There are all kinds of schools of thought when it comes to homeschooling – the classic model, the Charlotte Mason model, unschooling, etc. Some people follow a strict schedule and some people let their kids follow whatever whim they have and learn that way. And if that’s what works for you, by all means, keep at it! But when I started my home school journey I didn’t really know how to make it work and we had a lot of frustrating days and times when packing my kids up on a school bus didn’t sound like half a bad idea.
I have finally got it under control though (for the most part – this is real life, after all!) The one thing that helped make our home school experience a happy one is not a fancy school room (I did away with mine) or a specific curriculum (my kids attend a “home school school” a few days a week where the curriculum is provided). The thing that brought everything together for us was realizing and admitting that while I love the idea of the “free to be you and me” home school life where we’re baking bread together and frolicking in fields and creating lap books on outer space, my ultimate, utmost goal is to make sure my kids have a good solid education in the basics – the stuff they have to know to get into college or whatever vocation they choose and succeed in it.
So while having school in an outdoor classroom where everyone learns whatever they feel like learning that day is an awesome home school dream, I realized I had to have some structure to get all those basics in. But wait! Isn’t one of the benefits of homeschooling being in your pajamas all day and reading novels to your kids by firelight and building Lego skyscrapers and paper mache volcanoes? Yes, some of it is. But you also are responsible for your kids knowing and mastering what every other public and private school kid is learning, so you have to have a plan to make sure that gets done.
Let me just share with you what our days look like without structure… kids wake up at all different times and eat breakfast at different times, meaning we have some starting their school work while others are still getting out milk and boxes of cereal. And I’m in the mix, too, trying to make my breakfast or pack a lunch, along with the dog, the meowing cats and my husband who’s trying to get out the door to work. Then someone has to go to the bathroom which takes an inordinate amount of time on school days while another already needs a snack break (ie. second breakfast – my kids are part-Hobbit) and another decides to have wrestling match with the dog in the middle of the floor. And while I’m waiting on the one in the bathroom, I decide to try and fit in a workout, unload the dishwasher, answer a phone call while spouting out spelling words to the kid doing the wrestling and trying to get the snacker to clean up his mess. And then suddenly it’s half-way through the day and we’ve barely gotten anything done.
Enter “the schedule”. I resisted this, I honestly did. But my homeschooling guru at Confessions of a Homeschooler has a schedule that is a site to behold (as well as an amazing school room, her own curriculum and she has time to quilt!) And her kids seem to be thriving. She sticks to her schedule but it seems there is some give and take and I just love her attitude, not to mention her mad organizational skills. If you are struggling, please check out her site.
And while I am most certainly not one of those parents who stand over my kids with a ruler in hand ready to pop anyone who even looks up from a book, I realized by being too “loosey goosey” with my home school day, I wasn’t really helping my kids. Their papers and work were a disorganized mess, they weren’t prepared for tests or forgot things they needed for class and I was constantly forgetting things, too. So here’s the schedule I’ve implemented that has made a world of difference.
- First things first, we get up at a decent hour, usually around 7. That’s early for a lot of homeschoolers, but considering our public high school bus comes around at 6 am (!), I feel like we’re doing pretty good. Besides that, we have to – my kids attend their home school school on opposite days, so we are always taking someone to school. May as well all get up and around at the same time.
- We get dressed, me included. Why not let whoever is staying at home stay in their jammies? Because it doesn’t set the precedent that this is a school day and we have things we need to/have to get done. I got this tip from one of my son’s teachers – a home school day needs to be treated just like a school day except you are home. And you are still getting the benefits of being home (ie. one-on-one time with mom, the ability to take more time/less time on a subject, the ability to pee when the urge hits or pet the dog while you learn your math facts). Getting dressed just says that we are up and ready to get things done. It helps in other ways, too – my kids get a break mid-way through the morning and if they aren’t dressed, they spend half of their break changing clothes when they could be outside playing.
- Everyone eats breakfast at the same time. That way, when we’re ready to start school, we can all start together and there’s no “but I’m hungry” right as we’re sitting down. I’ll usually give them a break mid-morning and they can have a snack then if they can’t make it to lunch. And as a side note, I usually don’t cook a hot breakfast. My kids prefer cereal, milk, fruit or toast, so while I know it could be better nutritionally, it’s not the worst thing they could eat either.
- I make their work a priority and try not to get too wrapped up in my stuff (cleaning, blogging, realtor stuff). Home school has some downtime and for many people, myself included, it’s hard to just… sit there. And I’ll admit it… my name is Susan and I am a compulsive multi-tasker. So it’s hard to just sit when I’ve got stuff to do! But if my goal is first and foremost to make sure they are well-educated, then I’ve got to make that my focus. I can answer an email here, do a property search there, but for the most part, I am directing the school day.
- I put time limits on each subject. If I leave my kids unchecked and get busy with my own things, they will piddle the day away. We’ve had a single math page take 4 hours before. FOUR HOURS. So now I set time limits. I started this by using an actual timer and threatening to have the page graded when the time was up whether it was completed or not, but after a couple weeks, I didn’t need to. My kids liked trying to beat the clock and also being able to see the light at the end of the school day tunnel as they checked another subject off the list.
- While I’m making dinner, my kids do chores. It’s not much. They have 2-3 chores each, things like scoop the poop, feed the animals, unload/load the dishwasher. They earn tickets for each chore and we give them a little money based on how many tickets they earn. You can download the chore chart I use here. They love earning money and it helps me, as well – I know that all those chores that call to me to get done during the school day will get done, so I can relax and just be with my kids.
So that’s how I manage our day. I hope this helps you avoid the mistakes I made or at the very least, define your own home school goals so that you can mold your day in a way that best helps you achieve them. A schedule works for us because it ensures my kids get the best of both worlds – they are prepared for their school days and are getting the education they need, but it also allows them that precious time play and do the things that make home school such a positive experience for so many people. And some days, yes, we are in our jammies from sunup till sundown. But when you know you’re doing a pretty good job overall with this whole home school adventure, an occasional jammie day isn’t a detriment. It’s just the icing on the cake.