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Part 1: What master teachers know that homeschooling parents don't.

Habit is everything.

Habits can be cultivated.

We choose the seeds.

If you are trying to run a class with 25 seven year-olds, and you have to explain EVERYTHING, you quickly realize that sanity demands routines. And so the first two weeks of school every year are devoted to helping kids learn to help themselves. How do you sharpen your pencil? How do you go to the restroom? When may you sharpen your pencil? What does lunch look like? How do we go home? How do we organize our desk? How do we listen to adults? How do we listen to each other? Master teachers spend the first two weeks practicing these expected behaviors. For the first 10 days, the children learn how to learn.

Many parents will have a visit with the teacher during this time and hear something like, "Josh is having trouble remembering to sharpen his pencil at the beginning of the day, but he will get the hang of it." Those parents may go home unaware that they are in the presence of a master teacher. What they don't realize is that large quantities of age appropriate behavior, stuck inside a small classroom, are not conducive to learning. Of course it is normative for a seven year-old to forget to tend to his pencil after hanging up his coat, but if you have 25 seven year-olds, this age appropriate behavior becomes a massive complication. Master teachers avoid repetitive complications by turning key behaviors into HABITS.

What does this have to do with homeschool?

Homeschoolers do not need to stand in lines to go to the restroom. And because you may only have a few children, any disruptions are easily handled. But folks, trust me. Your life will be better if you steal this page from the master teacher handbook. The key is to adapt the idea to your needs and homeschool life.

Here are a few questions to get you started...

  1. What is the most annoying time in your day? Why is it annoying?

  2. What is one expectation you have of your child that causes daily friction?

  3. What is one responsibility you are currently managing that your child is old enough to adopt?

These are your "pain points". (to borrow a term from the professional world) They are where you will look to add new procedures/habits/routines to your day.

The most annoying time of the day for me is the hour the daycare kids leave. It is annoying because ALL the children are tired. My own children are ready to have my undivided attention and our extra sweet joys are really starting to miss their parents. Also, you know how kids act when you get on a phone call? How it triggers some primal source within their tiny bodies? "Quick! Mom is on the phone! Now is the time for a crisis!!" SAME. Put simply, my children demand my attention when I need it to be elsewhere.

Step 1: Describe your problem simply.

It is good to start by spelling out exactly what is not working. Really try to step back and pin point the "when" that is causing the biggest struggle. It is tricky to solve a problem. It is nearly impossible to solve a problem you can't even identify.

Step 2: Solution seeking begins with analyzing the needs of all involved, including your own! (The primary needs of a human according to Abraham Maslow are food, water, sleep, temperature, security, safety, feelings of belonging and love, feelings of accomplishment, and achieving one's potential.)

Perhaps the trickiest part of your day is making dinner? Your big kid is glued to your side with their voice box set to "fuss". The baby wants to be held, and you are feeling snippy. No one is bringing their best self to the scene!

If we step back it is easy to see that your eldest is struggling with hunger and the baby is struggling with feelings of security. Whatever procedure you decide upon needs to account for both needs. Years ago I started teaching the babies to expect wrap time during meal preparations. This allows me to provide for their need as I accomplish my goal. Their sense of security is strengthened by the closeness and by the routine. While I work, the big kids drag a chair over from the dining table and help me chop things. (I pretend not to notice how many carrots have gone missing.) Needs are honored, dinner gets done. Bingo.

Like those Magic Eye posters from the 90's, if you look at your tricky moments with the wrong focus, solutions feel unattainable. Once you figure out the "trick" and practice a few times, the correct picture begins to be the first thing you see. Have you simply described your problem? Have you named the needs of all individuals involved? Great!

Step 3: Ask God for guidance.

I seldom solve my own problems. I have found myself to be insufficient to the task. What I CAN do is clear my mind of accusations and WATCH my tricky moments. When I do this sufficiently I can simply describe the struggle and honor my family members by accurately naming their unmet needs. Like the cream in fresh milk, solutions arise, but I have to stop shaking the bottle. Give your problem to God so that your mind will stop shaking it up. In His stillness, a path through the rocky places can be found.

Sometimes the solution that appears demands I form a new habit. In the case of the cranky dinnertime, I needed to remember to wrap the baby and keep salad fixings in the fridge. Sometimes the path demands my children form a new habit. Either way, these new habits dig peaceful grooves into our daily path. These combined habits add up to a significantly different daily experience.

Let's take this concept back to the problem of my witching hour. What are the needs that must be addressed?

  • My own children have just spent a full day sharing Mom ~ they NEED my individual attention to feel secure.

  • My extra Sweet Joys have spent a full day away from the people they love most ~ they NEED frequent snuggles to regulate their nervous systems.

  • I am nearing hour 10 of a house full of tiny humans lacking developed frontal lobes ~ I NEED a break.

Oof. These moments are difficult. Can you see why? Every day there is an hour or so when everyone needs me on my A game but I am tapped out. How do you create a procedure or habit that helps with such a situation? Everyone has valid needs and all should be honored, but frequently these needs are in direct opposition to each other. Sometimes problem solving is not as easy as "creatively honor the needs that are not being met". Check back next week for Part 2 and we will dive deeper into more advanced problem solving techniques. We will take a closer look at what is really going on when the master teacher requests a sharpened pencil at the beginning of class.

I hope our journey inspires your own,

Buckets and Berries


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