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Creating Routine for Your Homeschool

Lit Mama's advice for creating a homeschool routine

One of the most oft-occurring questions I get from people considering homeschooling is “How do I go about it?”  It’s a pretty obvious question that any new homeschooler has unless he or she has spent a month or more observing other homeschooling families 24 hours a day.  It’s hard for us, as newbies, to imagine what it looks like.  Invariably, if we attended a public or private school, we picture something similar to public or private school.  If we were homeschooled, whether we liked the way it was done or not, we picture the way our parents did it.

We imagine what we know.  And that’s okay for the first year or even two, but eventually we have to start doing it our own way, the way that is right for Our children.  We have to do our research, observe our littles’ learning styles, and create an educational experience that is most going to benefit the people we are teaching.  With that in mind, the first piece of advice I give to any new homeschooler with this question is:

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5 Tips for a Happy Homeschooling Day

Sometimes it’s hard.  Isn’t it?  Making sure your littles are entertained enough learn, interested enough to pay attention.  Part of the reason we homeschool is to make sure our kids are getting the one on one attention they need to really succeed.

schedule

But then there are Those Days.  You know the ones.  When the kids are distracted or tired and it feels like nothing you do can pull them in and get them interested in how Stalin affected the world or how to find the lowest common denominator.  They’re fighting.  They can’t find their supplies.  You are at your wit’s end.

I don’t know how to make all of those days go away, but there are things you can do to make them few and far between.  It’s as simple as having a plan in place every day and following a few principles.

hysterical kid

1.  Don’t expect perfection.

We’re all guilty of it, though.  We can’t help it.  When we envisioned this homeschool thing, we saw perfect lessons which taught our littles scads of knowledge.  They were engaged and begging for more.  We mamas or dadas were sitting back, enjoying the fruits of our labors, benign smiles on our faces as our little ones became geniuses.  The day was always sunny and love-filled.  Patience-filled.  But after just a couple weeks of homeschooling we realized that was just a dream.  Homeschooling is Hard.  It is Almost Never perfect.

And that’s okay.  Have Great Expectations for what you will achieve, but accept that sometimes it will be a struggle.  When you expect it will be life–messy, fun, interesting, and conflict all rolled together–you know it won’t be perfect and you won’t be letting yourself down.  It really will makes things easier on you.

school spot

2. Start with a schedule

It doesn’t have to be strict.  Especially if you’re unschooling or following a child-led program, a strict schedule may not work.  But children need direction. In fact, they crave it.  So having some sort of schedule in place will be beneficial to both of you.   Making sure they know when to expect to be in school is the biggest part of this.  If you are morning people, have school for a few hours in the morning.  If you struggle to wake up and need a gallon of coffee while your little zones out for an hour before she can form a cognizant sentence, save school for afternoon.  But make sure she knows at what time of the day she is expected to be learning.

Another thing you can do is set aside a spot in your house where you have school every day.  That sameness will put your little in the mood to get started.  It doesn’t matter if you move to the kitchen for a science experiment, the couch for reading aloud, and outside for nature study.  Always start in that same spot so your little gets in the habit of focusing when he’s there.

monday plans

3. Allow for rabbit trails

You might have a strict schedule.  I pretty much do.  But I don’t stress if talking about Stalin leads us to Donald Trump (which it did yesterday.  And speaks volumes about Trump) which leads us to the American voting system and immigration laws.  If you spend half an hour on a rabbit trail, allow for an extra half hour to finish the rest of your plan.  Or be flexible enough to continue with the plan tomorrow.

I’m not going to lie to you, I used to have major issues with this.  I had a Very Strict schedule, and I freaked straight out if we didn’t finish everything in a day.  I had it all mapped out in my planner, and we had to stick to it or I kind of went out of my mind.  Last year, I scheduled in extra days for catch-up and it helped.  This year I’m so much more relaxed it’s almost scary.  I know what my littles have accomplished and will accomplish, and I have had to let go of that strictness.

