How do you get everything done?

How to do one thing at a time in your homeschool

One of the most frequent questions I get about the “one thing” philosophy or the “flexible routine” is wondering how to get everything done. If we focus deeply on, say, art for several weeks, what happens to math? If we take our time planning a vegetable garden and then put in hours of planting and tending, are we neglecting reading aloud and history? The idea that you could get an education focusing on one thing at a time feels risky to most of us, particularly if we are being haunted by that familiar ghost of public school past. She’s the one that nags reminds you: There are seven subjects to cover in a day by 2:30 p.m., Missy!

The hardest part of adopting any philosophy is the emotional hurdle (letting go of the familiar to take on the new). One way to lower the anxiety associated with trying something new is to understand the philosophy a bit better first. So let’s tackle that now.

Think about life as an adult versus life as a student. Remember leaving high school or college? How did you feel about reading books? Did you want to dive right into medieval lit or tackle another business theory? Probably not. Exhaustion from juggling so many class lectures, ideas, tests, papers leads to a complete break from “studies” in any kind of formal sense. After a period of recovery (sometimes as long as a decade for some people), you found yourself curious about… something. Maybe it was quilting or photography, perhaps it was politics or business, or maybe you joined an adult soccer league or pilates class. The point is, when you found yourself attracted to an area of interest, you pursued it because… you were attracted to it.

Over time, these areas of interest led you into others. The freedom to think and do and be what you want is intoxicating and produces the best conditions for learning. You find yourself motivated by your own hunger, not by someone controlling what you do. And in fact, there is brain research that supports your adult style of learning. Apparently our brains do best when we have the opportunity to focus intently, allowing the greatest interconnection of ideas to occur simultaneously (what you already know relating to what you are now learning) and sequentially (how one thing leads to another).

The freedom to think and do and be what you want is intoxicating
and produces the best conditions for learning.

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As we look at our depth of learning as adults, the model doesn’t have to be so different for children. The biggest difference between us and them can be boiled down to several things:

1) Kids need to gather the skills to learn (reading, writing, computer literacy and basic math do provide the right foundation). That’s worth working on.

2) Kids need to know what’s out there that might interest them. They don’t have as much life experience as you do so they don’t know what could interest them without exposure to a wide array of activities, ideas and resources. Your primary job is to enhance their exposure to the wonderful feast that life is.

3) Kids need money. You are the adult with money. Their newly cultivated interests require lessons or museum visits or books or art supplies or tutors or DVDs or binoculars or cameras or musical instruments or ballet shoes or Vogue magazine subscriptions. Be sure to provide these. If you don’t have money, barter, swap, trade. Do what it takes to make it happen. (Two of my kids have run cookie businesses that have paid for Space Camp, all Apple products, wardrobes and music lessons.)

4) Kids need time. They learn best when they have time. That means creating space in your life for uninterrupted work. If that means investing hours in practicing soccer dribbling, then it does mean that some days. Think about how you learn. You can’t master quilting by working at it in 45 minute chunks. Too much work setting up the sewing machine, ironing board, etc. Kids need to know they have the morning to build the huge Lego castle or to rehearse a scene they want to perform or to hike to see birds in the canyon.

5) Kids need chauffeurs. You can provide rides. So do that for them.

6) Kids need your help and enthusiasm. When they work hard, they hit snags. They will need you to reread the instructions or find out a softer reed for the woodwind or to get a different coach or to help them stick with something when it gets hard. They need your praise, support, happiness and pride in their efforts. They also need partners (someone to play Pokemon cards or to help direct the scene or to practice throwing the Frisbee with).

If you support depth learning (while also facilitating growth in the basics – writing, reading, computing and math skills), your kids will gradually gain momentum and will discover a fascinating web of relationships between what they care about and what they develop a taste for because of the way the two overlap. So, for instance, my 17 year old loves music (passionate about classical music of all kinds). That love has led the way to care about historical, philosophical and theological issues that were related to his classical music interest. Likewise, my son who is passionate about Warcraft online has learned typing, spelling and map reading/creating through that game.

Not any one subject has to teach it all, either. A passionate period of devotion to World War 2 will eventually give way to another area of interest (Greek mythology or bread baking). Mine the interest while it’s compelling, notice the interconnections, foster them. Then allow the next one to emerge.

5 Responses to “How do you get everything done?”

  1. Diane says:

    After many years of homeschooling I still struggle with this even tho I know better. I wish I could go back, but for now I have to concentrate on today and the high school years.
    Looking forward to your following thoughts… “I’ll talk more about the idea of requirements and particularly high school expectations in the coming week.”

    One more thought…I used to take pride in how much money I could save to homeschool and felt guilty spending on big ticket items/opportunities for education. It wasn’t till my husband ok’d our son to go to a Christian high school that I realized what “I” was doing and relinquished that guilt. Now I do what is needed to encourage my other children’s interests for a lot less. My non-academic bright child wants to take up banjo and I a dulcimer. I look forward to our jam times in the future.

    Thank you for the encouragement to let go and reach for the stars, Julie.

  2. Diane says:

    One more thing Julie. Do you know how I knew he wanted to play banjo? I got brave and gave him a choice of 2 freewrite topics that I dug up on your blog. He chose “If I had one more chance to…., I would….”. So there is another purpose to freewriting, getting to know your child.

  3. Julie Bogart says:

    Yes! Diane, so true. I found out about my son’s desire to learn piano through a freewrite too! Isn’t that something? That’s worth another blog entry.

    And yes, high school does have some requirements. These need to be met. But I think we can go about it in ways that still foster depth learning. So we’ll talk more about that next week.


  4. Lucy says:

    Love this post. It makes a lot of sense and seems doable. I thought some of the bullet points were so basic and yet as parents, we do need to take on these roles. The idea that children need our money and also need lots of exposure to what the world has to offer them is something I will need to think about more. I know in an earlier post you wrote about how much of a child’s life is decided by a parent. I want the decision I make for my family to expand my child’s world, not limit it. Thanks for your wise words of advice.

  5. Laura says:

    I’ve been trying to implement the BW lifestyle for about 2 years now. I just add in new ideas a little bit at a time. Somethings work better than others but we keep on trying. In fact, this year I am going to try to add in movie watching for my older kids—I KNOW they will love it! That being said I want to tell you that you have no idea what a breath of fresh air your words are to me. Despite our embracing the BW lifestyle I constantly struggle with trying to get over the ghosts of my own schooling in order to give my kids the best education I can. Thank you for reminding me what my ultimate goal is: to be their advocate/partner and to grow lifelong lovers of learning! Oh, how I wish I could go back and re-do my oldest child’s early years. Unfortunately, that is not possible so I will just have to start where we are right now.