Our Homeschool Schedule: Lessons Learned

We’ve been using our schedule now for about six weeks, and I want to highlight some of the things I’ve learned from the experience. For the most part, it is working as I hoped – sometimes even better. Here are the tips I would share with anyone else trying to make a major change like this.

Take baby steps
One thing I’ve learned repeatedly is that if I try to change everything at once, I will fail. I will burn out, get discouraged, and give up. I took a good 4-6 weeks to plan this schedule, and another 4-6 weeks to implement it. When I began living the plan, I started with getting up early and going to Jazzercise 3 days a week. My next step was to start getting the kids up at 7:15. I then added the morning group school. Once each piece became routine, I added a new piece. Because we were moving from an anything goes free-for-all to a day of expectations and requirements, I felt it was critical to go slowly. This helped me to feel successful instead of defeated.

Get up early
I know. Everyone says this. And it makes me groan too. I have been dragging my butt out of bed 3 mornings a week at 5:30 so I can get to Jazzercise by 6am. Hard, but so worth it. I love having that workout out of the way, and it wakes me up and gets me ready to face the troops when I get back home at 7:15. On Tuesday and Thursday, I’m up at 6 for some office/quiet time. I spend 5-20 minutes of this time praying, depending on the day. This is one of my favorite times of the day. It’s all about me.

I’m glad I started the schedule implementation by working on my own wake time. It was quite an adjustment, but what those all those annoyingly chipper bloggers say about getting up before your family is true. It really does make the day run more smoothly. 

Go to bed early
I had been in the bad habit of staying up later and later each night because it was the only free time I had. The problem was, it was never really “free.” I was too damn tired from the day to do much of anything except maybe fold a load of laundry while staring blearily at a mild-amusing sitcom streaming on my Roku. Or I was taking care of a few last minute details for the next day. Or I was tucking naughty kids back into bed for the 457th time.

We’ve been getting the kids tucked in by 8 the last few days and it’s heavenly. I still have just enough energy to have a conversation with my husband, or read a little, or fold that laundry and enjoy a sitcom. And then I can go to bed at 9, be asleep by 9:30 and still get in 8 hours before my 5:30 Jazzercise alarm.

I will say that if you are a night owl and can truly use your night hours in a way that recharges you and still get up and face your family when you need to, then by all means ignore this. I will add though, my best friend, a consummate night owl, is the one who finally convinced me that getting up early is the way to go. She started doing it and talking about how great it is. This from the girl who  cursed at the morning radio show host when my clock radio alarm would go off at 8 o’clock when we were in the dorms together.

Stay Loose – block scheduling might make more sense

Discipline and consistency are key
To really make this work, I’ve seen that I absolutely must stick to the schedule every day. When the kids know that this is what’s happening at this time and there’s no getting out of it, they’re much more likely to get with the program. They have all tested me. Because I’ve given up and thrown in the towel on things like this so many times in the past, I think they’ve all expected this to be one more thing they could get out of if they made it unpleasant enough for me. After a few weeks, they’re all getting the message that this is the way we do things now, and there’s no since in fighting it. An incentive program for my oldest has been especially helpful. Also, consistent expectations for my three year old during school time.

One of the things I changed after realizing this is we now do our morning group school routine at the kitchen table 3 mornings a week. I had planned to do school in the car on the way to my parent’s house once a week, but I found that doing at least an abbreviated version at home before we leave makes more sense.

Discipline applies to me as well. If I don’t get up early and do what I’m supposed to, the day doesn’t run as smoothly. If I don’t don’t plan meals or start dinner on time, bed time is a mess. The more I follow the plan, the more smoothly things run and the more fun and free time I have.

Plan ahead and be prepared
I’m using several curriculum resources that spell out exactly what and when to do things, and so I thought I could get away with just doing the next thing each morning without any planning ahead. However, I have found that the day runs much more smoothly if I write out exactly what I want to cover each day and put it all in one place. I’ve resisted lesson plans for 4 years, but now find them necessary. Sometimes I want to do more or less of something than is assigned for that day. Sometimes I forget some small but critical piece (like handwriting). Making a written lesson plan helps me feel more in control and less scattered. It also keeps me from just blowing something off for the day.

 Screen time during school hours is a Bad Idea
At least in our family. Our original schedule had bits of screen time scattered throughout the day for each of the kids. I’ve done away with that. The new rule is that, unless it’s been specifically assigned for school, you may not use a screen before 4pm. I found that it was too easy for the kids to stretch the screen time – and for me to let them because it was easy for me. Then there would be fights about turning it off, and it made transitioning through our day too contentious. What was screen time for each kid is now free time. Once 4pm rolls around, they can pretty much glut themselves until about 6 when I ask them to do some chores before dinner.

For the most part, I’m super pleased with the way things are going, and I’m happy I stuck with it the bumps that came with making a big change. I feel much better about the way we spend our days, and my kids seem happier too.

