Productive Free Time {explained}

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Over the past couple months I have been doing a lot of reading, praying, and searching for God’s direction in our homeschool.  About 10 years ago I was introduced to Marilyn Howshall and Lifestyle of Learning through Barb Shelton’s website.  It really appealed to me at the time because my oldest daughter was about 2nd grade at the time, feeling very overwhelmed with all the “schoolwork” she had to do, and did not have time to do the things she really enjoyed (piano, drawing, learning about birds).

After a lot of study and prayer, I totally changed how we homeschooled.  I took real life and my daughter’s interests and used those to increase her learning skills.  For example, she started a bird notebook.  In her notebook she would draw birds, copy things out of field guides about the birds, read about birds, etc. I used her interests to develop her reading and writing skills.   This was incorporated into our Table Time, which is time at the table to develop the skills of reading, writing, composition, spelling, etc., but done in a much more informal way.

Well, I hate to admit it, but after a few years went by the old fear of “not doing enough” crept in and I fell back into my old ways of doing school at home.  I tried to keep some of the concepts I learned, like the read-aloud time, but for the most part I went back to the way I was doing school before.  I bought the curriculum, checked off what we did each day “just to get it done” and in the process I could see my kids’ love for learning begin to die.

I am realizing now that I was approaching Lifestyle of Learning all wrong.  It is rooted in my relationship with Jesus, my husband, and my children.  It is through healthy relationships that a Lifestyle of Learning is lived out.  It is not just a “method” to do school, like so many of the other “methods” I have tried (classical, unit study, Charlotte Mason, etc.).  It is about life and living in right relationship with Jesus and my family.  It is only as I develop these relationships that I get to really know my children and am able to seek the Lord about their needs and the direction for their learning.

Click here if you want to learn more about Lifestyle of Learning.

Before I move on to talk about Productive Free Time, I should briefly explain the different time blocks in our day (based on what I haved learned from Lifestyle of Learning):

Chore Time

Table Time

Read-Aloud Time

Productive Free Time

Today I want to touch on Productive Free Time.  This is a time block during the day that is set aside for my kids to explore their interests through delight-directed projects.  Now we still have a long ways to go with making this a reality in our home, but we are working on it :).

The first thing I had to do was really get to know my children.  What kinds of things do they like to do?  What do they like to play with?  What are their interests?

Then I worked on making lists for each of the children with activities and projects that they could do during Productive Free Time.  You can have your kids help you make this list too.  I should say that this time can be time that the kids do things on their own or with each other.  Encourage them to create, explore, etc.

Let me give you some examples so that you can see what I’m talking about.  Here are some ideas:

writing letters



lego creations/lincoln logs/tinker toys, etc.

notebooking projects




musical instruments

building or creating anything

playing store

playing games


This is a short list, but I hope it gives you some ideas so that you can see the possibilities.

I would discourage you from including video games or movies during this block of time though.  You may allow an educational movie sometimes, but don’t make it an every day thing.  This is a time for your child to enjoy learning and growing.  A time to develop his love for learning by being allowed to explore and create to his heart’s content.  Older children may choose to continue their Table Time work during Productive Free Time…continuing to work on notebooking projects or reading.

Like I said, this is an area that I am still working on with my kids.  I think I have tried to make Productive Free Time too long of a block of time, though.  I have scheduled about 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon for this block of time, and I think I need to cut that back a little until my kids are more used to it.  I hate to admit it, but sometimes my kids just don’t know what to do during this time.  Allowing too many movies in the past I think has hindered them from developing in this area and being able to entertain themselves very well.  So…I am learning right along with you.  I know it is going to take some time, but I know it will be worth it as I help my kids learn how to learn and help them discover the various gifts and interests that God has given them.

