Well, it’s that time of year again. The neighborhood pool is all but deserted, the school bus has begun its route again (using my driveway as a turning point 2 times each morning and afternoon) and there’s no more kids riding bikes through the streets. Just like that, our neighborhood packed with 80+ kids feels like a ghost town, with the lone survivors being my 5 still-bike-riding and cannon-balling children. Where’d everyone go??
Oh yes, back to school! And though I have steadily continued homeschooling through the summer, August really marks the beginning of serious school time (mostly because all our neighborhood friends are no longer available to play!) So this is the time of year where we huddle up as a family and dive into school with more structure. I’ve been asked several questions this past week about what we do and what we use, so today I’m offering my most current homeschool plan. I’ve written about this several times in the past, but what works for us seems to evolve as quickly as the children, so an updated post is in order.
But before I jump in, here’s our brief backstory to catch you up to speed:
- My kids are ages 9, 8, almost 7, almost 5, and 2.
- Though we don’t adhere strictly to grade level, they are in 4th, 3rd, 1st & K.
- The 2 year old goes to daycare 4 days a week from 9:30-1:30, which is the ONLY way this whole thing is possible.
- This is our 6th year homeschooling, using Classical Conversations and various but minimal supplements (I’ll get to it!)
- I still can’t believe I’m a homeschool mom.
- I will not be explaining Classical Conversations in this post (if you have questions I would be so happy to chat) but, in short, this is what Classical Conversations looks like in a year. All children learn and memorize the same material, and older students get to go deeper into the lessons.
Having been at this for 6 years now with 4 kids, here’s my Educational Philosophy:
- Less is more. Way more. We stick to 4.5 hours a day of work max. Casually and consistently. On the couch, driving in the van, taking walks (except for our oldest, Silas, who has entered Essentials and
has togets to write papers during the afternoons.)
- All of life is school. From going to the post office, balancing the check book, to meal planning & grocery shopping- there are teachable moments in it all. I actually set aside one morning a week to run errands with the kids. I consider it a life-skills training day. Buying stamps and mailing packages. Counting change on the spot. Talking to strangers. Navigating directions. Planning meals. Pumping gas. Sorting bills and paying them. Radio surfing and explaining the classics like Tom Petty and Micheal Jackson and The Police (lest they fall prey to the homeschool stereotype!) The kids partake in all of it and I explain as we go.
- Fear can paralyze the educational process. My worst fears have yet to come to pass- not even close- so I’m learning to stop entertaining them. My kids will NOT be illiterate adults. They will NOT be social outcasts. They will NOT be traumatized by their homeschool experience. They WILL continue to grow into the beautiful souls they were created to be.
- My personal growth (or lack thereof) heavily influences the school/home environment. All the planning and researching and curricula in the world can’t compare to the presence of a parent-teacher who is present, humble, firm, flexible, loving, and willing to learn right alongside the children.
- None of this is possible without a loving, trusting, respectful relationship between parent and child. Mutual respect and generosity is key!
So, here’s what school planning typically looks like for us:
- Each month, I go to the library and check out as many books as possible to correspond with that month’s lessons. I don’t do any pre-planning. I simply hold my Classical Conversations binder in one arm as a guide, and then throw corresponding books into a big ol’ cart.
For example, this is what we cover in weeks 3 & 4, so into the library cart go all the books I can find pertaining to Greek & Roman gods; maps, atlases and encyclopedias of the Jordan River, Dead Sea, Phoenicia, Israel, Asia Minor, etc; books & dvd’s on plant & animal cells; picture books of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; a children’s guide to the teachings of Buddha…there’s so many options! All of these books stay in a secure book shelf in our kitchen, accessible only by permission from me. Older kids read independently or read aloud to younger kids; younger kids look at pictures and try to recreate them; I read aloud during snack time or lunchtime or bedtime or ‘sit and be quiet before I loose my mind’ time. There’s a lot of reading. Here’s a current sampling of this month’s material. The library also has great DVD resources, (as does Youtube) which helps me divide and conquer during a school day (for example, 2 kids will watch a dvd on Plant Biodiversity while I help the other 2 with math or cursive.)
