Adding margin to your day can dramatically change the way you homeschool – and parent.

Why on earth would a homeschooling mom get up early to pack lunches?

Adding Margin aka Why Would A Homeschooling Mom Pack Lunches?!

That’s what I asked my good friend when she mentioned that she packs her kids a lunch every morning — whether they’re going out or not. Isn’t that absurd? I mean, not having to pack lunches isn’t the main reason that I homeschool my kids, but it’s got to be up there in the top ten. Top five?

My friend patiently explained that having lunches ready to go means that she has more freedom throughout the rest of her day.  Is the morning geography lesson going well? They don’t have to stop! She grabs the lunches from the fridge and they keep on learning while they eat! Are her kids suddenly inspired to hunt for fossils at the park? The picnic is already packed! They just get in the car and go! Has the morning been an epic failure? Well, at least lunch is done. Time to throw on an episode of Magic School Bus and hide in the bedroom for 20 minutes.

My friend is very wise.

I knew immediately that packing lunches would be our thing too and I spent the next three weeks pouring over bento box reviews because I just knew that having the exact perfect lunch box system would inspire me to get up and make lunches every day. Or something like that.

And during that one glorious week that I did manage to get those lunches made, I discovered three things:

  1. My kids will eat virtually anything if it’s contained in its own little compartment, leading us to buy bento-inspired dinner plates too.
  2. Bento box Facebook groups are not meant for homeschooling moms who have a minimum of 663 things to do, none of which including shaping sandwiches into penguins. Same goes for bento-themed Pinterest boards.
  3. Packing lunches in the morning is one of the ways that homeschooling moms can add margin to their day.

What Is Margin?

I came across the idea of “margin” in Sarah Mackenzie’s book Teaching From Rest. In the book, Mackenzie explains that margin is the empty space in your day, like the white space around the words in a book. It’s the wiggle room that you intentionally include in your schedule so that you can deal with unforeseen events.

Look, I know I’m not the only mom who’s arrived at a field trip an hour from home and discovered that one of the kids never bothered to put on shoes. Margin is giving yourself an extra 20 minutes to accommodate a last-minute trip to Walmart to buy the cheapest pair of flip flops available. Or fine, maybe you’re the kind of homeschooling parent who thinks to check the kids’ feet before pulling out of the driveway — for you, margin might be giving yourself a 20-minute window to deal with traffic.

The point is that we need to expect that unexpected things will happen and we need to leave time in our schedule for those unknown events.

How Packing Lunches Adds Margin

Packing lunches at the beginning of your day adds in a bit of a margin by freeing up your schedule at lunchtime. You’re no longer required to be spreading peanut butter on bread at 11:50 every morning — you can use that time dealing with whatever else comes up. You might even find that the “stuff” you have to deal with is actually the fun part of homeschooling — impromptu library trips, nature hikes, and playdates, all easy to do because lunch is packed and ready to go.

Theoretically, I mean. Like I said, I lasted about a week at making lunches in the morning. And believe me, no one who knows me would be surprised.

But the lesson wasn’t lost on me. I realized that there are two ways to add margin to your days. The first way is more obvious: do less. Sign up for fewer activities, plan fewer lessons, make fewer commitments. The second way is to do tasks ahead of time when you can.

Do It Ahead of Time

I once read that we need to think of homeschooling like a regular job. It occurred to me that I would never try to cook a pot roast while arguing a case in court or bake bread while drawing up blueprints for a house (apparently I’m very successful in my imaginary “alternate” life). Why then am I trying to cook dinner and finish a math lesson at the same time? When I thought about how I would do things differently if I worked a 9-5 job — you know, those typical hours for lawyers and architects — I realized that I would probably need to spend some time doing meal prep.

Can I just tell you what a gamechanger that realization has been for me? I now batch cook on the weekends and freeze all of our meals is single-serving sizes to accommodate everyone’s preferences and schedules. Not only do we spend less money and waste less food, but I also have more free time on weekday evenings. I don’t have to spend an hour every night cooking — I just have to reheat whatever I took out of the freezer the night before. And dirty dishes? I have half of them now because the pots and pans and knives and cutting boards were all washed on the weekend. This means more free time. This means margin in my evening schedule.

Okay, maybe you aren’t going to spend a day cooking all your meals for the week at once. And maybe you’re like me and packing lunches just isn’t going to happen, regardless of how much you spent on adorable matching lunch boxes for yourself and the kids. But look around at what you can do. Maybe you can pack for your co-op on Sunday night instead of five minutes before your supposed to be there on Tuesday morning. Maybe you can pre-emptively stash extra shoes in the trunk of your car — those cheapo ones that you bought for the last field trip will be more than fine. Remember that anything you do now will add breathing room to your schedule later.

What homeschooling mom wouldn’t want that?

About Tamara Watson

Tamara blogs about trying to slow down life while madly chasing after three kids. Both the noble attempts and the spectacular failures can be found at Unhurried Home.

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