I walked out of my room feeling ready for the day (for once!). I had my coffee in hand. I had jeans on (not yoga pants!). I was ready to start the day.
One by one, my children start emerging from their rooms. We’re not big on alarm clocks on the mornings where we don’t have anywhere to go, so the kids usually wake up and get moving between 7:30 and 8:30am.
I look over and see Violet sitting at the school room table getting a jump on her individual school work using her list.
Harmony is sitting next to her, quietly coloring and drawing while Melody dances in the kitchen waiting for her apple juice. I smile, help Melody with her apple juice, and throw the first load of towels in the washer.
All of a sudden, I hear the piano start singing and turn to see Josh sitting on the piano bench, waking up as he starts playing some of his favorite songs.
Morning and breakfast have arrived.
Morning Begins in the Evening
I should pause here for a moment and let you know that our school days really start the evening before. You see, each evening, we take a few moments and set up for our next day of school.
This means that I write the list of lessons we’ll work through on the white board in our school room. I also write the individual lessons for my kindergartener and preschooler up on the white board. This way they can see their list of worksheets and lessons, but I can also see it and read it as I help them through their lessons.
My 2nd grader and 4th grader write their own list on their personal whiteboard (a laminated piece of paper) and put it in their school binder.
My 6th grader writes out her weekly list on Fridays in preparation for the next week of school.
On top of this, we make copies of all the worksheets we’ll need: Math worksheets, spelling worksheets, add any handwriting paper that’s needed to the worksheet stack, etc.
In other words, we try to make it as easy as possible for ourselves to get going in the morning. It also has the added benefit of setting the expectation of when school will end even before the day begins. When all the lessons are complete, school is complete. It’s as simple as that.
[If you’d like to know more about this system, check out this post on How To Set Up Your Homeschool Day for Greater Success Using The Power of Lists.]
“15 minutes warning until we’re starting school!”
There are some days when I wonder if one of those big bells that schoolmarms used to ring to call all the children into the school house from the prairie would be more effective than the simple warning I give. I don’t understand it, but no matter how many warnings I give, no matter how much time I give my kids to get ready, somehow someone is always behind!
9am arrives and I settle into my glider with my refilled coffee cup, Anne of Green Gables and our history textbook. By this point, Josh and Melody are on the living room floor playing with LEGOs. Jesse is curled up in the armchair ready to listen. Harmony continues coloring her picture. And Violet switches from doing her lessons to sketching while she listens.
In the lessons where more reading out loud is required, I’ve learned something important through the years: It’s much easier for my kids to listen and pay attention when they have something to do while they listen. If their hands are occupied with something they don’t have to think about, it allows their minds to focus on the information I’m reading them. The one rule that holds true: You can’t talk while Mommy is reading!
These first two subjects go without major incident and, aside from laughing at the silly antics of Anne and giggling at her long speeches, things are feeling like they’re moving pretty smoothly this morning.
To The School Room
It’s time for a location shift. Before we settle in to the next subject, I declare a 5 minute bathroom break. Now, realistically, I know it’s not going to be just 5 minutes. Something always happens! If I declare a 5 minute break, it will be 10 in reality. But if I say we’re taking a 15 minute break, it will be a full 30 minutes before we get going again and that just ruins the flow of our day!
I swap my coffee cup out for my water and throw the load of towels into the dryer, then we all meet back up in the school room.
Today, the younger ones have a cut and paste definition worksheet that goes along with our zoology lesson. I pass out the papers and let the kids start cutting while I read about how incredible an elephant’s trunk truly is. Once the reading is done, we all read through the worksheet together to make sure everyone has the correct term matched with the correct definition. Then the gluing frenzy begins.
Next up is our geography lesson: Adventures Around the World. It’s country introduction day, so out comes the globe as we locate where in the world this country really is. We find it as well as its capital city. And then comes the guessing game: What time is it in Tanzania compared to where we are in the United States?
It’s Josh’s turn to add Tanzania to our Land Area Leader Board so we can see how big this country really is compared to others. After adding Tanzania’s flag to our Countries of the World Flag Banner, Melody and Josh start asking if we can talk about the animals today. Who am I to refuse my kids wanting to learn about animals? So, we jump to the animals section and read through all kinds of fun and interesting facts about the animals found in Tanzania.
Only one lesson remains on our ‘Together List’ and that’s to start looking at the composer Brahms. I pull the book ‘World’s Greatest Composers: Johannes Brahms’ by Mike Venezia off our shelf and the kids get all excited. They absolutely love the cartoons Mike Venezia has incorporated into his books to make certain facts about the composes much more memorable!