- Each night, I write out the next day’s plan in my planning notebook. Then I set each child’s school box, containing all their work, on the kitchen island so we’re ready to go in the morning. This really helps me get going in the morning with minimal effort.
Here’s an example of what my daily planner looks like. Though there are waaaay more thorough and elaborate planners out there, a simple notebook has worked for me for years and so I’m sticking with it!
- As the actual school day progresses, I keep notes on what we accomplished or didn’t, what worked and what didn’t, and ideas for next time. This then serves as my guide later in the evening as I plan the following day.
Besides Classical Conversations, here’s how I supplement our education:
- Math U See. We’ve used this curriculum for 6 years with 4 very different children and I love it. This year, I have given Silas full responsibility for learning math on his own (I should mention he’s incredibly self-driven and trustworthy.) I purchased the Teacher’s Manual & DVD for him, proudly handed them to him and said ‘Have a good school year, buddy!’ Each week he teaches himself the latest lesson, asking for help only after he’s put in a hearty effort, and then takes as much time as he feels he needs on the practice lessons before testing out. This usually takes a week, then I grade his test, we high-five, and he moves on. It’s all pretty awesome.
- Cursive. No extensive planning went into this. Went to Barnes & Noble, found these on clearance, purchased them. All the kids use them and love them.
- Draw The World. These series are AWESOME! They give you step-by-step instructions for drawing the world so that you can do so from memory. Guys, wow! Though all my kids use this book, the 8 & 9 year olds are able to best master it. They keep their practice maps in a notebook and work on this most days.
- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We’ve been using this for what feels like forever and I have no complaints. It’s met all of our needs- from Silas who learned to read at age 4 by lesson 27 and now reads 100+ pages a night, to 8 year old Sam who is on Lesson 67 and sloooowly but surely improving. It’s easy, it’s simple, it’s working.
- A Ledger. With all the books we check out of the library, we keep a ledger of what we’ve read each year, with a brief synopsis of each. It’s pretty awesome to look back from time to time and marvel at how far we’ve come.
- Sketch Books. This is my most favorite way to keep busy hands and minds focused during all the read-alouds we do. While I read, they can draw whatever comes to mind, weather or not it relates to the book. We also use this on nature walks, where we observe and draw creatures and leaves and whatever else we stumble upon. We keep these through the years and the kids enjoy looking through their artwork from when they were ‘still little kids.’
- Story of The World Audiobooks. Cannot begin to tell you how well these have served us through the years. Love them. Learn so much from them. Can use them on road trips or during each kid’s quiet time or as a ‘teacher’s assistant’ so I can have a 20 minute break. When all the kids shared a bedroom, we would play these at night. Nowadays, we listen when we’re all in the van driving from point A to point B, amounting to roughly 2 hours of stories a week.
- Audible & Alexa. With the help of Alexa (the last and most fitting present my story & music loving father gave the children before he died) we are currently working through Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths: One of the Best-selling Mythology Books of All Time, and Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters & Mortals. We play them at bedtime, quiet time, while building legos…Did you note the double reference to monsters? And did I mention I have 4 sons? Another perk of Alexa is that she can drum up facts & dates of an historic event we are discussing or play a classical composer we are studying that week. And she can solve math problems and spell words better than I can.
Ok, so that’s what we use. But how do we execute it? Though there are 365 variations of what this might look like in a day, here’s a very general overview of our homeschool day:
- First priority is a peaceful morning filled with breakfast, chores, chats with Daddy, and coffee on the back porch for the grownups.
- Then the sign is put on the front door by 9am and the school day begins
- First we review our CC grammar at the breakfast table. This means memorizing facts relating to World History, Latin, English, Geography, Math & Science. It’s pretty impressive what their young brains are capable of! Like reciting all the US Presidents or every English preposition or every major geographic feature of all of Africa.
