One of the most important underlying lessons we should be teaching our children is time management. They need to learn to pace themselves and to prioritize their activities. One way to do this is to have a daily deadline. This is easy to do by giving them the responsibility of daily chores. They also need to learn the life skill of planning their activities in a larger time frame. If they are required to meet a deadline every day for everything they never learn the discipline necessary to accomplish tasks that can’t be done in a day. They need to learn not to procrastinate. One way to do that is to have weekly, and sometimes even longer, deadlines on some things. This teaches them that they have a responsibility to make steady progress on a task that no one is going to see on a daily basis.
For my boys, we have always had four regular school days and then Friday was a catch-up day. Field trips or other special activities were also planned for that day. They knew that their weekend activities would be at risk if they weren’t done by Friday evening. Recently this has worked well for my high schoolers because they have an older brother living on his own who invites them to spend the night on the weekends if they have their work done. This works wonders!
I think that a certain amount of distraction and just dawdling is to be expected from children and it will help them more, in the long run, to learn to manage this themselves instead of having someone nagging them to stay on task every minute. It makes for a more self-motivated student and employee in the long run — a skill sorely lacking in the general population these days.
Talk with your child and come up with a plan that works for them. Some children are naturally more motivated than others. I had one son who wanted me to just hand him a folder with his assignments for the whole month and leave him alone. He paced himself and got his work done with no problem. Another son needed his assignments broken down into daily lists and sometimes only wanted to know one task at a time. Even a daily list of assignments overwhelmed him. We had to work much harder to get to the place where he could monitor his own progress without being overwhelmed and shutting down completely.
Now that my youngest students are in high school, we have a very relaxed homeschooling environment. They know that they are required to complete their work on a regular basis but it has become their responsibility to make that happen. They know they are required to have at least four math lessons completed each week. When they do those lessons is up to them. Younger students may need daily goals for things like math but can begin to take responsibility for other assignments. Reading and writing assignments are a good place to begin setting longer deadlines.
It’s wise to allow your child to help set the goals for his own activities. If he is allowed ownership of his goals he is much more likely to follow through and complete them. Set up a system where they can see what things need to be done daily and what things need to be completely weekly or even monthly. One way to help them figure out how to pace themselves would be to break down assignments in smaller chunks. If they have to have a book completed in a week help them figure out how many pages they need to read per day to keep up.
Letting them set their own goals must be combined with the understanding that they will over- or underestimate what they can accomplish in a given amount of time. Trial and error are the best teachers here. Let them try and help them figure out what they need to do differently when they fail to reach their goals. Let them know that falling short is okay and help them learn from their experiences and move on.
One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes it’s more important to teach the life skill of time management than it is to have every assignment completed exactly when you expect it to be.
Here are a few other resources you might find helpful.
Teaching Time Management Skills to Teens
How to Teach Kids Time Management