Your Ideal Day: Making Time for What Matters Most.
I recently did a session at the Keystone Christian Educators Association annual conference on the topic of Your Ideal Day: Making Time for What Matters Most. It was a blessing to me to work back through systems I have created over the years for managing my days. For those interested in working through their own ideal day, I've posted the Your Ideal Day Workbook for download. You can access it here.
(The workbook has brief instructions included in it for how to use it.)
3 Weeks to an Organized Homeschool made it to the Best Homeschooling Books of All Time
Do your children freeze when given a writing assignment?
Try these ideas to help them to express their creativity and ideas without fear.
Writing is a necessary part of education. After reading, it will probably be one of the most necessary skills your child needs to know. Many colleges require essays on their applications. Almost every academic course your child will take will have papers assigned. And even beyond college, writing will always be an integral part of their life.
But sometimes children have a hard time when facing a writing assignment, especially on the elementary level of education. What can we as homeschooling moms do to help our children learn to love to write?
HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN LOVE WRITING
Most of my children love writing and will write for hours on a computer or in notebooks. One of my children wrote an entire novel when they were in eighth grade. But they didn't all start out that way. I had several "reluctant" writers who acted like I was asking them to pull a mission impossible when they were given a writing assignment.
How can we take children from reluctant to really excited about writing?
The first step is to realize that writing is not a singular activity; there are multiple sets of different skills that add up to the process of writing.
For example, writing requires thinking up what you are going to write (idea creation), arranging those ideas in a logical order (organization), figuring out the order of the words (grammar) and how to spell them (spelling), actually writing those things down on paper (handwriting) and then rearranging them or strengthening them (editing), making sure there are no errors (proofreading), and then making a final, polished copy (publishing). Often it also requires a performance of some kind (reading what you just wrote in order to share it with an audience).
When a child balks at writing, there is probably some point in the writing process where he runs up against the rock-hard wall of one of these items and mentally freezes in dismay. The key to helping that child is to first isolate those problem areas, then to allow him to slowly adjust to them with your assistance in those areas, and finally to encourage him towards independence in writing.
Let's break that down.
1. Idea Creation
If your child tells his stuffed animals or younger siblings stories, if he enjoys narrating his dreams, or if he can re-tell a movie with a scene-by-scene replay, he should not have trouble with idea creation. However, even professional writers occasionally get writer's block. What can you do to help?
You can offer story prompts, such as "I bent over to pick up a bright yellow feather off the ground and to my surprise. . . " For very young children you can offer sentence starters, or stories that you have written with blanks to fill in.
2. Organization of Ideas
One of my sons came to me last night with a notebook and showed me a plot outline for a very exciting Revolutionary War era story. He explained to me that he was practicing plotting, and described to me the various parts of a plot. Although only in sixth grade, he already loves writing, spending hours with pen and notebook.
But not every child loves the organizational aspects of writing like this. Some need prompting. For stories, you could walk them through their idea, asking questions in order to help them number the events. For non-fiction writing, like essays, give them a clear outline that they can always follow. For younger children, this may be as simple as an opening sentence stating the main point, two supporting details, and a closing sentence. For more complicated writing projects, teach your child to mind map. Writing the ideas in random order on a piece of paper and then drawing circles and lines between ideas to indicate relationships may be exactly the creative prompt and organization help your child needs.
Especially for very young children, this is likely where the real challenge lies. They have lots of ideas, but the process of getting those ideas down on paper is tricky. There are so many possible sinkholes, and the journey is far too long for children whose normal attention span is short.
You can help them with this by taking the weight off writing through dictation. I recommend starting children in writing at a very young age by allowing them to dictate to you while you type or write down their words. You will be flabbergasted by the creativity that flows from their young minds when the weight of physically writing is lifted from them. And don't worry that this will last forever! I find that this step often lasts only a short time, depending on the age of the child. They learn to enjoy the process so much that they start wanting to do it on their own.
In fact, content creation is a creative activity, but grammar and spelling are actually editing activities that are primarily analytical. Creativity and editing are accomplished by two different parts of the brain, and most writing experts will encourage you not to mix the two. I would be very cautious about pointing out spelling errors or grammar errors during the creative process. Teach your child to spill his creativity on the page without worrying about those things, and then come back later to edit his work. Often people experience a mental block while writing because they are trying to accomplish too many different activities at once. Break it down and the words will finally start to flow.
Definitely do not require your child to have perfect handwriting while writing their first draft. That can stunt a child's desire to write. Handwriting is a physical activity requiring coordination that young children often lack. If your child struggles at all with handwriting, save it for handwriting class and allow her to write freely for writing activities. Also consider typing your children's writing for them. This will remove the handwriting aspect entirely.
