“I don’t know how you do it!” Every homeschooler has heard this comment more than once. In this series, we tell you!
This year, my kids are in second, fourth, and sixth grades. I love the even grades – you’re using the skills you learned the year before to build things, rather than trying to master new skill after new skill. The years where all my kids are in even grades are a lovely respite! Because when they’re all in odd grades, I spend my days shoving my little
boulders learners up the hills of knowledge. Or so it feels.
After a few years of trying different schedules and routines and seating arrangements, we’ve finally found a way of doing school that works smoothly. Or, smoothly enough, anyway.
I get up around 7am on school days. My kids get up sometime between 6:30 and 8:30, depending on whether or not they’re going through a growth spurt, if it’s dark and rainy out, or if they were naughty and stayed awake late reading in bed the night before. There are days when one of them might not straggle out until 9am. I’m fine with that – adequate sleep is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling.
I start making breakfast around 8:30. Before breakfast, each kid gets to play ten minutes of computer games (if they’re awake before breakfast starts, of course). After breakfast, we all brush our teeth. Depending on how fast they ate breakfast (and how quickly I made it), they might have time to play a while before we start schoolwork.
I set out all their subjects for the day on the dining room table. Each kid gets a pile of their schoolwork for the day – our dining room table is just big enough to accommodate three piles of work, three spaces for them to work, and a spot for me to check over what they’ve finished and write up what they’ve done.
I keep a record of everything my kids do for school. I have a spiral-bound notebook for each kid for each grade, and in that, I record what they do each day with the name of the book and what page(s) they worked on or read. I also keep a record of the field trips we go on, and of what subjects we study at our church’s homeschool co-op when it meets. This helps me keep track of how many days we’ve done, since our state requires us to do 180 days per school year. And if anyone ever questions what and how my children are being taught, I can show them these records to help explain.
We all sit down for school between 10 and 10:30am. I give the kids a snack to munch on while they work, and I finish off my breakfast coffee. Sometimes one or more of my kids gets started before the rest of us, if they’re feeling enthusiastic or motivated. So they might have a subject or two finished on their own by the time I sit down.
When I arrive, we work on our memory work. If our Sunday School choir is working on a song to sing during a church service, we’ll sing that song together. If the choir is between numbers, we’ll sing a hymn. I let the kids take turns requesting a hymn to learn, and I print up the lyrics so we each have a copy. We sing it together for two or three weeks, until we feel like we’ve learned it pretty well. We’ve also learned some psalms out of our hymnal, if one of the kids has one they’d like to memorize. After singing, I work on their Sunday School memory work with each kid. Their teachers have them memorizing a Bible verse or something similar every week – right now, my fourth grader is learning the Ten Commandments and what they mean instead of Bible verses.
After our memory work, all three kids usually read their Bible history or church history books, then start work on their “writing subjects.” Math is usually first, and then they choose what order to do their language/grammar/composition, spelling, handwriting, and anything else that might require writing, such as geography or social studies. I grade schoolwork as they finish it, while they work, and answer questions on anything they’re not sure about.
When a kid finishes two full subjects, they get to take a 10-minute break to play computer games. This helps break up their stint of sitting down at the table, plus it motivates them to finish their writing subjects in a timely way instead of dawdling. Ideally, anyway – there are days when someone will take all morning on just one subject. And others when someone is done with all their schoolwork before lunch. Every day is a little different.
We take a break around noon for lunch. They get to play while I make lunch and get it on the table. After we’re done, they all clear the table together. While I clean up the kitchen, wash the table, and so on, they get to play. If it’s nice outside and they’re playing nicely together, and we have no afternoon appointments, I might let them play for quite a while, up to an hour. That gives me a chance to empty the dishwasher, fold some laundry, answer email, grade schoolwork, or write blog posts like this.
Anything we didn’t finish before lunch, we finish after. Usually, the kids have most of their writing subjects done, and I’ve got their work graded. They can put stickers on pages with fewer than two errors, and they need to correct any errors they’ve made. All three kids are old enough to do most of their “reading subjects” independently now, meaning science, history, social studies, religious studies, and literature. But I still read their science lessons with each of them. I take turns with them reading it aloud, meaning I read a paragraph, then they read a paragraph. That gives them practice with reading aloud, which I really value. My second-grader also reads her history lessons aloud with me that way, and sometimes social studies or literature.
If one kid’s science lessons include a hands-on demonstration or experiment, a lot of times we’ll all do that together because they’re fun. I try to do some kind of hands-on science activity at least once a week, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.
I’m teaching my kids to play the piano, so they practice that in the afternoon too, at some point. I’m not a very strict teacher – I only make them play the song they’re learning once or twice through every day. But they’re welcome to practice on their own time, after school, or just play for fun.
We’re usually done with school around 2:30, but it can be earlier or later, depending on how much we got done before lunch and how long I let them play after lunch.
It took us several years to really find our daily rhythm, so if you’re struggling to find a groove, don’t despair! I had to learn my kids’ learning styles before I could really find a way to make this work. For instance, two of my kids need to do their math as early as possible while their brains are the freshest, but my other kid needs to warm up her brain a little first before math will work for her.
Also, back when I had some kids in school and some who were still babies or toddlers, schoolwork happened during the youngest’s naptime, or involved a lot of interruptions. That’s life! I thrive on orderly routines, but homeschooling with a baby/toddler around taught me how to be more flexible, which I’ve tried to hang onto. That’s why we don’t have specific start times, for instance. And that’s why, if you drop by my house at 2pm, you might discover one or more of my kids still wearing pajamas. A relaxed, general routine is what works best for us.
Rachel Kovaciny was homeschooled K-12, graduated from Bethany Lutheran College with a BA in Liberal Arts, and promptly married her college sweetheart. She now lives in Virginia with her husband and their three homeschooled children. Rachel writes a monthly history column for the newspaper Prairie Times and bi-monthly articles for the online magazine Femnista. She also blogs about books at The Edge of the Precipice and about movies, writing, and life at Hamlette’s Soliloquy. Her 2017 book, Cloaked, was a finalist for the Peacemaker Award for Best YA/Children’s Western Fiction, and her follow-up, Dancing and Doughnuts, is now available in paperback and e-book. To learn more about Rachel and her writing, visit www.rachelkovaciny.com