Using the Power of Daily Lists
How often do you feel like you need to be Super Mom just to get through your homeschooling day?
Let’s face it: Sometimes just the thought of working with your children through their school lessons and getting everyone to finish their school work can be completely overwhelming, right?
And that’s just the homeschooling part! Never mind the dishes, the laundry that’s creating a mountain range in your laundry room, the vacuuming that needs to be done, the errands that have to be run, and all those tasks on your to do list that keep sitting there and taunting you. (Is it possible for items on a to do list to taunt you? I know mine do!)
So what’s a momma to do? How do you make it through each and every day without needing to don your Superhero cape to help everyone through school, let alone take care of the laundry, the dishes, the cleaning, and let’s not forget about feeding everyone five times today?
Do you want to know a secret?
You do not have to do it all on your own! You aren’t the only one in your house who’s capable of all these things.
But what about homeschooling? How do you get through your school day without a super hero cape and lightning speed powers?
When I first started homeschooling my children, things seemed easy enough. After all, I had one child in preschool and the baby still took morning naps. Life was manageable. Homeschooling was easy!
And then more kiddos were added to our family…
And the naps went away…
And as our children grew, more and more of them moved into the homeschooling realm…
Before too long, I realized something: My children were all on different grade levels and they all needed something different from me. And yet, they all needed me! Their lessons were all different, but they each wanted and needed my help to understand and walk them through the lesson.
Now, I’m only one person. I only have 24 hours in each day, 7 days in each week just like everyone else. So, how was I going to make this happen?
First, I looked at our school plan and identified as many subjects as I could where we could all work together. Subjects like science, history, geography, and reading out loud. (If you want to learn more about how to figure out what subjects you can teach on multiple grade levels, check out this post.)
But even though we did as much as we could together, there were still more subjects to cover that I just couldn’t combine. Math, individual reading, spelling, handwriting…
After thinking it through for a bit, I decided to use the power of lists. You see, lists can help you walk through each school day and stay on track. Lists can not only keep you as the momma on track, but they can keep your children on track and moving forward even when you’re not telling them every next lesson they need to work on!
But how? What does this look like? And why should it matter?
The Big Picture of Using Lists
Now, when you start to talk about using lists in your homeschooling, it’s easy to get scared. To think that this idea won’t work because it’s bound to create more work for you as the momma.
But before you tune me out, take a step back with me and look at the big picture of this concept.
The big idea, the big goal of each school day is to start in one place, to learn new things throughout the day, and to end the day knowing more than you did when you woke up that morning, right? Along the way, you’ll do some reading, practice some concepts (think math problems), and possibly do some fun activities or experiments to engage more with the material you’re learning.
Now, the big question becomes: Do you know how you’re getting from your starting point in the morning to the place you want to be at the end of your school day?
Using lists helps you get from where you started to where you want to be while keeping everyone on track and keeping momma from tearing her hair out in the process!
Think of it like a road map. When you leave for a road trip, you check the map to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. You double check the roads you’re going to take and where you need to turn to end up where you want to be. Now, just like any road trip, sometimes there are unexpected detours and delays. Sometimes it takes longer to get to your destination than you think – or longer than you want! But because of your map, you keep heading in the right direction and if you get off course, it’s easier to get back on course and keep going.
Your lists are your homeschooling road map. They help guide you through your homeschool day. They help keep you on track. And they give your children the freedom to work at their own pace.
Let’s Get Practical :: The Together List
Okay, so this list idea is great, but what does it actually look like in real life? Well, come with me and take a glimpse inside our homeschool day…
In our schoolroom, we have a whiteboard on the wall. It’s not massive, but it’s very well used! This whiteboard is an anchor point in our list system. Each day, you’ll find our “Together List” written up on this whiteboard.
Now remember when we mentioned the subjects you can work through together? Science, history, geography, reading out loud? These are the lessons you’ll find on our Together List on our whiteboard.
