Needle Movers

pressure-guageI attended a webinar the other day about “needle movers” in different areas of life. For example, the three most important factors that “move the needle” towards better health are 1) sleep, 2) exercise, and 3) nutrition.

As I listened, I began to wonder if there are three factors that make the most impact on our home schooling as far as making it most effective and successful with the least amount of stress and strain on us or on our children. (Yes, I’ve seen just about as many burned out homeschool kids as I have seen burned out homeschool moms.)

Looking back over my decades of teaching my own children at home, I narrowed down what was most helpful for me. Here are my three biggest needle movers.

Needle Mover #1: Discover your limits.

Life is kind of like the gauge in the photo. There is a “safe” zone we can operate in mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. When we are in that “zone,” all the different facets of our lives run optimally. The goal of “needle moving” is to move our needle right in the middle of the “safe” zone and keep it there as much as possible.

When you’re the glue that holds everything together in your family (which, like it or not, you probably are!), it’s easy to move into the yellow without even becoming aware that we’re exceeding our limits. In the yellow zone, we may still be able to handle things fairly well. But, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves in the red–full blown overwhelm. And we all know what happens when we’re overwhelmed–we resort to our favorite coping strategies. These usually involve engaging in some unhealthy activity such as diving into the junk food, neglecting exercise, trying to survive on too little sleep, venting all over everyone and everything, losing focus, too much “screen time” (on TV, emails or Facebook), becoming depressed, etc. Everyone has their go-to coping strategies when they feel like their life is spinning out of control. Learn to recognize when your needle is moving towards the red so you can catch yourself and move it back into the green.

My son Seth who is a computer programmer calls the spectrum of green, yellow and red on the gauge “bandwidth.” Everyone has a certain amount of “bandwidth” they can operate in comfortably in the different areas of their lives. When we exceed our comfort bandwidth (the green on the gauge), our life gets messy spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially.

So, what are your limits? How much bandwidth do you have and how can you tell when you’re beginning to get into the “yellow?” We want to “move our needles” enough so that we’re solidly in the green, but not so much that we take on pressure that uncomfortable or unhealthy.

Needle Mover #2: Know your children’s limits.

Adobe Photoshop PDFI’m constantly amazed how few parents understand their children’s limits. In other words, in their zeal to make their home schooling efforts a success, parents tend to unintentionally push their children’s developmental boundaries, expecting them to perform at levels far above their capabilities, not only academically but also emotionally and in other areas as well. For example, well-meaning parents often ask me to recommend the best grammar program for their 5 year old or they push their elementary aged students into courses that required abstract thinking (which normally doesn’t develop until around age 12).

I’ve spent the past few years creating teaching materials for autistic students. And, because individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are prone to emotional “melt-downs,” one of the first things they learn is to recognize when they are becoming overwhelmed by a situation–in other words, they learn to “Watch Your Needle.” There’s a convenient 5-point scale that’s been around a long time to helps them become more aware of when they are getting into the “yellow” and moving towards a melt-down.

I’m writing a book right now about childhood developmental stages because I believe it would be incredibly helpful if parents would:

  • first, learn the typical childhood developmental stages and stop demanding that their children perform in ways they aren’t yet developmentally capable and
  • second, teach their children to become self-aware enough that they can recognize when their “needle” is going into the orange and red.
Needle Mover #3: Begin with the end in mind.

Sometimes I get the impression that home schooling parents are just winging it and don’t really have an end goal for what they’re doing. It would help to ask a series of questions such as:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What do I want the end result to be for each of my children? (academically, skill-wise, character-wise, relationally, etc.)
  • What’s the most effective way to successfully reach my end result?

It helps if you write down your answers to these questions and refer back to your answers when you feel yourself slipping into the “yellow.”

So there you have it…my take on the three needle greatest needle movers in homeschooling.

What would you say are the three greatest needle movers in homeschooling?

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