It was after 1:30pm. The morning had been a dismal failure. The children had been fighting and talking back, the chores didn’t get done on time, school started late, and Math was becoming a meltdown session. One of the kids (who will remain nameless) went in to their room to avoid killing their sibling and thirty minutes later, reappeared with a worksheet that was tattered around the edges. Why? This malcontented student needed a spit wad arsenal. I thought only public schooled kids knew how to make spit wads!? Who is teaching her this stuff? Oh, yes… we were suffering the beginnings of a REALLY BAD school day… and it was about to get worse.
The kids were getting hungry. I made the poor decision to forgo snack time because I was so upset at their lack of respect and inability to get their work done. Sure, my feelings were justified – but the reasoning was faulty. Being hungry AND irritable is not such a great combo for a hormonal 9 year old girl. Puberty is no respecter of persons.
“Mama, can I pleeeeeeeeeease eat something?” – Morgan
“No, Morgan. You need to finish that worksheet that you have already ripped up and chewed. Technically, you did have a snack.” – Me (oops, did I just give her identity away? For shame!)
“But I’m hungry!!” (Tears and anger – attitudes begin to flare.)
“We could have already started lunch by now if you hadn’t been drawing on your worksheet and making spit wads in your room for the past 30 minutes instead of doing Math.” – Me
“If the cops knew you were doing this to me, they would come for you.” – Morgan
Oh, yes, she. did.
“Wow. That sounds like a threat.” – Me (with my mouth open in disbelief – since I had no idea it was illegal to eat lunch at 2pm)
Eleven year old Kaden by now has started crying because he knows what deep water his sister just stepped off into. I was daydreaming of what I would say to the public school office to convince them to let her go to school there for just a month to teach her a lesson. I glance at the clock – almost 2pm. We had eaten a late breakfast at 9, so there was no reason for her to be so irrational. I began to see that this day was going nowhere fast.
…So I pulled out the marbles (and no, I didn’t throw them at her).
I put one in the jar on top of our school room TV. My kids knew what that meant. It meant that they were off school duty and ON chore duty for the rest of the day. The gears had shifted. Mommy was taking off her teacher hat. Every time we put a marble in the jar, the kids loose a Saturday to “make up” for a lost school day. Since my kids live for weekends (like most of the rest of the human race), they hate the marble jar.
However, MOM LOVES IT. It keeps me from loosing my temper. Gives me a calm way to deal with the situation when the situation seems completely and overwhelmingly lost. Not to mention, my house looks like Martha Stewart has been here when we are done cleaning at the end of the day. The marble jar does wonders for my workload. It even makes Dad happy when he walks in the door after a hard day at work.
I guess I should have expected this week to be difficult…
It usually happens after a baptism that you find out the hard way you have a new enemy. It seems you muddle and trip through every trap the devil lays out for you and are left scratching your head wondering how things got so bad. These are times of testing (frustrating times)… but the great thing is – He who is within you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). We’ve found this truth out the hard way this week – but it has been a week of much character development, schedule tweaking… and of course, my house is sparkling clean. I can’t complain.
In case you are experiencing the same wave of pre-teen attitude in your homeschool, here are some practical tips. If your week goes something like mine and you find yourself wondering if homeschooling is really such a great idea after all, here’s what to do:
1. Take a deep breath (before you respond). The usual first response to a rotten remark is a BAD one. If you are anything like me, your mouth is a razor-sharp tool that should be pocketed when dealing with non-compliant children. I’m sure you have heard the story about the wood and nails: when you say something you’ll regret, you are hammering a nail in wood. Even if you say you are sorry and take the nail OUT, the hole remains. Don’t fill your day with regret and sin against your kids out of anger.
