“Now, class, it’s time for morning work. First, please clear your desk. Then take out your pencil. Take one worksheet and pass the rest around. For the next 10 minutes, put your name at the top and fill out this worksheet.”
(10 minutes later)
“Please hand in your worksheet. Keep your pencil on your desk and take out your math book. Turn to page 53. We’re going to learn about decimals for the next 45 minutes…”
(45 minutes later)
“Please close your math book and put it on your desk. Next, take out your math workbook. Turn to page 16. For the next 25 minutes, please complete the exercises. After this it’ll be time for snack.”
Does this take you back to elementary school? These instructions are typical of what most school students hear from their teachers throughout the day until dismissal time.
Their every minute is prescribed to them; their every move dictated.
Such explicit instructions maintain order throughout the school and ensure that the required curriculum is covered over the course of the school year. They also help maintain a safe environment and minimize disruptive behavior among students.
But they also squash opportunities for independent thinking and practicing personal responsibility.
What such instructions do not do is leave much room for free thought, free will, or self-regulation among individual students. Students grow up within the confines of this micromanagement, rarely learning how to manage their own time and formulate the steps to complete their own tasks and projects.
And these skills are precisely the kind they will need to master beyond their school career. Throughout college, career, and family life, the ability to manage time and get things done without explicitly being told what steps to take is vital.
Fortunately you can help your children develop these skills and understand their importance.
Tell Them Why
While it may seem obvious to you, taking the time to explain why personal responsibility and the ability to manage time and keep commitments are important may be just the motivation your child needs to master these skills. Consideration for others, kindness, being true your word, and the impact on larger goals are ideas even young children can appreciate.
One simple way to show respect for others related to time is to always be punctual. “One of the best time management skills to learn (particularly during the middle school years) is being on time, whether it’s for an event or turning in required work,” according to sociologist Jan Yager, “Developing that habit will serve children well when they get to the more demanding teen years.”
Children today face an unprecedented barrage of distractions. While our modern digital tools are useful, they also pose an enormous challenge to productivity and mental focus. Teach your children to turn off their devices or remove them from their workspaces when there is work to be done.
A method touted by many productivity gurus, calendar blocking is a powerful way to manage your focus and your time. By “blocking” segments of time each day for specific activities, you eliminate distraction and task switching and can focus all of your efforts on one task or one batch of similar tasks for the duration of the time block.
Author and parenting expert Julie Polanco taught her older children how to block their time. “We have used magnets with activities printed on them that can be rearranged to represent the order things happen in a day,” Polanco said. Each magnet can represent a half-hour or an hour. This gives a visual of organizing their time.”
Set The Pace
As children get older, their responsibilities increase as do the demands on their time. “Learning to pace oneself is important, as is being consistent and reliable,” Yager said. What’s more, “If procrastination is a challenge, as well as perfectionism, these issues need to be addressed and dealt with,” she said. The goal is progress, not perfection.