Every week I have this great intention to give you tips on scheduling your day. Every week, as I’m writing, something related hits me.
First, it was letting God lead (because He’s in charge of our day anyway). Next, it was how to do devotions (because that’s first on the schedule). Today, it’s developing self-motivated children. And that relates to schedules as well. How?
Well, it’s all about autonomy.
Here’s the thing: We want our children to be completely in charge of their schedule by the time they leave our home. When my children went off to college, they never called to ask which classes they had to attend each day. They never asked me when they should eat lunch. They didn’t even ask me which classes they should take next semester.
They were completely in charge of their schedule. This was easy for them. After all, my children had been in charge of their schedule for many, many years before they got to college.
They had learned autonomy under my roof. At young ages.
Sadly, many kids enter college and don’t know how to run their own lives. They’ve never been allowed to (with current educational model thrust upon children in institutional schools). With two college graduates and two more coming this spring, I’m so thankful I began them on the journey to autonomy early in their lives.
Keep in mind that as homeschooling parents, we should begin as we mean to go on. For example, think about what your children need to succeed in this world. The ability to do much for themselves. To do everything for themselves. We should align our homeschool to model that for them. We should begin today as they will need to go on throughout their lives.
Today, consider what it is you’re doing for your children that they can and should do for themselves. What things are you doing that they’ll need to be proficient doing for themselves as adults? We must make it our goal to give our children the teaching and direction to begin doing these things for themselves now, while they are small, so it will be second nature to them when they are in high school and beyond.
Before I explain how I started the progression of autonomy, let’s talk about why it’s so important.
It all comes down to the idea of self-motivation.
Charlotte Mason calls this concept Masterly Inactivity; she encourages us to give our children a great deal of independence to read, learn, study, exercise free time, and live out their day. This doesn’t preclude our involvement. No, we are the master, yet we are choosing to exercise inactivity and allow our children freedom to make many choices, even to make mistakes that we could have helped them avoid. We do this because we learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes, and we especially learn more from our mistakes than we do from allowing someone else to fix them for us.
The author of the book The Self Driven Child explains that autonomy, the sense that your life is your own, is an absolute essential in developing self-motivated children.
Modern research reveals the less control a child has over his life, the less he operates using the prefrontal cortex. When someone else makes most of the decisions for him, including what and when and how he should learn, the amygdala takes control, leading the child to become anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, easily upset, and unmotivated.
Basically, when a child is in control of his life, he is in his right mind mentally and physically.
This wisdom, so neglected in the modern educational model, is ancient and proven. John Locke, one of the fathers of childhood education, says,
“Of the natural qualities which children possess, curiosity and liberty seem to guide the young pupil most. Liberty here does not mean a complete absence of restraint, but it does entail a sense of independence in action. Children want to show that their actions come from themselves and that they are free.”
Our children will become more self-reliant as we give them greater opportunity to exercise a sense of autonomy over their lives.
The best and safest way to begin this process is by giving them some control over their daily schedule. Each year, this control increases as wisdom and maturity grow. And children who exhibit self-initiative should be rewarded with even greater autonomy.
I’ll explain how I began this progression with my own children.
START WITH A WHITEBOARD
I began with a whiteboard. On it was a column for each child who could read (when they learned to read, they could read to learn) and a checklist of what they must complete each day.
My children would simply make a check mark beside each school item in their column after it was completed. We began with a daily list then upgraded to the entire week of work. I would include smaller check boxes for the number of days something was expected to be completed. For example, if spelling was to be done three times a week, there would be three check boxes under the word “spelling.”
The children could decide when and in what order they would complete their assignments. I didn’t write the lesson number on the whiteboard as I expected my children to know which lesson was to be completed next.
Sometimes, it was a matter of completing what they had started the day before, and this was okay because I made lessons short—an important scheduling factor—and a part of their learning model. Two short lessons completed over two days was more effective than one long lesson. I’ll talk about short lessons in next week’s newsletter blog.
AVAILABLE WITHOUT HOVERING
Obviously, if a child had questions or didn’t understand directions for an assignment, I was available for help. But oftentimes, I was teaching a younger child the necessary skills to become autonomous like the elder siblings.
