Productive, Successful Homeschooling Days (Watch the Baby, Not the Clock)

Last night, I met to knit and chat with a friend and fellow homeschooler.  In between discussions of how to turn the heel of a sock without losing one’s mind, double-sided knitting with patterns to each side, and the like, we discussed our homeschooling adventures as of late.   We seem to both ask ourselves the same questions:  Did we have a productive, successful day? 

I ask myself this in some form each day, generally while looking at the boys’ planners and noting what is completed, what’s yet to be started, and what’s being utterly neglected.  And, many days, I judge the day’s productivity by how much is checked off.  Spelling, math, grammar, reading, science, typing, handwriting, piano, karate…  Yup.  We had a productive day.  Or, at least, a productive day on paper.  But those aren’t necessarily the days where I reach the magic bedtime hour of my younger thinking, “What a great day homeschooling my kids.  We were successful!”   Sure, sometimes a list fully checked off occurs on the same day I feel deeply satisfied with my choice to homeschool and the results of that choice, but not always.  Here are some highlights of successful days in our house:

  • A day my younger doesn’t throw a tantrum about work load, when he can play DS, the fit of his pants, or the crispness of his bagel.  He’s struggling with anxiety and perfectionism complicated by changes in his parent’s lives.  A day of relative peace that doesn’t include screaming and hiding under couch cushions (the child, not me)  is a major success lately.
  • A day my older plans his time well enough to feel satisfied with himself, completing assignments and finding blocks of time to pursue his own interests.  There aren’t many of these days now, but he’s on the road to better planning skills. 
  • A day a child follows his own interests and delights in the learning that occurs.  My younger, 9,  experiences this almost every day.  The world is still amazing to him, and following his current passions brings him joy.  His brother, 13, has spurts of this, most recently in chemistry and woodworking.
  • A day creativity blossoms, taking a child to new worlds.  Again, my younger experiences this more often.  Many a history lesson has led to a duct tape, fleece, and cardboard frenzy, followed by reenactments and revisions of history.  (“Mom, if I’d planned the crusades, I’d have done it this way.”  Better have an hour after hearing that line.) 
  • A day connections are made.  When the lesson on percentage carries over into a discussion about why lending interest rates are higher than saving rate, then to an understanding the risks of living beyond one’s means occurs, you can almost see the neurons firing.
  • A day my boys lose themselves in imaginative play for hours.  Together.  In relative peace.  My boys generally get along quite well together, but it’s in these times when they’ve created their own world and the characters in it, expounding on each other’s ideas, that I see that brotherly bond strengthening while they imagine away the hours.
  • A day a child tries something new, something hard, something he was sure he couldn’t do, and succeeds.  Whether that’s independent long division, making a bookcase from his own plans, or talking himself down during an anxiety-driven tantrum, these challenges met and conquered carry rewards for the child and for me.
  • A day kids pitched in, taking rather than shirking household responsibility.  My older excels in this area, although sometimes I know his acquiescence is driven by his desire to avoid other work.  I’ll take it.
  • A day a child delights in the company of a true friend.  My younger came late to successful social relationships, and watching him navigate friendship successfully just makes me smile.
  • A day a boy works to build more peace into his relationships, letting compassion rule.  The older they become, the more times I see this happen.  Concern and care for those younger than them continues to blossom, and my older is quite adept with small children.  My younger’s gaining ability to do the same, again making social gains that have been so challenging for him.
  • A day a child turns it around.  Many a morning, a boy grumbles and whines about going to karate/piano/the grocery store.  When that child can turn it around upon arrival or soon after, even noting that the lesson was not bad (and even fun!) I know success has been had.
  • Even those really rough days, the ones where everyone yelled, cried, despaired, and nearly threw in the towel, but no one quits and we’re better on the backside of the day than we were at the start.  Even those days are a success, although please don’t ask me about that during the yelling, crying, despairing, and the like.  We’re still learning together and hanging in, repairing relationships and learning resilience.

 By those measures, just about every day (okay, probably every one) is a successful homeschooling day.  While some may not be productive in the check-the-item-off-the-list way, they all have the capacity to be productive in more human-centered definitions.  As a La Leche League leader, I’ve told many moms to watch the baby not the clock when determining when to nurse.  In a time-centered, tangible accomplishment based society, clocks and lists threaten to be the rulers to which all is measured.  I’m guilty of falling into that trap, often many times a day.  When I turn my attention to the boys and away from the schedules and clocks, I’m far more likely to see the successes stacking up in ways no list could enumerate.  I’m also able to note their struggles before they turn to full-fledged battles and support their efforts in the items on the list above.

I still value productivity in the get-the-assignments kinda way.  After all, adult life is full of deadlines, regardless of the work one chooses.  Since both children have a fair amount of say in the subjects they study each year, I do expect them to follow through, even when it isn’t all fun.  As I say quite often to my older, it’s not all about fun.  Life can be deeply satisfying when you’ve worked hard at something, from jobs to chores to relationships.  These reminders are generally met with sighs that only the parent of a teen can truly appreciate, but often with another attempt at the task at hand.  Hey.  Persistance at an unpleasant, not immediately rewarding task.  That’s another mark of a successful day.

 What are your markers of a successful or productive homeschooling day?  Share away, and we’ll all have more ways to say hurrah come bedtime.


5 thoughts on “Productive, Successful Homeschooling Days (Watch the Baby, Not the Clock)

  1. Like you say, I struggle to put across the message that life is not all fun. So I guess our most productive days are when the kiddo applies himself even when he didn’t start off having fun and then discovers Voila! It’s really engaging stuff after all. It’s the sort of day where his eyes are all alight and he’s literally vibrating with the neurons firing all over the place LOL. And when he shares what he did with his buddies a week later, it’s then that I fully realize…OH! So THAT day a week ago was our most productive day of the week LOL.

    Great post as usual Sarah!

    • Suji, I so know that engaged look: the face, body, and mouth all go at once, connections and ahahs all over the place. Love it! Sharing the info with friends is another smile-maker for me. I think you can declare two successful homeschooling days for that one: one for the learning, and one for the sharing.

  2. Great post indeed.
    May I add that I take delight in a good joke made by my daughter (9)? A joke that tells me she makes connections, knows to use language and shows her way of thinking. When a joke like that shows how she is growing, I see home schooling and healthy living at work. That day I am deeply grateful.

  3. Hooray for a good joke designed by a child! That’s another one for the list, that’s for sure. And thanks for the links to the books on buddhism for children. A post about our meditation and yoga attempts is in the works.

  4. I have been asking myself that question a lot lately… and also asking how I might prepare myself to help those days happen. I’m still figuring out our routine and our curriculum. I’m still trying to figure out how to filter out the “you should” statements from well-intended (or not) friends and family. For me a good day seems to be when my kids enjoy learning something, when we all take time to read together, when we laugh and smile a lot. I’m having a hard time seeing unchecked lesson plans at the end of a day, but I’m working on it!

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