When I first started seriously considering homeschooling, I had a really hard time visualizing what the day to day life would be like.
Did they all sit around a kitchen table and a white board and have a Little House on the Prairie type one-room classroom for all ages moment? (I really envisioned Mennonites with their little white caps and old style dresses.)
Were they all avidly doing unit projects where the mom did all this meticulous research and thus ended up teaching the same topic at different depths for each child (and for all subjects)?
How did they arrange their days? Was each day the same? Was the day fully packed? How did they manage teaching multiple children? How did they manage different interests?
And seriously, WHAT ON EARTH DID THEY DO ALL DAY AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT EVERYTHING IS CONSIDERED SCHOOL?
Oh. Ahem. I may or may not have freaked out about it internally when I started out.
Anyhow, what helped the most was searching for and seeing examples of people’s daily/weekly schedules. I LOVED the people who posted their excel spreadsheets or their planners. LOVED them.
I saw so many examples that I finally just sucked it up and made my own spreadsheet instead of buying the sample sheets and special homeschooling planners.
Turns out, even though I loved MS Excel, I hated working off a spreadsheet schedule. It made me so angry and frustrated. I decided paper would be better.
I put a printed sheet in a sleeve protector and used a dry erase marker to mark off each day. Then I would take a pic as a “record.”
Also, I made a checklist of all the stuff I wanted the kids to do/achieve each day that I would regularly check off each day so I could make sure I was hitting the things I wanted to get done during the week. I kept it up a few months, but then I stopped using them because it was no longer useful.
I also started off with pictures of things I wanted Cookie Monster to accomplish each day and have him choose which things he wants to do from those pictures. That lasted about a week.
In fact, if you are just brainstorming or considering homeschooling, know that you will likely come up with all sorts of great ideas on paper – but that you just don’t end up doing in real life. Not because they aren’t great ideas (because truly, they really might be great ideas). But because the ideas don’t fit into how you live your life.
(Left) Pictures of things to do that day (Right) Pictures of things that are done or not in use.
That’s ok. Totally normal.
Because really, how will you know if something will work for your family unless you try it?
So don’t feel bad if you had planned on doing something and then you dropped it after several days/weeks/months. (Or shoot, sometimes, you just KNOW it won’t work and after several minutes, you’re like, NOPE.)
Anyhow, I think this September, I finally got the way I plan things down (as well as scheduling wise). So, I’m very pleased to let you know the nitty gritty details until you beg me to just STAHP it already and go away.
So, here is how I keep my life and schedule in order now (so that I can be sane).
1) I make a paper master schedule for the entire week.
I only reference this master schedule during the beginning of the school year when I’m still trying to plan the classes and nail down timing. It is helpful for me to see the big picture and have a general idea of which days will be free and which days will be full.
After this initial planning phase, unless I am adding another class or activity, I rarely refer to this page anymore.
Now, I’m going to be annoying because I hate posting full schedules for my kids because I do not think it is good internet security to have people know where we are at any given time of day. (Even if they are abbreviations or otherwise cryptically encoded.)
However, I hope you know how to draw up a weekly schedule in general and don’t really need my help. But just in case, I have the time down the left side (in hourly increments) and days across the top. Then I draw tiny blocks of time for each kid and class.
For simplicity’s sake, I try to lump my kids together as much as possible so I rarely have to just take ONE kid to a class.
2) Once I know my schedule, I input every formal class into my Google calendar.
And because I am scatterbrained and can barely remember what day it is, I have alarms and timers to tell me when to leave for class and when to pick up my kids. It’s a sad, regimented life wherein I live and die by the timers, but otherwise, my children miss class or are stranded.
3) For subjects I teach at home, I just have a list of the things I want to hit on a given day and write them down in a planner.
Then, I cross them off when I do them. For Cookie Monster, I spend about 30 minutes per subject. For Gamera, I spend about 15-20 minutes because she has a MUCH lower attention span. (And quite frankly, it is to keep me sane.)
The following pic is a mock up of what I write in my planner. I particularly like how the planner is separated by chunks of the day without actual times so that I have more space that it is not anal retentive and I can just write down what I would like to accomplish during that block of time. (I use the Spark and Volt planner and I HIGHLY recommend it.)
You’ll note that I do not write down the timing or schedule of the classes and what I plan on teaching. That’s because if it’s a scheduled thing, it’s already in my phone and if it’s not, I want the freedom to just get it done sometime during the day. (Preferably by 1pm because otherwise, it’s really not happening.)
Mock up of a weekly schedule. I cross off the items I have covered. I guarantee you it is not normally this neat.
4) This year, I have found that the less I plan for the day, the more likely it will get done.
I try to cram in as much teaching from me as possible on Mondays and Tuesdays since we have most of those days free. I have also found that I work better in the mornings – so the more I can get done in the morning, the better. After lunch, it is usually much harder for the kids to want to do anything, let alone me.
