Is there a star-studded ideal lesson length? Should educators tailor session duration to individual students or encourage adaptation to a pre-set standard? Today…a true story illuminating the impact of drastically shortened reading lessons.

“Where did you go?!”

My head spun wildly. One moment ago, my four-year-old son snuggled cozily against me on the sofa, practicing his phonics. Then WHOOSHhe launched into a human rocket. Now he was gone.  

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“Can you find me, Mommy?” 

A muffled voice wafted gleefully from a colorful pillow pile on the floor.

“Did you see me fly, Mommy?” 

a person jumping on a couch in a living room
Photo by Lobacheva Ina / Unsplash

I closed my eyes, inhaling to the bottom of my lungs. Maybe I would indulge in a second cup of coffee. Exhaling, I stretched over the edge of the sofa and smiled. The wiggling tiny tip of an orange sock stuck out from under a furry, turquoise pillow. I tweaked the toes.

a close up of a person laying on a bed
Photo by Isaac Del Toro / Unsplash

“I found you! And yes, I saw you fly.”

His contagious belly laugh filled the air. 

“Let go of my toes, Mommy!” 

Despite my dismay with our abandoned phonics lesson, I chuckled. I stood up and stifled a frustrated sigh. What was I doing wrong? 
How often have you been here?

At the ripe old age of three-and-a-half, my son excitedly – and unexpectedly – asked me to teach him to read and write. And so, we launched our homeschooling journey nearly two years before I thought school of any kind was going to be a reality. I aimed to complete only one page of phonics per lesson day. But after his fourth birthday, that idea flew out the window, shortly after he tried to do the same. His wiggle factor was off the charts!

four boy playing ball on green grass
Photo by Robert Collins / Unsplash

Hmmm…how can I help him learn to concentrate? 

First, I guzzled that second cup of java. Next…I bought an egg timer.
Yes, an egg timer. 
Tick Tock Tick Tock Tick Tock

The next day, I explained the new rules to my curious son, who was intently interested in taking the egg timer apart, instead of actually using it. 

blue and black circuit board
Photo by Sahand Babali / Unsplash
“We will do phonics until the timer buzzes, and we cannot look at the timer during our lesson.” 

This should be interesting, I thought, turning the magic minute dial to “5.”

My son curled up next to me. I opened the phonics book.


Wow, that was fast!

“Mommy, is that all?” His bright, eager face beamed up at me, all smiles.

“Yes, that’s all for today! You did a great job concentrating.”

The mighty egg timer. It saved the day…and my sanity

When I reminisce on those “bouncing-off-the-wall” days, I appreciate that my son was a healthy, active, energetic child. As his educator and parent, my role was not only to teach him, but also to continually discover – and rediscover – how to engage him in learning. By dicing and slicing reading units into bite-sized pieces, I finally found the golden snack-size for my son. 

girl in white shirt holding brown bread
ting Photo by Jimmy Dean / Unsplash

The egg timer cracked open fresh wisdom that I applied in my future teaching and learning endeavors, for students ranging in age from two to 85 years. 

Engaging learners is no yoke!
Smaller bites are tastier for learners of all ages.
Consistency is king.
Magnified, focused effort for short durations yields better progress than protracted sessions.

The egg timer remains my faithful companion each day as I teach myself piano and Spanish. And – true confession – I use it when I write. 

black and white typewriter on white table
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel / Unsplash


That’s all for now.

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