If you have children, you’ve probably noticed that flexibility is a helpful tool for parents. It seems like something is always shifting, someone’s schedule needs to be tweaked, some new phase is starting. This on-your-toes-keeping can be fraught with drama (when it comes to my family, it would be shorter to list what isn’t fraught with drama) but it’s such a sweet victory when you finally figure out something new that works, right?
This year, with three small scholars of different levels around the table, plus one noisy and busy baby in the mix, school was getting a little wild. It was hard to listen to one child read out loud while another needed help with grammar and the third couldn’t figure out the instructions in the math book. Attempting to do everything all at once, while in theory the most productive way to get through our work, turned out to be too noisy and too competitive and too exhausting.
Seriously, the one-room-schoolhouse teachers of yore–how did they do it?!
I have read a lot about keeping kids’ tanks filled and treating them as individuals, and I think I’ve done a passable job at one-on-one time with each kid as our family grew, but I never thought to apply that to school work. Then I read something about what a big difference even a 15 minute connection can make in a relationship. So I decided to try that as a stress release during our school day.
Enter Office Time.
I decided to give each child 15 minutes of individual school time each day in my office. The kids aren’t usually allowed in there, so it was a big deal. And the 15 minutes turned into 30 minutes, or even longer. The kids bring in their individual work–grammar, writing, spelling, reading, individual math instruction–and we go through it. It’s AMAZING how much easier this is when they have my undivided attention (why yes, I did just read a book about how multitasking isn’t smart). Since the kids know they are going to get their own Office Time, they tend not to interrupt the other kids’ turns. They no longer get discouraged by comparing their progress to their siblings. And, perhaps best of all, I’ve seen a HUGE jump in their ability to work independently.
While one kid is in Office Time, the others are doing independent work or playing. Sarah goes first, so I assign her copywork and math assignments at the end of her turn, and then she goes off to get those done. Once she’s finished, she can go play. Jack works on handwriting and math while Sarah’s in Office Time, then I assign him copywork and math during his turn. Hannah is the most independent worker I have–she gets her own independent work checklist every week–so she’s good to go while the other kids have Office Time and when she’s in Office Time she gets her additional math and grammar/copywork assignments to work on during afternoon rest time. The kids know that if I find them playing or goofing off before their work is done, they will have a second Office Time. Usually they just do the work. If not, they get to do another round of grammar, math, reading, etc, which can’t hurt.
Meanwhile, we have a baby. Sometimes Eliza hangs out in the office too, nursing or pulling books off the shelves and exploring the trash can. Sometimes Hannah watches over her or the kids play with her. Sometimes she’s taking a morning nap (we don’t have a hard-and-fast Office Time slot, so some days we do our together subjects first and Eliza wakes up from her nap before we do Office Time). Sometimes she’s standing up at the glass door to the office, plastering her nose to it and banging with her tiny adorable hands. We make it work different ways on different days.
Who knows how long this method will work for us–after all, stages come and go–but for right now I’m loving how focused individual school time is helping us to have calmer and happier days. We still love to do a lot of history, literature, art, science, Bible, Latin, music and other subjects together, but having that 30-45 minutes every day with one kid at a time has worked wonders for us.
If you homeschool several kids, or do homework with kids who are away at school all day, how do you handle it? Do you work with each child individually, or take the one-room-schoolhouse approach?