There’s nothing fancy about it. It’s simple a list of the lessons we’ll work through together. It doesn’t even have a fancy name! We just call it our Together List. Here’s an example of what it looks like:
- Memory Verse
- Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 3
- History, Lesson 24 and Activity A
- Zoology, Read p. 84-85 and Coloring Page
- Adventures Around the World: Tanzania
As you can see, the list isn’t crazy long. It doesn’t have tons of detail. But it’s enough to tell me as mom-slash-teacher exactly what I need to read, what worksheets to hand out, what lessons we’ve done and which ones we still need to do.
Let’s Get Practical :: The Individual Lists
You now have a list of lessons to work through together. But what about all the other ones? Math, individual reading, spelling, and more? How do you make sure those things get done?
You simply give each child a list of the school lessons they need to accomplish that day. You see, Individual Lists contain all the lessons unique to each specific child, the lessons that can’t be combined with any other sibling.
Now, this has three big benefits: First, you’re automatically setting the expectation of when school will be completed for the day. When the list is done and momma has checked your work, you’re done with school. Nice and simple.
Second, you’re teaching your children personal responsibility. You’ve giving them a task to complete and providing the follow up to make sure they get it done (that’s where checking their work comes into play). You’re showing them in a very practical way that they need to not only take an interest in their school work, but they need to take responsibility for doing the work and learning.
And third, you give your child the freedom to work at their own pace. You see, if your child needs to take 30 minutes to complete their math worksheet, but their spelling worksheet only takes them 10 minutes, they can do that! They can give each task, each lesson on their list the time it needs without holding anyone else up or being help up by anyone else.
Okay, so individual lists are great, but what does it look like? Let’s take a look into our school day to see how this plays out…
Lists for Little Ones
Now, some people might call me crazy for giving my little ones a list of individual school lessons. And they might call me crazy for writing it out even before my children can read!
But can I tell you a secret? The list is more for me than it is for my little ones at this point!
You see, when your children are young, you’ll need to be right there with them helping them through their lessons. Preschoolers aren’t known for their long attention spans! Plus, you’ll need to show them what they need to do in their activities and worksheets. In essence, you need to walk with them through their lessons.
So, in our homeschool, we use the whiteboard for the aptly named “Individual Lists.”
Underneath the “Together List” at the top of the whiteboard, I write the Individual Lists for my little ones. Right now, this means there are 2 columns of Individual Lists under the Together List. But there was a time where we had 3 columns. (I promise I’ll get to why there are only 2 Individual Lists on the whiteboard when I have 5 kids in just a minute!)
Now, these lists are super simple. At the top is my child’s name and underneath that are 2-5 bullet points of the lessons they need to accomplish. Here’s an example of my Kindergartener’s list:
- Read your BOB book to Mommy
- Explode the Code, p. 22-23
- Handwriting: Copy the phrase
- Math Worksheet
The best part of all is that this list sets the stage for what’s coming. You see, my little ones know their list is on the whiteboard. They understand the expectation that they need to finish everything on their list before they’re done with school for the day. And it gets them ready for when they start to work off of their own list as they get older.
Lists for Elementary Students
Once our children learn how to read, their Individual List doesn’t live on the whiteboard, but moves to a laminated piece of paper they keep in their school binder. (Usually there’s between 3-6 months where the list is in both places just to make sure the transition goes smoothly!)
Now, don’t be intimidated by this! It’s just a simple page I printed off the computer that has a box for each subject they need to do on their own. For example: Math, handwriting, reading, and spelling.
But instead of using a new piece of paper every day, we chose to laminate these. This means my children can use a dry erase marker and write their daily lessons in the boxes. Once I’ve checked their work, they wipe off the page and reuse it the next day. This way one page lasts the entire school year.
Lists for Middle School Students
When our children reach middle school, this Daily List transitions into a Weekly Individual List. This is a weekly list or syllabus that tells them every lesson they’re responsible for accomplishing that week as well as giving an ending time (3pm on Friday, for example).
As much as I love laminating things, we’ve found this list works better as a regular piece of paper. This allows my children to write smaller and the words don’t rub off as the week goes on!
Each day, I check in with my middle schoolers on how they’re doing with two simple questions: Are you on track with your Individual List? Do you need any help from me? This gives them a gentle reminder to keep their schoolwork a priority and also gives them the opportunity to get help with any lesson they’re struggling with. Or to have someone to give them their spelling test for the week!
