Inside: Do you want to know what a day in our homeschool is like? Here is a look into our homeschool, plus twelve tips for managing large family homeschooling without losing your mind.
4:30 a.m. No movement. No noise inside the house. From outside come the muffled sounds of a city backyard — rustling leaves, a bug heating the backdoor lights, our cat jumping the fence to the neighbors. In the solitude of the kitchen, my mind is free from distractions; I can focus more fully, enjoy my tea while it’s still hot, read, write, meditate, plan, and come up with solutions for the problems of everyday life.
6-7 a.m. From the far left part of the house, I hear the pat-pat-pat of little feet. My two-year-old is up. She makes her way to the kitchen and jumps into my lap with loud giggles and noises of exuberant energy. Sometimes I use this morning time for giving her undivided attention (reading, playing), but usually she is full of ideas about what she wants to do, so I start cooking breakfast (and often all or parts of lunch and dinner, too).
7-8 a.m. My kindergartener bursts into the kitchen. He is a hurricane of energy, ready to grab any bull by the horns, and eager to try any idea — no matter how weird. Ideally, if he is in the mood, I try to finish his main lesson (reading, math, and writing) before the older kids are up, but frequently what’s needed is a quick dash to the park to help him burn off some energy. (Luckily, my husband works from home so that I can leave the house without delay).
9-ish a.m. My sixth-grader comes down after a (very!) long shower. He says the running water helps him think up better plot ideas (he is a writer and a dreamer). For an hour, he eats breakfast. He knows from experience that the school work takes much less time when he does it in the morning, so after cleaning up from his breakfast and loading the dishwasher (his daily chore), he usually reaches for the books and is done by noon. However, there are plenty of days when certain subjects are done in the afternoon, especially during quiet times when other kids are out of the house on different engagements, and my husband is working quietly in his office.
10-ish a.m. My daughter always likes to sleep, and now, with hours of sports practice almost every day, she needs a solid twelve hours of sleep. Once awake, she usually eats a large breakfast (if I give her a whole steak, she will eat it). Then she does schoolwork if she has any. She’s quick, extremely organized, and her focusing power is astonishing. Once she starts with her work, she’s impossible to distract and often keeps going until all the lessons for the week are done. So her entire week of school is usually done by Wednesday.
Most of the nine to ten hours (from noon to bedtime) is spent playing inside and outside. We talk a lot, practice musical instruments, cook together, read, visit friends, and do chores. We might take a hike, go to the beach, visit a museum, see the World War II veteran next door, or go shopping. Many afternoons we have practices and lessons that take us outside the home — gymnastics, swimming, karate, etc.
Luckily, in Chicago, nothing is more than a mile away, so we don’t spend too much time driving. I wrote more about all of our activities in the curriculum post. In the car, we listen to lessons, audiobooks, and Amazon music (Halloween collection is extremely popular with all my kids right now). During the waiting time, we read, talk, run errands, or catch up on assignments. Someone might end up staying home with dad to do something special, or to catch up on schoolwork, or to start on the next day’s work, or to read, or to go to a different class that takes place at the same time (some of our afternoon classes overlap). Every day is different. We play it by ear and try to enjoy the journey.
Learning All the Time
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
In our house, a lot of learning happens in an unofficial manner. Someone might come up against an interesting passage in a novel, and it might lead to “looking something up,” and before we know it, we are sitting on a floor that’s covered with maps, encyclopedias, fiction and non-fiction books, deep in discussion, and nobody can remember what started it.
Mythology, biology, architecture, World War II: I never know what will catch my kids’ fancy and where the inspiration will come from or where it will take us. To give you an example, in one of the Goosebump books, one of my sons came across the word “ventriloquist.” After he looked it up in a dictionary and watched a video on YouTube, he ended up taking a ten-lesson course in ventriloquism, and he’s been practicing for thirty minutes a day for a month. He is now saving for a professional dummy.
I believe when children are not shut up in school, they have access to the world, and most learning is happening without teaching. The homeschooling lifestyle offers plenty of food for thought and enough time for action. Most of my kids’ learning is self-directed and done on their own. They always surprise us with something new and unexpected. You can read more about it in my Through a Child’s Eyes post.
12 Tips for Managing Large Family Homeschooling
without Losing Your Mind
I’m often asked how I find time to homeschool my kids, run a home, and do everything else I do. Am I organized? Yes, I am. But if there were two words I had to pick to describe myself and my approach to homeschooling, I would say inventive and flexible. And I don’t just mean in creating (or finding) educational resources for my kids but in my overall approach to homeschooling and parenting. Inventiveness came easily to me, but I had to train myself to be flexible.
The following are my favorite tips for keeping your sanity while homeschooling:
Are you a Leader or a Manager?
“[Recognize] that the greatest things we achieve as humans are not ordered.”
