Thursday, April 21, 2016

A "day in the life" of our homeschool

This year I have had quite a few friends and friends-of-friends reach out to me about homeschooling.  Some of them have kids who are just getting to be school-aged and they are interested in starting homeschooling.  Others have kids currently in public/charter schools and they are looking at pulling them out and homeschooling instead.  I have had phone conversations, email threads, FB messages, coffee dates, etc, to talk about the "how" we homeschool, more so than the "why" we homeschool.  This post is about the "how," as opposed to our "why" :)  I do not consider myself  very experienced yet in this area, since my oldest (of 4) is only in first grade, but despite my lack of experience I hope to be helpful in offering a glimpse into a typical day of school at our house.  I am blessed to have a number of people in my life who are veteran homeschoolers.  I know that many friends of mine are not so fortunate.  So even though I don't feel I have a lot of wisdom to offer yet, I am happy to offer whatever I have if I am the only one who can bring encouragement for someone considering the idea! 

I've had soooo many people tell me this year that they desire to homeschool, but can't picture what that might look like and how they can keep up with the rest of "life" (laundry, cooking, exercise, etc) if they add teaching children into the mix.  So here I am, as a non-expert, just to show you how WE did things this year.  Some things we have found worked well for our family, when I find time to exercise, what the littler ones do during school hours, and any other questions that I remember being asked over the last year.  This is NOT a post where I will spend a lot of time talking about the failures in our days, parenting struggles, etc.  There may be time for that later.  But this post is specifically about our routines and we find to be working.  Thanks for joining me!  (At the time I wrote this post my kids are 7 in first grade, 5 in preschool, 4 and 2...well anyone below first grade is in "preschool" at our house, lol!)

** DISCLAIMER **  NO TWO FAMILIES HOMESCHOOL IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY!  In fact, that is the BEAUTY of homeschooling, right there.  Please do not think that we have the perfect methods, or that my way is the only right way.  We are only are the very beginning stages of figuring out what works best for our own family.  My hope is that this gives you ideas that may or may not work for your family, but at the very least encourages you that this homeschooling thing is not only possible, but also so enjoyable and SO worth it!


First, my lovely sister Erika Shupe (, is the master designer of these schedule spreadsheets.  I couldn't have come up with this template on my own - not a chance!  She is one of the homeschooling mamas that I am SO thankful to have going before me.  Second, a word about schedules...  Before you look at these and think our house is perfect and organized and peaceful all the time, let me just tell you that it is NOT, lol.  These schedules are my "goal" for our day, but of course anyone who has even spent significant time with small children knows that nothing ever works out exactly as you planned!  We never even tried to do math for an hour, however, if I give it an hour in our routine it allows for the baby to need a dirty diaper change EVERY day during that time.  It allows for me to help another kid with a random bloody nose.  It allows me time to get the little ones situated in their activity to occupy them during math time with my oldest.  Otherwise math looks like this...your sisters playing with your math manipulatives and distracting you from doing your work. 

Not-so-successful math time...
When I'm not paying attention and haven't set him up with a structured activity...he's the cutest little troublemaker I've ever seen.
Things run a bit more smoothly when I stick to the schedule and have something for the littles to be doing while Tyson does his math work...

Successful math time!  Toddler having structured  floor play, preschool sister wearing headphones and using for her computer time, oldest working independently on his math.
Other preschooler having "table time" in the adjacent kitchen during Tyson's math time.  Staying seated at the table with an activity only allowed during table time (in this case, craft sticks being used to make stables for her animals), with a timer set for however long table time lasts (usually around 30 minutes).
And you get the picture.  We maybe did 30 minutes of real math in the 60 minutes scheduled, but that is because I purposefully build in those cushions in our routine because without them we would never stay with it!  I have time to move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, or load a few dirty dishes into the dishwasher when I have a second.  The spreadsheet might look strict, but it doesn't include the hundreds of little things that have to fit somewhere into our day, so we leave lots of extra time for those things.