Lists for High School Students
Now, my children haven’t reached high school age just yet, but our plan is to transition the Weekly Individual List from middle school into a Monthly Individual List for high school. A mini-syllabus if you will that outlines all the lessons and assignments due that month.
(As we get there, I’ll keep you updated on how it’s working!)
This Is NOT A Hands-Off Approach
Now, at first glance, this approach can seem very hands-off. Almost like you as the momma are handing all the responsibility for completing school over to your children and sitting back and twiddling your thumbs.
Let me assure you: This is not true! This approach is far from hands-off! Yes, you are teaching your children how to take responsibility for their own learning. Yes, you are giving assignments to your child for them to complete in their own timing.
But don’t forget: This in and of itself is a lesson! It’s a guided learning process teaching and allowing your child to take more and more ownership of their learning journey.
Plus, you as the parent are still very actively involved in this process! You’re the one who’s creating the list for your child to complete. You’re the one who’s spending time with them daily to make sure they’ve completed their lessons and to check their assignments. You’re the one who’s determining whether or not they understand a lesson and are ready to move on or if they need some more time practicing the material. You’re the one who’s giving the spelling lists. You’re the one who’s there and available for questions when they don’t understand a lesson or an assignment.
You’re still a very crucial, hands-on part of your child’s learning process.
The Bigger Reason
Do you want to know something that scares me? The idea that when my children start college classes they won’t know what to do with the intimidating syllabus packet they’ll receive on the first day of class.
I watched this happen far too often while I was at college. My fellow students would get the syllabus, completely ignore it, then panic when a paper was due or a test came up. Not because they weren’t told what was coming. Because they never followed the guidelines the professor set out in the syllabus. They never did their assignments on time and so they weren’t ready when the graded work was due.
I watched others struggle to accomplish the work for their classes. Not because they couldn’t read. Not because the work was too difficult. Because they had no clue how to manage their time to complete things on time or even ahead of schedule.
On the other hand, I saw fellow students who knew how to manage their time well. They enjoyed seeing the big picture of the class, they practiced good time management, and thrived in this environment.
This is the bigger reason behind our list system: Teaching good time management skills.
And, let’s face it, time management is not the easiest concept in the world to teach! And yet, when you take this big, hard to explain concept and turn it into small, incremental lessons through using lists, learning how to manage your time well becomes a natural part of learning.
You see, through using their individual lists, children learn how to use their time wisely. They learn that certain tasks need to be accomplished before others. (For example, school work has to be done before play time.) They learn how to pace themselves as they work through their list. And they learn how to meet expectations. Expectations that are age-appropriate for where they are.
And the best part of all is that in using lists, you are teaching your children. You’re teaching them good time management and you’re doing it in an environment where grace is freely given when they fail. Because – let’s face it – failure is always part of the learning process!
No Cape, Just Coffee
Now, when you first read this list system and the reason behind it, it feels intimidating. You may even be tempted to think that I’m standing here in a Super Mom cape, showered, with perfect makeup, and perfectly behaved children who complete all their school lessons smoothly, without complaining, and before lunch each and ever day.
Can I let you in on a secret? That is SO not reality!
Each and every day is an imperfect striving to learn and grow together – without capes, most days without makeup, many days without a shower, but always with a cup of coffee!
Creating this list system for teaching my children hasn’t come overnight. It’s gone through a lot of attempts, fails, adjustments, and refining through the years.
And yet, this list system helps set us up for greater success in our days. Notice that I didn’t say “success” or “constant success.” There will be days that’ll be crazy hard. There’ll be days when the list just doesn’t get done.
But here’s the key: You don’t need a Super Mom cape to love your children well and to teach them well. Yes, use systems that help you. Yes, use lists if they help you accomplish your goal. But don’t lose sight of the most important part: You are you. You are your children’s momma and you are the best momma for your children. You can do this.
- Dispelling the Myth That You Have to Do It All
- The One-Room Schoolhouse Approach
- What Style of Homeschooling Curriculum Is Right For You?
- How To Create A Daily Homeschooling Routine
- Simple Ways To Overcome Frustration And Enjoy Your Homeschool Day
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.