We are deep into March’s round of parent-teacher conferences, and one of the skills the forms have teachers talk about is “using time efficiently.” I like the idea of treating this as a skill, rather than something one is “good” or “bad” at. However, like all skills, questions of motivation and the like come into play. I have no idea if what we are doing will “work” — but I can just describe the conversations I have with my kids about this.
First, time management requires some sense of time. It also assumes that one has choices about how to spend that time. Little kids don’t really have much of either. My 5-year-old has just mastered the concept of the 7-day week, and that if today is Wednesday, something that happens on Thursday will happen tomorrow, which is after one sleep. Friday is two sleeps, and so forth. With very little kids, all they really get is routines that are repeated consistently: nap is after lunch, snack is after nap, etc.
School aged children can start to have more choices and more responsibilities, and can start to think about when things will happen a bit more. Time management is really about self-management. You can set rules on when things happen, but ideally you can also help a child understand why this is a better choice, so he wants to make that choice. That’s the real skill. With my 7-year-old — the one who would play video games 23 hours a day if allowed to — I’m stressing that we do the things we need to do before getting sucked into other things, because then you can do the fun stuff without anything else hanging over your head. Any assigned homework needs to be done before video games. As the weather gets nicer, I’m going to add in some outdoor play time in the afternoon. I also want him to read for at least 30 minutes a day. I know he comes home ready to blow off some steam and the video games do that, so I’m really only consistent on requiring homework before video games. This one is a work in progress as he doesn’t have many activities during the week right now, so he kind of has a lot of time to fill. However, on weekends, when I make a check list of the things that need to get done on Sunday, he will sometimes go through his required things quickly so that he can get them over with.
The 9-year-old has almost my freakish interest in time. He calculated how many seconds were in days, months, years, etc. during church when he was bored once. When we read The Boy Who Loved Math, about Paul Erdős, he was fascinated by his trick on figuring out how many seconds a person had been alive, so there’s been a lot of contemplation on that and if there are quick formulas with leap years and the like. However, I would say, and I believe he would agree with me (and I found out he sometimes reads this blog, so there we go) that organization is not necessarily his strong suit. As one teacher once put it to me, “he’s a little mess.” We spend a lot of time — time that is completely wasted, I might add — looking for lost items. We are working on this. We are also working on figuring out pacing of long projects. He often gets weekly homework, and on Monday he might say he wants to do it Wednesday, and I try to explain that Wednesday is a pretty busy day, and maybe he could look it over Monday to see how much is involved, so we don’t not do it on Wednesday and then get stuck with a massive amount on Thursday that has to get done. I can see that he’s thinking about these issues though, and he’s also been getting pretty good about figuring out his own schedule of activities. He’s newly committed to swim after getting promoted to the next group, so he wants to do this 3 times per week. He is also quite into karate, and is doing this twice per week. I have given him the printed schedules for both, so he can see what times are options. Considering his other siblings’ schedules, we’ve let him say what days he would like to do things. Last week he considered the scheduling options, and said he wanted to take the Saturday karate class, so he didn’t have to double up on anything during the week. This was a reasonable solution given other things we had going on, so I said that was fine. (Then he got to karate and realized he didn’t have his bag with his karate stuff in it — which was packed and right by the door.…)
I tend to believe that learning to manage oneself well — in pursuit of managing time — is about motivation. My kids are perfectly happy to spend big chunks of time on things they personally find interesting. The 9-year-old creates whole elaborate time lines of rulers in lands he’s dreamed up. The 7-year-old asks for me to do math problems with him at night; he was unhappy last night when I stopped because it was 9:20 p.m. and he needed to go to bed. Part of time management is figuring out that things one finds not that fun in the moment may be critical for longer term goals, and hence even though you don’t necessarily want to do them in the moment, you can still make them happen.
I think my biggest lesson in productivity came my fall semester of junior year in high school. I started attending the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and the Humanities on the campus of Ball State University. I had never really truly needed to work hard for good grades before, but all of a sudden I did. Couple this with the excitement of being at a residential school and and I was not necessarily prepared to spend adequate time on my studies. That fall I got a couple of Bs (and even a C!) on my report card. I was not happy with this outcome, and so I figured out how to manage my time better. I got straight As for the rest of my time there. This is really not something anyone else could have done for me. If you’d made me take a study skills class I would have found it idiotic. When we are motivated to do things, we figure out a lot more than when we don’t really care.
What are you teaching your kids about time (and self) management?
Photo: My 7-year-old chose to illustrate his essay on spring with black flowers. Interesting…