 

Using Incentives in Your Homeschool

Yesterday was an agonizing day. I had a certain amount of work I wanted my oldest to achieve. Grueling assignments such as writing 6 sentences and completing a 10 minute spelling lesson. Finishing 5 problems on Khan Academy. You know, things that clearly no reasonable person would ask a 4th grader to do.

There was drama. There were tears. There was eye rolling and yelling. There were threats. And there was googling of schools for kids with ADD.

And I found the school. And if we started eating ramen and selling our blood, we might be able to afford the school.

But I thought, if this school can do it, then it can be done. There are methods they use that I can learn too, right?

I know from my history with this child that he responds exceedingly well to incentives. He used to chew on his shirt. Constantly. I told him if he went three weeks without chewing on his shirt, he could have the Lego Movie video game for the XBox. He never chewed on his shirt again. It was infuriatingly simple. If it was that easy for him to stop, why didn’t he just stop before?

Smart But Scattered, a great book on how to help kids with executive functioning challenges, had taught me that working for incentives is actually an executive functioning strength that my son has. If the price is right, can do just about anything.

Here’s the thing. I HATE incentives. I feel like if you can do something, you should just do it because it’s the right thing to do. It seems to me, that if you can do something for an incentive, then you can do it, and you should do it without a reward.

But apparently, doing the right thing, or just getting it done, is not enough of an incentive for my son to leave behind the incredibly exciting world in his imagination to write 6 sentences about the lost colony of Roanoke. Because sitting in a chair all day really isn’t torture for him. His mind is a fascinating place to be, and it keeps him perfectly well entertained.

This morning he woke up asking what he could do to earn more money. He has finally developed an appreciation for all of the useless crap amazing treasures money can buy him. Like machetes with fake blood and nerf guns and large books from the thrift store that he can turn into secret hiding spots. This is great because when a kid wants money, a parent can generally get him to do things he might not otherwise do willingly.

I told him I’d think about it. I’m a bit of a miser, and I don’t want to just go handing money out like some kind of money fairy or something. I mean, it doesn’t grow on trees now, does it?

It wasn’t long before I’d asked him to do something and he gave me attitude about it. Inspiration. “Every time I have to ask you to do something more than once, you owe me a quarter.”

Ha! See? I’m making money this way, not handing it out.

Later, we were doing school work and he started whining “It’s too hard!” Boom. “Every time you whine about school work, you owe me a quarter.”

I ran down to the basement and grabbed a bag of poker chips and two paper cups. I wrote “Henry” on one of them and “Mom” on the other. I filled the “Henry” cup with 20 poker chips – each worth a quarter. I took two quarters for his earlier infractions.

Because I’ve been trained in such things I know that a strictly punitive system is not likely to be effective for long. So I started offering incentives. “If you write 4 sentences before I come back downstairs, I’ll give you a quarter.” Because I’m a mean mom, I am incapable of a strictly rewards based system. So along with the carrot I proffered a stick. “If you haven’t written at least 2, you owe me a quarter.”

I told him, “Each chip is a quarter. There are five dollars worth of chips in here. You can gain and lose them based on your behavior, and I will pay you on Sunday. Each Monday morning you’ll start out with 20 new chips.” And that, ladies and gentleman, is a glowing example of my stellar making-it-up-as-I-go-along parenting. 

But you know what? He finished everything I wanted him to do by noon. Yesterday, we didn’t finish until five o’clock. That’s right, I bought five hours of extra time with my system. Not bad for 5 bucks.

I will admit, though, that I’m still uncomfortable with the system. I have learned repeatedly that this sort of thing is super effective for my son, but I’ve also read enough Alfie Kohn to feel that this sort of “manipulation” is somehow damaging to my son or to our relationship.

And so I struggle between what I desperately want to believe philosophically, and what I see creates peace and harmony and a happy son in reality.

I’m curious. Have any of you have had success with using incentives in your homeschool? Did it create any unintended consequences that caused problems down the line?

Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids {Book Review}

If you’ve been following my posts on scheduling, you may have noticed that Thomas and Henry have a block called “Science Box Time.” This is a time of open ended science exploration facilitated by the handy little book Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids.

sandbox scientist

I first discovered this book when I randomly checked it out from the library. I loved it, returned it, and forgot the name of it. A bit later I despaired when  I couldn’t recall the name of it. All of my vague descriptions to the nice librarian and her creative searches yielded nothing. Then one day the title just came to me and I immediately jumped on Amazon and ordered my own copy of it.

This book is very nearly perfect for teaching science to young children. And by young, I mean anywhere from age 2 up to middle school.

In the early years, science is not about learning scientific facts. It is about the formation of scientific habits. It’s learning to think like a scientist. Science is learning to ask questions and to look for the answers through exploration and observation. Raising a scientist involves nurturing curiosity, and encouraging creativity. It means empowering children to discover, learn, and prove things for themselves rather than just accepting what they’re told.

