then paint gently, then wash out your brush and try a different colour.  I taught them if the water comes out dirty to go and empty their water cup.  They could do this themselves if they only filled it up 1/2 way.
  • For glue I taught them to put a little bit (repeat little bit – and you have to repeat that to them so many times!!) of glue on the piece going down.  Wipe it with your fingers (yes, we had issues with kids not liking to get fingers dirty but this was the one time where they needed to – it was my slowly stretching them to handle mess and yuck on their fingers).  We always had a damp cloth beside them to clean their fingers.
Once their activity was done they needed to at least help, if not put it all away themselves.  This was possible because each art medium had its own box and place in the cupboard.  Teaching the kids to use tools and medium correctly helps them respect your resources and gives them skills to actually create not make mess.

If I had blogged in these early days I probably would have noted other tools that I was using to help me in our homeschooling journey but these are the three that I see, as I look back now, were consistent in our days, and have grown with us as our children have grown.  We still have a plan, we still work with patience and punctuality, we still have independent time and we still learn to use things properly.  These things still make our day work.

Be Intentional

 Every week I'll email an encouragement to stay intentional and relational in all your family life.  But for now, download your set of reminder posters - posters which I've used over the years to remind me to keep my eyes and heart on what is important.

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