Once a week, like thousands and thousands of families across the globe who home educate through Classical Conversations, I pack up my kids with all their snacks and lunches and books and bags and school presentations and supplies and head to our campus for Community Day. If you’re not familiar with Classical Conversations, a weekly Community Day looks something like this: parents and their children (from newborns to high schoolers) gather for morning presentation, where we all learn new material together and families get the opportunity to give short presentations. Then the children are dismissed to their classrooms, where they will spend the morning learning Latin, English, Geography, Math, Science, History, and practice public speaking. Parents briefly linger in the hallways chatting and sharing hugs/support/encouragement/humor/coffee before heading into their child’s class. At noon everyone breaks for lunch & recess before older kids return to class from 1-3. The whole thing is exciting, encouraging, educationally challenging, and utterly exhausting.
If you’ve ever gone anywhere in public with children for more than 30 minutes, you understand. The amount of food, supplies, diapers, good manners, clean clothes and deep breathing that such an outing requires can feel incredibly daunting. My first year on campus, I would consistently return home with a headache, zero energy and a cooler filled with dirty food containers only to flop on the couch while Netflix nannied my kids as they ate cereal for dinner and I wondered how I was ever going to pull this off every.single.week.
I will say that, in those early years, the budding friendships, support and encouragement I found among other homeschool families kept me coming back for more, not to mention how much fun my kids were having as they learned alongside so many friends- friends who were smart, athletic, incredibly creative and not socially awkward (cuz, ya know, homeschooled kids are supposed to lurk in dark corners or under the stairs terrified of human interaction. But I digress…)
So now that I was sold on homeschooling with Classical Conversations, I had to find a way to make Community Day work for me. Had to! My white-knuckled grip on a travel mug of coffee certainly couldn’t be the only way. Getting out the door early in the morning (clean and appropriately dressed, no less) was stressful to say the least. Trying to remember all.the.things AND be nice to my kids was even more stressful. And then there’s that pesky little thing called food. Feeding my kids and myself some semblance of a healthy meal while on Campus- where I serve as sole lunch lady to my tribe- is an ever-evolving endeavor with countless variations of what works. We’ve done brown bag lunches. We’ve done tapas-style snacks. We’ve ordered pizza and chic-fil-a on Campus. I’ve considered making Community Day a day of fasting (half-joking). And perhaps the only thing that rivals food on the go is all the dirty dishes/cups/silverware we’d come home with only to have them sit in the sink. Mocking me.
What I’m about to share with you is the culmination of years of trial and error. It’s so simple and obvious that it’s almost embarrassing. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? But alas, here we are and these little tricks have been such a game changer that it would be cruel to keep them to myself. The goal was to find a system of prepping for Community Day that (A) could be completed on autopilot and (B) would make eating healthy easier. If I can help it, I really don’t want to thwart my kids’ educational efforts by giving them food that I know will make them sluggish.
I recalled my husband’s experience in the Marine Corps where he had to pack for deployment- how excruciatingly detailed his lists were and how nothing was left out and nothing was assumed as ‘obvious’. So I harnessed my inner Marine and created a master checklist of all the things my family needs on Community Day. And being the good homeschooler that I am, I used one of my thousands of page protectors to make this little list dry-erase-marker friendly. A sticky note helps me remember any additional items that are specific for that week, like what we’re eating. As much as possible gets packed the night before, placed on the dining room/school table/staging area to be checked off the list, and then loaded into the trunk before we go to bed. In the morning, all that needs to be packed up are the refrigerated items and the children….all clean and clothed I might add. (Bonus Tip: some of my kids sleep in their comfy school clothes the night before in order to cross one more thing off of our morning to-do list. Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone.)
Next, food. Since my kids prefer snacking over meals, I go with tapas style eating. Each kid gets an apple & a bag of Pirate’s Booty in their backpack because Pirate’s Booty feels like a treat to them and might offset the disappointment of an apple. And though I love the earth and do my best to avoid plastics, each kid gets a plastic water bottle (that gets recycled.) Because I’m tired of loosing good reusable bottles. So tired. As they age I’m sure they’ll be better able to ‘maintain positive control’ (<— Marine Corps lingo) of their expensive BPA-free water bottles, but not yet.
For lunch- and this is where my heart flutters a little and I have to contain my excitement-we blend up smoothies in my Vitamix. Yup, I bring my Vitamix to Community Day. Really, since I’m already basically a pack-mule on Community Day, what’s an appliance added to the pile in the trunk under the cover of dawn?? But here’s the beauty: I pre-mix the 6-person smoothie the night before, store it in the fridge right in the blender, and then bring the whole thing to school, blending in ice right before I serve. I realize this hack might not work on all campuses (access to a kitchen, fridge, ice, making noise that rivals a jet engine for 60 seconds, etc) but it works for us and I’m so grateful.
The kids think this is so cool and it helps with that dirty-dishes-at-the-end-of-the-day problem.
God bless Amazon. All of these items are brought in plastic bags (that get recycled) which means the only dirty dishes at the end of the day consists of one vitamix container and perhaps a Tupperware container! Oh, and though we have a perfectly fine cafeteria, I find it easier to feed my crew outside picnic style (quieter, less witnesses, closer to the ground, fresh air) so that’s what we do. Hence the camping chair and picnic blanket.
Ok, so that covers food. But there’s still the issue of this whole thing working for ME- the mother, the educator, the taxi-driver. This is where list #2 comes in.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll add a few notes.
1.For whatever reason (sitting in a class of 4 year olds reciting the kingdoms of living things in their loudest lion voices? Sitting in a class of 6 year olds skip counting the 3’s & 4’s by literally skipping? Sitting in a class of 8 years old boys being 8 year old boys?) Community Day is often accompanied by a headache. Drinking plenty of water helps my body from crashing and burning and it usually keeps the headache at bay.
2. But in case it doesn’t, an emergency dose of Tylenol does! And Gaba Calm. Let me just say- this stuff works incredibly well for me in managing stress and anxiety, from mild to acute. It should come standard every time a mother gives birth, and certainly at the moment she commits to homeschooling.
3. Essentail oils (particularly lavender and peppermint for me) help calm my nerves and brain and body and help me focus, especially when coupled with Alternate Nostril Breathing while hiding out in the bathroom for 3 minutes (I’ll share the video below).
4. Herbal Tea is my post-lunch reward as I sit in on Essentials with my oldest son. Again, drinks are my love language, so this is like a warm hug as I learn all the things I apparently didn’t learn/forgot when I was in school. I’m becoming a very smart 4th grader.
But if you need a little caffeine hit, this cinnamon black tea is to die for! I seriously don’t know how they’ve perfected such a spicy sweet flavor without sweetener, but they have (I had to call to double check that this tea was sugar free because I just couldn’t believe it.)
5. Dinner after Community Day is take out. Period. Not cooking. Not cleaning. Not going near a kitchen. Non-negotiable. Take out shall be something Mom enjoys and shall feel rewarding. For us, that’s a smoked chicken with lots of sides from the local BBQ joint on our drive home. Or Thai. And a nighttime glass of something celebratory. Because, heck, I just survived a full day on campus without loosing my mind 🙂
Wishing us all the patience and creativity and blessings that such a venture as home educating requires!
*Bonus Material: If you don’t know about Alternate Nostril Breathing, you’re gonna wanna! You can read about my experience with it here or watch the video below. It’s such a fantastic, easy, effective way to manage stress in the moment.
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