Once we read a section in the book, I walk over to the computer and turn on some instrumental music composed by Brahms. We’ll take some time and listen to this music more intently later in the week, but for now the goal is simply to hear his music and start to get familiar with it.
A Sigh of Relief
I glance at the clock for a time check and breathe a sigh of relief. First of all, it’s only 11:30am, so we still have some time before our lunch break at noon. Secondly, this morning has been a smooth one!
“Stop! Where are you going? Come back in the school room while we’re doing our lessons.”
“Mommy, she took my pencil!”
“He’s in my space!”
“Can I please see your face at the table instead of your feet?”
Some school days these comments come so think and fast it’s a wonder that any zoology or history is heard through them all! And yet, that’s life. It’s how things go. Some days will go wonderfully smooth and others will be a challenge.
The First Split
At this point, our paths split. This year, my 4th grader, my 6th grader and I took on a challenge of memorizing the book of Philippians (over the course of the year!). But this challenge was a bit much for my preschooler and kindergartener! So, right now, we have two different memory verses being learned.
Violet and Jesse begin to work on their individual lists. Violet asks if I can read her spelling words to her, but I remind her that we’re not in the ‘Ask Mommy Zone’ yet.
‘Oh yeah!’ comes her cheerful reply and she gathers up her school binder and heads into the computer room to work on her typing and a report that’s due at the end of the week.
Jesse chooses to work at her desk in her room, so off she goes.
It’s time to say the memory verse with my other three.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!Philippians 4.4
After saying the memory verse together, I check in with Josh: “You have your list, correct? Are you good to go? Great! Go ahead and start working on your list. I’ll check in with you at lunch.”
And Josh is off and working on his individual list.
Now it’s time to work with the little ones. First up is Harmony’s reading. She grabs the BOB book she’s on and we snuggle on the couch while Melody pulls out a puzzle to do while she waits for her worksheets.
After a couple pages of reading BOB, Melody is ready for her next lesson. When it comes to reading, I’ve found it’s better to have my children read to me more times throughout the week for shorter periods of time. In other words, they do better, retain more information, and get less frustrated when they read to me 5 or 6 days a week for 5-10 minutes a day than 1 or 2 days a week for 30-45 minutes at a time.
Harmony jumps up from the couch, super excited that she did such a great job reading BOB and is fired up to work on her worksheets. We head back to the school room table and Melody jumps up from her puzzle to join us.
After a squabble over who gets to sit on what chair, they decide they’ll both sit next to me – one on either side. I was about to step in and solve the squabble exactly like this, I’m not going to tell them!
I hand Harmony her handwriting page and she starts copying the phrase “Butterflies are beautiful.” I turn to Melody on my other side and help her put a picture of Grandma and Grandpa on the page in her ABC binder with a big letter ‘G’ on it.
As Harmony finishes her handwriting and hands it back to me, I give her the other two worksheets: A math worksheet and a page from her Explode the Code workbook. Harmony starts in on her worksheets with energy and I turn back to Melody just as she’s closing up her binder.
Next up for Melody is creating patterns. Today I grab our colorful counting animals and start making patterns for her to continue: Red, purple, red, purple…what comes next? After making three patterns, she’s ready to move on. So, we put the colorful animals away and I give her a coloring worksheet with a big letter ‘G’ and a cluster of grapes on it. (Can you tell we’re working through the alphabet?)
Harmony hands me her math worksheet and asks a couple questions about Explode the Code. We work through her questions together and she exuberantly declares ‘I’m done!’ as she circles the last picture on her page.
The ‘Ask Mommy Zone’
With the completion of Harmony and Melody’s school work, the ‘Ask Mommy Zone’ is officially open.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking: What on earth is an Ask Mommy Zone? Simply put, it’s a window of time where I’m open for helping with questions, giving spelling lists, and checking school work.
You see, a few years ago, I started getting really frustrated. It seemed whenever I would sit down and start working with my little ones on their reading or on worksheets where they needed my focused attention and help, I would get interrupted. My bigger kids would need help understanding math. Or they needed their spelling test. Or they wanted to tell me they had finished their school work.
Don’t get me wrong: I love helping my kids with their school work! I love the fact that they want to tell me when they’re done. I want them to ask for my help when they don’t understand something! But the constant interruptions while I was working with my little ones were annoying, frustrating, and made my little ones loose all concentration… which then created more frustration for everyone!