Our schedule also fluctuates at different times of the year because of weather!  We live in beautiful, sunny Colorado, where the weather changes are a bit more extreme than I am used to, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest.  Here in Colorado we spend more time outside because it is so dry and sunny much of the year.  There are also stretches when we have a lot of snow.  Many of the beginning and ending "school months" are filled with free time outside to enjoy the warm sunny weather.  During the winter if we have to be inside much of the day, we might move things around so we can do snow play during the middle (warmer) hours of the day.  When we hit 70 degree days in better believe we're going to the park that day, which motivates the kids to work through their school quickly in the morning!  There is still plenty of flexibility, even in routine :)

  At the beginning of this school year (2015) I had a first grader, a 4 year old, a 3 year old, and a 1 year old (who was still taking 2 naps...bless him).  Last year (2014), doing kindergarten, I was also nursing the baby.  Nursing and naps require a much more detailed school schedule, in my opinion, in order to keep things organized, and make sure the baby gets fed without the rest of the crew destroying the house.  This is a picture of our daily routine LAST year (kindergarten), and we stuck to it pretty closely:

Here is an example of our schedule at the beginning of this (2015).  The "baby taking two naps" thing made life soooo much easier, ha!

Our current schedule has not been typed up yet.  We still do the same things in the same general order, but it's been a little more lax the last few months.  Plus we added "Morning Time" (see below) which has changed our day for the better.  The "baby" (aka 2-year-old!) is older and able to play independently for longer periods of time (and no longer takes 2 naps).  My oldest is reading which makes it possible for him to do more things on his own (read his own math word problems, read his music homework sheet and practice on his own, etc).  So instead of showing you a current spreadsheet, I thought it might be helpful if I described our typical day and included some pictures.


Early Morning
I get up around 5:45 AM to exercise at home, 5-6 days a week, (usually) before my kids wake up.  I try to fit in one more work out sometime over the weekend, but it might be something outside like the 200 stair incline near our house, playing co-ed soccer with my husband on Friday nights, or heading to our local rec center to use the gym.  I love to exercise and I love to feel fit.  At this point in my life it is unrealistic for me to spend hours a week at a gym.  It is too disruptive for our day for me to haul 4 kids somewhere multiple days a week so I can exercise.  Time consuming, expensive, and waaaay too much work to make it worth it, lol.  I have also come to the realization that it's okay to do lighter workouts than I have done in the past. I am not planning on doing an Ironman anytime I don't' need to work out like I'm training for one!  I workout for about 45 minutes, and get my shower in, before the kids get up (they are required to stay quietly in their beds until their clocks "turn yellow" between 7 and 7:15 - magical - and then they are allowed to get up and start their morning jobs.  If I stay up too late the night before and start my workout later than planned, it inevitably takes more time since I will have...."distractions"....throughout the workout ;-)

The distractions sure are cute laying on my yoga mat with me!  But I still try to finish my workout/shower before they get up so we can move quickly into our school morning!
Around 7:00 - 7:15 the 3 biggest kids' clocks "turn yellow" which is their cue that they are allowed to get out of bed.  Those clocks changed my life...ahhh.  I struggled for a while to find a good way to get them to do their own personal "jobs" in the mornings without me prodding and reminding and generally holding their hands through it.  Finally I figured out how to make a simple little chart (thank you, Pinterest) that I printed on card stock and laminated with my home laminator.  I hole punched them and put them on a necklace length piece of ribbon that they could easily fit over their heads.  Then they use a little clothes pin to remind them where they're at in their list of jobs!  They slide the clothes pin down each time they finish something.  It's awesome!  I no longer have to babysit their job time, and they can be working on those things while I'm finishing up my shower or making breakfast.  They love it, and I love it!  They don't even use the cards most of the time now because their jobs have become habit.  If they start to forget or skip things, I require that they use the card again for a while.
Tyson (age 7) wearing his job card.  His jobs include: put pajamas away, get dressed, put any dirty clothes in the hamper, pick up room, make bed, put away any folded/clean laundry that I left for him, and unload the dishwasher. 
If the kids finish their job cards by 8:00 (easily done if they're not too distracted) then they get a sticker for their sticker chart.  Tyson generally finishes his jobs and starts his piano practice by the time I make breakfast.  A few days a week my awesome hubby makes green smoothies for the family before he leaves for work.  That is a HUGE help for me!  I make (ahead of time) some kind of breakfast bread, healthy muffins, etc, to eat with our smoothies.  I don't bake in the morning since I'm working out and showering, so that's something I do the night before, or on the weekend and freeze for later use.  Keeps breakfast pretty simple at least for a few days!