2. Pray. Sometimes #1 and 2 need to go hand in hand. Often times I just say, “Help, Lord!” because I know that my solution to the problem isn’t likely to be HIS way. While you are praying, try and think about what the Lord gave you this opportunity for. God doesn’t waste any fat… every small detail of your life is part of His plan. If your kid is struggling, it is likely that God is working out something in their heart. To get angry at them and take your own resentment out is not helping the child – it is only preventing God from doing His good and perfect work. And if it makes you feel any better… it was after a day such as this where my kids had fought like tigers – Morgan screamed in her brother’s ear and hurt him. She had been angry at him for catching her cheating on her Math with a calculator. That night was when she prayed for forgiveness and asked God to live inside her forever. It was the day that created in her the desire to leave her old ways behind and put on Christ as her savior. If it hadn’t been for her falling down, she might not have desired to ask Jesus to pick her up.
3. Get help and isolate the problem. Two heads are better than one. Last night we had a tag-team “discussion” with both kids individually. Our talk was with grandma (my mother lives here part of every week), myself, and each kid – one at a time. We talked about the reasons why they were frustrated, why they thought the day had gone wrong, what their feelings were, how they thought we could change things to make everything easier, etc. Sometimes your kid just needs to get things off their chest. It makes them feel important and loved when you take time out to spend with them alone. Hearing from another person (besides just mom – who is often part of the problem according to the child) is very helpful. Listening to stories about your childhood and things that happened to you which were similar is also helpful. Connecting with and encouraging your child will show them that you are on their side.
4. Get creative. Figure out what your goals are. Try a new method to achieve them. Invite the children to participate in the brainstorming. Make it fun. Sometimes the things that don’t work with your schedule need to be dropped and replaced. If Mondays are the hardest days, maybe you should make them the lightest school days. If you know you are going to be out and about all day on Tuesday, figure out what you can fit in to that day using car-schooling. If chores tend to be a time when the attitudes unravel, let the kids help you discover a method of getting it done which promotes peace.
Here are some creative ideas we came up with to help us find our perfect school groove again:
MARBLE JAR: If school is a disaster, we put a marble in the jar and make the day up Saturday. This keeps mom cool and collected while preventing a wasted day from slipping off of the school year calendar forever. Make sure and have rules set up for how the day will go if you have to “skip” it and make it up later. Our rule is that a school day lost becomes a CHORE day. This makes “skipping” a lot less desirable. I have a list of chores that are much harder than our regular ones in case an opportunity for spring cleaning comes up! (For instance: Cleaning out the refrigerator, organizing a closet and giving away old clothes that don’t fit, scrubbing the baseboards and floors with a rag, weeding the garden, dusting, detailing the car, helping mom grade or do paperwork, organizing the Tupperware, cleaning out the garage, or vacuuming the whole house – including those dreaded stairs.)
ASSIGNED CHORES: If there is fighting going on over a chore, use an assignment sheet to decide which days of the week/month that each child will handle that chore. Make sure to write mom’s name on a few days, too – you wouldn’t want them to think you aren’t helping out!
ASSIGNED READING: If your kids fight over who gets to read what book, have a set day for each kid to read. Here’s ours = Monday – Morgan, Tuesday – Kaden, Wed. – Mom, Thursday – Morgan, Friday – Kaden.
CHORE CHARTS: We use a flip chart method for our chores. We have little laminated cards with pictures describing each chore and keep them on silver ring clasps. Previously we had tried a hanging board with nails, but it was taking too long for the kids to re-order and restore their charts at the end of each day. The kids keep a chore notebook and give themselves points for the chores they do in the flip chart. The flip chart is done by order of routine so nothing is missed. Points are given per chore and used for screen time, fun activities, date nights, and sleepovers.
SCHOOL CHARTS: We use the same flip chart method for school. Each laminated card has a tiny graphic for each subject or activity. They are ordered on the ring as they would happen in our day. As they flip the chart, they have a constant reminder of “what’s next” without having to ask mom. Points are earned for each school subject that is completed and are used for rewards such as screen time, fun activities, date nights, sleepovers, etc.
SNACKS: Sometimes having a set snack time can keep the grumpies at bay. Keep a reminder on your phone, computer, or clock that reminds you to stop for a glass of water and a snack. Not only might you prevent needless meltdowns, but you’ll be promoting good health.