Science asks “Why? Really? What happens if I. . . ? How do you know? Show me. Let me see. Let me try. Prove it.” Science sounds an awful lot like an impudent teenager.

Sandbox Scientist provides a list of science boxes you can assemble yourself that encourage children to ask these questions and to seek the answers for themselves through exploration and observation. The boxes work perfectly in a home environment because the materials they call for are cheap and easy to find.

I am using the book to plan out six weeks worth of boxes at a time. For our first six weeks I went through and pulled boxes calling for water. This is not because I’m doing a water theme (though you could certainly use the book that way), but rather because I want to take advantage of the warm weather while we’ve got it. By assembling six weeks worth of boxes at a time, I can make one trip to the hardware store and/or dollar store to get what we need and put everything together at one time. My boxes are now ready to go when I need them.

Yesterday my kids played with the Ice Box. One of the best things about the ideas in this book is that they are suitable for my 3 year old and my 9 year old. They approach the material in different ways, and they learn from each other in the process.

The Ice Box contained large blocks of ice made from yogurt tubs and 1/2 gallon milk cartons, spoons, forks, knives, paint brushes, watercolor paint, and squirt bottles of warm water. I put it all out in a couple of large aluminum trays on a sheet in the back yard and invited the kids out to play.

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The children had a blast observing the different properties of the ice. “This block is clear!” “This one is cloudy!” “Hey look, this one has holes in it?” “Let’s make the hole bigger.”

They also enjoyed painting the ice and watching the patterns of the swirls as the painted ice melted. They observed the effects of spraying a stream of water on the ice blocks versus spraying a mist of ice onto them. They enjoyed chipping and chiseling the ice into smaller pieces to make them melt faster.

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The boys did not happen to discover that they could melt the ice more quickly by using the magnifying glasses to focus the sun’s heat onto the ice. I think a small suggestion from me on using the magnifying glasses in this way could have extended the exploration a bit. As it was, they worked with the science box for a good 20 minutes before it devolved into a squirt bottle fight in the back yard. All in all, I thought our first science box was a success.

 

 

Homeschooling Multiple Children: Our 1st Grade Plan for 2014-2015

You have now seen my schedule, my 4th grader’s schedule, and my preschooler’s schedule. Because she’s involved in most of our schedules most of the day, you’ve also seen the bulk of my 1st grader’s schedule, but I’ll share it here on it’s own.

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I want to note that in preparing each of these schedules I carefully considered my kids’ unique personalities. Helen is my most patient but also my most extroverted child. I knew I had to include time for her to play with her neighborhood friends which means that she has to be done with the majority of her stuff by the time they can play after school. It also means that I need to try to keep her busy when her friends are in school.

This is Helen’s first year of school with me. I didn’t do formal school with Henry at this age.  I don’t think it’s necessary to have scheduled school time with a 1st grader, but Helen is begging for it. It also gives us a format for interaction that we both enjoy. Our one-on-one school time has become a highlight of the day for both of us.

I just don’t want anyone to read this and think that their 1st grader needs to have a bunch of formal school time scheduled into their day. I still stand by my relaxed approach. Henry was unschooled at this age. You know your kid. If they don’t delight in sitting down to do math and phonics for an hour a day, don’t force it!

You’ll see that much of her day is still free time, though I provide a little structure to keep boredom away. Most of the activities (like science box time and sensory time) are open ended and optional. If she has a better way to spend her time, for the most part, she can do what she likes.

