Monday, October 18, 2010

Teaching Children to be Self-Sufficient

Teaching children to be self-sufficient fosters homeschool organization several ways. It teaches them time management and personal organization skills. The more time we spend telling our (older) children what to do next, the less time we spend helping them understand the Pythagorean Theorem (don’t worry, teacher’s books help!). The more time we spend putting things away ourselves, the less our children learn about putting things away themselves and the less time we have for more important tasks.

Homeschoolers are notorious for extending deadlines (if we even set them). Yes, we do have that flexibility as homeschoolers, but unfortunately, what that teaches our high schoolers is that deadlines aren’t important. College professors aren’t so lenient when term papers are due. Bosses aren’t nearly as understanding about undone work as we moms are. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to our children in the long run to teach them about the importance of deadlines and managing their time while they’re still living with us? After all, we’re teaching them other skills they need for the real world such as math and writing. If this is an area in which you personally struggle, perhaps you can work on your own schedule while your teenager works on hers.

One way to help children become more self-sufficient is to print (or write) out an assignment schedule for them every week. I would suggest starting this somewhere between fourth and fifth grades. At this age, children are capable of reading the list each day, completing assignments, and checking them off. Handling their own assignment lists teaches children time management skills and gives them a sense of ownership over their days. This means that we have to be organized enough to have the schedule done ahead of time and ready every Monday morning. It may take more work on our part to write out the exact spelling, handwriting, and math lessons that are to be completed, but it will be worth it in the long run. By the end of this past school year, my then-sixth grader was able to work through most of her subjects on her own without asking me what was next.

In addition to printing out a schedule each week, I also made sure that all of the necessary papers for the week were in each child’s binder in the to-do side of the appropriate folder. Younger children will still need help with projects, and the subjects done as a family obviously fall into a different category. I like to think of homeschool moms more as coaches or guidance counselors; we’re there to teach and to direct as needed, but we’re not there to spoon-feed our school-aged kids.  Part of the parenting, and therefore homeschooling, process is learning how to let go gradually so that our children can mature. It’s not easy, but it is necessary. Here are a few real-life examples.

One of my children (the high schooler) is a procrastinator. Last year, I gave her the freedom to do certain subjects, such as art and geography, whenever she wanted during the week as long as the assignments were completed by Friday. So, what happened when stuff came up during the week and she didn’t have time (her words; mine were more along the lines of she didn’t feel like doing it) and her work wasn’t done? Consequences. She didn’t get to sleep over at her friend’s house. She had to get up early to do her work on Saturday instead of going to a fair with another friend. We’re still working on time management skills at my house, so don’t be discouraged if your children need more than one lesson in it.

Let’s take a brief look at organization skills. How often do we put things away ourselves just because it’s easier? That’s what I thought: too often. What does this teach our children? It teaches them that they don’t really have to clean up after themselves because eventually Mom will get tired of seeing those books (or whatever) lying around and put them away herself.

This is another life skill that won’t be automatically acquired when your kids move into college dorms for the first time. It needs to be taught now. I don’t know about you, but when I was in college, I wasn’t interested in putting away my roommate’s stuff and her mom didn’t live with us. When I worked at an outside job, my boss didn’t put stuff away for me or remind me more than once to put it away myself. If I’d been a total slob and never cleaned up after myself, I probably would have been fired.

Our homeschools are a training ground for real life. If we haven’t taught our children how to plan their time wisely, they won’t know how. If we don’t enforce deadlines now, our children won’t suddenly know how to meet them in college. If we don’t train them to put their belongings away properly and to organize their stuff in their bedrooms and desks in our homes, they’re not going to start the minute they walk out of our doors. Let’s teach our children organization skills for life and free up our own time for more important concerns.

One last thought: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NKJV).

This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2010 edition of Home School Enrichment magazine, in my regular column, "The Organized Homeschool."