After breakfast Tyson gets started working on his MATH  while I clean up breakfast.  The other 3 kids have some free play time.  Our formal dining room was turned into our school room, which I love, because the kids are right next to the kitchen when they're doing school work so I can multi task (cleaning, food prep, MAKE COFFEE, etc).  If the other 3 kids are being rowdy or distracting Tyson too much then I have one do educational computer time (wearing headphones) for 20-30 minutes, and another one do "table time" in the other room at our kitchen table.  Those are activities we reserve for kids who are seated at the table doing an activity alone (not joint playtime). 

Late Morning
After I've cleaned up the kitchen (at least a little bit - not the whole thing spick and span!  Rinsed out smoothie glasses and breakfast dishes, cleared the table, etc) I have Tyson finish up with his math lesson, I might do a little food prep or start the crockpot for dinner (if it requires more prep time I often start the night before by chopping veggies, browning the meat, etc), and then we do "morning time."  I have LOVED this new addition to our school day!  I will have to do a separate post about the concept, or you can Google "homeschool 'morning time'" and you'll find plenty of resources.  Basically there were smaller things I kept trying to fit somewhere into our day, and those things often slipped through the cracks.  I also wanted a time in our day when we ALL sit together (usually in the living room), no matter how young some members of the family might be.  I don't want the littlest ones to get the feeling that they're "in the way" or just a "project" I'm trying to manage.  They are just as important in our family and in our homeschool!  For us, morning time includes prayer (we take turns - nice and short) to start our day, singing a song (working on learning a few verses of Amazing Grace), catechism (memorizing the most basic and important questions/answers for our faith - later we'll add in the Bible verse references), poetry memorization (this has been so FUN and the kids are amazing at it - much better than I am!), our Classical Conversations weekly memory work review (no matter what grade/age the kids are this is something we can always do together which saves so much TIME!), and a little bit of read aloud time. 
This may sound like a lot, but it only takes us 30-45 minutes, and I fit in all of those important but small things I hadn't been able to organize every day.  The 2-year-old usually makes it through the prayer and song...and then he wanders off to play.  The 4-year-old is required to be with us for about half of the time, but she usually sticks around longer.  The 5 and 7-year-old sit with me for all of those things.  I made a little 3-ring binder for keep our list in front of me so I don't leave anything out, and it makes our resources more organized.  If we have time (probably once a week) then I make hot chocolate as a special treat.
Our Morning Time list.  I have dropped off with the character curriculum and plan to use a different one next year.
After Morning Time I let Tyson have a break to play for a few minutes while I take the littlest 3 kids upstairs for "Play Alone Time."  Once I've set up their activity (large "Loving Family" fisher price dollhouse, baby dolls and clothes, Duplo Legos, Mr. Potato Head collections, My Little Ponies, large magnetic dress up dolls, Little People house/farm, Lil' Woodzeez treehouse collections from Target, etc) they each play in separate bedrooms for about an hour.  It's glorious.  They enjoy (even though they don't always know it!) a little break from each other, and it gives me time to focus on Tyson for 1-on-1 time doing his LANGUAGE ARTS curriculum.  We have been doing Play Alone Time since they were all babies (always including an audiobook or kids CD playing quietly in the background), so it's something everyone is used to in our family.  The 2-year-old plays in a bedroom, while he is contained inside a folding gate play yard.  That way he can play alone without me worrying about him getting into things he's not supposed to in the bedrooms.  Usually from about 10:30 - 11:30ish I have this hour of (semi) uninterrupted time with Tyson to do his LA lesson, and start making lunch!  The little kids clean up their Play Alone Times and then have some free play time together while I make lunch.
This jokester getting ready for Language Arts time with mom.

Jersey (age 5) having Play Alone Time in the boys' bedroom: using the Tag Jr. reader to do "school" with her dolls.

Lunch time is adventure.  I am pretty worn out from the morning of school, setting up and putting away activities, changing diapers, etc.  The more kids I had at home the louder lunch time became, and I grew pretty tired of phrases like "don't talk with food in your mouth," and "stop distracting your sister," and "hurry up and finish your lunch."  That's when we started listening to audiobooks during lunch time! (See my post about that, HERE).  We also listen to our Classical Conversations memory work CD's during lunch to review.  It's quick, the kids love the songs, and it's one more way to reinforce the new grammar during our week.  After any meal the kids are required to clear their places and put their dishes next to the sink.  (My weak spot...little meal time chores.  My goal is to have chairs pushed in, table wiped off, and dishes loaded, but I haven't found the time to train AND require those things of specific children.  Will be working on those and other new chores during the summer.)
If we stay home after lunch then it's free play time for a while.  Often including...