7:15-8:15 Wake, dress, brush teeth, eat breakfast
8:15-9:15 Group School This has been happening at the breakfast table for the most part. I read aloud from Life of Fred, our science reading for the day, and our history reading for the day. The kids can color or draw or play quietly on the floor.
9:15-9:45 Outside Time All three of the kids go outside while I clean up the kitchen and such.
9:45-10:15 Free Time This was initially read alone/book time while I do school with Thomas, but in practice it’s been free time while I finish up chores or play with Thomas if he’s interested.
10:15-10:45 Morning School Here is more read alouds or picture study, composer study, or nature study a la Charlotte Mason. This is still developing.
10:45-11:30 School with Mom We’re working through the Primary Arts of Language phonics/reading program. We’re also starting Ray’s Arithmetic. Phonics takes priority. If we have time, interest, and attention, we do a little math.
11:30-12:00 Time with Thomas They can choose to do whatever they want as long as they leave Henry and I alone to work. The science box materials are still out. I also plan to have a planned sensory or craft activity available during this time. Or they can play with dolls or trucks or whatever. Again, as long as they let Henry and I work, it’s all good.
12:00-12:30 School Alone Yes, 1st grade is young for independent work, but the idea is that she’ll work on her phonics games and worksheets at the kitchen counter while I prep lunch.
12:30-1:00 Lunch
1:00-1:30 Spanish with Henry I don’t know if this is going to work, but I’d like to have them do some sort of Spanish at this time. We have Power Glide Spanish, but we may switch to Spanish videos or something.This time has two goals in addition to learning a little Spanish. 1) Henry and Helen spend time together doing something constructive. 2) They leave me alone to do some prayer and reflection.
1:30-2:00 Screen Time This is first (of three) 30 minute screen times. During this time, Thomas is resting in my bed with me, and Henry is working on his independent work.
2:00-2:30 Rest Time Quiet play in her room, preferably resting on her bed. She can listen to audio books, look at books, or play quietly alone with her dolls and such.
2:30-3:00 Time with Mom This is for us to do whatever it is she wants to do with me. Often it’s playing with dolls.
3:00-4:00 Outside Time Free time outside. I’m available at this time to supervise, but I’m reading or making phone calls or doing yard work.
4:00-4:30 Afternoon Chores Making sure everything is picked up from the day and straightening up her room.
5:00-6:00 Outside Time As soon as afternoon chores are done, they’re free to play outside with the neighbor kids.
6:00-6:30 Screen Time
6:30-7:00 Dinner and Clean up
7:00-7:30 Screen Time or Free Play Sometimes she heads downstairs for more TV after dinner, sometimes she spins around in the living room for a half an hour.
7:30-8:30 Bath, bed, tuck-in Lights out at 8:30.

Mom’s Schedule for Homeschooling

As I’ve posted some of my thinking about schedules and shared the schedule for my preschooler and 4th grader, I’ve received some questions about my own schedule. So here it is in all it’s glory.

When I read Managers of Their Homes, one of the things that most attracted me to using a schedule was Terri Maxwell’s personal schedule. She had scheduled time to sew, time to rest, time to read and pray, and time alone with each of her kids. How in the world did she do this? Housework was a bit different for her because she has grown children living at home that do much of the housework. So that was part of the answer. But it wasn’t the whole answer.

When I filled out the Mom’s Activity worksheet that came with the book and wrote out all of my activities with the time it would take to accomplish them, I thought I was being extravagant. I included a nap time, reading time, project time, time with each kid, time for school, time for housework, 8 hours for sleep, 1.5 hours to exercise (to allow time to travel to my beloved Jazzercise class). I expected it to total something ridiculous like 40 hours. It didn’t. It totaled 23.5 hours.

Huh.

So maybe I DO have enough time in my day.

We-always-have-time

I did the math over and over and I was really excited to see that maybe I could actually fit everything in. Maybe I could actually take a nap every day, do some writing, keep my house reasonably clean, educate my children, and even play with them. Maybe.

It took some puzzling. It took a willingness to commit to going to bed early (my preference anyway) and getting up early. I don’t mind getting up as early as 6 am. But in order to get to the 6am Jazzercise class, I need to get up no later than 5:30. Yikes. That seemed nearly impossible. But I’ve been doing it for a couple of weeks now and I love it. I go Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On the other days, I use that early morning time to pray and write. And I LOVE it. I’ve never been much use after 9pm, so making myself go to bed early and get up when my brain works has been really good for me.

So here’s what my day looks like.  

5:15-6:00 Wake, pray, eat, travel Or sleep in a bit if it’s not a jazzercise day.
6:00-7:15 Jazzercise Or prayer and office time. This is a good time for me to write, pay bills, do some planning, get copies made for the day. Or just sit and read. It’s my time. It’s good time. If a kid wakes up at this time (happening less and less these days), they can have screen time or snuggle with me as long as they’re quiet.
7:15-8:15 Shower, dress, breakfast I’m working on this, honestly. I truly need to streamline breakfast. I feel like an hour should be more than enough time to do these things, but breakfast always runs long.
8:15-9:15 Group School On the days we leave for co-ops or my parents’ house, this is a “load and leave” time. On the drive to my parents’ we do school in the car with audio books or our Classical Conversations memory work.
9:15-9:45 Chore Time While the kids play outside I do some chores. I more or less follow the FlyLady plan, so this is when I finish up my “morning routine” and check the zone missions for the day. (If you’re not familiar with FlyLady, take a few minutes and check her out. She’s really helped with my housekeeping.)

On Fridays I will use this time to hang in the coffee room at our enrichment program.

9:45-10:15 Preschool Time with Thomas So far, he’s usually engaged in his own thing during this time, so I’m just following him around and giving him my attention. I plan to get the Flowering Baby curriculum to use with him on days we’re looking for inspiration.

On Fridays, this is time for grocery shopping and errands.

10:15-10:45 Morning Time School More read alouds with the kids to finish up what we didn’t get to during Group School.

Or, on Fridays, grocery shopping and errands.

10:45-11:30 School with Helen This is Science Box time for the boys and one-on-one time for Helen and me. This is when we do our Primary Arts of Language phonics work and a math lesson. This is one of my favorite parts of the day.