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  1. Oh, I used to follow the Lifestyle of Learning approach and have gotten away from it in recent years, gone to requiring more workbook pages, etc., and I feel the joy has gone out of our learning somewhat. I want to get back into the Lof L but one thing I struggle with is how much to require and how much to just wait and let the kids desire, you know? Maybe I should see the Table Time as more what I feel they need to do to meet any requirements for the skills, like 3Rs, and then just let them choose whatever they want or are interested in for the Productive Free Time, right? I am going to have to go back and read some of my Wisdom's Way of Learning materials to remember all this! Can you give me an idea of what you and your children do during your Table Time? Do you have a post on that? I like your list of possible activities and was just thinking today of making one for us!
    1. Thanks for your comments! I am still seeking the Lord's direction as to exactly what our Table Time should look like, but basically it is to develop the learning tools...the things like reading, writing, and math. But the difference is that you can bring in your child's interest into Table Time. For example, instead of having my 8 year old do penmanship practice pages on material he is not interested in at all, he is printing out pictures of Nascar drivers and their cars, taping them onto a sheet of paper, then writing the driver's name and any other information he wants to about the driver at the bottom (I use a font that gives me blank lined paper so I just put 2 or 3 lines at the bottom of the page so he has room at the top to tape the pictures.). That is just one example. But the real key is seeking the Lord about each of your children and allowing Him to show you what areas they need to work on. I pray the Lord directs your steps as you seek Him for educating and discipling your children.
  2. Sheri ... awesome post! Thanks for sharing. I have never heard of the "Lifestyle of Learning" website, but it totally fits what I've been trying to accomplish in our homeschool. I signed up for their emails and LOVE what I've read so far. So inspirational! Like you, I've tried pulling what works from other "methods" and that has truly helped in giving me structure and somewhat of a philosophy of education. However, the lifestyle of learning has always been the driving force. These resources are a gift from the Lord to me -- just what I've been needing to give me that extra confirmation that we really can and should do WHATEVER He leads us to do in our "home & school" -- without guilt, without worry of gaps, etc. Funny, just when you think you've got it down, He takes you a step further. :) I also have a posted productive activity list on a huge marker board in their study area. It truly helps. Going to merge your list with mine. :) Here are a few more from our list: photography, electronics/robotics (Snap Circuits & Mindstorms ... good investment), puzzles (regular kinds & map puzzles), board games (all sorts...my boys love games like Risk), scrapbooking, card making, construction (boys are building a dog kennel w/dad), archery/shooting, dog training, learning new computer software (like MS Publisher, Photoshop, etc. ... creative-type software), web design/computer programming, & nature study.
    1. Dear Debra, Thank you so much for sharing! The Lord has really used the LOL ministry to open my eyes to areas of my life that need work. I am learning and growing and yet have so far to go. It sounds like you are on the right track with your kids too. Thanks for the extra free time ideas! I will have to add some of yours to my list :). Have a great day!
  3. Thank you for sharing. I am learning that I need to direct my children's day more than I have in the past. They tend to do the same things over and over again and then want to rely on computer or movies. We have started our list and will continue to add to it. I hope to also add in some extra things to spark their interest this year.
    1. Dawn...sounds like the Lord has been speaking to you about similar things :). Keep listening to Him and walking in obedience...have a blessed day in the Lord!
  4. For many years we had a "quiet time" after afternoon read-aloud stories-- I got to take a nap, and kids were supposed to do things like you mentioned above, but individually (with a large family, I noticed that the oldest child especially appreciated having "alone" time she could expect to happen each day). Younger kids were on their beds during this time (but not usually sleeping), and older ones could choose different spots in the house to be in. It lasted about an hour-- the younger kids mostly learned how to tell time by watching the clock so they'd know when quiet time was over!
  5. Sheri- I have not heard of Lifestyle of Learning so I am going to check it out! It sounds like what we do, but maybe with a little more focus which would be good! :) You posts this week have been right what I needed! Thanks friend!
    1. You are welcome, Rashell. This Lifestyle of Learning..it really isn't even about school, although that is a part of it...it is about life. I think you will enjoy checking into it. Have a blessed day!

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