To be honest, I was scared-stiff about attempting to homeschool with four kids in our family. Especially when two of them are new-to-us. David and I considered and prayed through our options this summer, and in the end, we both felt in our gut that, even with its challenges, this is the right path for our family. But it was with fear and trembling that I began school on August 3rd.
Like I said in last week’s post, every moment of the day is not smooth. We have lots of interruptions, and Mommy loses her temper sometimes. There was one particular Disastrous Day when David stopped by the house at 11:00 am to find school work abandoned at the table and all of us sitting, dazed, in front of the TV, watching Reading Rainbow on Netflix. Of course that’s the one day my husband comes home early!
But on the whole, I’ve been so very surprised at how well it’s going. Perhaps the main reason is that our kids thrive in structure. All of them. And so, even if they don’t love every part of our school morning, now that they all know what to expect every.single.weekday, they’ve settled into this rhythm and we can learn together.
Here are a few other things that are helping us enjoy this school year:
1. I’m prepared in the right ways.
This is a huge, very-welcome change from the last couple years. You’d think it would be the first rule of thumb as a home educator, and I did prepare in the past, but not always effectively. I did a good job planning out our year, and I knew how much material we needed to cover each day in our textbooks and reading, so each day I just moved to the next thing. I then recorded what work we completed in a homeschool planner.
I can’t explain why that felt so hard and cumbersome.
But this year I take a good two hours over the weekend to prepare for the coming week. A friend I met this summer gave me a fantastic idea for planning our week by using colored folders.
Judah and Amie have a different color for each week day (minus Mondays, because we’re at Classical Conversations). In the left-side pocket I hand-write their assignment list for the day, which includes chores and playing with their brothers, and in the right-hand pocket are their worksheets for the day. They check off work as it’s completed and move their worksheets to the other side of the folder.
This visual is very helpful. Instead of me nagging them to do the next subject, I can say, “Check your folder; what’s next?” [Hint: I help Amie with this since she is still a beginning reader, but I want her to be in the habit of it by the time she can read her assignments.] They have a little flexibility of when to complete things. And because everything is right in front of them, they rarely ever ask, “Can we be done with school now?”
This little bit of preparation helps my part of the day flow much better too. I’m not scrambling to grab books and worksheets, or remember what’s next. I can follow along with the folders too.
2. We have a great schedule.
David helped me come up with a new daily schedule. I hesitate to write it out for you, because there’s no one right way to schedule your homeschool day, and sometimes reading the details of other people’s is burdensome. But in summary, the thing that’s saving us this year is block scheduling. We divide our school day into three blocks, that are each about 1.5 hours long:
Block 1: History and Math
Juice (the other kids can take a break or listen in on Gabriel’s Sonlight read-alouds)
Block 2: Language Arts (we eat our snack during this block)
Block 3: Finish Language Arts (if necessary) and Classical Conversations memory work
1:15 Nap/Quiet rest time for everybody. We are usually finished with our work by this time, but if not, I finish with the big kids during part of their rest time.
7:00pm(ish): Gabe and Noah in bed, Sonlight read-alouds with the big kids
I utilize the clock in my school morning to make sure we start school at breakfast-time, and always take our breaks for juice, snack, and lunch. I need those times to cuddle with the boys, and all the kids need their blood sugar stabilized around 10:00 with a healthy snack.
The little guys are involved with our learning on and off throughout the morning; and I do some one-on-one work with Gabe during Block 2. I’ve built in times for the big kids to take turns playing with them, either outside or inside, and that helps everything run more smoothly. This year I started using the iPad. Each of the kids gets 10 minutes on the iPad doing an educational app during the morning, and they love it.
It helps my state of mind to divide our day into blocks. Rather than become overwhelmed with the whole day, like I used to do, I simply focus on the block we’re in. Whatever we don’t get finished in that block becomes homework for later on. So far we’re doing a great job of actually getting all the work done.
3. I love our curriculum.
We’ve compiled a wonderful selection of books this year, largely thanks to our guidance counselor, Emily, at SCAIHS (who I can’t recommend highly enough). I’ve let go of my desire to fit myself into one homeschooling system or philosophy. Most of what we do follows the classical model because we’re apart of Classical Conversations, but I don’t follow all the CC recommendations for supplemental work, and we branch out on our own in some areas. I’m finally at peace with that.
Over the past three years of homeschooling, I’ve found myself becoming both more driven and more relaxed. I’m more organized and focused about staying on top of our schedule and school work — in a healthy way I think, because the older my children get the more demanding their work.
But I’m growing so much more relaxed about both my abilities and limitations as a homeschool mom. I’ve struggled a ton with insecurity in the past, but have reached a point where I see that there will be gaps in my kids’ education (as there are in every child’s education, no matter where they learn). I’ve begun to let go of comparison, and can now stop trying obsessively to find the perfect homeschooling system, because it doesn’t exist. What’s right for my friend’s family may not work for mine, and I don’t need to feel bad about that!
With good resources and accountability and a support system, I can do this. My kids are learning to read and love books and do math and spell and are soaking up history and geography like sponges.
4. We are learning!
I can’t tell you how much confidence and relief I feel now that Judah is in second grade. Kindergarten and first grade are fraught with big challenges — like learning to read and write. So many things are new. Attention spans are short. Handwriting can be nigh unto illegible.
But oh, second grade, I love you so much. Judah has gotten the hang of weekly spelling tests, and math flash cards. He can sit still for longer than 10 minutes, and is much more focused in his subjects. And very best of all, he’s a reader! The thing I feared would never happen on my watch has happened! He reads whole chapter books in a day, and I can hardly make enough library trips a week to keep the boy in Magic Treehouse books. It’s a joy to watch his love of reading take hold. And, as you know, it makes every single other subject easier. He can do more independent work now. Most of all, it’s given his overall confidence in learning a great big boost.
Having a second grader gives me so much more patience with my other children. Of course that’s patience I wish I would’ve have with Judah (I’m so sorry, dear firstborn). Instead of worrying how Amelie and Gabriel are faring next to their peers or stressing that they will ever read well or catch onto math concepts, I’m enjoying their process. They’ll get it. I find that I love homeschooling three grades at once, because I get to see each unique child learn at their own speed, with their own particular strengths and weaknesses, and the subjects we get to do together are just so much fun.
This is a very long blog post to say: school is great! The addition of Gabe and Noah and their endless zest for life has actually served to motivate and energize the big kids. Is Noah a handful? Yes. What two-year-old isn’t? But I’ve seen him grow even in six short weeks of school, and he can now sit on the floor and play toys by himself for several minutes, or choose to sit in my lap and draw while I work with one of the others.
And so we have our own little one-room school house happening this year, and there are moments of joy and satisfaction in it every day. Even when it makes me crazy, I feel very grateful for my life and my work.