Fridays: finishing up groceries and errands.

11:30-12:15 School with Henry Sensory/craft/free playtime for Helen and Thomas and one-on-one time for Henry and me. We work on math, handwriting, and writing. This is one of the most challenging parts of my day.

Fridays: lunch with Thomas.

12:15-1:00 Lunch/Clean up A quick clean up from the morning, lunch prep, and lunch.

Fridays: House cleaning.

1:00-1:30 Prayer and Reflection Henry and Helen do Power Glide Spanish while Thomas and I hang out in my bed. Thomas can play on the Kindle while I pray and read.

Fridays: More house cleaning.

1:30-2:00 Nap time Everyone is supposed to have quiet time during this half hour. Helen is supposed to read alone, Henry is supposed to do independent schoolwork, and Thomas stays in bed with me. He can keep playing on the Kindle. I really do lie down and sleep most days.

Fridays: More house cleaning.

2:00-2:30 Time with Thomas Thomas needs my attention to leave the screen behind. This is our time to play trains or draw pictures or whatever it is he wants to do with me.

Fridays: Finish up housecleaning

2:30-3:00 Time with Helen This is Helen’s time to do whatever she wants to do with me.

Fridays: Rest with a cup of coffee and get ready to go get kids.

3:00-3:30 Ryan Time Ryan is my husband. This is a block in my day to do whatever it is he’s asked me to do. Often this is nothing. Sometimes I water the garden or call plumbers. This is also a good time for me to make phone calls to schedule appointments. The kids are playing outside, and I am outside to supervise if I need to be.

Fridays: School pickup.

3:30-4:00 Reading Time Kids are still outside. I’m reading outside to keep an eye on things.

Fridays: Visit on the playground after school if weather is nice, or just come home.

4:00-4:30 Time with Henry This is Henry’s time to do whatever he wants to do with me. This usually involves learning something new about Minecraft.

Fridays: settle in at home, clean out car.

4:30-5:00 Laundry Time/Chore Time The kids have some afternoon chores that need my supervision at this time. I’ve put in this time just for laundry so I don’t have to do it at night. I’m remembering that it’s almost impossible to fold laundry with a toddler around, so this will have to change at some point. Right now it’s great (when I’m actually disciplined enough to do it!) to have this time to actually fold and put away laundry.

Fridays: Schedule resumes it’s normal routine at this point.

5:00-5:30 Project Time It’s only half an hour, but this is my time to work on whatever little project has caught my fancy. I might spray paint a lamp, or put up some curtains, or write some more, or organize a closet. Whatever seems most satisfying to me that day is what I spend this time on.
5:30-6:30 Kitchen Time Dinner prep, baking projects, kitchen cleaning. I find that if I don’t try to multi-task by being on the computer during dinner-prep time I can actually get quite a bit done in there in this hour.
6:30-7:30 Dinner and Kitchen Clean up
7:30-8:30 Kids Bathed and Bedded I also use this time to do some chores upstairs – a quick wipe down of the kids’ bathroom, a quicky tidy of Thomas’s room or my bedroom. This is also when I get myself ready for bed.
8:30-9:30 Time with Ryan We are working hard to train the kids not to come out of their rooms during this time.Anyone got any advice on that one?
9:30 Light’s Out

I’ve implemented most of this at this point. We’re still easing into school, but the rest of it is going pretty well. It does take discipline. It’s easy to sit with Henry on the computer for another half hour rather than stop to do chores. It’s also easy to let everyone sleep while I write a little more rather than get going at 7:15. But we’ll figure it out. Just the fact that I’ve been able to write so much more has motivated me to keep working to get it all implemented. 

What motivates you to stick to your routines and schedules? Where do you get “stuck” in your day?

Homeschooling Multiple Children: Our 4th Grade Plan for 2014-2015

A few days ago I shared my plan for my preschooler, and I’ve decided to go ahead and share my plan for the rest of us as well. I do this with some hesitation because I am certainly not holding us up as The Family That You Should Imitate. We’re not. But I have found it helpful to see how others with families similar to mine are managing things. I share this so you can see how I have solved some of the challenges associated with educating multiple children at different developmental levels and scheduling when things aren’t always the same.

Our Homeschool Up ‘Till Now

I am a very relaxed educator in the early grades. My oldest was very much unschooled from birth through 2nd grade. Periodically I would pull out some sort of reading or math program and give it a go, but if he didn’t take to it (and he never did) we put it away and just went on with our lives. At some point between 2nd and 3rd grade I began requiring him to do 10 minutes of reading and 10 minutes of math a day. He was allowed to choose anything he wanted to read and anything he wanted to do for math – computer games, card games, Life of Fred, etc. Through this process he went from reading the same Henry and Mudge book every day to reading Harry Potter in a very short period of time.

