We have started back to school. I hesitate even to write that, as it sounds as though the children have only started to learn things again since summer began. Since they are learning things all the time, what it really means is that we're back to following a schedule. How this schedule looks changes radically from year to year. In my continuing quest for the perfect schedule...the one that will make me as fantastically organized as I fantasize about...I have tried many things. When the children were small, and there were fewer of them, I didn't really have a schedule. Life was less complicated and we could follow our interests, read lots of stories, make art projects, and play together...all before lunch. I'm sorry to say those days are over. From our structureless summer, I am all too well aware of what happens when too many children have too much free time. It starts out great. There is lots of play, reading, daydreaming, and various projects that happen. Children do creative things with free time. They put on shows on the 3rd floor, A. started a novel, the little boys built endless forts and block cities, M. decided on her own to continue her math curriculum, P. learned to read(!), and B. read and did a lot of outdoor manual labor for us. (Really, having those stumps dug out was one of the summer's highlights.) But as summer wears on, the novelty of free time begins to wear thin. More children are at loose ends. And from my experience, loose ends are often satisfied by pestering one's siblings. So, more bickering occurs, and more whining, and just general unpleasantness. I know fall is arriving when I start thinking about how nice a schedule would be.
Last year's schedule was a bust. I am embarrassed to admit that we never, not even one day, managed to follow it as it appeared on the chart in our hallway. It was far too cumbersome, with every child scheduled in 15 minute increments throughout the morning. I know some families are highly successful with that type of scheduling. We are not one of them. We needed something with a little (OK, a lot) more flexibility. I needed to be able to answer a child's question or take an important phone call without completely messing up the schedule. But we do need some sort of schedule. I need it to remind me what it is I hoped to accomplish and the children need it to answer the persistent and ever present question of, "What are we doing next?"
With all that, I'm proud to announce the success (so far) of this year's schedule. We have even managed to follow it for 2 days in a row. This is something of a record. There are two keys to our success. The first is that I have given priority to my youngest learners. In the past, I always focused on the most advanced child first, moving on down to the least. But by focusing on my kindergartners, I don't run out of time for them, they are happy to play by themselves for a while if they have had time with me first, and my oldest children are quite capable of working independently for an hour and a half without me. The second key is that I have scheduled more time than I actually need for any activity. If we end up with the whole time, that's great, we will be able to do a lot. But, if something happens...I need to change a diaper, take a phone call, answer a question, etc....all is not lost. With a workable schedule I am finding I am so much more relaxed. I do not feel as though the schedule is constantly pointing out my failure to keep to it. Instead, it is becoming the tool it is supposed to be. Oh, and the best thing? I have also scheduled in all of the children's chores. By the end of summer, life had become pretty lax and I found I was doing most of the housework myself. But no more! The work is more equitably shared and the house is (somewhat) neater.
In more immediate family news...P. celebrated her 8th birthday yesterday. I find that difficult to believe as she was just born a week or so ago. And, the big murder mystery party is tomorrow night. The girls have worked hard, bought their own food and supplies and are coming over tomorrow afternoon to clean my house. They are taking their duties as hostesses very seriously to the point that nearly all of them are having stress dreams about it. I'm sure it will go fine and be a terrific success.