So, we created our School Zone and the Ask Mommy Zone. The School Zone is where we work through lesson all together. It’s also where I work through the lessons with my little ones who still need direct oversight to get things done. The Ask Mommy Zone is open for all those questions, help, and checking school work.
According to the clock, the Ask Mommy Zone doesn’t “officially” open until 1pm (after lunch). But, as soon as all the lessons that need to happen in the School Zone are done, the Ask Mommy Zone is open. Some days it opens as early as 10am and other days it doesn’t open until 1:30pm!
And yet, having these two zones in our homeschooling days has saved so much frustration, avoided so many times where I’m having 3 conversations simultaneously, and given us all more focus to get things done.
[If you want more information on this idea, check out the post How To Create A Daily Homeschooling Routine.]
It’s noon, and I’m about to get up and start getting some lunch for everyone when Violet walks up with her school binder to let me know she’s done with her school work. At this point, Jesse walks into the school room asking if she can make Mac ’n’ Cheese for everyone. No complaints from me!
As Jesse starts lunch, Violet and I take a moment to sit down at the table and look through her work. I ask her a few questions to make sure she did her reading and other non-worksheet lessons even as I check her worksheets.
Her school work is complete – including working more on her report that’s due later in the week. She only needs her spelling words to be completely finished. So, I read them out to her.
As we all settle in to have lunch, which ends up being a mix of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, Mac ’n’ Cheese and a salad for Mommy, we take a break from our school work. I love listening to the conversations around the table and the silly games my kids made up as they eat their food!
As lunch starts wrapping up, I check in with Jesse. She’s in middle school and has moved from a daily list of school lessons to a weekly list. Essentially, she’s taking more responsibility for her school work and is able to work at her own pace through the lessons while at the same time knowing she needs to turn in all her work for the week by 3pm on Friday.
“How’s your school work going? Do you need any help from me?” I ask her.
“I’m doing pretty good. I don’t think I need your help today, but if I run into a struggle, I’ll let you know,” comes her reply.
Sounds great to me! 4 kids done with school – or 3 kids done and 1 tracking her own progress…
The End of the Lessons
About 30 minutes after lunch, Josh comes over to me with his school binder. “Mom, I’m all done. Will you give me my spelling words?”
The two of us sit down at the school room table and I check his worksheets, confirm he did his typing, and ask what he read for his individual reading. After I give him the spelling list for this week and check it, he’s officially declared done with school.
Before we get too far away from our homeschool day mindset, I call Josh and Violet into the school room to set up our school for tomorrow. They each erase the dry erase marker off of their laminated list and fill it out for the next day while I erase the dry erase board and write the Together List and the Individual Lists for the little ones.
Some days there’s a bit of a traffic jam as all three of us make a copy or two of the worksheets for the next day, but typically it’s not too bad. (And certainly not worth getting a second printer when this one works just fine!)
Once the lists are written, all the copies are made, and the binders are put back on their shelves, school is set up and ready for tomorrow. Now we have time to get our chores done. focus on piano lessons, build with LEGOs, create a game in the backyard, sketch and draw… In short, to continue on with our day and all the adventures it holds.
Just to Be Clear
The day you’ve just read about is a typical homeschool day for us…but it took us A LOT of trial and error to find this rhythm. It took us YEARS to find this groove that really works for us.
You see, we’re not perfect!
Not every day goes smoothly or according to plan… Some days the plan gets completely thrown out the window due to the unexpected events of life!
We don’t finish school at 1:30pm every day… Some days we’ve been at the school room table until 5pm trying to finish that last lesson.
There’s no magical fairy dust sprinkled over our house that makes us immune from sibling arguments… There are days when attitudes or arguments or behaviors come up that need to be addressed in the moment and it totally throws off our school day.
But the key is: We’ve kept going. We haven’t given up… And we’re not going to!
We kept looking until we found the groove that works for us. And while this groove will change as seasons of life change and our kids grow, when you have that pattern, that plan to structure your day, your homeschooling day can go so much easier!
[All the children’s names in this post have been changed. They are all my kids, but each one of them has chosen a favorite book character to represent them.]
- How To Set Up Your Homeschooling Day For Greater Success…Using The Power Of Lists
- Simple Ways To Overcome Frustration And Enjoy Your Homeschooling Day
- How To Create A Daily Homeschooling Routine
- How To Make Reading Fun And Interesting
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.