Each year of homeschooling (this is our seventh) has looked different than the previous years. Nothing about homeschooling is static. The kids’ ages, their independence, the number of children actively doing school work, the number of readers versus non-readers I have, whether or not we have a baby or a toddler in the family, or a morning napper, or whether we’re in a bare bones season (newborn!), what our out-of-home commitments look like, and what our physical spaces look like.
I saw a picture the other day. It was a first-day-of-school photo, and my oldest was starting second grade. My youngest (then) was three. This struck me so poignantly because now that sweet toddler is at the start of her own second-grade year and we have a fresh three-year old.
These years fly by, oh they do.
WHY A SCHEDULE?
I decided we needed our mornings to move into a more scheduled structure this year after my personal frazzle meter dinged red a few too many times last year. There were too many interruptions, too many spinning pieces to keep track of.
I’m aiming for peace. For structure that best fits our natural rhythms and the ways we work at our strongest and calmest.
I don’t homeschool to check boxes quickly; I don’t want to find myself in a get-‘er-done frame of mind. If I’m there, something somewhere needs to shift. This can be easier, yes? Yes.
So how might the hours in our day best serve us, and not compete with the ways God has made us- with the needs we have to move, to work, to be outside, to use our brains in different ways? How can I look at the life I have right this moment – with four children aged 11, 10, 7, and 3 – and not wish it were different or easier, but instead reframe limitations as opportunities and even gifts? I can’t do everything, but I can find ways to joyfully function within these walls, within this family.
- To minimize interruptions by being available to people when they’re most likely to need me. The flip side of this: not being needed by others when I am working with someone else. (Sort of. The toddler fits into this equation…not at all. #truth)
- To move toward a work flow that is time-oriented rather than task-oriented. I want my kids to learn the diligence and pleasure that comes from focusing hard on one thing for an appropriate, given amount of time.
- Along that same line: to alternate the types of tasks my kids are working on. No one should be holding a pencil for hours on end.
- To find a spot for each piece, no matter how small, that I’ve decided is important.
- To keep the majority of our afternoons free.
Here’s where I landed. I’m not married to the times exactly; we pay closest attention to order and duration. My boys are in grades 6 and 5; my daughter is in grade 2.
To figure out when we ought to be doing what, I started with the big rocks and moved from there:
- Quiet time. This has been nearly sacred in our home for 11 years. Afternoon nap times gradually shifted to quiet times, and it’s priceless. This happens at around one in the afternoon. I’ve tried pushing it back – no dice. By one, we all need a minute (or 60 or 120) on our own.
- We’re early risers. I’m up at 6, the kids are always up around 7 and hungry immediately. For us, there’s no reason not to start at 8. They’ve eaten, had time to play, and are often dressed.
- Table Time, or Morning Time. I’ve done this in different ways and at different times over the years; by the second half of last year we’d shifted it to first thing in the day, and we’ve never looked back. It’s like a soft start – the kids color and draw, we recite, I read stories. This is our eight o’clock hour.
- My people are hungry by eleven. They just are. And by eleven, we’ll have been working in some form or fashion for 3 hours. Time to stop.
- I just cannot be working closely with another child during anyone’s math time. I need to be available! They all do math lessons independently, although I do spend a few minutes helping my second grader go through the lesson in her textbook. Although the kids each have their own desks, math happens at the dining room table. That way I can be nearby, taking care of simple tasks, and be easily available when I’m needed – which is regularly! I knew I couldn’t expect to get anything else done during this time, and (major brain breakthrough here –>) if I didn’t even try to squeeze an extra task in, I wouldn’t ever be frustrated. So I just hang out, puttering with materials or other preparation-oriented, non-urgent things. It’s quite nice. My frazzle-meter is collecting dust.
- Related: I can calmly manage two kids doing math at once, but not three. NOT THREE. Something about that third and my blood pressure rises, my eye balls bulge a little, my voice is forever impatient (“What?! HOLD ON! Just a second, I cannot.help.you.right.now.”)
- Reading: my boys have anywhere from 4-6 assigned chapters/passages to read from various books in any given week. I didn’t want this to bleed into their quiet or free time (much), so I made sure that each morning has a slot for reading and narrating, thereby taking care of four of those AND breaking up their pencil work by fitting reading nicely between math and independent work.
- Our brains turn to mush by mid-afternoon, so I decided we’d use that noon to one o’clock hour well, work hard, and aim to be mostly complete with our school day before quiet time.
- Loop: these are things that are not exactly scheduled, but that I want to hit regularly. They’re things that we’ve found our brains can easily manage later in the day. I keep a running check list of what we’ve done, and the next day, we move to the next thing. This way, we’re regularly and happily hitting nature study (sometimes birds, sometimes trees), art, and Latin (we’re using Prima Latina via DVD). I had to make a spot for this stuff or I knew it would never (ever) happen. Now it’s the first thing we do after quiet time – and if something comes up and we don’t get to it, that’s okay.
You’ll see there are a few things that I haven’t figured out yet. I spend a couple of minutes going over map work with my 7-yr old every day, but we just do that whenever I remember and we have a second. That seems to be working just fine. Spelling with the boys is another story – I’ve been doing it during that 12-1 block for Essentials work, since class hasn’t started yet and they have no assignments. Spelling takes 10-15 minutes per boy, and I’m not sure how to fit it in after Essentials starts without extending their school day more than I wish to.
To bring the kids on board, I color-coded our schedule to make it easy to reference and taped it to their clipboards, which also contain a weekly assignment sheet. The more days we operate in this rhythm, the more they’re starting to intuit what comes next, and the less they need to refer to the chart.
THE SCHEDULE MEETS REAL LIFE AND HOLDS ITS OWN
We’ve gotten about two weeks of this rhythm under our belts. I made a few tweaks right away; my goals were specific enough that it was easy to tell what didn’t work. Essentials starts up again in a couple of weeks, and that might be a bit of a wild card. I’ve tried to plan for it as best I can, but we’ll see what it actually looks like in practice this year.
Meanwhile, my kids approve. This is a big deal to me, and a huge relief! This effort is all for a purpose- and that’s peace for them, me, and our life together here. Just this morning, my oldest paused during his math work and said, “I really like the way we’re doing school this year.” Silent mom cheer.
Our mornings go by so fast. Morning Time at the table flies; I always have more we could do. The next two hours are very manageable rhythms for both my boys and my daughter; no one has seemed fried by lunch time, and that seems like a good sign that we’re on to something good here.
They’ve always liked having a predictable rhythm to our days, and so it seems we’ve just taken that a step further and applied it to the details of their schoolwork. Framed this way, the schedule carries freedom instead of obligation.
I’ll keep you posted!