Keeping Track: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

In the last week, I posted the following Facebook status:

  • One of the most successful things we’ve done recently is put our kids on a “whole life” checklist system. They are more accountable every day (to themselves and to us), and they love “cash-in” day (Sunday) when Dad reviews their list for the week and assigns their allowance accordingly. It also has helped me direct them toward those school things that always slip through the cracks! Who was it who said — “I love it when a plan comes together!” –? Well, that’s my quote for the day!

My friends who responded to this post wanted to see the list or know what it was all about. Perhaps it was the off-the-cuff name or the fact that I was reporting on something new that our kids liked that prompted the positive feedback. Whatever the reasons, I wanted to give a response but realized that it  could be misleading to simply produce a photo or a copy of the list, since our whole-life checklist is nowhere near static — it is different for each child, and it changes for each child almost every week. So rather than sharing only the product, I decided to share the process, as well. Then you, my friends and readers, can see if you’d like to use checklists in your home or homeschool, as well.

 

An Overview of a Whole-Life Checklist

First of all, I must give credit for the seed of the idea to the homeschoolers at Timberdoodle (www.timberdoodle.com). They are a curriculum and materials resource; through the selections they offer, they have helped me think about homeschooling in new ways. Along with many outstanding books and products, they offer curriculum packages and accompanying checklists of assignments for each grade level. I started on a checklist system for my boys by trying to adapt the Timberdoodle lists for our purposes, but they were not a close enough match. I finally decided to generate a plain old table in a word processor and go from there.

For each of our three boys, I have created a table and filled in the names of each curriculum or subject area in the left-most column. Then I generated columns for the days of the week. I decided to write by hand on the far left of the chart the number of times a child should do a subject each week; this is so that the number can change each week (or even during the week) without me reworking the entire chart.

Once I had created a school assignment list, it was easy and natural to add in the kids’ chores. There are any number of pre-made chore charts that you can buy, and I have tried my share of those, too. But putting everything in one place seemed easier. The next natural extension of the chart was to list things which had not been happening but which my husband and I had as desirable goals or activities for our kids. This included things like trying a new food each week, playing with each other (and not on the Wii!), trying out new board games and/or playing educational games more often, and for our oldest child and best reader, reading a chapter of the Bible on his own each day.

A resulting chart/checklist might look something like this (this is an abbreviated sample):

 

Child’s Name Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Math
Explode the Code
Reading
Empty Dishwasher
Play with brothers
Try new food

 

To the left of the named items, I write in a number (for example, the number 4 for math), and then the boys know how many lessons to complete for the week. Once they have 4 checkmarks in the boxes, they are done with that subject.

As you can see, it’s not a very beautiful list — but so far, it’s working!

 

Our Motivations for a Whole-Life Checklist System

As I mentioned at the beginning, a checklist system is new for us. This tells you that we were doing something else beforehand! For the first several years of homeschooling, I had recorded by hand in a lesson journal each assignment as it was completed, and I was very happy with this system. Simply put, it worked for us! Although I recognize the value of writing daily lesson plans in advance (I created them when I taught college German), I confess that I have never used them in homeschooling for several reasons. First of all, the simple selection of curriculum in large part determines what must be done on a daily basis in order to complete it in a school year. Secondly, I’ve had a strong desire to preserve the flexibility of a homeschooling day, and finally, this has combined with a strong (or possibly stronger!) distaste for scribbling out pre-recorded assignments that get pushed off the schedule in favor of something better! So before the checklists, our routine was to meet together in the morning and start our daily-type assignments (such as Explode the Code phonics), and then I would work with each child on other assignments as needed, recording what was accomplished as it was accomplished. Occasionally we had “days off” in a given subject area for field trips or special activities (such as M & M math), and so continued to work this way until the end of the school year.

This year, however, I had been sensing a need to put more pressure on our kids, especially on our oldest (a 4th grader), to take responsibility for the completion of their assignments. When you homeschool, there is no outside pressure to get up in the morning, to start the “school day,” or to finish by any particular time. It seemed that creating a checklist of school assignments for each child would bring a certain amount of pressure to bear (on me as the teacher, as well!) to get things done, since it would eliminate the excuse of “out of sight, out of mind.” A checklist also would simultaneously provide a written record of what was accomplished every day, effectively taking the place of my lesson journal. With these considerations in mind, I tried the Timberdoodle checklists, but soon determined that for our subject areas, chores, and goal-setting needs, custom-made lists would be necessary.

Following the creation of the checklists came, of course, their implementation. I can look back at the earliest charts and see that it took a couple of weeks to get used to them. Fairly early on, however, our school principal (my husband!) got involved and decided to assign each boys’ weekly allowance according to how much he accomplished on his chart. This led to our preschooler wanting his own chart (I had not created one for him initially). This has also led to the boys’ extreme excitement on Sundays, which has become our Reckoning Day. There are no checkboxes for Sundays, a message to our kids that sometimes we do things because it is the right thing to do, because we belong to a family, because we take a day of (more) rest. But on Sunday, my husband examines each checklist and records the resulting allowance in a spreadsheet, much to the boys’ delight! Then I get the charts back to file as a record of homeschool work accomplished for the week.

 

Whole-Life Checklists At Work in Our Family

If you have been parenting for a while, you are undoubtedly already guessing what I will tell you next – that the checklists get processed by creative minds, children who are constantly thinking about how best to work the lists to their own advantage! This week our oldest, who is supposed to do 4 lessons in Teaching Textbooks math every week, decided to skip it on Wednesday because he already had 2 lessons done and he still had Thursday and Friday to meet the requirement. To be fair to him, he has Tae Kwon Do on that day, and his brothers do not. Nevertheless, his attitude is different than that of our second child, who loves to accumulate as many checked-off boxes as he can in a given day and then have a less structured day on Friday. The kids also try to add things to the lists in an effort to earn more allowance. Not a week goes by without someone saying, “I think you should put X on my list, Mom, because…”. Naturally, some things will never make it onto a daily checklist – we’re not going to give them allowance just for eating breakfast and checking it off a list! But I do have “getting dressed” on their lists, at least for the moment, because, at least for this homeschooling family, it is otherwise too tempting to have pajama day several times every week!

Although most of each child’s list stays the same from week to week (there is always math, reading, history, science, etc.), they almost always change a bit, as well. In the same way that I am always subtly  refining our school content, I also have to refine the lists to reflect that content. For example, our second child is a struggling reader, so his reading assignments change slightly as we work through one set of early readers and move on to the next, or add in a new curriculum for word families. Our 4th grader is using a series of books from Edcon Publishers which focus on reading comprehension, and as he finishes one, the next one gets filled in on the chart. Sometimes the chart alterations come from change in non-school factors, as well, such as the end of a sport’s season or implementing a new family exercise time.

 

In Conclusion

The purposes for our checklist system were initially and primarily twofold: first, to keep our daily homeschool assignments better organized and visible to both the kids and to me, and second, to maintain a written record of each assignment accomplished in a given week. But they have turned into our “whole life” lists, helping our family focus on goals and good stewardship of our time. They have also taken some pressure off of me to manage everybody all day long. The charts are – for us, for this point in time – a step toward more child responsibility in appropriate areas, and hopefully this is laying the foundation or good habits for them for the future when they have more responsibilities. The best news is that the kids have been successfully using these lists for 10 weeks, and they are making a positive difference for our family.

 

 

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