- Then Silas gets his assignments and heads off to a quiet room to work independently
- At 9:30 we drive the toddler to preschool at a nearby church, using the drive to listen to Story Of The World, and then the middle 3 and I begin the intricate dance of multi-task schooling. Each requires my individual attention, so while I work with one, the other 2 might build legos while listing to an audio book or our composer of the week, or they play in the woods or open up a box of magic sand or add to their sketch pad. Sometimes they’ll sit in on a lesson to see where they fall in the educational pecking order 😉 We’ve got a competitive bunch. I try not to spend more than 15-20 minutes per subject per kid, so it’s a rather fast-paced turnover with the rule being you may not interrupt lessons. Lessons are accomplished on couches or sitting in the back yard or cuddling in bed together.
- At 10:00 we break for snack and our first read-aloud. This is usually the Chronicles of Narnia or the Bible followed by a discussion of whatever is in their beautiful brains. These times are absolutely priceless.
- From 10:30-12:00 we get back to book work- reading lessons, cursive, math, science…whatever hasn’t been completed yet.
- Around noon we break for a working lunch, where we complete another round of CC memorization review and our next read-aloud session, choosing a book from our library stash.
- Once the kitchen is cleaned up, we go outside for recess and PT. I personally use this time to get my exercise in as well, which currently looks like a 15 minute tabata-style workout followed by a 60-minute walk most days. The kids usually come with me, or else they practice baseball in the backyard or dig a trench in the woods or one of a million other creative endeavors. As I type this, Daddy is out in the back yard on his work break leading them through speed and agility drills using cones and a ladder.
- When we head back inside, we take a few minutes to review our geography for the week and then complete chores before picking up the toddler, once again using the drive to review whatever is necessary.
- 2:00-4:00 is precious, precious down time. The house is clean and quiet, the toddler is home and napping, the big kids are playing a game or watching a movie or romping through the woods.
- 4:00-8:00 begins with dinner prep, any unfinished chores, and, at least in the Fall, concludes with driving boys to baseball practices.
- 8:30 This is when I crack open my planning notebook and perhaps a glass of wine, get organized for the next day, thank God for guiding me and ask him to continue to do so, and then enjoy some Tommi Time before going to bed. My current favorite hobby is an epsom salt bath while watching reruns of The Office or pouring over my latest read (The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra). I realize this last sentences makes me sound like an 80 year old woman, but oh well!
Honorable Mention: this over-the-door shoe organizer is the latest addition to our school ensemble and it.is.awesome. It holds so much, and I can decide what is within kids’ reach and what isn’t (tin whistles get stored on the very tippy top!) Tape, scissors, 3-hole punch, markers, puzzle pieces, magnetic alphabet tiles, manual clocks, pipe cleaners, safety pins, playing cards…everything has a home without cluttering my home. Priceless.
Not Mentioned: the bazillion ‘interruptions’ and ‘course corrections’ and ‘challenges’ in any given day. A sick child. A grumpy mother. Fighting siblings. Much-welcomed visitors that call for a school vacation day…or week…rainy days that just beg for pj’s & a movie-a-thon, sunny days that call for a day at the pool, business or personal phone calls that can’t wait. Georgia requires homeschoolers to complete 180 days of school consisting of 4.5 hours of daily instruction, and because we school year-round, we have lots of wiggle room to allow for the above-mentioned interruptions.
Field Trips: As the kids get older and more responsible, we enjoy field trips more and more. Hikes, museums, the fire department and police department, even the farmer’s market or local bakery. Any outing can be turned into a field trip. I’ll help the kids come up with questions they might want to ask, and then we’ll strike up conversations with those we meet. We’ve learned so much this way, with the added bonus of giving the kids valuable social skills.
So there it is. If you also homeschool, I hope this post was helpful as you navigate your own unique educational environment. If you don’t but were curious as to how in the world we pull this off, I hope this post helped dispel the myth of perfection and ease! Or of chaos and confusion! And whatever season of life you are in, may God bless you and your family.
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