Because I love rabbit trails.  Sometimes I feel like we learn more from them than anything I could possibly plan.

english politics

4. Schedule something fun

Every day.  I always have a science experiment, craft, or art project that goes along with our lessons.  My Littles look forward to those so much it helps them stay focused on the drier stuff.  Sometimes we do several fun things during our day, just to break up the notebooking and reading and writing necessary for some subjects.  Geography has become the thing I work on hardest.  Since we made our U.S. scrapbooks for geography, I have realized that when it’s fun, they remember where places are.  Simply memorizing sites on a map didn’t do it for me, and it doesn’t work for my littles.  So we made the towers of St. Basil’s Cathedral while studying Russia, colored Vishnu while studying Southeast Asia, made egg carton dragons for China.

Littles, even bigger littles, need a break from the ho-hum.  If you use fun activities to break up your homeschool day, you are giving them a chance to recharge and feel ready to tackle 4-digit multiplication.

book collection

5. Read Aloud

You knew it was coming, now didn’t you?  Even when we’ve rabbit trailed ourselves into a double-length school day, Littlest will say, “Are we going to read today?”  Like his mama, he adores a good story.  When you choose a chapter book and read it aloud to your littles during the school day, it gives them a chance to relax and enjoy their time.  They can feel like they’re turning off their brains and rebooting.

Don’t worry.  They Are Not turning off their brains.  They’re honing their imaginative powers, their speaking skills, their writing skills, and their vocabulary.  If you’ve chosen a historical novel, they are learning history.  If you’ve chosen an adventure novel, they are learning courage and survival skills.  If you’ve chosen a mystery, they’re learning critical thinking.

And they don’t even realize it.

Um, win.

Pretty simple things to do, but I’ve found that implementing all these principles makes Those Days a rarity.  When the Littles stop listening to an explanation in order to fight over an eraser, I take a deep breath, remind myself why I’m doing this, and pull out the craft card!

friday_meme

Love wins (also, you’re welcome),

KT

Teach Them Everything

Yesterday, when I was talking about being overwhelmed in January, I mentioned tweaking your schedule to relieve some of the pressure.  If you’re like me, that is almost as scary a prospect as following it to the letter.  I put so much meticulous time into planning our homeschool year, and I Freak The Hell Out if we get off schedule.  (But I’ve told you that before.)

The problem is, I want to teach my Littles Everything Under the Sun and Everything Over It.  I want them to Know.  Because I want to Know.  I don’t want them graduating my house without having every bit of knowledge I can impart.

xcbm0

Are you like that, too?

It got me into trouble with this geography unit study thing we’re doing.  I almost chucked the plan.  In fact, I would have, but since I already had China and Japan ready, we started the school year out with them.  And the Littles Loved It.  Every single day they told me how fun school was.  Who am I to take that from them?  So I’m working out these unit studies country by country as we move through the year, and it has put me behind schedule.

My original plan was to do all of Asia the first semester and Africa this semester.  Problem?  We aren’t even halfway through Asia.  Why?  Well, come on, guys, these countries are Fascinating, and there is So Much to learn about each one.

sunlit-buddha

Can I admit something to you?  I can’t remember ever learning the geographical location of Siam in school.  I had heard of Siam–from The King and I and Siamese cats and Siamese twins (remember when that was a term?)–but no one had ever told me where it was.  So when we started studying Thailand, it was relief to learn that it used to be Siam.  I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, well-read, and I was a good student.  So why didn’t I already know that?

That’s the kind of thing I want my boys to know.  I don’t want them to hear a current event about a certain country and be unable to remember where that country is.  Or to hear about a place that has changed names and not know what it’s called today.

Anyway, the unit study thing is kinda doing me in.  Sometimes I wish I would just break down and buy curriculum that someone else has already written, but I know me.  I will feel it is not in-depth enough.  No matter how good it is, I will find fault.  WHAT is wrong with me?!

So I plan everything myself, and write unit studies and novel studies and make up worksheets and look around sometimes and think, “When, exactly, will I get a break?”

When they graduate.

