Thrifty Thursday: Time After Time

Poor Chipette! She’s my oldest, so when we decided to homeschool she also became my guinea pig. It didn’t take too long into our Kindergarten year for me to realize not only was she a guinea pig, she was a distractible, fidgety, lolly-gagging guinea pig. It would take me five or ten minutes to threaten persuade her to do one math problem. Then repeat for the next problem. To say that this frustrated me would be putting it mildly! I didn’t want Kindergarten to take all day, but it was because of Chipette.

I didn’t know what to do. If I tried to discipline her into being productive, she became upset and couldn’t do anything. I thought back to what worked when I was potty-training her. I had to show Chipette that using the bathroom would be more beneficial to her play time than if she went in her diaper. When she would use the toilet, she immediately could return to playing, but if she went in her pants, then she had to sit in a time out for ten minutes. It didn’t take her long to figure out a cost analysis in her three year old mind.

Bathroom = more play
Pants = wait to play

Needless to say, I had her potty trained in a week!

How could I apply this same principle to our homeschool? I realized two things:

  1. I needed to decrease what I expected of her time at the table.
  2. I needed to make working hard during school time more beneficial than wasting time.

I watched Chipette the next day and noticed that she could focus pretty well for about twenty minutes. No wonder I wasn’t getting much out of her! However, I did want to increase that focus muscle so I determined that thirty minutes would be our session time.
However, I still had about an hour worth of work that I wanted to complete. The bulk of which was math, phonics, and handwriting. I made the executive decision to divide our work into two thirty minute work sessions divided by a thirty minute break. Why such a long break? Well that was my second idea….

I dusted off my kitchen timer and introduced Chipette to the new way of doing things. I explained to her that all I wanted from her was thirty minutes of hard work. If she did that, I would give her a thirty minute break; one minute for every minute of focused attention. If she started wasting time, then I would give her a verbal warning. After that I merely reached over, grabbed the timer, and adjusted the time back five minutes so now she had to do thirty-five minutes of work. It also cut back on her free time. Instead of a thirty minute break she could only take a twenty-five minute one.

If I’m remembering correctly, the most I ever had to adjust the timer back in one session was about three times. Another part of this system I had to add was when I called her back to the table for the second work session if she didn’t come in five minutes, then I started adding time to the work session. It didn’t take too long for her to figure out that when Mom called, you come!

I discovered some benefits to my Timer Training, as I call it, that were unexpected but wonderful.

  • I purposefully put the timer where Chipette could see it so that she knew how her time was progressing. This led to better focus on her part because there was an end in sight.
  • I stopped losing my temper, needing to have long talks, or punish to get our school done. The timer took me out of the equation.
  • I was able to emphasize repeatedly that how long school lasted was in HER hands. Her attitude and work ethic are the deciding factors. That little gem of wisdom has carried over to today for both of us.

The result of Timer Training is that I now have a third grader who comes to the table ready to work hard for an hour, and a Kindergartener with whom Timer Training is just beginning!

Time is money so we try to be as thrifty with it as possible in the tree house,