At long last we've arrived at the final post in our homeschooling series. And honestly, it seems rather appropriate that I'm late for the post in which I tell you how we plan our time, doesn't it?
So what follows is a run down of how our homeschooling day works. Now many of you are going to read through this and think, "Why is this crazy woman posting all these details about her life and why on earth would anyone care?"
Well…. I do it because I've gotten lots of questions about how I get things done and also because I know that there are lots of homeschoolers out there trying to find that balance between free time for exploring and structure in their days (not to mention time to brush their teeth and get dinner on the table). Our schedule won't work for everyone, in fact in years to come it may not even work the same way for us, but maybe in sharing, something of our day will help you in finding your own balance.
The boys (and as a result I) wake up around 7 or 7:30. They wake up slowly…. with lots of snuggling under quilts while mama makes a big breakfast with NPR on the radio.
On Monday and Wednesday afternoons we have music lessons, which makes for days that are a little more full and frantic than others. On those days, I try to balance some of that extra busyness by getting all my cooking done in the morning. Dinner goes in the crockpot. Lunches go in lunch boxes.
After breakfast the boys get dressed, clean up their rooms, make beds, and bring their laundry baskets to the laundry room where they'll dump any dirties and pick up the clean things that need to be returned to their rooms.
"What," you may be asking, "do dinner and laundry have to do with homeschooling?" Well, for me at least, a lot. Before our new schedule, I had such a hard time keeping all the balls in their air…. learning, feeding everyone, keeping the house picked up, bathing… it was all one big jumbled mess and it seemed like if I did one thing well, say the house was clean, everything else fell by the wayside. If we had a particularly wonderful day of learning the house was a wreck and dinner was late and a little wanting. And you know what, some of that is really fine and to be expected, but when it becomes the rule rather than the exception, not so much.
So our new homeschooling plan needed to bring some order to our beautiful mess, and somehow make it possible for us to enjoy our home, and be nourished, mind and body… and you know, for mama to keep the few remaining shreds of sanity that she has.
While the boys are cleaning up their rooms and dressing, I'm folding clothes and clearing away breakfast. Sometimes I get a shower, but more often than not, I just get dressed and save the showering for later.
Around 9 the boys grab their snacks and water bottles and head to our school room. Those snacks and water bottles are key because someone is ALWAYS hungry or thirsty. This way we minimize the interruptions.
We start our days with a bell and the pledge. I find this kind of funny and a bit much really, but they've seen this sort of thing in movies and books, and they get a big kick out of the bell ringing and the solemn oath-making, so we do it. It is apparently a great honor to be the bell ringer or the flag holder, so we have to take turns. After that are prayers and at the moment we're learning a hymn each week. I've found some great bluegrass renditions that my fiddler and guitar picker are loving. For Ryder's benefit, we have a classroom calendar. Each day he gets to post the new date. Then, someone feeds the fish and just like that, our starting rituals are done.
Honestly, I would have scoffed at some of this sort of "recreating school at home" stuff, but it really does help to sort of signify that it's time to still our hearts and prepare to focus. What can I say? It's working for them, silly as it may seem.
After the official opening of our school day, we get out our folders.
Sonlight comes with 36 weeks of charted out, week by week plans of study. Each week I make copies of those for the boys. I write in their math and reading assignments, and also make spaces for charting their music and AWANA practice. As they finish something they color in the boxes. A part of me rails against all that charting and plotting, but it really does help so much. They know exactly what is going to happen, and they feel a sense of accomplishment and ownership completing those charts. And…it helps too that it's not always ME telling them what needs to be done… it's part of the plan, it's on the chart.
First up in our school day is our history/geography/Bible/social studies segment. We do this as a family (save, of course, for Daddy, who is working away in his office in our backyard). This is the really cool thing about how Sonlight is working for us. It's meant to serve a range of ages, so we can all work together rather than being sectioned off with different leveled textbooks all the time.
Here's a little example of how this plays out:
Say our Bible reading is about the tower of Babel. We'll read that section and then paste a little tower in the appropriate spot in our Book of Time (a sort of book version of a timeline). Our history reading will coincide with that time period. In this case it's about the Sumerians and the ziggurats that they built. Then for geography we find Sumer on our big map. This happens to be present day Iraq. Then we'll do some reading about Iraq's culture and people. We'll look up photos online, maybe try to listen to a news broadcast or call to prayer or something that will give us a feel for their language.