Is that on me?  Yeah, I own it.  And I always, without fail, over-plan.  I mean, seriously, folks, I would have to teach them for the rest of their lives to fit all this in.  And they might think it’s weird to still be homeschooling when they’re 40.  Talk about weird, unsocialized homeschoolers!  We would be the poster children… er, adults.

Also, (don’t fall over from shock), I tend to be a rather disorganized person.  I like to organize.  It’s fun.  Most of the jobs I’ve had over the years have demanded organization.  I have learned that I have to have a schedule and a plan or things will end up in disarray.  And the last element this homeschool needs is chaos.  Sticking to the plan is what keeps me in line.  I’m also hoping it will teach the Littles to be more organized creatures than I am.  So I make up a school calendar every year so I know from the get-go what days we’re in school and what days we can take off.  For the last two years I have even scheduled in catch-up days in case we get behind.  I’m not kidding.  A sick day can really throw me for a loop.  I have to know we’re going to stay on-schedule because I have to know my kids are Really Learning everything I planned for the year.

Now, I have loosened up a little bit this year.  And it has made me feel like I’m not teaching them anything.

Do you do that?

Some of my friends tell me I’m too hard on myself.  Maybe I am.  But this is the most important job I’ve ever had, and everything hinges on it.

So I suppose that having to constantly tweak the schedule is a thing I’m just going to have to live with.  Feeling behind is a place I’ll have to reside joyfully.  Because I’m not giving up on teaching them Everything.  They’ll appreciate it when they grow up and know where Siam once was.

Love wins,

KT

 

Overwhelmed in January

January is a good time for us homeschoolers to start feeling overwhelmed. Ever notice that? In most of the country, it means inclement weather has us stuck inside the house with littles who are tired of being stuck inside the house. The excitement of the holidays is over. The next break is weeks or even months away (unless you homeschool year round with monthly breaks, but Even That seems far away in January). There’s that back to school rush at the first of the month then within a few days… Blah. Burnout. We are out of sorts from lack of sun. One little is stuck in one subject and it seems like he’ll never get it. Another little is sick. A third is hyper from being cooped up.

Well, I don’t have 3 in homeschool. But maybe they have multiple personalities.

Just kidding.

back to school

back to school

Burnout happens to us homeschool teachers just as much as it happens to college students, if not more. We are responsible for So Much. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if homeschooling were at least our only responsibility? If a maid service took care of the house, a chef took care of the meals, a chauffeur drove the kids to outside activities, and you had farmhands? Well, okay, my boys might count as farmhands. But I still have to check their work. The thing is, most of the time, we have to be all those things. And it can be exhausting. Let’s not pretend to be Supermom here–when we are thinking rationally, we all know such moms do not exist.

So what do we do when it’s January and we are feeling overwhelmed? Well, there are some things I do to help me get through it, and maybe they will help you, too.

1. Reconsider your schedule

When we come back from Christmas break, the past 7 weeks have looked like this:

  • 2 weeks off for deer season/Thanksgiving
  • 3 weeks of Unit Study in one subject
  • 2 weeks off for Christmas break

So, the first week of January I feel compelled to jump right back in to a full schedule.  This year that means writing, forensics, math, reading, and geography unit study that includes history, gardening, art, maps, geology and animal studies.  It’s a lot of work.  Last week, we had a blast getting back into what we call ‘real school.’

Monday morning I woke up just not feeling it.  It snowed over the weekend, and in our rural county, that meant the roads were bad.  So I knew I was stuck in the house.  I also knew it was going to snow again on Tuesday, which might mean I was stuck for even longer.  The temperature has been pretty low too, and Littlest has been sick.  So we couldn’t even go out for a snow walk or to build a snowman.  What does that have to do with school?

Nothing but my attitude.

And it grew and grew.  Even today, the only reason we will have a normal school day is because I’m going to push myself to do it.  I don’t want to.  So I’ll be taking another look at my schedule, to see if there’s anything I can cut out or put off, at least for a week or two, until I’m feeling less overwhelmed.

