“I don’t know how you do it!” Every homeschooler has heard this comment more than once. In this series, we tell you!
This past year, we had a fourth grader, a third grader, a first grader, a preschooler, and a two-year-old in our house. We are firmly in the territory of “things that terrified me to think about when we started homeschooling.” In those first years of teaching our oldest kids to read and add and write their letters, I could not even conceive of how I would structure our days when we reached the point where I now find myself. When people say to me, “I don’t know how you do it,” I get it – just a few years ago, I didn’t know how I would do it either. I’ve learned over the years that it is not helpful to look more than a year ahead. For big, overarching goals – yes. But for the day-to-day logistics of homeschool management, looking too far ahead is just overwhelming. It turns out that once you have a few balls in the air, adding one more, and then one more, and then another becomes manageable. Once you have a rhythm, you find the places where something can be added, things can be tweaked, time can be adjusted to make room for the next piece.
This is the schedule that hung on my fridge this past year:
My kids are early risers. When I came downstairs around 7am, they had usually finished breakfast (cereal and milk that they can get for themselves) and were playing or reading. My husband and I would gather them to the table for morning devotion. We sang a hymn together, one of the older kids would read a Psalm, and we closed with Luther’s Morning Prayer. Then my husband would leave for work; I would have some breakfast, check the email, and go over our plan for the day; and the kids would have some free time to play.
Sometime between 8 and 9am, I would get out the math books and call the kids to the table. They would work through their lessons, and I would work my way around the table, leading the younger kids through their lessons and answering any questions the older kids had. When they finished their math, I would have handwriting waiting for them, printing for the younger kids and cursive for the older two. Often the younger kids would finish before the older ones, giving them a little play break between subjects. Sometimes we all would take a little break after handwriting!
By 10am, I would gather everyone back to the table for a snack and our next lesson. We rotated through history, science, and geography, covering one subject each day at snack time. The snack helped the little ones listen without talking and made this part of the morning more enjoyable for everyone. After this, the older kids practiced piano and we had a little break until lunch.
Weekday lunch at our house was usually peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by the older kids. (Fancy Mom-made lunch is something that was tweaked out of a past schedule to make room for more important things; now we enjoy it on weekends with Dad.) I ate my lunch while they made the sandwiches so that I could then read aloud to the kids while they ate their lunch. We all really enjoyed this read-aloud time. Once again, eating kids are quiet(er) kids, and the little ones had an easier time listening with their hands occupied and their mouths full. After lunch, the two-year-old napped.
I have always used naptime to study language arts with those children who have outgrown naps. In the beginning, that was simply reading lessons on the couch with a four-year-old while the toddlers and baby napped. But, oh my, we have grown! This year, my fourth grader had grammar studies and spelling that he worked through mostly independently, and he had more help from me working on compositions. My third grader did the same spelling and some of her brother’s grammar alongside of him. They both read for at least half an hour each afternoon. My first grader started out the year with reading lessons, copywork, and phonics, and we added in spelling about half-way through. He needed more of my attention than the older kids, but his lessons were short. In the spring, I started reading lessons and copywork with the preschooler, and towards the end of the year, I started grammar lessons with the first grader and preschooler together. We were usually all finished with language arts by 3pm, and the rest of the afternoon was free time for resting, playing, reading, or games. I tried to give myself at least an hour to decompress after all the schoolwork was done, and before supper needed to be made.
When my husband arrived home, we would have supper, followed by devotion. You may have noticed that we don’t do Word of God study as part of our school day. We choose to do that with Dad during our morning and after-dinner devotions. In our after-dinner devotion we memorize and recite the books of the Bible, Bible verses, portions of Luther’s Small Catechism, and a Bible timeline; we read from the Bible; and we close with the Lord’s Prayer.
We broke out of this daily flow for a couple of days in our week this past year. On Monday mornings the older two kids had piano lessons, which pushed our other morning lessons earlier; sometimes piano lessons replaced them entirely if I wasn’t on-the-ball that morning. And that’s ok! Tuesdays were Classical Conversations community days; for twelve Tuesdays in the fall and twelve in the spring, we gathered with our Classical Conversations group for the full day, the older four kids learning core memory work in all the academic subjects during the mornings and my oldest learning English grammar and writing in the afternoons. These community days are dense with learning, and they provide a skeleton that is fleshed out by the rest of our studies at home.
Finally, we dedicated Saturday mornings to everyone’s least favorite school activity: looking up next week’s spelling words in the glossary and copying the definitions. This was once a Friday activity, but it was so despised and it derailed attitudes so terribly that I decided to isolate it. When the kids finished their spelling words on Saturday mornings, they could play. That way the task, while still strongly disliked, was accomplished much more quickly and with less whining.
That’s what a normal, full week of school looked like at our house this past year. Now, many days were not normal. We had snow days and field trips and sick days and Mom-needs-a-break days. In November, we moved to a new house and took a good month off! Even on the most normal of days, little things could derail us in big ways. But this is the schedule that I strove to follow most days.
Now we are wrapping up our summer break, and I have been preparing for the coming school year. I’m preparing for a fifth grader, a fourth grader, a second grader, a kindergartener, and a three-year-old, and I’ve realized that the schedule we followed this past year – the one that was intimidating when I first hung it on the fridge, but that we grew to feel comfortable and thrive within – that schedule will not accommodate us anymore this fall. (I’m looking at you, afternoons of too-many-language-arts-pieces-to-remember.) We have to grow some more. I’m not quite sure how it will all end up fitting, but I also know that I felt this way last summer as I contemplated the new school year. And so I am praying and I am trusting that the faithful God who has opened doors and minds and hearts in our home throughout this journey so far will continue to do so in the coming school year. Thanks and praise to Him for the many gifts we have received along the way!
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.