The Post-it Note Challenge

Believe it or not, even our schedules involved post-it notes! My oldest daughter struggled with attention issues. She had a tendency to be oppositional, so whatever I said was met with immediate resistance. I tease her now about the time she was angry that I had planned a zoo day as a surprise: even though the zoo was her favorite place in the world, she was out of sorts just because... My daughter’s resistive nature plus her tendency to grind to a slow halt when doing independent work (that silent form of ADD) made all types of school difficult.

I think when a child challenges your homeschool, it is very difficult not have all of life revolve around that child. This becomes a challenge for the entire family! In this area of parenting, I have many regrets. As much as I tried and tried not to be pulled into emotional drama, I failed again and again. No matter how I varied our work, by varying choices, day’ sequence, or the week’s sequence, teaching my brilliant and loving child was challenging! The less she performed, the more I tried to control. Fortunately for all of us, a good friend offered me this advice: give her more autonomy. What? Give an underperformer who can’t get work done even more freedom? I thought it was more helpful to give her more guidelines and boundaries!

I felt I had turned our world upside down for my daughter already, but I could see that my “order” made her feel more and more oppositional. So I began my journey to work toward supporting her independence.

We sat down and discussed the problem and my new scheduling idea. I had heard of scheduling with Post-it Notes from my sister, who was then a support educator in Georgia. The idea was to let moving the Post-it Notes around a schedule be a visual “teacher” about the results of procrastination--or in my daughter’s case, grinding slowly to a halt.

Emma, of course, was opposed to my scheduling idea and had a better one. So, in the spirit of autonomy, I agreed we would give her idea a try first. But together we agreed that if her work level didn’t improve, we would try my Post-it Note idea.

Things played out as one might imagine, so eventually, we began a Post-it Note schedule.

Here is how it worked:

Every week the kids were given colored post-it notes of all that had to be accomplished for the week. They could devise any color coding system they preferred. I had them create a Post-it for everything they had to do for the week I immediately realized that  I often had way too many things crammed in a day! I am by nature a performance-driven person, so the visual reality of Post-its helped me face my problem as a homeschool mom and back down! (First learning is always my own! Duh!)

Post-it calendar 2.jpg

Some activities were permanently scheduled for everyone, so we placed those sticky notes on the schedule first. This is a good life lesson for all of us: the world doesn’t revolve around any of our moods. Music and art lessons were scheduled. Sports practice was scheduled. Co-op or outings were scheduled.

Next came sticky notes for “teaching time with mom.” This time had to be negotiated around everyone’s needs. I worked afternoons, so often this time had to be scheduled in the mornings--but we found times that allowed my oldest to use her best hour of the day--first thing in the morning.

Lastly, all the independent work time, such as math, reading, and writing, was up to each child. They could arrange those Post-its however they pleased. If they wanted to get all five math assignments done on Monday, go for it! If they wanted to put off math until after a leisurely hour of reading, let’s see how that worked out.

Anytime a job was completed, the sticky notes could be thrown away or moved off the calendar for later. (We realized it was silly to write Math five times, week after week. We started to store commonly used notes and reuse them--thank goodness!)

Our school week ended on Friday at lunch, so afternoons were free if all the work was done. If there were leftover unfinished Post-its, they were moved to Friday afternoon. If the kids had plans for Friday afternoon, they had to do work Thursday night to catch up. My oldest daughter often did this, but actually she didn’t mind. One thing she learned is that she liked spreading her day out, even into evening. She liked hanging out in the family room, work spread in front of her, while the rest of the family did other things.

The key to the entire experiment was the learning that came from moving sticky notes around. Again, any time a Post-it Note was not completed, it would be moved to the next day. Just like real life. Just like my life. Emma and I had many discussions about me having paperwork to do on a Sunday night because I didn’t get it done on a Wednesday. The reality of Post-it Scheduling is that I realized my kids were no different than I am. I put off work, too.

The post-it notes became a physical manifestation of work piling up and the value of making choices. It had three different lessons for three different kids with three different personalities:

Emma liked the autonomy of choosing more about her life. She wanted to be in charge and she could manage her emotions better when she felt independent. Emma became quite good at using her own planner after our visual experiment.

Moira liked to make lists and check them off. She liked to get work done early and have more free time. She began to manage her week so it was paced to her preferences. Honestly, Moira was going to plan with or without me and my Post-its, but it gave her a new way to think about her week.

Vinny continued to procrastinate, but he began to understand how to plan ahead and when to buckle down and get things done. He learned that he had to study a few nights before a test, not just the night before! Vinny was in traditional school, filled with homework and deadlines and grades. So, we used the Post-it method to help him manage his weeks during his eighth grade year. Honestly, Vinny hated those Post-it notes more than anyone! But it helped him return to using either a white board or a planner more effectively, which is always good.

I learned to give my kids more grace, to back off in my over-planning, and to value my kids as thinkers. There are so many things we just teach our kids to do: use the potty, tie their shoes, brush their teeth, make their beds, clean up the kitchen, etc. It is easy to want them to become little soldiers, performing at top level all day long. Post-it scheduling helped us all discuss how some days are not as wonderful as others. How much is our doing and how much is out of our hands. When it pays to procrastinate, and when it doesn’t. Who is responsible for the schedule we each create? I realized I had to let my kids be kids, but also be average people.

I also learned that I had to make the shift from “showing them how” to “letting them discover how” in their personal learning. This is a critical parenting adjustment that I had to make--that we all have to make--though some of us are slower than others! Probably I was too controlling, but some of my learning to let go is part of a natural process that occurs when kids move into the middle years of 9-12. I needed to give them space and opportunity to THINK about how they THINK and LEARN about how they LEARN. I needed to let them think and learn without hijacking the process. Post-it note scheduling was a way I let them think and learn about their own habits and work ethic.

Of course, figuring out how to LET KIDS LEARN when they are tweens, teens, and young adults is an ongoing process. Now that I have kids in their twenties, I need to figure out when to keep my mouth shut, when to offer help, when to let them struggle through life as we all did. This parent-child dance that we call “more of you/less of me” has tricky steps! It varies with each child and circumstance. Yet, it always comes down to my ability to figure out how to grow into my ever-evolving version of Parent.

~Rita