'On' and 'off' time slots with children help organize the day

As a mother of two very young children, I found that our house too often became a stirred-up mess when I wasn't seeing the directions, goals, or accomplishments that I had expected when I temporarily left rewarding employment as an art and foreign language teacher to spend more time with the children. Order and pleasure for all grew as I tried some ''teacher type'' techniques at home on a daily basis.

I broke up the mornings into one-hour segments. These periods consisted (roughly) of 15 minutes ''on,'' when I gave the children my complete attention, and 45 minutes ''off,'' when they had free play and I had time for adult work, reading, and projects.

''Ons'' had to be from different classifications of activity on any given day. For example:

Reading aloud with kids piled on the couch by me was cozy fun. Weekly excursions to the library provided delightful family trips and source material.

Nature walks on our block or in our yard. We gathered leaves and other materials for projects and discussion or just enjoyed the outdoors.

Outside listening, when we stood still and tried to identify sounds, was popular, too. A one-hour walk was also on our daily agenda.

Housework and chores included emptying wastebaskets, folding washcloths and towels, and dusting. The object was to let the child do it. Don't let getting the work done interfere with the pleasure of learning the fun of responsibility.

Letter practice. Around age 3, we wrote letters of the alphabet or numbers (one letter per day is enough). We also tried recognizing and circling letters in newspaper headlines.

Counting practice was done with counting blocks, fingers, dolls, books - anything at all. For counting, writing, or anything slightly academic, five minutes may be long enough.

Art projects. These were the longest and best of each day's ''ons.'' Art time really was the highlight of our days at home.

In spare minutes, I jotted down ''on'' ideas on cards or scraps of paper. I stuck these in a kitchen drawer or my purse and was always ready for an instant response to ''What shall we do now?'' I also found that holding each activity in a different room of the house added to the variety that gave our mornings more spice.

As I gave the children my complete attention in small, concentrated doses, our pleasure in one another deepened and new respect developed, and they played with one another in the ''off'' segments more easily and happily.

My just being home with good intentions didn't work in our family, but a structured daily plan certainly did.

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