At the time, I had a baby and a preschooler and someone who ought to be taught to read. But there were also 9-year-old and 7-year-old boys. I’d tell them to go get dressed, planning on starting school after they came back downstairs.
I’d load the dishwasher, wipe the counter, start a load of laundry, change a diaper, remonstrate with the preschooler. I’d look up and it would be thirty minutes – yet no boy had descended the stairs.
Up I’d ascend. Cracking open the door to their room, I understood the situation at a glance.
Pajamas half off, day clothes on the floor, when one had sat down to put a leg through the leg hole of his pants, his eye had fallen on a Calvin and Hobbes conveniently left open on the floor. There he was, mid-process, paused, pouring over the comic book.
His brother? Playing with legos, of course.
So we were already thirty minutes beyond our scheduled school-day start and my students weren’t even dressed.
We began our day with me dragging everyone along, and that’s how it seemed the day continued, also.
Sound familiar? Yeah, this was more than one morning at our house. Over the years, as the children grew, the specifics changed, but the temptation was still always there: procrastination.
When there are three or five or seven people each procrastinating in their own way, it can seem impossible to get a day running reliably. In fact, it is impossible. But we also can’t overcome procrastination – ours or our students’ – by nagging, yelling, or forcing. Indeed, such tactics will actually increase everyone’s tendency to procrastinate.
There’s no doubt about it: Starting is the hardest part.
So what can we do about it?
We can make starting easier, set a good example, and recognize the obstacles.
Make starting easier
As humans, we and our children will always tend toward the path of least resistance. The path that is good and right and true will always require effort, and we wimp out easily.
We’ll never be able to make the right thing to do totally effortless, but we can reduce the obstacles and increase the momentum to get the team moving onward and upward.
However, if we aren’t intentional about gearing ourselves and everyone up for the task at hand, we’ll find we’re fighting ourselves and everyone instead.
So increase the familial momentum by not allowing free time at all until after school, by offering an incentive at the starting line, and by making the day’s plan clear.
Harness morning momentum
It’s hard to gather everyone together, ready to go on an average homeschool morning. Yet we make it harder on ourselves by allowing the morning to be derailed before it’s even begun.
We try to squeeze in another chapter of our book, a phone call, or a load of laundry. The kids aren’t bothering us, so we delay the start of school to enjoy our morning.
Of course, mom isn’t bugging the kids, so they, too, are doing whatever seems right in their own eyes as well.
Thus, in order to start school, we have to interrupt and interfere with each other’s business, stopping the fun, ending the enjoyment of a moment, and no one likes it.
Instead, we need to – as a family – briskly move from waking to breakfasting to preparations to school. Free time is a reward that comes after work: Business before pleasure. Neither kids nor mom should begin free time activities until lunch break or the completion of the checklist.
Starting the day briskly in the morning, using the same pattern morning after morning, will take vigilance and discipline, but as everyone accepts it, they will give attention to schoolwork more readily, because that will become the key to getting to free time.
Homeschool morning treat
Now, school time is not free time, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a drag, a downer, a disappointment. We can also increase our morning consistency and momentum by adding a bit of pleasure to the work time itself.
One year, I allowed the students a cup of tea (with unsupervised spoonfuls of sugar) with their math if they finished their chores and were starting math by 8:15. At 8:15 or 8:20, the tea stuff was off limits. My boys were then self-motivated to get their cup of tea so that math time was more enjoyable.
The morning treat doesn’t even have to involve sugar. Perhaps the morning treat is starting with singing or a favorite read-aloud.
Beginning with something that everyone looks forward to helps kick the motivation and momentum into gear.
Communicate the plan clearly
Sometimes our kids dawdle and resist the schedule because it feels like a never-ending work day to them. They don’t have any hope of free time, so they are trying to grab it wherever and whenever they can.
If we communicate clearly with our kids, preferably with a written, visible-to-all plan, we can show them how their free time is dependent upon their own work ethic.
Plus, such commitment reminds us as moms to not pile on as much work as we can.
There should be a clear, finite amount of work to do each day. When that work is done satisfactorily, then free time can be truly enjoyed as free rather than stolen.
The faster and better the work is done, the more free time can be had. Such is the natural consequence of a strong work ethic – a virtue we want to be encouraging in our kids and ourselves.
But a work ethic only kicks into gear when the work to do is clearly laid out.
If we want to start off our school days with momentum, we need a written, clear checklist available so that the work to be done is defined and specific.
Set a good example
One reason we get frustrated with our kids for dawdling and delaying is that we’re already frustrated with ourselves for the same thing.
We deflect our frustration with ourselves onto the kids because they’re easier to blame. But if we were getting started with energy and clarity, we’d be leading them to do the same.
Leadership is our job as homeschool moms. If we want our kids to start the day without dawdling, to start the day with energy and purpose, then that begins with us. We gear up and then we invite – and require – our children to join us.
But we set the tone and pace.
But my best and most favorite tactic for getting the homeschool day started consistently and cheerfully is even more simple and effective than these three.
I share about it in this free workshop, which you don’t want to miss: