Our Grand Experiment: The Power of Choice for our Kids

Overview: If you’ve always homeschooled the same way, you might want to read this. We shook things up over here and I’m amazed at the results! By the way, this experiment is working!

When my boys hit the middle school years, our family made a huge change to our homeschool. I called it our Grand Experiment because I felt that it was either a genius idea or it would lead to our downfall.

After reading about tweens and teens and how their sleep cycles change during this phase of life, I decided we needed to do something different around here. I realized that when I woke my boys up before they’re ready to be woken up, they were surly. They both complained that they didn’t sleep well, and it took a long time for them to be able to function properly.

Our Grand Experiment: The Power of Choice for our Kids - Homeschool moms love their freedom. But do we pass on any of that freedom to our children? Click through to discover some quick and easy tips!

So, that year, I tried something radically different!

Our Grand Experiment

First, I stopped waking them up in the morning.

Yes, you heard me right. I let my boys wake up on their own and start their schoolwork whenever they were ready. This was a challenge for me because I’m the type of person who would rather get up at a decent hour and dive right into our day. I’d much rather get the vast majority of our work done in the morning so that we can be free to do whatever we’d like to do with our afternoons.

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When my boys were younger, this system worked well for us. But once they were 12 1/2 and almost 14, they tended to stumble through their mornings bleary-eyed and afternoons became a better time for them to do their schoolwork.

Next, I gave them a list of schoolwork for the week and let them manage their own time.

This was also a hard one for me. I was used to giving them a list of things I want them to do each day. But then, I found myself having to push them from one activity to the next because it felt like they were dawdling and wasting all of our time.

I asked both of my sons if they’d like me to give them a list of everything they need to get done for the week and allowed them to do as much or as little as they’d like to do each day. They both eagerly agreed that they’d like to make that change.

I was excited and told them that if they worked really hard the first few days of each week, then they could have a day or two to focus on whatever they wanted to learn about. They’d have lots of time to explore whatever their hearts desired. My boys responded to me with, “If we get all of our work done early can we have lots of time to do NOTHING!?!” I thought about it for a minute and then I told them that if “doing nothing” is what motivated them to get their work done, then I guess that would be fine.


The Rules

There were some rules they needed to follow.

I told my boys that they must have all of their schoolwork done by the time Dad got home from work on Friday or I would jump back in and help them manage their time more wisely. Also, if that happened, they will be expected to finish whatever they didn’t complete during the week on Saturday. And that was something they definitely wanted to avoid.

Our Grand Experiment: The Power of Choice for our Kids - Homeschool moms love their freedom. But do we pass on any of that freedom to our children? Click through to discover some quick and easy tips!

Did it Work?

In the first weeks of our Grand Experiment, things went very well. One of my boys woke up at 8 am on Monday and started immediately working his way through the list. The first thing he did was to spend two hours doing Phys Ed. Seriously. Then, he did some science and some reading.

My other son slept in until around 10:30. He didn’t get very much done his first day, which was worrisome to me. After that, however, he kicked things into gear and started working hard to be sure he’d get all of his stuff done before the end of the day on Friday.

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At the end of the first week, one of my sons had completed everything by 11 am on Friday and the other one had to scramble to get everything done later into Friday afternoon. But overall, it was a great success. I did talk with one son about how he hadn’t used his time very well at the beginning of the week and he agreed and talked to me about how he would do things differently the next week.

I must admit that in the years since we first started conducting this experiment, there were periods when my boys could handle a weekly checklist and other periods when they did much better with a daily checklist. Your results may vary depending on the age and maturity of your own child.

What have I learned so far?

  • My boys’ favorite subject for several years was Phys Ed!
  • My boys would rather focus on one subject for a longer period of time than to spend short bits of time each day on different subjects. For example, my sons sat down and read 10 chapters of the book they were reading for literature in one sitting versus reading 2 chapters a day like I would normally assign. Or they’d do all of their math lessons for the week in one sitting rather than doing one lesson each day.
  • My boys may dawdle but they get their work done. And they speed up dramatically as their deadline approaches!
  • If I trust them and let them move forward at their own pace, it is much more relaxing for them AND for me.

This new way of doing things was a radical change for me. It was counter-intuitive for sure! But it was definitely a positive change for our homeschool.

My boys learned to manage their own time, they got their work done, they got plenty of sleep, and everyone was in a better mood. I learned to take advantage of my alone time in the mornings rather than in the afternoons. And I learned to back off while they picked up more and more responsibility for their own learning. Making this change did have a few hitches along the way but it honestly had an amazingly positive impact overall.

If you’ve always homeschooled a certain way, try talking to your kids to see if they have any suggestions which might make things go more smoothly. Because our kids aren’t always wired the same way that we are you might be surprised at some of the changes you could make that will revolutionize their homeschool experience for the better – for you and for your kids.

Question:  Do you wake up your teens? Are you teaching your kids to manage their own time? I’d love to hear about any tips you may have! Please leave a comment below.

Our Grand Experiment: The Power of Choice for our Kids - Homeschool moms love their freedom. But do we pass on any of that freedom to our children? Click through to discover some quick and easy tips!

37 thoughts on “Our Grand Experiment: The Power of Choice for our Kids”

  1. Cool! Lovely post. I don’t wake my kids up any more but sometimes they ask me to. I let them sleep until they’re done sleeping but mostly because I do all my household chores in the morning before school so they have lots of time. I suppose it has helped them to get enough sleep which is good for their health.
    I really like your idea of getting the kids to organise their own work for the week. I like how it worked for you and how it taught your kids how to work independently. I think I’m going to try it!! Thanks.

    1. You’re welcome. I hope it works as well for you as it has for us! And yes, if your kids ask you to wake them up, that’s fine. One of my sons did ask me to wake him up at 9 am last Friday so that he could be sure he finished his work. He didn’t want to take a chance of having to finish up on Saturday! 🙂

      So much less pressure for them AND for me. It’s a huge relief not to feel like I need to tail them to be sure they aren’t wasting their time… and mine!

  2. Fantastic post! I love that you trusted your boys (and yourself) to try this experiment 🙂 My son is in 3rd grade, and I’m not ready to give him that much freedom with his assignments yet, but I do let him wake up on his own. The funny thing about that, sometimes he will ask me to wake him up early so he can get all his work done before lunch and have the afternoon to goof off 🙂 I will keep the school work in mind when he is a bit older to teach him to self manage his work. It is a great skill to learn.

    1. Thanks, Cathy! You know that old adage about being brave… feeling the fear and doing it anyway?!? 😉

      Yes, my boys are a bit older than yours (in 7th and 9th this year)… so it’s definitely time for them to learn this skill. Mine used to want to get up early and get their schoolwork done in the mornings as well… but you may see this shift as your son gets older.

  3. We have six boys (6-20yo) and like you I was banging my head against the wall to get the older ones moving in the morning. When I finally let go of my “old way” of doing things and did pretty much what you outline here it worked great! It really has prepared my older two for college b/c they learned to manage ALL their time better. And face the consequences if they don’t. Good post :).

    1. Thank-you for taking the time to comment. It’s good to hear that this can work long term. I’m pretty amazed at how quickly attitudes have turned around over here. Amazing how pleasant people can be to each other when they aren’t sleep deprived, isn’t it?!? 🙂

  4. This is great! I love it! In truth I hate morning and work better as the day progresses… tried every other method… we’ve been kind of doing this for a while now… one of mine gets straight in and by mid morning is finished! The other takes their time and gets it done through the day with a fair bit of guitar playing in between! They both know what they have to get done and do achieve it and there’s not the stress of strict deadlines and when we do need to get more done one particular day because we have to say go on an excursion next day they actually don’t resent it as much. Oh, and they both DEFINITELY enjoy doing their maths in one chunk for the week and the other less formal maths they do is actually interest based! It works well! Thanks for your post, I really enjoyed it! 🙂

    1. That’s wonderful. Isn’t it amazing what just a few small changes like this can accomplish in our homeschools… and in our attitudes as well?!? I wish I had thought about and tried this a few years ago. Probably would have saved us all some grief.

    1. Yes! They’re both able to work at a time which is best for them… And it is WAY more relaxing. I’ve noticed that as well! My boys hated it when I pushed them to do certain things on certain days and at certain times… and frankly, so did I.