SCHEDULING FREE TIME: Making sure the kids have time to unwind each night is as important as it is to their parents. Everyone needs down time. Even if the day was a disaster, the kids need time to play, read, and just spend some time alone. See to it that your schedule isn’t so packed that you go straight from school – to dinner – to shower – to bed. If you allow their minds to rest, you’ll have better production when your students are hard at work.
TOGGLE SUBJECTS: Some children are unable to sit through tedious desk work for longer than thirty minutes or an hour. Set your schedule up to allow for everyone’s needs. If one kid does better with active subjects (such as PE or a computer program) in between Math and Language – make sure they are accommodated. Other kids need reclining subjects (like Reading) to promote rest in between seat work. You can also scatter chores between certain parts of school to break up the monotony. Get outside in the sunshine for a walk. Do an art project. Try and keep from putting all your hardest work into a long time block.
ALLOW FOR QUIRKS: Do you have a child that needs to tap? One that literally thinks better on their “feet” (needs to stand while writing)? A child who likes to hum or sing while working? Don’t keep them from expressing themselves if you can find a way to help them put this quirk to good use. Some research says that motion actually triggers the brain and makes learning more memorable. If your kid is doing something that distracts others, see if you can find a space in the house where each kid can get their work done without being bothersome to siblings. Let them be who they are and watch how God uses those little annoying habits to bless their life.
MAKE BREAKFAST: This one is a hard one for me. I have always been a breakfast skipper. I can remember my son at age 3 waking me with his sister still nursing in bed with sleepy mama, asking if he could go get himself a “breakfast bar”. The habit is hard to break. Even now, if mom sleeps in on occasion, my kids are skilled at making their own breakfast – and sweet enough to bring mom cheese toast and chocolate milk in bed. As wonderful as breakfast in bed sounds to a homeschool mother who is overloaded with the weight of household management and her children’s education; it isn’t the best way to start the morning. At least not for our family. Making breakfast for the kids and helping them get started keeps everyone on task and takes a lot less time out of our morning routine. When I get up and going before my children, we almost ALWAYS have a better turn-out to our day. Not to mention, breakfast has the most benefits of all your meals – and it might prevent a few meltdowns if you add in your protein before you hit the books.
FREE UP THE MORNING: Having too much to accomplish before school starts is a sure fire way to begin the day on the wrong foot. Try and get your chores done the night before – shower the night before – even lay your clothes out for the morning. Having a night routine may make your day flow smoother. We try and fit most of our chores after school. The ones we do in the morning are minimal (beds, teeth, hair, shoes, dressed, feed cats, breakfast, clean up breakfast dishes and put in dishwasher, turn off lights). When we tried to have our rooms cleaned in the morning, it was a complete flop. So now, rooms must be cleaned before any free time or fun time in the evening. I have found that when the kids are wanting to get busy having fun, it motivates them to get chores done much faster than when I’m waiting on them to start school.
AVOID SUGAR: For some kids, sugar is a personality-altering drug. We try and avoid cokes, desserts, and food additives (like artificial colorings) while school is in session. It may seem strange, but it just might help your week improve.
KEEP IT SIMPLE: Make your chore and school lists attainable to breed success. If a child feels they can never complete their tasks, they will begin to adopt an attitude of defeat. You can prevent much tears and woe if you allow them to feel as if each day they are accomplishing their goals. If you have a hard time (like me) shortening lists, keep a list for YOU and one for them. Make theirs MUCH SHORTER. That way, if they get everything on their list completed and you have some free time – you can get EXTRAS done (that are only on your list). They will be elated to accomplish what they see as ‘far beyond’ what you originally asked of them.
HAVE FUN: Remember to smile and laugh. This is the most simple advice, but it is not that easy to follow when you are staring at your own mile-long list and feel as if there is not enough time in the day to get everything done. A lot more learning will happen if you take time to enjoy school. No one wants to suffer through homeschool tears. Season your day with kisses, hugs, and little surprises for the kids. Be silly. Laugh at yourself. These years are the best years of your life… and the golden years for your children. As Chris Rice says, there’s power in a moment.
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