4. Editing and Proofreading
Our homeschool curriculum does a beyond-excellent job of breaking the writing process down for children. (Thank you, BJU Press!) They teach every part separately and thoroughly, beginning with idea creation, mind mapping, and organization, and continuing all the way through to the final steps of editing, proofreading, and even publishing.
Though often lumped together, editing and proofreading are not the same activity. Editing involves anything from rewriting or switching the order of whole sentences to finding more vibrant words to use. It often requires the use of a thesaurus. It may help you to think of editing as a second draft.
The final draft is proofreading, and that requires checking the spelling in a dictionary, fixing any capitalization or punctuation errors, and correcting any other small mistakes.
Now is the time to pull out the handwriting skills (or typing skills), add pictures or whatever else they want to include, and make a clean final copy. Help them to write things they are proud of! Keep their writing in a binder so they can go back and re-read their work. Children love to do this and looking at a binder full of their own stories can help them own the title of writer.
Teens or older children could even publish their work online for a wider audience reach. Those who are very interested in writing could start their own blog or website, which would teach them even broader skills related to writing and publishing and help them reach a wider audience for their writing. Through Amazon or other self-publishing platforms, you could take your child's longer works (such as a completed novel) and make a paperback copy of it as a keepsake, or perhaps even publish it online, depending on the quality of their work.
Children don't need to perform all their work, but doing this will encourage them to be willing to share their writing. Even just reading it aloud to the family will help them overcome shyness and promote confidence. But if you can add non-family members, such as a homeschool group, you will take this to a higher level.
Try to let them progress at their own rate for this. . . allow them to observe others first before doing it themselves. Some children are naturally good at performance and love the attention while others wither under it. Be sensitive to your child's personality, but encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone. And always create a supportive atmosphere for their performances.
INFORMAL FUN WITH WRITING
One last idea for helping your children to enjoy writing is to make it an informal activity.
There will be time for formal essays and stories, but if your child truly balks at writing, try just making it fun!
In addition to the ideas above, which are best used for more formal writing education, give them times of writing where they don't need to do any of the editing, proofreading, or other formal activities related to writing. Let them just write, in much the same way they like to sit down and draw or color. Let it be a completely creative activity with nothing required at the end but fun.
Try some of these ideas:
There are so many exciting ways to make writing fun for your children! Don't let writing intimidate them. As a homeschooling mother you have the wonderful opportunity to help them learn to love to write.
A home that always stays clean is either a myth or a fairy tale. However, it is possible to never (or rarely) wake up to chaos!
When you are homeschooling and your children are home all day (or if you are running them around town to all their activities and co-op sessions), your home can quickly go from tidy to chaotic.
Don't let this stress you! View this as normal. Whoever said that the key to happiness is low expectations is mistaken. However, contentment often comes on the heels of realistic expectations. I've found that if I have high expectations of cleaning my home and it still being clean six hours later, I'm frustrated if it isn't. But if I expect there to be normal wear and tear going on all day long, I'm content with a certain level of chaos.
But contentment doesn't mean we sit back and allow it to continue.
Contentment means we calmly address the disorder at the correct time.
Now, as much as I cherish a clean, tidy house, I cannot walk around behind my kids all day long, picking up their strewn belongings. Nor do I want to be a nag.
On the other hand, I'm not content to wake up in the morning to absolute chaos.
So here's what I do about it.
Don't Wake Up To Chaos!
I have found a three-part solution to keeping the chaos at bay.
This is important to me, because chaos and clutter is amazingly distracting. In order to be able to focus on my work and to experience peace and joy, I need a certain level of order.
Part One: Nightly clean up.
I start at night. Before going to bed, I try to make sure certain jobs are done. The dishes must be washed. The kitchen must be somewhat tidy. The laundry must be clean, folded, and given to my children to be put away. There are other jobs I like to have done, and depending on our circumstances, I aim for: bedrooms clean, bathroom wiped down, hallway empty of piles, and dishes dried and put away. I would love to say that I go to bed every night with a thoroughly clean house, but that would be a fairy tale. But I rarely go to bed when my house is in absolute chaos.
Part Two: Morning Chores.
In addition to cleaning up before heading to bed (and I'm not a night owl, so that means it’s a stretch for me), we have several times when we work together as a family to tidy up the house. The first of these times is during our morning chores.