      1. It’s only been this year so far and the changes have been monumental! I wish I’d taken them out of school years ago… but then maybe I wouldn’t have really appreciated how different life could be! 9 months ago I was NEVER going to be a homeschooler and now I can’t imagine sending them back to school for so many reasons! I don’t always comment but I love reading your blog thanks! 🙂

        1. Thank-you, Mairi. That’s wonderful. I’m happy for you and your kiddos. And you’re right. The past definitely makes us appreciate the present… I’m so glad you took the time to comment this time. I love hearing from other moms. It makes my day! 🙂

  5. That sounds like a neat idea. My kids are only 3 and 5 and I never wake them up. They usually sleep in until about 7-7:30. I would LOVE to have more time in the morning to work out and take my shower. Maybe I will when they get older. 🙂 Anyway, I think it’s a great way to teach them about time management. They are going to need to that for college and adult life.

    1. Thanks, Shonda. BTW – If your kids are anything like mine, they will probably go through this phase as well. Something to look forward to!

  6. Thank you for this post! I did follow this same path as you are both with sleep and time management with my two oldest (both girls) and started in ninth grade with my third (also a girl) . All three girls had different ways of going about their work for the week and my 16 year old junior in HS asked if she could do two years in one and graduate in May!
    My two youngest are boys, now 13 1/2 and almost 12. I hope that maybe next year I can move into them managing their own time. I quit waking them up before we started school this year, I do insist on bedtime because my husband gets up at 5:30 am so it is important that the house is quiet by 10 pm so he can sleep. We do use melatonin consistently with the boys. My older son has some tough learning challenges and part of his wiring is that it is hard for him to fall asleep. My younger son is pretty active and has difficulty laying still long enough to go to sleep unless we use melatonin. So that is how we have done the teenage sleep thing in our home as well as helping them learn to manage their time.

    1. Good to hear, Shelly! So glad to hear that this method worked for your girls as well. We also do a set bedtime… We always have. My boys are upstairs doing quiet reading at 8:30 and it’s lights out by 9:30-10:00… That’s why I was baffled that they would be so tired in the morning… until I read about the whole sleep cycle thing. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  7. I am curious, though, about teaching interactions. Maybe I just missed it when I was reading. But when do they have teaching moments with you? Or is all this work self-taught now? But if not, do they just come to you and interrupt what you have going on at the moment? My two oldest are boys – almost 11 and 9. We have a bit of time still, but I can feel that “change is in the air”. 🙂 And I am just curious how you manage that aspect….

    1. Oh yes, I’m still involved in the teaching process. There are some subjects my boys still do together, some that they do alone with me, and some that they do completely on their own and just check in with me at the end. I guess you could say that they interrupt whatever I’m doing – but I view their homeschooling as my number one priority during the day… so whenever they need me I’m there.

      It’s really smooth this new way, however. Instead of me having to pin them down, they come to me and ask if I’ll do such-and-such with them. So much more pleasant when they’re ready and wanting to tackle a specific subject. And when they go off to read 10 chapters of a book in one sitting, I’m getting bigger and bigger blocks of time that I CAN do whatever I’d like to do. It has been wonderful!

      Thanks for asking! I’d love to hear how it goes with you once you get to this point in your own homeschooling journey. 🙂

      1. Thanks! I can feel the waters of change stirring in my house with my boys and I appreciate your response! And to be fair, I knew I was choosing the wrong word when I asked about them “interrupting”. I was replying in a free moment and knew even then that I didn’t like that word choice. 🙂 Thanks so much for writing about what is one step ahead of me! I need it!~ Brandy

    1. Thank-you! It didn’t come naturally to me… but it really is working out. 🙂 BTW – That homemade apple pie on your homepage looks DELISH!

  8. I am really glad I found this website! I have an 11 going on 12 year old son. I have to say his needs and attitudes towards school are changing. This post was very helpful. I know I need to switch gears and give my son more freedom. What do you do with poor attitudes towards school? My son gets very sensitive when I correct his work. He takes it personally.

    1. Michelle Caskey

      Bad attitudes… my sons never have those! LOL Just kidding. My husband and I react differently depending on the situation. You might find that your son’s attitude becomes much better, though, after you’ve given him more independence and responsibility for his own work. My boys’ attitudes are night and day difference better.

      Last year was a really hard one for us. My oldest son and I seemed to clash all the time. So far this year, with our new way of doing things, we’re getting along SO MUCH BETTER!!! I hope it goes as well for you as it has for us. 🙂

  9. I often fall into the trap of comparison. You know, my kids were up by 7 and started schoolwork at 8 so we were done by noon! Some days we are lucky if she has gotten in an hour of work by noon.Truthfully our days go better when I let her sleep and wake naturally. She is much, much younger than her siblings and has always had a different sleep pattern. We are still working on her taking more responsibility in her time management skills. This post was an inspiration to just keep trying.