Outside play time in beautiful Colorado weather!

Inside playtime...usually resulting in dress up clothes and some kind of adventure that I can hardly keep up with.  Some days, there are just no words...
Other days when we need to head out for a bit after lunch and before naps, it might look like this...

Trips to the park

Quick errands before naps

Doctor appointments...Double Trouble in the waiting room ;-)
And's NAPTIME!!!!  Woo hoo!  I can't wait for miss my cute kids while they nap.  In our house the kids usually nap until age 5-ish.  Depending on their individual sleep needs, of course.  At this point in time my oldest is the only one who doesn't nap.  The 5, 4, and 2 year old still nap every day (unless I intentionally keep them up for some fun outside play or something).  I only let the 4 and 5 year old sleep for about an hour (usually 2:00 - 3:00ish) and then I have to wake them up so that they will still go to sleep well at nighttime.  Tyson (age 7) has quiet time every day.  He either plays outside by himself, or listens to an audiobook while he does Legos, Magnatiles, Zoobs, Thinking Putty, a puzzle, or whatever other activity he might request to work on at our school table.  He knows that he is supposed to be quiet and not bother me because mamma needs a break by that point in the day!  I am always around if he really needs something, but ever since I started incorporating audiobooks into this time of day he rarely interrupts me as he's engrossed in his story :)
What do I do during nap time?  Well it varies depending on the day and the week!  I try to do my quiet time with my Bible and sometimes a Bible study book for part of the time.  The rest of the hour I often spend prepping dinner food, cleaning the kitchen, changing out laundry, picking up around the house, working on the computer, making any necessary phone calls, and probably about 200 hundred other small, random tasks that have to fit in to the day somewhere!  For a time I tried exercising in the afternoon (when I was still nursing the baby early in the morning) but it just doesn't happen consistently.  I'm too tired by then!  It works much better if I listen to podcast or an audiobook of my own while I get some things done.  If we were out for the whole first half of the day at the zoo or something, I usually come home and crash for my own hour nap because I'm physically and mentally exhausted and my introverted-self needs to hibernate in order to function in the afternoon (#keepingitreal).  Next year I plan to have 2 hours of quiet time for everyone (2 nappers and 2 non-nappers) so I can have a longer stretch of time to rest and also be productive.  The non-nappers will probably have required reading time for part of that, and the rest of the time they can listen to their own audiobook while doing a quiet activity, or play outside.
Around 3 - 3:30 I wake the 4 and 5 year old up from their naps and bring them down for snack time.  The 3 big kids sit at the kitchen table and eat their snack while I read aloud from our current chapter book.  This has been so nice!  Their mouths and hands are busy which means there are far fewer interruptions while I'm reading.  And snack time happens EVERY day, which ensures that read aloud time happens almost every day.  Win!  (Sometime this spring I will do a post on all of the read aloud books we have enjoyed this year.)
After snacks there is more free play time.  If it's snowy, they often head outside.  If it's sunny, they often head outside.  See the theme?  This is just the truth about Colorado living, ya'll!  If it's too cold, snowing too hard, or raining (yes that happens...twice a year) so they have to be inside, then these are typical scenarios:
"Book Time": each child on their own couch or chair with a snack of books.  Not allowed to talk to each other ;-)  I usually put on some Pandora with piano music or something in the background

Puzzles while listening to an audiobook

Free-for-all dress up never know what chaos will ensue! (Can you tell we do a lot of dress up at our house!?)

Group "Table Time": kinetic sand is a new favorite!  Usually with our current family audiobook playing