Captain, U.S. Navy (retired) L. David Marquet
All my life, I’ve been fascinated by historical personages who could get people to follow them with the power of their personalities. What was their secret? Was there a secret? Fortunately, no. Any good leadership book will teach you that you get the best results when you don’t try to manage people and expect them to blindly follow your orders. Instead, you communicate the vision and then get everyone to think for themselves and make decisions. My three older kids know exactly what needs to be done every day. If anybody needs anything, I’m there. But for the most part, they know what to do. If they need help or they are doing parts of schoolwork that requires my involvement, it’s their responsibility to get me. If I’m not available, they get to choose something else. That’s why we use such a wide range of resources. For example, maybe we were planning to do mental math together, but the toddler is keeping me busy, so they can choose to use an online curriculum or read to each other from verbal math lessons or create a paper town (it involves a lot of measurements).
Establish Good Habits
I always talk about habits. It’s because it’s the most powerful thing in life. As of writing this post, I’m in my forties, and I can still do full splits, as well as backbends (as when I throw my head back and touch it to the heels of my feet. Just check out my Instagram feed), and all because of my nineteen year daily yoga habit. Reading habits, study habits, learning habits, exercise, tidying up, etc. There is a vast amount of scientific research in support of the view that the quality of our lives depends on good daily habits. Brian Tracy even goes as far as to say that 95% of what we do, think, and feel is the result of our habits. LINK What habits will be useful to your kids? How can you help them establish those habits?
If you buy a curriculum, it usually comes with guidelines, how-to videos, and lesson plans. Use them! Take a week off homeschooling, if need be, and educate yourself. If you put your own curriculum together, then write down the detailed lesson plans. Even though you think you will remember the amazing ideas in your head, you won’t when all of your kids are talking to you at once. When you know the nitty-gritty, you can communicate it clearly. When your children understand from the first try what needs to be done, it leads to efficiency. Efficiency leads to competence, which means greater engagement, motivation, and success. And all of it starts with you doing your homework!
I also find it useful to keep reading “professional” development books. My favorites are books about how humans learn, mental training, leadership, and cognitive skills — all essential for homeschooling success.
Disclaimer: The following links are Amazon Affiliate links. It means I get a commission when you make a purchase. Thank you for supporting Kid Minds!
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
- Why Don’t’ Students Like School by Daniel T. Willingham
- How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey
- Why Johnny Can’t Add by Morris Kline
- Thinking, Fast and Slowby Daniel Kahneman
- The Element by Ken Robinson, Ph.D.
- The Turn Your Ship Around Workbook by Captain, U.S. Navy L. David Marquet (just replace the word “work” with “home” and “people” with “family members.”
- Bright, Brave, Open Minds by Julia Brodsky
Have a Plan D
And a Plan A, and a Plan B, and a Plan C. At a certain point, you will notice patterns. A day of a cranky and uncooperative toddler? It’s a good day for more independent assignments. Your kindergartner got up on the wrong foot? The first lesson of the day is Earth Science. He needs to go outside with a pail and dig up some worms. If it’s too cold for worms, find five different rocks. If you don’t have a backyard, write five science words (scale, flipper, fossil, oil, air) on index cards and hide them around the house (the only condition: he can never stop moving, so even if he needs to think, he needs to keep jogging in place). Movement is the best medicine for crankiness because it helps the body release natural happiness endorphins.
The point is that you don’t waste time going against the flow. Let the energy of the house be your guide and be prepared for each contingency. Keep staples in a pantry for a quick meal if you need extra time on certain days, playdough and a box of special toys if you need to distract your toddler, or an extra special workbook (aka themed activity book) for your kindergartner (my son just got Halloween the last time school wasn’t happening the “right” way).
Just One Thing
When things seem to be spiraling out of control, siblings are arguing, and your kids aren’t doing what they are supposed to do, concentrate on one step. What is the one thing that you can do right now to move everyone in the right direction?
And it’s never to load the dishwasher or pick up the toys, even though it might give you a sense of being in control. Be with your kids in their minds (not just in their bodies), and the best next step will present itself. Some days it might be announcing “let’s make a pie!” On other days, we walk to a nearby supermarket, and every kid picks one snack s/he craves — a banana, half and half, almond tortillas, and nuts are often four things they pick. We are back in half an hour after a vigorous walk, have a healthy snack, and start fresh.
“Giving our children rest means being their safe harbor, their place to retreat when life hurts and the world looms large and people disappoint and mistakes are made. Becoming that safe harbor means being free — freely available, freely offered, freely welcoming.” — L.R. Knost
Before You Teach, Listen
Before you criticize, wait. When children trust that they will be heard and that their needs will be met, they don’t have a reason to resist you and your agenda. So, take the time to understand each child and where s/he is coming from and use the knowledge to customize the lesson plan and approach.