I'm really loving how the Bible/history/geography and social studies all fit together to create one big picture. And I have to say that I'm learning so much right along with my boys. I am sorry to admit that I would have been hard pressed to find Oman on an unlabled map before this school year. But now, we can all find and identify all 15 middle eastern countries, and, more importantly, we also know something about the different people groups inside those countries. This week, we're moving on to Eastern Europe!
So you can see already how this new curriculum of ours is helping to satisfy those requirements we had… particular the "family time," "faith" and the "broader world view" aspects.
All of this usually takes about an hour or, if we find some cool videos online or decide to try to build ziggurats with sugar cubes, an hour and a half.
After that we have what we call "one on one" time.
I will work for about 30 minutes or so with one of the older boys while the other plays with Ryder. Then we swap. I use this time to go over the work from the day before, introduce their math and reading lessons for the day. I listen to their AWANA verses to see how they're coming along. We take a look at their handwriting page, and we'll do their spelling work together.
Then, the older two boys get started on their assignments while I work with Ryder. Now, at four, I don't think there's really any need to do any kind of formal schooling. Four year olds learn through play and that's just as it should be. But when you are the third boy and your big brothers have books and one on one time for learning with mama, you want very badly to be big too, and you just might insist that you too have a desk and workbooks and a pencil box, maybe even a folder with charts!
So, Ryder has one on one time too. And he has a box. And a folder. With a chart. And he will tell you that his is the best because it has STICKERS – some of them are even scratch and sniff!
Ryder is currently using:
And these crazy cool alphabet flash cards.
Right now he gets a huge kick out of doing this stuff. It makes him feel big and he's doing so well with it all. If there comes a time though when he doesn't want to do it. We'll lay off a while. He's still so little to be doing any kind of serious school work.
At this point Daddy will probably come in and he'll be inundated… "Daddy did you know that the tower of Babel might have been a ziggurat?…. Want to see me make a letter K in cursive?… want to hear me read Dick and Jane"… do you know where the Persian Gulf is Daddy? I do!… Daddy listen, Ryder can say the whole Pledge of Allegiance… Daddy, Daddy, DADDY!"
Eventually, I'll rescue him with "Alright guys, lunch is ready!" Remember, two days a week I make lunch in the mornings. The other two school days are "hot lunch days." We have real school trays and everything. The boys love hot lunch days, and mama kind of does too…. all those little compartments are great fun to fill up. On hot lunch days there might even be some terribly rare and wonderful treat like store bought cookies or single serve apple sauce. Wonders never cease.
We all have lunch together. We all pitch in to clean up, and then we sit on the couch for our chapter book read aloud. The boys might build with Legos or draw while they are listening because it's awfully hard for boys to be still.
After the reading, the boys go play. They play long and they play hard for a couple of hours. This is the part where I get to shower, put wet clothes in the dryer, return phone calls, catch up with email, or just sit and look at a magazine… because sometimes that's really very important.
Some time in the afternoon we have "Quiet Hour." This is time when the older two occupy themselves with finishing up their assignments, reading, working in their nature journals or on any of their ongoing projects.
During this time, Ryder and I hang out. We fingerpaint, play with playdough, get up a rousing game of Memory, sing songs, bake cookies. It's our time. I really love this because before our new plan, I always felt like Ryder got the raw end of the deal. I was so busy managing the ideas and projects of the other two boys that focused time to just hang out with my baby was hard to come by.
After quiet hour we go on walks, visit the library, read together, share our projects or just play.
All of that happens Monday through Thursday. On Thursday afternoon we celebrate. We might go get ice cream or go to the park, we might bust the TV out of the closet, make up some popcorn and open up a red envelope (the Brady Bunch is our new favorite show :-). Fridays we sleep in and stay in our pajamas half the day. We meet friends, play games, hang out. We have people over, we cook.
So, all in all, it's pretty busy, pretty full, but I feel like there's lots of wiggle room in there. After lunch each day and all day Friday and Saturday and some of Sunday are open to interpretation. Oddly enough this little injection of structure has left me feeling MORE free. When we finish up our morning studies I feel like the rest of the day is icing on the cake. The official school work is done, the house is picked up, the meals are planned and we're open to whatever adventures we dream up.
So there it is. Everything you ever wanted to know about how we homeschool (and probably far MORE than you ever wanted to know too)! Why do I feel a little like I've just made you sit through two hours of home movies? I do hope that there were at least a few bits in there that might spark ideas for your own family's learning adventures. Now, if there's anything else you'd like to know, questions you have or ideas to share with me, I'd love to hear them! The floor's all yours!