In our house, chores are not distributed just for the purpose of giving our children something to do. I've portioned out the most important things that need to get done every day in order to maintain the household. That means everybody has a chore in the morning that directly contributes to household management. My children take out the trash, carry down the laundry, take care of the cat, sweep the upstairs hallway, do a quick wipe down of the two bathrooms, and make breakfast. (This is evenly distributed: each person has one chore that shouldn't take more than 5-10 minutes.) In addition to this, we work together to put furniture in place, clean off coffee tables, put away scattered music, and clear the floors of toys, balls, and skateboards. Thankfully, there usually isn't much to do in the morning because of…
Part Three: Evening Clean Up.
We have a second, similar clean up late in the afternoon or early evening, often after dinner. We put away all the homeschool materials and books, musical instruments, and toys. Clean clothes are put away. Books are shelved. Games are finished and put away. (Are we the only family with board games going on practically 24-7? Unless it is Axis and Allies, I prefer it not to be left out overnight.)
In addition to these three quick-cleaning times, we also have a policy of washing dishes immediately after every meal. With no dishwasher, this is a big task. But it has to be done, so why not right away? I find that the kitchen is not only the heart of the home, it is the also the thermometer of my homemaking diligence. If it is clean, the rest probably is too. If it is a mess, you don't have to peek into closets to know they are likely a mess too.
These are our cleaning times. Over the years, as my family has grown (both numerically and in the physical size of bodies), the Lord has had to give me more and more grace to close my eyes to messes that arise in between. I do ask my children to put their toys away if they have moved on to a new activity, but I don't stress over it in general. This is part of a balanced life: choosing to focus on certain things at certain times and ignoring them at all other times.
And this is the system that helps me--and can help you--to never wake up to chaos.
Start by asking yourself what the non-negotiable chores are for your home--the chores that make the biggest difference. Is there a way you can divvy them up to your children? Or are there tasks you can do right before bed or early in the morning so that they are off your plate for the rest of the day?
Plan in at least one (or up to three) 5-10 minute clean up times each day. (If this is new to your family, start with one.) What are good times to do this? Right before or after a meal is great, since the whole family is usually already congregated together at those times. Choose a time of the day when you and your children are not on low battery power so you can avoid melt-downs. (Another reason to choose a time following a meal.)
Whatever time you schedule for this, tie it to another activity so it gets done every day! For instance, you could do it right before Daddy gets home from work (so he can enjoy a peaceful evening) or right after (so he can help oversee it). Or you could do it right before outside play time (so the kids get it done fast instead of dragging their feet). Or right after morning snack time. These are all logical times to take a quickie time-out from homeschooling to do a bit of tidying.
Put on some fun music or an audio drama while everybody cleans. Follow them around and supervise. It helps if I hand someone an item and tell them exactly where they are to put it. ("This goes in the pink basket on the bottom shelf of the hallway closet.") Remind them it gets put away, not just dropped at the top of the stairs or on the floor of someone's bedroom. When done, thank them for their help. Your family is a team: you play together, eat together, and work together. Each person's help and presence is needed and blesses the team as a whole.
It's no fun at all to wake up to chaos. Thankfully, you don't have to! Wake up to a tidy home tomorrow morning.
"Pay yourself first" is a commonly touted financial proverb that can also apply to time management.
Financially, paying yourself first means that the first portion of your money (after your tithe) goes into savings. Financial advisers know that the person who watches their savings account increase will also be the person who is paying off debt and carefully watching their spending.
They also know that if we wait until the end of the month or paycheck period to see if we have any money left we can save, there likely won't be any.
But money management and time management have a lot in common: both get consumed to their limit. Parkinson's Law says that our work expands to fill our time. Deadlines are to work what a budget is to money.
Therefore, just as we should squirrel the first bit of our money away for saving (generally by direct deposit, so we aren't tempted to circumvent our plan), we should also squirrel away the first bit of our time.
This is why mastering our mornings is so vital! We must do the most important things first.
What are the most important things?
Everyone will have different items on their VIP (Very Important Plans) task list. Here are mine, just as an example:
A non-negotiable. I'm a sinner by nature; without the Word of God transforming me each day, I'm even worse. I need it more than I need anything else in my life, so this is my number one.
If I fail to plan, I plan to fail. To win my day, I must plan it out. I need to know my most important and most urgent tasks of the day. I need to know what I'm cooking and defrost meat. I also need to know what is coming up in my life so I can prepare for these events.
In order to accomplish everything else in my day, I need the energy and stress relief I get from exercise. If I don't do it early, it probably won't get done.
Writing is a creative task. I can do laundry, cook, and clean my house on autopilot, but I can't write on autopilot. Writing requires all my mental synapses to be firing. The very best time for me to write is immediately after exercising. I've learned this through massive amounts of trial and error, so this is what I do if I want to be productive.