At most, I teach Cookie Monster about 1.5 hours a day and Gamera about 45 minutes a day (I focus on two things: math and Chinese literacy). Then there is about another 15-30 minutes of them doing Chinese homework for their tutor and piano practice for Cookie Monster.
I do NOT teach them at the same time because that only causes me anger and I get frazzled and overwhelmed easily. I have them take turns being taught. If Glow Worm is home, I have them take turns playing with him. If he isn’t, I have them take turns playing whatever they want. The only rule is no screen time during the sessions because that really distracts the kid I’m supposed to be teaching at the time.
We watch 1-2 Chinese science videos during lunch time about twice a week. I even count the kids watching TF Boys music videos as Chinese and homeschooling. (Hey, it’s CULTURE!)
5) The rest of the time, they play.
I don’t care what they play. I try to limit screen time so the majority of the time, they are making a mess of the house with each other. (I also try to make them clean up, too. That has varying levels of success.)
Left to their own devices, my children actually play really well with each other. They even beg to play in the back yard. I usually try to have them play outside in the afternoons since that is when my yard has the most shade.
Sometimes, they do a ton of art and water color stuff. Sometimes, they dress up. Sometimes, they play with dolls. Most of the time, they pretend to shoot and beat the crap out of each other. I honestly try to interfere as little as possible because I truly hate playing with children.
Their playing is super handy, too. I often nap during this time (although I have been known to blog, too).
6) Ok, that’s not true. They also go to classes.
As you probably have surmised, I outsource a LOT of my kids’ schooling. After I did all that research on Unit Studies and all sorts of homeschooling curriculum, I realized that I hated doing that stuff. I liked the idea of it, just hated the application.
So, I solved my problems the way I solve ALL my problems. I threw money at it.
I realize that YMMV on this type of solution depending on your financial situation. However, just know that if you are part of a charter, they usually provide funds and you can always use those funds (for us, we get about $2500 per kid this school year) and ONLY those funds for classes.
For my kids, I have them taking classes with a Chinese tutor, piano, kung fu, math class, and outdoor education/science class. And yes, I submit these all to my charter school for reimbursement.
So, that’s what homeschooling looks like at our house. Because I am lazy and impatient, I limit the number of things I expect to teach my kids during a given day. If a particular day has a lot of scheduled classes, I tend not to schedule anything from my part.
There is nothing that crushes my spirit quite like high expectations. So, I find that the less I put on myself, the more likely the things I really want will happen.
I’m sure as the kids get older and their subjects get more complicated, I will outsource less and less. But by then, they will be able to read so I can just have them read their texts in English or Chinese and then we can discuss. Or they can write. I don’t know – I imagine I will go through huge growing pains at that point.
One bridge at a time.
For now, this is what is working for us. I’m sure it will all be shot to hell when Baby 4 arrives in 4-5 weeks.
Oh, just remembered. You would probably like to know what our homeschooling space looks like. I have made a few changes from last year, so this is still a work in progress.
My front room has all the arts and crafts stuff as well as all our books and materials. I originally saw this room as the main homeschooling room, but that is not what happened. This room is now where the kids play and do arts and crafts and I oversee very little because I’m lazy. Everything is out or within reach (and often a mess) but they have a great time.
In fact, as you probably surmised, our kitchen table is where all the magic happens. It used to look like this:
All the markers and pencils and stuff my kids would need sat permanently on our kitchen table.
Somewhere buried under all that crap are their workbooks and things they should be using.
If your kitchen table is like mine, it’s where things go to die and be buried under stacks and stacks of mail for months at a time until we have guests or a party. Then everything gets thrown into a bag and hidden in the laundry room and finally, after a year or so, I finally go through them and throw things away for reals.
In other words, even though I ostensibly had the homeschool stuff within easy reach, it was really hard to identify and find the stuff we needed.
Finally, I gave in and re-purposed my Raskog cart I was originally using in my dress up closet (I bought a similar cart to replace it) and since I like this color more than the boring beige I got and I didn’t want to wait the two days for Amazon Prime to deliver to my front door, I reorganized everything the other day.
I got two cheapo magazine holders that I stole from somewhere else and put the kids’ workbooks and activity books in them. I also put all the pens and pencils and miscellaneous materials in the cart. Now my kids can easily find their books and often, Gamera will just go to the cart and get out what she wants to work on without my prompting. (She particularly likes to work on mazes and connect the dot workbooks.)
Top: workbooks and activity books, pens, pencils Middle: more coloring materials Bottom: unifix cubes for math
Ideally, what my kitchen table should look like. It does not look like that right now. It has only been two days. However, the kids work on the side with the watermelon. I usually sit with them as they work on math and I write or surf the web.
Anyhow, hopefully that covers most of what we do. If I missed something you are particularly interested in, let me know in the comments and I will try to answer there or address it in a later post. I hope this helped!