Reading Time

The rest of our time was spent playing with friends, reading books, listening to audio books, field trips, outside time, and yes, a good amount of computer time and television.

Last year, his 3rd grade year, I tried a more formal approach. What began as a day involving math and handwriting and spelling and reading devolved into just trying to get through a lesson in our Saxon math book without killing each other. We limped toward the end of the year, me stubbornly clinging to the idea that we must get through a lesson a day in math if nothing else. I ignored his atrocious handwriting and poor spelling. I felt science and history and language arts were more than adequately covered by all of our exploration and the great books we were reading.

Our Big Picture Plan for 4th Grade

At the end of last year, I was ready to give up on homeschooling. We started talking about school. We toured our local Catholic school. And I prayed a lot. And a few seemingly random opportunities for this year just fell in my lap. And these opportunities and resources made me believe that we can do this – that we can find a balanced approach to homeschooling that works for us.

First, we got an email telling us that our enrichment program will begin carrying the Book Shark curriculum. One of the perks of our enrichment program is access to free curriculum. The Book Shark program is a literature based approach to language arts, history, and science. And it is amazing.

We have always learned so much through the great books and stories we enjoy together. My kids love to listen to me read aloud or to audio books in the car. The Book Shark program pulls it all together for you. We’ll be studying American History this year through reading a series of engaging, often award winning, novels. No dry textbooks. No tests. Just good stories and conversation. The approach is very much in line with a Charlotte Mason living books and narration approach. And I don’t have to do the legwork myself.

The opportunity that came our way was the chance to participate in a Catholic co-op based on the Classical Conversations curriculum. This was such an answer to prayer. We have tried to find a Catholic homeschool group that fits our family, and we just haven’t been successful. Many of the groups were simply farther than I wanted to drive. This one is less than 10 minutes from my house.

Classical Conversations is something that has always intrigued and repelled me. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s essentially rote memorization of facts. They memorize parts of speech, math formulas, a history timeline, science facts, geography facts, poetry – all kinds of stuff.

This year the group will be studying American History and Anatomy. Which goes perfectly with what we’re covering in Book Shark. The co-op also offers an amazing writing program for my oldest son. They’ll also be learning Latin.

I am so, so, excited about all of the great things my kids will be learning this year.

How It Will All Work in Practice

So I had to figure out how all of this was going to fit together in real life. I knew that between the Classical Conversations co-op on Thursdays and our enrichment program on Fridays and our weekly trip to my parents’ house on Wednesdays, I had to be very realistic about how much we could do at home. My challenge was to figure out what I really needed to teach the kids this year, and how to fit that into the time we have without making everyone crazy.

Managers of Their Homes strongly encourages you to have the same schedule for every day. That was my first challenge. We’re only home two days a week this year. How in the world was I to make every day the same?

I solved the problem by creating a schedule that keeps our mornings, late afternoons, and evenings the same and only changes the “school time” in the main part of the day. When we’re home we follow our homeschool schedule. When we visit Grandmother on Wednesdays, we follow a modified version which has our “group school” time happening in the car on the drive down and the drive back plugs into  our afternoon rest/outside time.

Here. I’ll show you. This is what my 4th grader’s day looks like.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing this year and how you handle the  variability of a homeschooler’s week. Do you have more or less the same routine every day? Every week? Or do you start from scratch every day? What works for you?

 

 

 

7:15 – 8:15

Wake and Morning Chores

Henry’s morning chores are dressing, making his bed, personal grooming, eating breakfast, and unloading the dishwasher.

8:15-9:15

Group School

This is when we do our Book Shark reading, a chapter from Life of Fred and our Classical Conversations memory work. We’re all together in the living room. The work is primarily read alouds. On Wednesdays we will listen to audio books and our Classical Conversations memory CD in the car as we drive out to my parents’ house.

9:15-9:45

Outside

The kids all go outside at this time and I do my FlyLady chores.

9:45-10:15

Morning Ticket

My kids each get three 30-minute blocks of screen time per day. This is Henry’s first “ticket.” He earns his ticket by finishing his morning chores on time. If he doesn’t, he uses this time to finish up anything he needs to from the morning chore block before he can “spend his ticket.”

10:15-10:45

Morning School Time

We finish up anything we didn’t get to at Group School Time and spend some time learning a hymn, reading about a Saint, or doing a Picture Study or Composer Study.

10:45-11:15

Science Box Time with Thomas

I need to do a whole post on Science Boxes. This is time for Henry and Thomas to do open ended science exploration. They may do anything they want, really, so long as Henry keeps Thomas busy while I do school with Helen. The science box gives them a place to start.

11:15-12:15

School with Mom

This is when we work on writing, math, spelling, and anything else he needs help with.

