As I was drinking my coffee this morning, bleary-eyed and half-awake, I had a little epiphany. I hate nagging the kids. I hate it almost as much as they hate being nagged. And yet almost every day starts with nagging. Get dressed. Are you dressed yet? Why aren't you dressed? What have you been doing all this time? Get dressed, get dressed get DRESSED! And so on. Does this really have to be the way it works? I wondered as I scooped grounds into a filter. Isn't it possible that I could stop nagging and they could still do what they need to do? I pondered this as the coffee brewed, and as the first cup started to make its way to my tired brain, I realized the obvious: they rely on my nagging to get things done the way I rely on my alarm clock to wake up. There is no reason for them to take ownership of their time because they know that I will remind them, with increasing frequency and urgency, when something needs to be done. If the cycle was to break, I would have to break it.
So, before the day got started, I sat the older two down and explained how the morning would go. They had until 7:30 to get dressed and make their beds. I would not be reminding them, but the two things would need to be done before breakfast at 7:30. At 7:30, breakfast would be on the table. If they were ready, they should come at eat. If they were not, or they didn't come, I would not be calling them but they would not be eating until snack. At 8:20 we would be leaving to the Ellie to school. If they did not have teeth brushed, shoes on, jackets etc they would be leaving the house as-is, even if that meant going shoeless. I would not be reminding them. Natural consequences would rule the day.
In return, they would have a nag-free morning. Everyone loved that idea, and amazingly, everything got done before leaving the house. Perhaps most shocking of all, no one went hungry, either. We were off to a good start.
When we got home, I sat them down, each with a piece of paper and a pencil. I explained that they were now old enough to learn how to manage their own time, and today we were going to start. I asked them to write a list of things that they had to do today. Since we homeschool, their lists needed to include the subjects that they had to work on today and at least one chore. Next to each item, they should write how long they thought that job or chore would take them.
When they were done, we added up all the time they'd estimated and wrote it down. Together we added together all the available hours between that moment and 5pm, the time that I typically start dinner and they like to have screen time. We subtracted time for lunch and picking up Ellie from school. They were surprised to see that they should have several hours of available time left over after their schoolwork and chore, as that is rarely (if ever) the case in real life. I explained that they could choose the order and time they'd start each item, but that all of them needed to be done by 5 if they were to have any screen time that day.
Next, I directed them to begin their lists. Some of the subjects would require my help, so they needed to think about that and work together since I couldn't help them both at the same time. Every time they started an item on their list, they were to start a stopwatch. When they finished, they would stop the watch and write down how long the activity *actually* took. Was it longer or shorter than they guessed? What did that mean for the rest of their day? How would that change their estimate tomorrow? And then we started.
I couldn't believe how happy they were to take charge of their own days. They began to realize that every time they completed a task on-time or early, they added to the amount of free time they would have later, and that sometimes that extra time would have to go to a job that took longer than expected instead. But best of all, I haven't nagged or reminded them of anything all day. As I write this, it's 12:30 and Spencer has completed all of his tasks except for helping with the laundry, as that job is on-going today. Lexi has several more jobs to finish, but she is making good progress and is feeling positive. She's already finished her most challenging subjects and both of the chores she chose.
So far the overall response has been fantastic. Lexi asked me why I hadn't explained all this to them before (I thought I had, but clearly not in concrete detail as I did today) because now she understood how to get everything done. They've both decided that this is "the best day ever" and they want to do it every day. I doubt the enthusiasm will persist, but I am certain now that they can learn the value of their time, and how to manage it. And when they fail to manage it, the results will be as simple and straight-forward as they are in life - they have to leave the house in PJs, or work through play time, or tell a friend they can't come over because they're not done school. In other words, reasonably natural consequences. I predict days of frustration ahead, too, but honestly, learning to to this is probably as valuable as any skill I can teach them in life, as it will carry them through everything else they do from here out. And with any luck, I'll be all done nagging, too! Win-win.