Own Your Days
A few weeks ago I happened upon a wonderful mommy vlogger who was enthusiastically laying out the quarantine schedule she had made up for her 3 little children. It ran from dawn until dusk, with every minute accounted for, along with a merit system that mirrored that of her boy's school. She had made beautiful charts for nearly all aspects of her children's life. Now I am not a hyper-organized personality, so perhaps I have a little bias, but I just shook my head a little at this super mom. I wished I could hug her neck, and gently tell her to chill.
It is easy to forget that just as Rome wasn't built in a day, our children are not educated in a day, but a piece at a time. Sometimes a partial piece at a time.
In contrast to this vlog, I spent some time today in one of my favourite on-line groups. It's a community of minimalist homeschool moms. The topic of the day: How are you all coping? The consensus? (Now keep in mind these are primarily moms who are homeschool veterans): "We're doing almost nothing right now."
Let that sink in for a bit. Moms who are used to homeschooling are so overwhelmed by the state of the world, by their own confinement, by having to keep the kids quiet while dad works etc, that they are doing very little to push academics.
Please do not misunderstand my sentiment here. I do not want to promote a lazy or complacent attitude. What I do want you all to take away from this is grace. Grace for yourself and your children. These moms are used to teaching their children at home. Yet they are currently having trouble coping. They are altering their 'must do' lists. They are cutting their school year short. They are prioritizing time outside.
So how then should you plan your days? What should your schedule for you and your children look like?
The first thing I would say is please get rid of the “should!” It is your home, your priorities, your children. You know better than anyone what approach will create the most peaceful and productive atmosphere. Word of caution – as I mentioned in a previous entry, do not try to replicate a classroom. Too much structure can compromise relationship. If you are a very organized personality, then by all means create the charts with stars. Just create them while prioritizing peace and flexibility. I would argue this is always wise, but I am convinced that the current events necessitate it.
How do I approach scheduling?:
I don't. This is not to say that we do not start our day with a game plan. We have a loose plan every day. But it is flexible. I found out early on on our homeschool journey that a timed out "we do this from this time to this time" every day, no matter what, was simply not going to work in our home. Appointments came up, grandparents visited, things got skipped, we felt rushed, and over all, I was grouchy and so were my children. Not fun. It is possible that with a different personality, and less children, a schedule could work. But again, leave room for both trouble and spontaneity.
Try a loose routine rather than a schedule.
This is what we have done for a few years:
(Please do not feel the need to follow my plan. I simply wanted to share how we plan our days so that you can see how to work with a plan that does not enslave you)
Once the kids are up, we do 5-20 minutes of bible reading during breakfast. I gage this time frame on how late the children have slept in, and the temperament of the younger two. Some days we will listen to a keys for kids devotion, read the verses and leave it at that. Other days we will listen to a 10-15 minute long commentary on a chapter of the bible (we are nearly through Proverbs right now), read the chapter together and talk through parts. So quite simply we start our day with reading the bible, but are flexible on time and duration.
After Bible time, we clean up the table and read through history or science all together. If the younger two are colouring quietly, they will stick around for this. If they want to wander off and play, they do so. Rather than having a schedule where science is certain days of the week and history is other days, we simply alternate between them. The reason for this is that I found that we would loose too many days of one or the other when we alloted them to days of the week. Appointments, visits and other things would tend to fall on the same day of the week repeatedly. Plus this gave more room to be flexible when bigger projects came up. We could easily focus on history for a week or two, and then science for a week or two.
To further exemplify our flexibility, I will sometimes opt to omit history and science for a while. I do this when I feel that math and english have been especially tedious. If one of the older children is learning a difficult new concept, or if they are working on a large writing assignment for example, I will allow them to focus on that for a while.
After we complete the science and history reading and/or activity for the day, then the children pull out their math books.
And finally they complete their english lesson for the day. If they have a lot of steam left, they will sometimes do a second english or math lesson.
If it is nasty weather we will have a tea party and reading time during and after lunch. Otherwise I encourage everyone to go outside for as long as possible after lunch.
As we work through our lessons, the children will often take turns having breaks while I work with each of them one on one. I do not have a set "recess time" because I find it works better for us if they simply play while I work with their siblings.
If that doesn't sound loose enough yet, I will also choose to skip a full day on a regular basis simply because it is the first snowfall of the year, or the first day nice enough for the beach. Or because we have made plans to go to a friend's house, or we want to go for a hike.
Also I do not set a time for how long we work on any of these subjects. I simply gage my children's interest and engagement. We work until that starts to wain. Some days my kids want to do 3 lessons, other days they cannot get through 1.
Even though our routine is extremely flexible, there are a few things we rarely veer from:
Reading aloud! I am always reading both the Bible and a book with them. This is one of my favourite parts of homeschooling. This bonds the family through mutual story, it increases vocabulary and understanding of language. It engages their hearts and minds. This was one of the things that quite a number of those homeschooling moms I spoke of earlier have not dropped despite all that is going on.
Using as little computer and screen time as possible. The amount of grouchy attitudes seams to always multiply the more time I allow on screens - regardless of what it is. I know it is so tempting to take advantage of the free on-line resources that are being offered right now. I also know that with many of you trying to continue working, this one will be more difficult. Do not feel guilty if you need to have your kids learning on-line. Just know that it will likely make attitude control more difficult for you and them.
If you need some alternatives to videos try some kid pod-casts, or audio books. "Focus on the family" offers great options: "the official average boy podcast" is one of theirs we recently found that is both fun and short. Also "keys for kids radio" has audio dramas and devotions. "Libby" offered through the library has numerous audio books available. Librivox is a free audio book site. People volunteer their time to record, so the quality varies, but we have enjoyed a number of books on this site. Plus during the pandemic, audibles is offering fee children's audio books.
Prioritize outside play! Trust me, everyone works better this way. If you are not able to go outside due to government restrictions, then exercise with your kids! You can do this on a schedule (as in 10:00am - 11:00am is active time) or you can simply get everyone to do 20 jumping jacks/squats, or whatever when attitudes are going sideways. This seriously helps! They will look at you funny the first time you you suggest this, but if you join in they won't be able to resist doing it along with you. And laughing at the same time.
I'd like to close today be praising you for all the effort you have put into your children during this crazy time. I have immensely enjoyed watching from a distance as you have taken this opportunity to engage with your kids by hiking, quadding, baking and even deep cleaning your fridge! I often have thought to myself that many of you are better at this homeschooling thing than I am. I know this time is not easy. The isolation and uncertainty is emotionally exhausting. But those incredible children we've been gifted with don't go away simply because we don't know what to do. I am so encouraged by how so many of you have not just risen to the challenges of our day, but are thriving. I'm over here cheering you on!
Keep choosing the best direction for you and your family. I hope these insights gave you some new ideas, and freed you a bit to let a few things go.
From my lock-down home to yours,
be blessed, choose joy, and stay sane!