Making to-do checklists for children is not a novel idea, but it works. In this 13-page pamphlet from Homeschool How-To's, a family business that publishes materials to make your homeschool life easier, you will find ideas on how to make the old stand-by to-do chart really work for your family. The booklet is broken up into two parts: why make to-do charts and how to make them "using some winning strategies you may never have thought of."
Why make to-do charts? They help children to become independent, and they make mom's life easier. These reasons alone sold me on the idea of trying this simple idea, even though we've experimented with many organizing tools (including to-do lists) to help navigate our homeschool day. Author Renee Ellison asserts that you should "work yourself out of a job in every area as quickly as possible" so that your children can succeed on their own in life. I would agree that a checklist is much preferred to continual reminding and checking by the parent.
In the second part of the pamphlet, Renee discusses how to optimize the use of charts. Location of the chart is a key. I think this is where I've messed up in the past. If the checklist is tucked in a notebook or hanging in a child's bedroom, the parent can't monitor the progress and the child may forget to refer to it. The charts need to be in a central location (ideally with a pencil handy) where everyone will see them during the day.
I love the author's low-tech instructions for how to make these to-do charts. Using ½-inch graph paper, list the tasks on the left side and the dates across the top of the page. When those dates are used up, just tape another piece of graph paper over the marked boxes so that the list is still visible. What could be simpler? Certainly one could design something on the computer as well.
What do you include on the checklist? "Write out complete lists for an ideal homeschooling day at your house." This could include personal grooming, chores, academics, music practice, and even exercise. Each child should have his own individual list. I found it very helpful to include my children's input when drawing up their lists. An important point is that these checklists provide a routine for the sequence of task--not a schedule tied to specific times.
Renee Ellison strongly suggests your child adhere to the to-do chart six days a week, all year long. I respect and admire her work ethic. In our home we have found that our children do best with some structure to govern their day, no matter the day or season. Even if you don't do school on Saturdays or during the summer, you could make a modified or different checklist for those time periods.
The author says the child should work in 15-minute increments, starting out with 5 minutes if that is easier at first. I'm not sure I agree with the 15-minute work periods throughout the school day, especially when you have older students with heavier workloads. I also question the wisdom of training children to stop after 15 minutes of study. How does this correspond with the character traits of diligence and persistence?
Another strategy presented in How to Make Optimal Homeschooling
To-Do Charts is to alternate schoolwork with a physical activity. This strategy is billed as a way to accomplish housework and schoolwork simultaneously, but I think the idea is also to give children breaks from their academics throughout the day. In our household we sometimes interpreted this as alternating a more difficult activity with an easier one. The last page of the pamphlet is a sample chart to help you visualize what a to-do list might look like.
For our family, I not only made charts for my three children but also decided to try the idea for myself. I included my morning chores, Bible time, housework, sewing, and reading among other daily tasks and personal projects. I think the kids enjoyed knowing I was working along with them to accomplish my goals, and I must admit it was fun to put that checkmark in each of my boxes.
We also found we needed to "tweak" the checklists a time or two to ensure that they covered the necessary items without being overwhelming or unrealistic. Renee includes ideas on how to make checklists with tasks that are only for certain days.
The author shares her personal opinions regarding parenting philosophy and curriculum choice in the pamphlet. Whether or not one agrees with her on these points, the checklist idea can still be applied to your individual situation. If you are looking for a simple method of organizing your homeschool day, try this affordable ($3.00) product with its great ideas.