Incidentally, my youngest child was eager, competitive, and autonomous almost immediately. She later told me she wasn’t homeschooled, but rather self-schooled. I couldn’t agree more. It’s no wonder she had already worked as a software engineer for a startup company before she even graduated from college with her computer science degree.
Below is an example of what my whiteboard looked like for daily or weekly work.
This is a sample of what our schedule may have looked like. The first part of the morning was morning basket and learning that we all did as a family. They then did Independent work. After lunch was outdoor time and then possibly a family read aloud. Projects or experiments were usually done in the afternoon. Their father often, but not always, read their history or geography book in the evenings before bed.
FAMILY LEARNING TIME
On the family learning list were things we would do together: read-alouds, science experiments, or history projects. Included were the approximate times we would do them. My children had to employ the skill of managing their work accordingly.
If I interrupted their individual work because it was time for a read-aloud or project, that was fine. If they really wanted to finish the chapter or lesson, I would sometimes give them a few more minutes.
We were free-spirited but scheduled. Orderly without being insanely routine.
What if my children wanted to do all their math for the week on Monday? Maybe that’s not the ideal manner in which to learn, absorb, and memorize math, but autonomy—the need that develops self-motivation—is far more important than math any day.
So let it be.
What if my son wants to complete all his schoolwork for the day before the family wakes up? I knew a kid who did this. He’s now a pastor and has a wife and kids. It didn’t ruin him to exercise his autonomy by completing academics apart from the family.
But autonomy helped him choose his career path, wife, and a wonderful life. That was far more important than mom’s ideal idea of what the homeschool day looks like.
For various reasons (one being the competition this engendered in my children which didn’t serve our family unity), I moved to printing up individual check sheets. They looked almost exactly like the whiteboard but were a single column for each individual child. At the end of the day or week, the check sheet was handed to me by the child.
CHECK THEIR WORK
I also gave my children the responsibility to check their own work. They had access to the teacher’s manual in math or any other subject that required one.
When I explained this system to another homeschool friend, she was aghast. “My children would cheat and change their answers!” she told me.
I never experienced this issue. First, honesty was highly valued in our family. We talked about it regularly. It was one of the first habits we trained. My children had a deep inward desire to be honest. Second, I empowered my children with ownership of their education and let them know that their learning didn’t benefit me, it benefited them to pursue the future God had for them. Third, my children had no reason to cheat and lie since they would be the only ones who found out.
They understood that their work was their own. The progression in their knowledge and understanding was their own personal accomplishment. The end result was who they became as scholars and that was something they owned.
They had a vision for their lives. A vision for their future. And we imparted that vision to them.
As the Word tells us in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.“
The opposite is also true. With a vision, our children will restrain themselves to do the hard things, to work diligently, to pursue the plan and purpose God has for them. Their education is their own. We must hand it over to them. Empower them do well with the responsibility of it.
Your children should not be learning for your accolades, your approval, your commendation, your words of encouragement. They should be learning and growing in strength of knowledge for themselves and for God.
It’s all for His glory, every bit of it.
GIVE CHOICES WITH CURRICULUM
Another way to encourage a sense that their life is their own is by allowing your children some freedom of choice when choosing curriculum. When you go to curriculum fairs or research online, let them choose the subject matter they’ll study. Will it be American History? Ancient History? Astronomy? Zoology? Give them a list of literature and let them read the summaries of each story and choose which they’ll read individually. Let them have a say so in their learning.
John Locke instructs us,
“If children were forced to play, they would grow weary of it in the same way that they tire of study when forced to learn. It is not any particular action that can become irksome to a child, but the denial of liberty and the use of force.”
Give them freedom in their learning and they’ll embrace it as their own. This develops the self-initiative that will sustain them for life.
By the time your children are in high school, they should even be able to create their own course of study to garner the credits needed for their transcript. But that’s another topic all together. I cover that well for your student in My College Road Map which can be purchased on Amazon.
And that is how we schedule self-motivated children.
If you are looking for a planner that keeps you focused on what truly matters as a homeschool parent, look no further than my Heirloom Planner. It has been dubbed the “Baby Book of Homeschooling” because it will certainly become a treasure trove of memories chronicling all these beautiful days, months, and years.