I’m not telling you to chuck your schedule.  I fully believe that sticking to some kind of schedule is imperative for good learning.  Kids react to life better when they know what to expect.  You don’t even have to chuck one class.  Maybe just start a little later so these dark early mornings can be spent in bed.  Maybe shorten each lesson–spread what you planned for one day over two or three.  Whatever makes your weight a little lighter.

Littlest had tea to help his sore throat

Littlest had tea to help his sore throat

2. Seek Help

As homeschoolers, no matter how many groups we belong to we can often feel isolated.  As homeschool teachers, we tend to think the job is solely up to us and if anything goes wrong, we’re the only ones who can own it.  But that’s not true.  We have spouses, friends, peers, co-ops, and even an online community who are all too willing to help.  We hesitate to ask for help.  Will people think we suck at this if we need help?  Cruising the interweb can make us feel worse, can’t it?  Those bloggers seem to know so much and have it all together.  Well, let me tell you, bloggers deal with the same stuff you do, but we gave ourselves the job of being here to help you, so we offer advice.  Often, the reason we think to write that advice for you to read is because we’re dealing with the issue ourselves.  We don’t have it all together.  We’re giving ourselves pep talks as much as we’re advising you.  Remember, Supermom doesn’t exist.  Instead of letting blogs make you feel worse, glean the good advice from them.  In fact, send an email to your favorite blogger (I hope it’s me), and you’ll find someone willing not only to make suggestions but who will commiserate.  Totally.  We get it.

Turn to your spouse.  Don’t we forget that sometimes?  He or she is in this, too, and perfectly capable of helping with math flash cards or going over spelling words.  Martin teaches the boy things I can’t (because I don’t know how to do them), like mechanics and woodworking.  He is even having them help build our new house so they are learning that skill as well.  Is it structured school?  Well, no.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable asset to their education.  And the thing is, don’t we homeschool because we want them to have the opportunity to truly learn how to navigate life?

Your homeschooling peers and friends would probably appreciate the offer to swap teaching days one day a week.  Or even to swap kids.  Maybe you have something to offer your neighbors’ kids that she doesn’t necessarily have.  I can’t knit.  I think it would be cool if my boys could go to a friends house one day a week to learn that skill.  Or if they would just go to a friend’s house one day a week.

Just kidding.

Big reading aloud to save Littlest's throat

Big reading aloud to save Littlest’s throat

3. Shake it up

I’ve mentioned this before, but taking some time to just have fun can still be learning.  Board games are the perfect tool. Scrabble for language, Monopoly for math & finance, Clue for critical thinking, trivia games for history and current events.  See if you can plan a board game day into your schedule.  Or play one game every day.

You could also have a craft day or a science experiment day.  No writing or reading, just hands-on learning.  You’d be amazed at how much pressure a day like that can relieve.

4. Get outside anyway

Whaaaaat? It’s 13 degrees outside right now!

Yeah, yeah, but it’ll be 32 this afternoon, and we have coats, gloves, scarves, and toboggans.  And if this funk keeps clouding my brain, a brisk walk in the snow might be just the thing to clear it up.  And I don’t mean walk to your car, though visiting friends might also be a big help.  I mean take 15 minutes and go enjoy the planet.  I know, it sucks being cold.  But it sucks just a little bit more being trapped inside, doesn’t it?  It must, or we wouldn’t complain about it so much!

5.  Trust your instincts

Still feel like you need a day off?  Take it.

Your children’s education is not going to take a nose dive because you took a day off in January.  Maybe, though, it will help you get some new perspective.  Tomorrow might be your first get-up-and-go school day of 2016.

Here’s the thing.  We all get overwhelmed.  This homeschooling thing is Hard.  But we knew that going in, didn’t we?  And we signed up for it anyway.  I don’t know about you but–hard as it is–it’s easier than I thought it would be when I decided to do it.  Yeah, it’s a lot of work.  But it’s gratifying work.  So take care of yourself and you’ll be able to take care of your littles.  And all your other jobs.

Love wins,

KT