As any parent of schoolchildren knows, we often burst out of the gate in September, shined up and ready to put the pedal to the metal. But by the time winter comes, we’re feeling a little road-weary, and systems have either worn down or need to be engineered.
As for us, it was clear that our four-year-old needed more focus in the morning rush. But we didn’t recognize the extent of other problems — until we found the solutions.
Here are three adjustments that we made over the winter break that are making our weekday life easier.
1. Make a Clear Get-Ready-for-School Chart
Up to now our pre-kindergartener, Luke, didn’t so much as have a getting-ready routine as a crazy race. We had always used some kind of list or chart for our other kids, but I thought Luke needed something more hands-on.
I found an interactive chart, with tabs that kids flip up when they’re done, and decided to make it over the winter break. (See the tutorial on the Snickerdoodle blog.) It required more time and materials than our simple printable ones, but it’s definitely more fun.
Luke colored in the images. Here are similar chore chart graphics.
Since we’ve been using the magnetic checklists, both boys have been racing around to complete each task, so they could flip up the tab that says, “DONE.”
Such enthusiasm won’t likely last, but we’ll be able to keep pace with our usual teaching timer and marble jar. The most important part, I’ve found, is letting kids know what is expected of them and giving them a way to keep track by themselves.
2. Keep an Edited Sampling of Schoolwork and Artwork
Second up was dedicating some time to our system for saving momentos from the kids’ childhoods.
What we do is collect the best artwork, important memories, and a sampling of schoolwork in tiered baskets in a kitchen cabinet. The rest gets sent to grandparents with a monthly letter, or recycled.
Then at the end of the school year or calendar year, we put the papers in chronological order, do a final edit, and then hole-punch and insert everything into three-ring binders.
The key here is doing the binding once a year. I’ve seen how these piles can begin to landslide if you ignore them for more than a year. Sofia and Virginia have been helping me with their memories since they were in third and fourth grade, which is a huge help.
But I never seemed to find the time to tackle Mark’s pile, which got more daunting the longer I waited, until this winter break.
In a couple of sessions we got through two-thirds of his pile. He loved to look over these artifacts of his life, marveling at how he used to draw giraffes or how he used to spell autumn (“odum”). Class photos and 8×10 school portraits are in there too, and those are always fun to look back on.
The older girls treasure having these binders (now about three to four per child) as a record of their lives, so the effort pays off.
3. Find Quieter Nooks and Times for Doing Homework
I love the happy hubbub of all the kids together after school: Virginia playing Skater’s Waltz on the piano, Sofia doing homework at the dining table, Mark racing around with Lego tow trucks, Luke singing in weird voices in the bathroom, and Diana pulling all of the jars out of the cabinet.
But with the girls in middle school now, homework requires more concentration, which is challenging in our loud household. I too found it almost impossible to help Mark with his 10 minutes of daily reading in the 4pm to 6pm hours, when I also need to cook dinner and keep Diana entertained.
So we decided that Mark would be allowed to stay up later than his little brother and sister, to read with a parent when the house is quiet. What a dramatic improvement! Instead of dreading his reading practice, he now looks forward to it. And he was even excited to tell me when he got back to school in January that he’s now graduated to the next reading level.
As for our middle school girls, they had been asking for desks ever since we finished the attic and moved their bedrooms up there. This fall we talked about it again, and decided it was time. For Christmas, they got homemade gift certificates for desks, and in early January we shopped around and eventually found (at Ikea) just the right desks and chairs.
Both Sofia and Virginia are using their desks a lot — from writing thank-you cards to drawing to doing homework — and they say that it’s all easier without being distracted by their little brothers yelling ‘Guten-hog!’ or Diana drawing on the furniture.
Sure, I miss seeing them, but because this arrangement allows them to get their homework done faster, they have more time to pursue activities that give them pleasure and to hang out with us when they’re relaxed. And that’s makes it all worth it.