For example, one of my younger kids is a cuddly bear. It will take him half the time to finish work if I sit next to him with our hips touching or my hand on his back and don’t get up (as much as possible) until he is done. My other son likes to do most of his work while standing or marching around the kitchen. It’s not that he doesn’t want to focus, but that he focuses best when he moves.
Related: Navy SEALs, Homemade Peanut Butter, and the Power of Play: A Brief History of Our Homeschooling
Reduce Decision Fatigue
You’ve probably heard that decision overload leads to impaired self-regulation. Simply put, making decisions tires our brain and, as a result, we are less capable of other executive functions skills such as prioritizing, regulating emotions, self-monitoring, and self-regulation.
Teaching my kids to plan is the best thing I ever did. I talked more about it at the end of How to Set Up a Homeschool post. It helps my kids (and me) tremendously to have a visual display of everything that needs to be done. Kids don’t waste any mental energy wondering what’s next; they look on their charts, for what’s next, and cross out completed things as they go.
Drop the preconceived notions and the “hurry up” attitude
If your goal is to experiment and learn together with your children, there is no hard and fast rule about how it should happen. If you feel like you are not producing the results you were hoping for, take some time to re-evaluate your expectations. Are they realistic? Still relevant? Important?
For us, controlling our time, focusing, and working on memory training techniques takes precedence over worksheets, academic learning, and assigned textbooks. Why? Because if my kids know how to manage their time, to focus, and to use their memory efficiently, they will be in a position to learn anything they want to learn at any point in their lives. Self-teaching is the most valuable skill. Knowing how to learn is priceless.
“Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read;
he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.”
— Alvin Toffler
Do, Celebrate, Repeat
Was a science experiment a success today? Or maybe a math lesson went with hoo-ray? Or the right book pulled everyone together and calmed the house? Celebrate your success today, or any movement in the right direction, with cupcakes, special fancy napkins for dinner, a victory dance party, group hugs, high fives, a trip to Jo-anne store (it’s our favorite store), or whatever counts as a celebration in your family! Take a note of what made it a successful lesson and repeat, repeat, repeat!
From early on in my parenting journey, I realized that if I pick an engaging picture book and start reading, all my kids will come and listen. I do it again and again, and it always works. Reading aloud became my daily break, my peaceful moment of being together with my kids without conflict or stress. My kids are so used to daily reading aloud that I know I can successfully incorporate educational books without anyone complaining. And since this is “what we do,” even my toddler accepts any book I’m reading and just goes along with it.
Not Punished by Rewards
Thank you for doing your schoolwork without being asked. I noticed you put your breakfast away and opened your books. I see you’re working hard on your equation. It looks like you’re looking at the sunshine outside but staying put to finish your assignment. The fact that we noticed and made an effort to say kind words matter to our kids.
I don’t think people are spoiled by rewards. I remember about eleven years ago, my husband walked into the kitchen while I was loading the dishwasher and said, “Up early. Loading the dishwasher.” He knew there was any number of other things I could be doing with my time in that early hour before our first son woke up. His acknowledgment of my effort was ridiculously pleasing. Our kids can also be doing any number of other things — playing, reading, exercising. The fact that they chose to sit down and do the schoolwork should be celebrated.
If any of my kids start getting too loud and distracting to the other kids, I send them outside. Why are they getting loud? Probably because they’re bored, restless, or bursting with energy. Not much learning can happen under these conditions. When they come back, they are in a much more receptive state and learn more efficiently. (And yes, my neighbors often hear my kids tearing through the yard with wild shrieks and yells. I apologize for any inconvenience). However, stay in-tune: some days a noisy kid is a kid in need of a hug.
“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Live What You Want Them to Learn
Read, learn, tidy up, exercise, stretch out of your comfort zone, make mistakes, laugh, be open to growth, practice patience, show self-control, be creative, be forgiving, and express gratitude every day. You’re your child’s best source of inspiration. If you have passionate learning interests, you will model the joy of learning. If you exercise and eat healthily, your children will, too. If you want them to be tidy, tidy up your things. If you want them to read, read every day. Not everything we do will stick. Our little ones have minds of their own. But the best gift you can give yourself is to model the behavior you want to see, so you can save energy on talking about it.
One important point to bear in mind is that your attitude is half the story. If you believe everything is doable, you will always find a way to keep moving forward, get your kids interested in any subject, and find motivation and teaching strategies to make homeschooling work for you. Another point is that no matter what you do and how you do it, tomorrow is another day. If things went bad one day, you’re under no obligation to repeat that experience. And if something worked, it doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. We’re always in flux. Be mindful, conscious, and willing to be flexible.
Good luck and thank you for being here!
Are you curious to know how other homeschoolers structure their day? Day in the Life is a collection of blog posts from twelve homeschooling families. Whether it’s a semi-relaxed routine, Charlotte Mason Homeschooling, a large family, or a farm life you just might discover something useful!