12:15-1:00

Lunch

1:00-1:30

Spanish with Helen

We’re using Power Glide Spanish. I’m not super concerned with mastery or anything. So as long as they’re not bothering my prayer time, I’m not too concerned about what they do at this time. I wanted to make sure that each of the kids had one-on-one time with each of the other kids and I provided some structure to help keep it sane. Thomas will be having his Kindle time in bed with me so the kids just need to leave us alone at this point.

1:30-2:30

Independent School Time

This is going to be tricky. We will definitely be slowly working up to a whole hour of working independently. Very slowly. But that is the goal. I will give him a daily assignment sheet so he knows what to do.

2:30-3:00

Ticket Time

His second ticket. He earns this by being cooperative with schoolwork.

3:00-3:30

Rest/Outside Time

This is free time for him. If he wants to rest or read or play Lego in his room this will be a quiet time for him. The rest of us are outside and he’s welcome to join us. On Wednesdays, this time is spent driving home from my parents’ house.

3:30-4:00

Read Alone Time

This will be assigned reading from the Book Shark program. On Wednesdays, this is still car time.

4:00-4:30

Mom Time

This is his chance to do whatever he’d like with me. Right now he’s working on learning to make Minecraft “Let’s Play” videos.

4:30-5:00

Afternoon Chores

For Henry this is taking out the trash, tidying up his room, and putting away anything of his laying around the house.

5:00-6:30

Outside/Free Time

Whatever he wants to do so long as it’s not screens. When the weather is nice this is usually playing outside with the neighbor kids.

6:30-7:00

Dinner and Cleanup

7:00-7:30

Nighttime Chores

Shower, jammies, brush teeth, bring family laundry down to basement.

7:30-8:00

Nighttime Ticket

He can hit the screens as soon as he finishes his nighttime chores.

8:00-8:30

Reading with Mom or Dad

Bed time stories.

8:30

Lights Out

Why you should consider a schedule for your homeschool

If you know me or have followed my blog at all, you know that I have always tended toward a relaxed, unschool-ish, laissez-faire approach to my kids’ education. You probably also know that I have flirted with curriculum on and off, and that part of me has always longed for a more predictable routine and, yes, even schedule.

At the beginning of last year I had big plans. I made a really impressive Excel spreadsheet that laid out our week for us from 7am to 8pm each day. I scheduled 20 minutes for phonics, 20 minutes for math, etc. It all looked so nice on paper. And parts of it did go smoothly. The kids loved morning recess. Though I usually wanted to use that time to do a few chores.

We gave it the good college try for about a month before I threw in the towel and decided that our homeschool was now to do a math lesson and some handwriting. Eventually I just insisted on math. And then there was the day it took us two hours of screaming and crying to get through a Saxon math lesson. I should note that only my oldest was required to do school. The other two kids could do whatever they wanted. Which usually involved staring at a screen.

Despite my greatest hopes and desires, most days simply deteriorated into either tears or screens or both. I didn’t feel good about what we were doing, but I didn’t have the energy to change course. “You guys want to play a game? Or read a book? Or go for a walk?” was usually met with “Nah. I’m watching My Little Pony. Or Pokemon. Or Thomas the Train.” And so I spent a little more time scrolling through Facebook.

This isn’t how I imagined homeschooling would be. I imagined science experiments and read alouds and nature walks. And we did those things. We did a lot of great stuff and learned a lot. My kids even learned stuff from My Little Pony and Pokemon and Thomas the Train. I’m not saying they didn’t.

But on those days when we had no plan – no field trip, no co-op, no park days, no play-dates, no science club – we all felt at loose ends. I wanted, as my friend Clea wrote so eloquently, to put the “home” back in our homeschool.

And then a woman whom I like and admire on our local Catholic homeschooling board recommended the book Managers of Their Homes. She described her homeschooling days, and it sounded much closer to my dreams for my family. Now, I know we should keep our eyes on our own paper. I know that what works for her and her 7 girls won’t work for me and my motley crew, but the book promised to help me create a custom plan for my family.

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So with a bit of fear and trepidation, I bought it. And I read it. Slowly. And prayerfully. I watched my anxiety ebb and flow as I processed the lessons. And I began to see the wisdom and the peace of having a predictable daily routine.

What’s great about this book (and I’m not an affiliate so I’m not trying to sell you anything here) is that it really baby steps you through it. It has you think about all of the things you want to fit into your day for yourself and each of your children. It has you prioritize. And it asks you to be realistic about how much time there is in a day. It reminds you that God does not give you more to do than you can fit into the 24 hours in a day He gives you. So if you don’t have enough time, you’re not following God’s plan for you. That one was hard to stomach.

As I was reading Managers of Their Homes, I was also reading Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (again, not an affiliate). There is much wisdom and gentleness in this book. One of major points was that each interruption to our schedules is a visit from Our Lord. Each time a child needs us to tie a shoe or wipe a bottom or “look at a really cool block tower I just built,” it is Jesus asking us to look up from our own agenda and meet Him in our day.

