August 20, 2019

Invest Up-Front

When my kids were seven and eight, I was becoming frustrated with how hard it was to complete the homeschool lessons I felt were appropriate and necessary to accomplish each day while subsequently babysitting two preschoolers and a baby. There was no question that I’d continue to homeschool, and my family needed the childcare income so I couldn’t give that up. I had to find a solution that worked within my circumstances.

Shortly thereafter, I ran across an organizational tool, Sue Patrick’s Workbox System, that seemed promising. I bought the kit, poured over the instruction manual the day it arrived, and went shopping the next morning for supplies: portable shoe racks, plastic shoe boxes, colored card stock, laminating sheets (I already owned a laminator), and (lots and lots!) of Velcro. Watching me assemble the various pieces and then fill each box with a learning task piqued the girls’ curiosity; I used their interest to build anticipation about implementing the system.

But even though they’d observed me putting everything together, I didn’t expect them to automatically know what to do on our first day using it. Instead, I took a chunk of time to show them each part of the system, explaining its purpose, and then demonstrated how I expected them to move through the process. And during our first few days with it, I offered frequent reminders and encouragement. By the end of our first week, we were accomplishing twice as much bookwork in half the time as before! And it was such a hit that I developed a related system I called “Our Do-It Door” for chores and daily routines, and set up a box system for the preschoolers, who begged to be like “the big girls.”

Fast forward 10 years, and, though I’ve tweaked the system’s implementation to suit the girls’ needs as they’ve grown and matured, we still use its principles. In fact, taking time to set up a concrete organizational schema when they were young and coaching them in how to use it has been one of the most significant reasons they were able to become largely self-directed in their studies by the time they started high school.

We needed the tool – in this case, Sue Patrick’s brainchild – but that wasn’t enough. I also had to choose to invest time and energy into assembling it and then instructing and modeling its use. I had to listen to my kids and adapt when Sue’s suggestions didn’t quite meet our immediate needs, and I had to be patient as the girls learned how to complete the system’s steps. But it was all worth it, both in the short-term and over the long-run.

The same is true for any task – at any age – in which we need to teach and coach our kids. Investing up-front yields great benefit for them and for us.


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