    1. Michelle Caskey

      I think we all fall into that trap, Joan… even when we’re trying desperately not to. I’m glad you found the post inspirational! Even now, on week 6 of using this new method, things are going very well for us. Quite often, my boys are waking up earlier on their own… or are asking me to wake them up at a certain time to be sure they can start their day earlier. And their attitudes are SO MUCH SUNNIER now that they aren’t so sleep deprived. I’m amazed at how quickly this method has turned things around for us. Yes, continue trying and I hope you end up having your best year yet! 🙂

  10. I had not thought of trying this before but instead to homeschool my older almost 14 year old in the evenings(have him work then), and the 7 year old earlier in the morning instead of everyone trying to do everything at the same time of day. Thanks for your ideas though. I think this might work for me in a different way too.

    1. Michelle Caskey

      Sounds great, Julie. You’re observing your kiddos and seeing what will work best for them rather than trying to force them into a cookie cutter mold. Good job! 🙂

  11. I’m reading this post and feeling a sensation of envy boil inside of me as I’m told how well your sons stay focused and get their work done every day, while I’m here to consider myself lucky if I get half my math done in one day. I’ve found an effective method for getting things done, but to go along with that I’m having trouble finding the motivation to actually start. I’m behind on every subject I can think of, and I feel that there’s no way this’ll change. I’ve been trying to find ways to get myself up off my butt and moving, but I just can’t. Basically, I’m stuck in a rut with no way out. Can you help me?

    1. Michelle Caskey

      Don’t feel envious. That’s the last thing I want people to feel. If anything you read on my blog helps you to feel encouraged or motivated, that is great. If you find any tips that worked for us to be helpful for you, then that is also wonderful. My boys don’t always stay focused and get all of their work done. Believe me, if you look around my site, you’ll see plenty of posts where I’m saying how frustrated I am with my boys… or how frustrated they are with me! 🙂

      That being said, If you’re feeling tired or unmotivated, you might be able to glean some helpful advice from this post: https://www.homeschool-your-boys.com/tired-homeschool-mom/

      If you have any other specific questions, I’d be happy to try to help. Otherwise, my biggest piece of advice would be to pray and ask God to give you the wisdom, the strength, and the motivation that you need to do what He would like you to do with your kids. I hope this helps! Homeschooling boys isn’t always easy… but, you can do this!!!

  12. I love it! I don’t wake up my teens unless they are not up by 9am. For several years now, I have allowed them to double up on math so that they can finish the school year faster.

    1. Great idea, Susan! It’s so much easier to put in long days earlier in the year, isn’t it?!? By March or April, I’m very tempted to schedule field trips 5 days a week. 😉 LOL

  13. Handing over the reigns like that is scary, isn’t it?! My 16 year old keeps her own schedule and is often going to bed as we get up. She does, however, get schoolwork done and will make sure she’s awake and ready on days where she has plans. I’d say it works pretty well. 🙂

  14. I agree, writing down their work for the week and then making them responsible for getting it done really works! I’ve been doing this with my 2 older kids. They like crossing things off and seeing what exactly they have left. My DD likes getting all her math done in 2 days so she doesn’t have to do it the rest of the week 🙂

    They haven’t started using alarm clocks to get up yet, but I think in the next year or so I’ll do that. Good tips!

    1. Thanks, Jessica. It’s good to hear that it’s working with your kids as well. It’s amazing how much more motivated our kids are when they take the responsibility for completing things on themselves rather than waiting for us to tell them what to do.

  15. I very much appreciate this post! We have been in a private Christian school for all of my kids school days. This next year my children will be in 12th grade, 10th grade, and 6th grade. We decided after much prayer to dive into homeschooling! One of our drives for deciding to homeschool was our kids desire to slow down and really enjoy learning. My younger son has really struggled through 9th grade and has not really enjoyed learning this year(which is a first) I have been wondering how we would handle the schedule next year because one of the kids requests was not having to rush in the mornings. This post has given me a lot of hope and a lot to consider for next year! Thank you!

    1. You are so welcome, Valarie. I’m glad my post has encouraged you and given you some ideas. We’re all unique individuals and we don’t all function well in the morning. Especially during those teen/tween years. Take care and I pray that God will bless your efforts as you embark on your new journey!

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