How I Streamlined My Homeschool Day and Saved My Sanity
When it comes to homeschool technique I've tried everything. Work boxes? Tried it. Digital planners with printed-out schedules? Been there. Pre-planned curriculum packages that cover all subjects? Done it. Totally online learning like Easy Peasy? Yup. The non-homeschool option: Public/Charter school? Yes, even that.
And no matter what I did, every day was a whirlwind of trying to fit things in, children complaining, toddler wandering (with markers! or scissors!), preschooler watching grown women play with Shopkins on YouTube Kids... It was a mess. I was a mess. We were all an uncombed, tear-streaked, sixth-grade-and-still-don't-know-our-multiplication-tables mess.
Until this year. When I spent half the summer ... thinking. Not searching or researching, not buying or making. Plain and simple thought. What mattered most? What did I want to accomplish? What about our day was making us all so crazy?
When I understood what wasn't working, I concentrated on brainstorming what could help us work better. And I'm scared to say this because, hello, the Universe is listening and [insert cliché here, i.e., "The best way to hear God laugh is to tell him your plans"], but I think I've found something, finally, that works.
It's not a "thing" really, since I didn't find it or buy it. And ultimately I didn't even think of it myself, not entirely. But it has turned our days from insane-always-behind to, "I think we're done, let's go get ice cream!" (Ice cream for now, until Baz has his next EOE test where we'll probably learn he can add dairy to soy and egg on his "I'm allergic-to-everything" list.) And what's best? It's really, really simple.
We split our homeschool day into Time Blocks
Not to be confused with subject blocks. We don't have "English" and "Math" and "Art" at designated times. Instead I looked at our day and determined where our time was already being spent, and used that to decide what we would learn when. The core of this idea came from Morning Time. I stumbled on a blog singing the praise of this thing called Morning Time, (or Morning Basket, Morning Meeting etc.), and the more I read, the more I realized how well it could work for us. Plus we kinda already did it, though without intentionality or any sort of plan.
So, what if I did Morning Time, and what if I repeated that Morning Time concept throughout the day? Well, a Plan was born. Now our day consists of: First Thing, Morning Time, Independent Time, One-on-One, Together Again, Outdoor Time, Lunch Gather, and Afternoon Time.
So you can get an idea of what (the h@ck) I'm talking about, here's how it works in our school.
First thing in the morning I task the oldest kids to watch their brother eat breakfast. They're then supposed to take care of dishes and feed themselves. While they do this (in theory), I take Penny downstairs to pick a Surprise Box. Our PreK curriculum uses the idea of Surprise Boxes for special toys for each day. I have five mid-sized bins, and in each I keep one of her PreK books, an activity and instruction card (also from our curriculum), a small snack, and a themed "extra." Like in the Messy bin I have paints and paper. In the Create bin I'll have a craft kit. The Squish bin will be play-dough (GF!) or I'll pull out the sensory bin. Penny and I ONLY read from her book and do her short PreK activity along with Calendar during First Thing.
We then bring the bin upstairs. She and Kilian play with the "extra" (paint, dough, etc.) while the olders and I do Morning Time. Which really needs its own post, so once I write one, I'll link it here. But by way of summary:
We have a Liturgy of sorts for Morning Time, beginning with the doxology, which helps me get in the right frame of mind to give over my morning to the education of my children (not something I'm always eager to do). We do memory work, the Bible reading from our curriculum (and supplements that go along with it), what I call One More Thing, math drill (multiplication tables, anyone?) or a game like Math Dice, and the CNN Student News. In fact, here's the card I printed and laminated to keep us (me!) on track:
One More Thing listed above is our "extra" that changes by the week. Some weeks it will be a composer study, one week we painted with acrylics on canvas, one week we read from the Children's Book of Virtues.... I'm actually *doing* all those cool, fun things I never had energy/time to do! Pow!
From Morning Time, the olders move on to Independent Time. Here's where, in all my thinking over the summer, I realized a good bit of my time was spent waiting for the older kids to finish things. So I had the brilliant thought: if I wasn't involved, why was I involved? I listed all the things they could do on their own, and those things are what they do. Here's where I simplified even more. They do only four main things.
- Get showered/dressed/etc. and straighten their rooms and bathroom.
- Math (saving questions for me for later).
- Language Arts (rotated daily).
- Extra (also rotated and could be anything from tuning their guitar to finishing a project to playing an educational app on the iPad).
During this time I'll do songs, activities, etc. with Penny and Kilian, and get my sh@t together for the rest of the day or start dinner or clean something or ....
I then set one big kid to play with the littles while I answer questions and help with issues that came up for the other during Independent Time. Like Math. And we swap. And I give everyone a snack, maybe turn on PBS Kids if the littles are being extra bouncy and we move on to:
Although my older kiddos are perfectly capable of reading history themselves, I actually like reading it with them and learning it too. So here's where we do it. Science experiments, hands-on activities, timeline, crafts (ugh), projects, etc. Since we follow a Classical Unit Study model, every lit activity is also a history activity and so on so it doesn't really matter what we do on a given day because it all relates. And once we're done or I'm going crazy, I kick everyone outside for...
I will often go out too. Here is when I, gasp, harvest from the garden! No more tomatoes left to rot on the vines because I can't find time to pick them! No more cucumbers the size of small vehicles, um, ok I do still have those (there are just SO MANY cucumbers, you know?). We all get fresh air, the littles get to expend some energy, and I can often sneak back inside to make lunch All By Myself. Because at lunch we...
Eat. And I read aloud from whatever novel we're reading. And we talk. And we often do Sentence A Day (where we learn grammar painlessly by finding errors in really funny sentences! Mom does need a decent grasp on grammar to make this work, however.). And if we're done early enough we will often, very often, go to McD's for an ice cream cone.
The day ends with free time, Kili's nap, time to do homework for our co-op, or to generally do whatever the kids find inspiring. I work toward keeping the TV off until 3pm. Some days it works, some days it doesn't. But you know what? After all we've accomplished already, I'm not going to beat myself up. Because you know who wins when you beat yourself up?
Organizing My Homeschool Day
Here's what it looks like all written out:
So there's our day! What do you think? What works best (and least) about your day? What are your best time management suggestions?