Friday, September 09, 2016

Schedules, Chores, and Homeschooling

Life is starting to feel on an even keel. After the craziness of the past eight months, it is a great relief to everyone. Let's just say, having a parent die, adopting two children with vastly different needs, losing two pets and gaining two new pets, a 2000-mile car trip, dealing with the fall-out from having been out of the country for three weeks, some post-adoption baby blues, some house remodeling, and one of your very best friends for the past 18 years moving away all happen in an 8 month or so time period is not recommended and difficult to navigate. You can see why any sort of schedule or routine fell by the wayside.

The trouble is most of us need a routine to function well. It's how our brains are wired. When you do things regularly, you stop having to consciously think about them. The brain power used to do these tasks get moved to a different part of the brain and that part of the brain just takes care of them without any effort. It's why doing things outside of the usual, seems a little harder. We have to think about them. Without a schedule, everything has to be consciously thought of and decided upon. It is fatiguing and not terribly productive. And that's for us adults. It is even more taxing and disregulating for our children. Children really do like to know what comes next. As tiring as having not routine is for adults, it is even more tiring and taxing for children. Tired and overwhelmed children find it difficult to regulate their emotions and actions, so their internal chaos translates into external chaos, adding to the fatigue of the adults. It becomes a vicious downward cycle.

I think this all explains why our first days of school this year have been so incredibly smooth. Far smoother than any other school start we've ever had. I think all of us are breathing a sigh of relief that we don't have to think about what we are doing, we just have to look at the chart and do what it says. Some years I have made more detailed schedules and some years I have made less detailed ones. This is a more detailed year. We have visual timers to help us keep track of time, and everyone now knows what they do in each segment. I also have plenty of play time built in, though it too is slightly structured. Up until the last half an hour when we all come back together to do history and science, I divided all of our cool learning activities into different categories. For a certain time period, a child is allowed to choose from a certain list of activities. This helps keep them fresh and solves the problem of too many people wanting to do the same thing. It seems to be working.

I've also made new and detailed job lists. There are our usual Saturday morning cleaning jobs, where each child is assigned a task and they keep that task through the whole year, and then there are daily tasks which rotate depending on the day. The beauty of having so many children who are all now older than preschoolers is that the job list for anyone person is pretty light. There are just more hands to help. Cleaning one bathroom (if that is what you were assigned) is pretty tolerable if you know that is your only major cleaning job.

(And for the curious, even my preschoolers have always had jobs to help, just jobs more at their level. Sweeping stairs, feeding the dog, dusting baseboards, etc. are the types of things they would do. By five or six, they can do more. The trick is, it might take a bit of time to teach them to do the jobs right, and you just have to accept that they will never be done quite as well as you would have done them yourself.)

This not to say we are slaves to our schedule. Life happens. Some days you just have to throw up your hands and head to a park.... or people are sick... or any other number of unexpected interruptions happen. It's not the end of the world, and sometimes it's fun to ignore the schedule. But there is a peace of mind that comes with not having to think every single minute about your day, even if you sometimes take a break from it. I even have an ideal schedule for my afternoons, after school is done, for myself, just to help keep me on track, so I don't forget what it was I wanted to do.

For instance, right now, my ideal schedule is telling me to get of the computer and make a meal and shopping list for the next week. So that's what I'm going to do.

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