Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life Grids

This week, since our return from Richmond, we have not been "doing school" in the normal sense of a regular homeschool day. If you asked my kids, in fact, they might even say they are already on vacation. But they aren't, really. Why? Because of "life grids."

During a normal school day, each of my children has a "grid" he manages, checking off items that are required of him. Certain academic work (like math and language) is expected on a daily basis; other academic work, as they get older, is assigned in weekly chunks, and my kids are required to determine and manage their own time and workload daily, to complete the assigned work over the course of the week. (Think college here.) So, some days they might not do any work in history or science or some other subjects we don't do daily. These items are still on their grids, however, and at the end of the day, they get a "sign off" from one of us parents indicating that all of the items have been checked off (if completed), crossed off (if intentionally not done this particular day), or x'ed off (if not required today).

And here's the deal. Grids work so well that we can't bring ourselves to give them up when we're not "doing school." All of the non-academic items of the grid still need to be done (the "life grid" we call these items), and the grid is simply the easiest and best and most reliable way to manage them. The grid becomes the "slave driver," not me!

So, what sorts of things are on the "life grid"? It varies for each child, but some of the non-negotiables are as follows:

MR (Morning Routine)
Dev (Devotions)
Gath (Gathering)
SM (Scripture Memory)
TB (Touch Base)
SR (School Reading)
FR (Free Reading)
5PC (Five-Point Check)
SO (Sign Off)

When we don't do grids, we get "scrambly." (This is a favorite word we've picked up from our piano teacher, to describe when life gets sloppy and ceases to be approached with deliberateness.) When we don't do grids, my kids are begging to play some form of electronic entertainment by 10:00 a.m. (And they'd play them indiscriminately for hours, too, until they finally got off - resentfully - when the "mean mom" asked them to.)

The grids keep us happy. The grids keep us productive. The grids keep my children squarely in charge of learning to be responsible with their time even when someone else isn't telling them what to do with every minute of their day. And best of all, the grids keep me from becoming a nag.

Why do we keep "doing school" during the late spring and over the summer? Because keeping a few academic items on the "life grid" during select weeks of summer isn't difficult, takes little time, keeps our academic skills sharp, and keeps us from being "bored." When we're done, we go swim or play. When we have a social invitation, we skip the academic stuff and take the chance to go visit. But we don't spend hours watching TV or playing electronic gaming devices or getting snippy with each other like we do when there is no grid. It keeps us living the principle that, "Play is a reward for work."

We hope to spare our children from the expectation we ourselves bought, unintentionally, as we lived the lie of adolescence as it is currently practiced in middle America: that one gets 3-4 months "off" every summer from the work the Lord has called him to do. Life doesn't work that way as adults. Why should we train ourselves to expect it to work that way while we're still children?

I'm reminded of something I read by Alex & Brett Harris on the Rebelution website entitled, "'Do Hard Things' Doesn't Mean You Can't Have Fun." They were speaking to a youth group at the time:

Once we realized the impression we were making Alex and I quickly explained that we weren’t “freaks of nature” with a genetic disposition for work. We are a lot like “normal” teenagers. We like sports (we’re short, but we try really hard), we love music, we watch movies, we style our hair, and we even play video games from time to time. But, we have a different way of looking at fun. Here are two principles we try to follow:

1) First Things First

Being a “rebelutionary” does not mean you have erased “fun” from your life. It means that you have relegated it to its proper place. “Do Hard Things” does not eliminate fun, but it elevates, honors, and recognizes the superiority of the activities and pursuits that strengthen, stretch, and grow our character and competence for the glory of God.

We explained to the youth group that night that Alex and I view fun as a break from the “hard things” that we spend the majority of our time doing. Did you catch that? We view fun as a break from hard things. We have fun after we feel that we have accomplished something significant.

Our culture, on the other hand, tells us that we should have fun first and do hard things only “when we have to.” Do you see the difference? It’s all about priorities. We will always prioritize that which is most important to us. A rebelutionary will place “fun” in its proper place, understanding that responsibility to God and others comes first. Our culture spreads the lie that our pleasure, our enjoyment, and our fun is first priority.

Our culture acts like it’s giving us something by allowing and encouraging us to just have fun — but the truth is that when all we care about is “having fun” we’re being robbed. Robbed of contentment in the future, robbed of effectiveness for God, robbed of competence, robbed of character, maybe even robbed of the spouse we’ve always wanted, because we weren’t prepared for them and didn’t deserve them.

A rebelutionary recognizes that what is most valuable isn’t always the most fun. A rebelutionary puts first things first, and second things (like fun) second.

2) Hard Things Can Be Fun

You might (accurately) conclude that Alex and I do fewer “fun things” than the average teen, but you couldn’t say we have less fun. We might spend less time playing video games, going to parties, and just “hangin’ out,” but we also enjoy much of the work we do.

In other words, it is possible to enjoy doing the hard things that develop your character and your competence for the glory of God. Alex and I love delving into the biography of a great man or woman, we love writing, and we love speaking. Which is good because that is what we spend the majority of our time doing!

...The point I want to leave you with is that hard things can be fun — not the way snowboarding is fun — but still in a fulfilling, exciting, and positive way.

These guys are some teens who "get it." I want my kids to be teens who "get it" - who work hard, and then play hard... but in godly ways, in the right proportions, and in that order.

Me, too, for that matter.

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