19 Nov 2014

What is your favorite thing about a to-do list? Is it the calming pursuit of listing; all the necessary tasks to be accomplished; the knowledge that you will not forget something important; or maybe the sheer symmetry of the bullet points? My favorite part of making a to-do list is crossing off items. In fact, I like that so much that I sometimes add things to my list that I have already done, just so that I can cross them off. (Don’t roll your eyes; I’ll bet you’ve thought about it too.) As a homeschooler, I have found to-do lists to be both blessings and curses. They are blessings when they are the means to help me focus on the tasks at hand; they become curses when they blur my vision, becoming ends in themselves and bringing me close to losing track of my priorities.

Like you, I suspect, I began homeschooling so that I could enjoy watching my children learn. I absolutely loved the light bulb moments and jealously guarded them for myself. My heart would flutter when my girls asked how clouds bring rain or why the neighborhood dog looked little when he was down the street but turned out to be a big dog up close. I loved hearing Sarah read her first story and watching Stephanie write her first “book.” I would stop my work at almost any request to read me a book or answer a question that an inquiring mind wanted to know. Those teachable moments were nectar to me! I was as eager as they were to explore and dream and philosophize and debate. And, you know, my strategies worked! My girls became explorers of new ideas and dreamers of new worlds and thinkers of new thoughts and debaters of the status quo. I was happy.

But I was still a list-maker. As our lives became more complex, the lists grew and seemed more necessary—and more domineering. If I was to be a success at this homeschooling, I needed to be efficient, accomplishing more in less time every day. If I could just think of all the things that needed to be done and write them down in a systematic way and then work the system, life would flow and all would be well. I thought I could determine what my girls needed to know, decide how to teach them and set a course of bullet points in the desired direction. My lists would ensure that there were no gaps in their education and that I, as their teacher, had provided everything they needed to succeed. However, I found that the fuller the list became, the less wiggle room it offered for life. Those questions that had once been so charming and exciting sometimes became a distraction and a speed bump on my highway of education. I realized that I had allowed the teachable moments to take a back seat to my to-do list!

I became aware that a faint frown would appear when one of the girls asked a question that had not been on my radar; chasing that rabbit might mean we missed covering something I had planned. Some days I hurriedly gave a short answer when an essay might have been more meaningful. Some days I glossed over the interest with a “we’ll come back to that.” Then, one day, I noticed the girls didn’t seem as curious; they were more content to let me guide the lessons, not pressing to delve beneath the surface. I was shocked at how much I missed the act of joint discovery, of rabbit chasing! I realized the learning process that I wanted to model was the kind that celebrates questions, not squashes them. I want to raise life-long learners who ask questions forever and are eager to pursue the answers wherever the journey leads.

I am a recovering list maker now; I still operate most efficiently when I have a plan for my day and for our educational goals. My default mode is still to work the list, and sometimes I find myself moving from item to item without much thought. I am training myself to slow down and read my daughters, though, and to be sensitive to those teachable moments. I know that they are what make homeschooling really rewarding, not a completely crossed out to-do list!