I have a few tasks I start even before breakfast. Laundry is one of them. In an effort to automate my life (which is what I need to do in order to run a semi-clean home and provide clothes and food for my family without interrupting our regularly scheduled programming), I plan to start laundry early in my day and keep it going by checking in on it regularly. I also try to defrost meat, clean my bedroom, and oversee my children's chores (which are the tasks which most need to be done each day in order to keep my home functional).
6. Get ready for the day.
This means dressed to my shoes, shower, hair, makeup. If I am doing a massive housekeeping project that day, I might stay in my workout clothes for a few hours. Never my pjs. Never. Nobody is truly productive in their pjs. Frankly, I'm not even productive in my workout clothes, so even this is super rare.
How can you pay yourself first when it comes to your time?
Make a short list of your VIP tasks. Don't start with mine; you need to create your own. Also, don't make a long list. If you are new to paying yourself first, start with one item. Two at the most. You need to set yourself up for success!
Think through your morning schedule. What time will you need to get up in order to accomplish these tasks before moving into your normal daily life? Right now, set your alarm for tomorrow at that time. Make that time a non-negotiable. Even if you are tired when your alarm goes off, roll yourself out of bed. Don't use snooze. Your body will adjust; just plan to go to bed early tomorrow night.
Prepare for tomorrow as if your life depends on it. Because it does! Our lives are just a vapor, quickly vanishing away. If we want to redeem the time in this present evil day, we have to be proactive. Those who fail to be proactive end up fiddling their life away.
I find that having a rock-solid plan for the morning—a mental model of what my morning should look like—allows me to set myself up for success the night before. I fill the coffee pot at night, lay out my exercise clothes, mentally sort through my tasks and appointments for the day, plan out my meals, and do a swift walk-through of my house so I don't wake up to chaos. It only takes a few minutes to do these things, but it effectively leverages my time.
Start now! Use this free worksheet to make a plan to master your mornings.
How can you find mirror time in the midst of your busy life?
Did you have time this morning to look in the mirror?
As a college student, I would spend (confession!) far too much time in front of the mirror. Becoming a mother cures you of excesses like that. Babies have needs that become far more of a priority than primping. When you have twins (like my youngest children), your time getting ready for the day gets squeezed down to the narrowest sliver. Occasionally, I'd happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, choke back a feeling of horror, but be immediately distracted by the needs of my babies, family, or home.
Unfortunately, this happens to us not just physically, but also spiritually.
As a homeschooling mom, you may find that in addition to forgetting to check yourself in the mirror, you are also forgetting to check yourself in the mirror of God's Word. When was the last time you picked up that precious book and read it? Do you have time for everyone in your life but God?
Or maybe you've read it, but you were like me… So quickly distracted by the needs of your family that you walked away unchanged, quickly forgetting what you just saw in its pages.
Reading the Word of God and failing to apply it to your life makes us hearers and not doers. We deceive ourselves when we look into the Word of God, see problems in our lives, and then walk away completely unchanged and forgetting what kind of woman we are.
In Luke 6:47-49, Jesus compares hearers and doers. Those who both hear the Word and do it are like the man who lays the foundation of his house deep in the earth on solid rock. When floods rise, that house stands solid. Those who hear the Word of God and do nothing are like a man who builds his house on shallow ground with no real foundation. When floods rise, that house is swept away.
In Luke 8:14, Jesus has another description for us, this time of the man who hears the Word, but allows it to be choked out of his heart by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world. His heart is like thorny ground; seed scattered by the sower has no hope of growing to maturity before it is choked out by the thorns.
What is the antidote for this problem?
We must look into the mirror of God's Word, allow it to reveal to us the ways we need to change, then walk away applying that change.
We can't leave the mirror unchanged. We must be doers and not hearers only.
When we do this, James says, we will be blessed in what we do.
But what if we don't have much time?
When I had infant twin boys, I discovered that there were ways for me to get ready for my day in--literally--minutes. I couldn't walk around ungroomed. My husband and I were dorm parents for about 12 dorm men and I had a multi-family homeschool that took place in my home. I had to be company ready at all times.
So I found a hairstyle that didn't require much time, and I pared my makeup down to a quick application of lipstick and blusher. I could be ready for my day in two minutes. My college roommates would be shocked.
There will be times in your life where you don't have the ability to spend hours in the Word of God. The point, though, is not the amount of time but the presence of change. You can still walk away from your devotional time changed, even if you only read one chapter that day. Ask God to show you a way to apply Scripture to your life and then take that through your day with you, forcing your mind back to it several times throughout the day.
You will be blessed in what you do.
About the Author
Hi, I'm Laura. I've been homeschooling for over ten years. I have six children and I'm married to my best friend.
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