Getting Over the Free-Range Chicken Syndrome, Order in {Catholic} Homeschooling

For me, homeschooling was about pride for a long time. We were going to do everything differently from schooled children, every day, and all the time. There was no way I was going to teach my children like school systems teach or keep such a tight schedule. We will school in our pajamas and we will wake up when our body is ready to wake up! We will go on field trips at least once a week! We will do arts and crafts every day! Free range chickens vs. those chickens in those super crowded, mega sized coups. We are free range chickens!!! At least we were… until I realized that we are not.

I realized that my family has needs that free range chickens do not have. By my family, I mean the mother hen (the rooster kinda goes with the flow most of the time when it comes to homeschooling issues. He mostly steps in to discipline when called upon by a frantic mother hen). Two years ago I gave in and took another look at my Free-Range Chicken Philosophy. Even though we were getting all our schoolwork done, there was an overall feeling of chaos throughout the day. From meal planning to lesson planning to crisis management, it was all improvised.  Day in, and day out…free range chickens!

So what was not working with this free range chicken philosophy?  Well, lets just say some of our “policies” needed revisiting, here’s why:

1.  The Freedom of Attire Policy:  Realizing I have three girls who changed outfits at least three times every day and, later, a son that actually required changing outfits at least three times a day forced me take another look at the “Freedom of Attire Policy” in our home.

2.  The Letting Your Body Wake Up When It is Ready Policy:  Having four children wake up at different times of the day meant they would get hungry at different times of the day so the “Letting Your Body Wake Up When It Is Ready Policy” started losing popularity.

3.  The Get Your Chores Done Any Time Before Bedtime Policy:  We were struggling with diligence and willingness (with a good attitude) so the “Get Your Chores Done Any Time Before Bedtime Policy” got sent to editing.

4.  The One Field Trip Per Week Policy:  Spending one whole day out of the house every week started to mean spending one whole day packing and preparing for the next day, so the One Field Trip a Week Policy got in line for the axe.

At about the same time, a dear friend kept saying that we must train our children’s will so that they do not have the same internal struggles that we do. Another friend, kept mentioning the importance of actually being at home. I tended to agree with all they were saying and yet, it just did not occur to me that these were essential for a joyful home schooling environment in my Free-Range Chicken world. Then one day, it did, and the idea of a big modified and highly efficient coup for my free range chicks started to grow on me.  It was time to revisit our policies!
I started looking at what other people were doing in their homes. Two of my closest friends, Mimi and Christine, had just come home from FPEA (Florida Parent Educators Association) with Accountable Kids’ chore tabs which the children switched from one wooden peg to another as they completed them. I thought they were amazing! Another friend, Theresa, had passed out a list of age appropriate chores at one of our mom meetings. I was awed by what she proposed little ones could and would do.At our Little Flower’s meetings lead by the most awesomest ( yes, that is a word if you really mean it) leader on earth (yes, you are Jenny) the kids were learning about self-motivated industry, humility, love of neighbor, love of God and many other great virtues. The wheels started turning in my head and the question popped in my head: How can I implement all these great things without sending my free-range chickens into shock? Tabs would never work in our home because I have seen what they do with the loose parts of toys and games. (I mostly find that they do not survive the washer and dryer.) I had a lot of questions desperately needing answers, like:
  • What to do about all those outfits the girls seem to need to change into every day?
  • How does one train a will exactly?
  • How do I get them to want to do the things that I have to repeat thirty times a day everyday like it was the first time I said it to them? (Yeah, because Catholic home schooling moms never yell and never lose their patience…when strangers are watching!)
  • How do I reinforce everything they are learning at Little Flowers at home, constantly?

I am a definite visual learner and suffer from very acute CIADD (Child Induced Attention Deficit Disorder – okay fine, I just invented that!) so if I was to stick to a new plan, it needed to be on paper, a big colorful paper… Here are a few things we have been doing in the past four years in order to address these Mother Hen needs.  So what changed?

It was time to bring order to our little coup.

First, I scheduled a wake up time. If they were tired in the morning, that only meant they would appreciate their bed time a lot more. After a few days of waking up at the same time, they adjusted nicely.

Second, The Little Way Chore Chart was born! A system built around St. Therese of Lisieux’s Little Way. A chore chart that teaches self-motivated industry, love for others, accountability, diligence and humility at the same time that it teaches them to run a house efficiently. It also teaches them the value of things. They earn tickets to cash in for different rewards either for themselves or to gift to their siblings. They can see immediate repercussions on the family if they miss a chore or do it poorly. They can also see their progress through the week right on the chart. It includes grooming, house chores, prayers, chores which relate directly to other family members, school work, and bonus stars for helping mommy and doing things with a good attitude. It is very simple and they keep track of their own progress. This also develops a sense of honesty and honor.

The third thing I did was create a target daily timeline; “target” being the operative word.
In homeschooling  life happens while you are living it. Because you are not in the car dropping them off here and there, there are lots of opportunities for spills, falls, fights and other non –scheduled events. That is why it is a target and not set in stone.
The target timeline allows us to move forward on our day in segments divided by prayers. We start with the rosary at 7:30 am and work our way through the different time blocks of the morning. The afternoon starts with the Angelus at noon and the school day ends with Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00ish. Then we move through the late afternoon until we get to the Angelus at 6:00pm which marks the beginning of our evening block. This block ends with prayers of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication, then a session of good night kisses and the day is done. This target daily time-line gives the children a clear view of what the day looks like. I have one for each day of the week and include extracurricular activities on each day as they are scheduled. Here is what it looks like: )
The fourth and last great change we made was the institution of uniforms for school days. Yep, you read it right, uniforms. This year I decided that the fashion show was highly overrated. I had also not had my laundry epiphany yet so the less laundry I had to do, the happier everyone at home would be. Now, getting dressed in the morning is joyful and efficient. There is no more looking for shoes to match or the other sock that goes with that outfit. No need to change from the dress to the shorts before going out to play. I do not even care if they get grass stains or paint drips or holes in their pants. These are their uniforms and they were instituted for that purpose. It is carefree attire to be worn all day, no matter what the circumstances and I LOVE IT!So in short, I have found freedom in structure. I have found peace in schedules. I have found growth in training my will to stick to this new way of homeschooling so I can train my children’s wills. I have found that even with all the planning we do and all the scheduling we do, there are those days, sometimes weeks, that are just impossible and everything falls apart. However, I have also found that because I now have a plan, a solid base to go back to, it is a lot easier to get it all back in order and start over.
So the once “Free Range Chicken Home School” is now measured and structured and we have more freedom to do the things we want to do because all the things we have to do have already been done. All with God’s grace, always!!

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