Reading these two books together really pushed me to think about finding the balance between having a predictable routine and schedule on the one hand, and being a slave to my planner and the clock on the other.

I confess that this is never a line I have walked well. I have some OCD tendencies, am prone to anxiety, like to have everything “under control,” and can become a cruel task master when trying to follow a plan. I tend to waffle between anal- retentive-Type-A-crazy-woman and it-can’t-be-perfect-so-I-give-up-anything-goes sloth.

It has been a constant spiritual battle for me to come to a place where I believe I have a reasonable chance - with much prayer and God’s continued out-pouring of grace – to approach a plan like this without making myself crazy or my family resentful.

If you have ever pined (even secretly)  for a more predictable routine to your day, I highly recommend the Managers of Their Homes book. It presents everything in a way that sets you up for success, not crazy making, and it gives you some fun, hands-on tools for creating a schedule that not only looks good on paper, but is based on your real life.

Have you ever tried a schedule in your homeschool day? What tips do you have for making it work? What pitfalls would you recommend looking out for?

You gotta laugh or you’ll cry

Did you ever have one of those days? I remember in college when “one of those days” involved a flat tire, or locking my keys in the car, or maybe running out of cigarettes. There was the day I locked my keys in the car and then got rear ended by a bus. That wasn’t a great day. But these days, one of “those days” is so much. . . grosser.

Today was already starting off on iffy footing. I didn’t get much sleep last night because Thomas was up coughing and Helen, who pukes anytime her temperature rises over 99.0, was up throwing up around midnight. And then at 4am we had giant, strange dogs in our back yard barking as if the world was coming to an end. It’s a little disconcerting to discover giant, strange dogs in your back yard at 4am.

So I finally get back to sleep only to be awoken by coughing and then fell back asleep again until finally waking for good at 7am. Which, two days ago, was 6am. So I’m tired.

But I had to go to the phone store, because the microphone on my new magic phone broke. Which means I can’t make phone calls. Which doesn’t feel particularly safe when I’m home with three kids.

So even though I know they’re not in tip top shape, I head to the phone store and hope and pray for the best.  We left just minutes after cleaning up a poopy potty training accident, so I figured the timing was good. With any luck, we could get there and back without a bodily fluid incident.

I already had my new phone, I just didn’t have the tricksy little device I needed to pop out the old SIM card so I could activate my new phone. Oh Verizon, the trouble that could have been saved if you’d simply included this tiny piece of metal with my new phone.

So I pack up the three kids and tell them to try not to cough too much in public because it makes people uncomfortable. Helen is wimpering because, God bless her, she really doesn’t feel well. Thomas is provoking Henry into playing Batman, and Henry, who really, really should know better, is playing along.

Then Thomas gets worked up and starts coughing. Okay, settle down, dude. And coughing. No, really, take a deep breath. And coughing. And, oh crap, gagging, and oh, oh no, oh, vomit. Crap. Catch it in his shirt. Wait there’s more. Okay. Oh shit. Okay Helen, Henry, you stay here. Don’t move. Carry Thomas to the car, catching as much as I can in his shirt. Oh good. Now it’s on my shirt. Oh and my jeans. Yay!

Out in the parking lot I get Thomas’s shirt off of him, without getting too much puke in his hair. I pull out the frozen diaper wipes to wipe us both up as best I can and thank God that, thanks to the joys of potty training, I have an extra shirt for Thomas in the car (no pants, we’ve used up all of those). All the while I’m laughing just a bit hysterically because, well, it’s better to be the crazy lady laughing with a half naked preschooler in the strip mall parking lot than the crazy lady sobbing with a half naked preschooler in the strip mall parking lot.

So we head back in wreaking of vomit to collect my two older children and my phone. As I walk through the door the nice man hands me the tricksy little device I need to pop out the old SIM card and tells me I can go ahead and do that and someone will be right with me to activate the phone. Oh that poor someone.

I really felt like I had to explain to the nice young employee why I smelled so bad. I’m trying to laugh and make the situation as natural as possible, but we smell horrible and there’s still vomit in my kid’s hair.

To his credit, this guy was really, really nice and didn’t act disgusted at all. I joked that not only was this not the first time I’ve been puked on in public, it’s not even the first time I’ve been puked on in public by this kid.* He said, “And I thought my job was hard!” I said, “Well, you have to deal with  crazy people like us, so yeah, it is hard.” He then told me, that we aren’t the crazy people. So now I feel really sorry for the guy.

The activation process was mercifully fast and we were free to take our odious insanity home for the day. Why, God, did I think I could pull off such an advanced parenting feat as taking three sick kids to the Verizon store? Kids. They’ll keep you humble.

 

Thomas the Public Puker
Thomas the Public Puker

 

*A short list of the places Thomas has puked outside of our home: the front porch of our house, Safe Splash Swim School – in the pool, the “dining room” at Wendy’s, Chili’s, the parking lot of the grocery store. I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two.