What to do?
I've heard various opinions on when children should be basically independent in their learning and to what degrees, but the common theme is that independence is the goal for which we strive. I've commonly heard that a big transition occurs in second, third, or fourth grades. I've known admirable families in which, by high-school, the students are designing their own curriculum each year, within parental supervision, then managing their own time to do the work, meeting deadlines as needed. In the school-school world, this is a lesson not typically learned (if at all) until college, when many kids (more accurately: adults!) 'crash and burn' their first year when the onus is on them to manage their own time.
Recently I approached a friend of mine who has nine children and asked for the nitty gritty of how she does it. We got out her Scope and Sequence for all the schooling children, we got out her individual children's curricula. Here are some differences:
- I was teaching every single subject to each child. My friend has purchased curricula that can be learned independently by all her children above Kindergarten (after which they can read because that is her focus during Kindergarten).
- I was teaching fewer and fewer subjects because we couldn't fit it all in during the morning. My friend's same-aged children were learning more than mine and finishing by 11:30 a.m. (And I can see by her high-school aged children that they are all receiving--no, pursuing and achieving--a rigorous education.)
- I was spending several hours each weekend planning lessons. My friend sets one curriculum for the year and the child simply 'chugs away' at it all year round.
- I was stressed and upset about our progress each day. My friend is relaxed as she spends her mornings working at her other duties in the home.
I decided that just perhaps I should set aside my own ideals and listen to this more-experienced friend's wisdom.
I can't (and don't want to) change everything mid-way through the year; that would be very disruptive. Some of my curriculum choices are too beloved to me (e.g., All About Spelling) for me to change, even though it means my continuing to teach it. Others can be changed now or next fall.
The first week of the new plan, I spent 'holding the children's hands' and teaching them how to follow their new syllabi, how to check off their lists. There was lots of, "Okay honey, what can you do next? Look at your list and you tell me." "Alright, now you're done with Math, so show me how you check it off your list." The standards for my second grader becoming independent are higher than for my Kindergartner, but she happens to read and follow a list well, so she's more independent than I'd expect.
At the start of the second week, I announced to the children that I expected them now to follow their lists as best they could. I explained that I expected them to finish their work before 11:30 recess break and noon lunch. If they didn't, they'd be working in the afternoon, not me.
One way I'm avoiding being 'held hostage' in the afternoon is that I divided the children's syllabi into three sections:
- Start Your Day (Bible reading and prayer)
- Subjects You Should Complete with Mama (we do this first so it's done within an hour or so)
- Subjects You Should Complete Yourself (they can stretch this part into the afternoon if they want, but they don't want to!)
With my somewhat more relaxed mornings for the prior three whole weeks, I've been able to tend to work that normally eats up my afternoon.
- I've been completed with laundry (including folding) most days by noon.
- Complete meal planning and grocery shopping online (instead of doing it at five in the morning).
- Read books to the little ones!
- I've done extra cooking of "Mama's health nut food" (much more needed during pregnancy and not eaten by the rest of the family), such as baked acorn squash, white bean kale soup, and zucchini bake.
- Collect all the children's shoes and scrub off the mud, shining them brightly.
- Do "Magic Eraser" duty on the walls.
- Gather donations for Goodwill.
We're three weeks into this shift toward independence, which is bearing great fruit. The children's daily completion rate is now at 80-100%: an improvement! It also requires of me to be less controlling, less perfectionist--if I'm not going to be actively teaching each subject. This is good for my soul! I'm excited about what the spring of our school year will look like and additional changes I'd like to implement next fall.