Library book feasting in the living room
Of course it's not always smooth and peachy and pleasant and quiet.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this is not the time where I will delve into our shortcomings, major cracks in our day, mommy meltdowns (say whaaaat?!), and other mishaps.  But at least this gives you some ideas as to what our successful afternoons look like, and things you might try at your house!  If we stay home I use this time to keep working on dinner, and the rest of the things I mentioned that I do during nap time.  I try to pick up the house some more every day so that it looks somewhat put-back-together before my wonderful husband gets home from work and wonders why a bomb went off in the house...  If I happened to have finished dinner earlier in the day in the crockpot and we've had time to pick up the house a little bit, then I will spend a little time baking ahead (muffins, granola bars, etc) or we will sometimes sneak in a little more read aloud time with picture books, or our chapter book if they're antsy to hear the next chapter.  Some afternoons the kids spend all together, and other afternoons they divide and concur.  My 5-year-old is a definite introvert so she will often ask to have more play alone time in her room, or do some kind of art at the kitchen table, or some computer time by herself.  My 7 and 4 year old could party with people all day long, so they can often be found having some adventure together outside.  And the 2 year old naps later in the afternoon than the other kids, so he's not a part of the equation right away.
I won't spend a lot of time talking about this part of our day, since it's probably not much different than all of yours' ;-)  Dinner is ...fairly chaotic.  Meals as a family are a big priority for us.  It's loud.  Kids vying for daddy's attention and trying to talk over each other.  If it's not their favorite meal on the menu then there is a lot of coaxing and prodding people to finish eating.  I barely sit down since someone always needs their water bottle filled up, a second serving of something, a paper towel because something spilled, mid-meal diaper change, yadda yadda yadda.  It's wonderful noise in the grand scheme of things, and I wouldn't change it for anything.  But it's definitely not a quiet, calm time of the day, lol!  After dinner my rock star husband usually helps do the dishes and clean the kitchen.  We attempt to have our own conversations while the hooligans children are excused to play a little bit (or finish picking up the house if the toy tornado didn't get sorted out before dinner).  Then it's pajamas, potty, and tooth-brushing.  This takes approximately 3.5 hours.  (30 minutes if we're working at light speed).  Our goal is to have time for a little bit more read aloud from a chapter book that only daddy reads from.  Doesn't happen every night, but that's the goal!  We were just talking about maybe moving this to be right before dinner while I finish cooking, or right after dinner before the bedtime routine.  This would ensure that it happens before both parents are feeling "done," fried, burned-out, and just pure exhausted from the day-to-day...  We'll see.
I realize that this may now be the longest blog post in the history of...blogging.  But I wanted to try to cover as many questions as I could think of, that people have asked me this year!  Hopefully it wasn't too much or too little information, for those of you who were looking for a post like this.  I can't describe every possible minute so please remember that there are times for a 30 minute educational TV show, interruptions for diaper emergencies (once in a while resulting in emergency BATHS - TMI), sick kids, sick moms, bad attitudes which make school take longer, last minute trips to the grocery store if I forgot to buy something over the weekend that I needed for my meal plan, etc.

Speaking of meal planning...  I usually plan my meals for the week on Saturday, then grocery shop locally on Saturday or Sunday.  Plus a mid-week trip to Costco on Thursdays since I'm out that direction when I take the kids to their music classes.  I don't have any desire time to shop with 4 little kids during the week, so I try to do the bulk of it on the weekend. 
Also, some other time I will post about Classical Conversations , but for now just know that this is our second year being a part of one of these communities, and it simplifies our school and my life SO SO SO MUCH!  For now it covers our history, science, geography, art, and other small things.  I don't have 7 separate curriculums to touch on all of these "subjects."  They are combined through Classical Conversations in the most wonderful way: classical education!  Bonus: the kids get to experience bigger art and science projects than I particularly want to take on at home.  It makes our days so much simpler, and I am forever grateful that we were encouraged to join a community.  We go to "CC" one day a week and then are home doing the work ourselves the rest of the week!


One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the time it frees up for our family, and the flexibility it allows for.  Sometimes we ditch the normal school routine and do something different.  All of these things we get to do during the week, during the day, so that we can still have family time on weekends without trying to cram in a bunch of educational activities. 
Have other homeschooling friends over in the middle of the day!

Head to the Children's Museum
Story Hour at the library

Afternoon tea parties

Nature field trips with our CC community!

Zoo adventures

Helping mom cook

Go to plays

Week day (no traffic - can I get an AMEN!?) ski days as a family
Well I think it's time to wrap this post up since it's taken me weeks to write it in small snippets, and I'm sure it's taken you hours to actually read it.  Please leave a comment if you're one of those friends who has had questions for me this year and I left any of those questions out of this post!  I am always happy to talk about what's working or not working for our family - I love to get ideas and feedback from my friends who homeschool.  Community is an invaluable resource!  Thanks for taking a peek at our days.  Blessings!