A recent question on social media made me think about how we run our homeschool day. The question was akin to, “How do you homeschool your older child when there is a needy younger sibling running around?”
I will preface my answer with some transparency. Homeschooling works well for us because I have been blessed with two amazing helpers. We have sacrificed some budget items to finance this luxury; very worth to me it since it means that my sanity is intact. One helper works M-W, and the other one works TH-F. When our children were younger, my helpers were “nannies” in the traditional sense: when I wasn’t babywearing, they entertained the smaller children so I could homeschool the older children. As our children grow, they all seem to want to be in the school room at the same time and/or they are old enough to entertain themselves. Now the “nannies” have taken on housekeeping duties: laundry and meal preparation, interspersed with child care.
Before we had a nanny (2 children in the family at time), I would homeschool when the younger sibling was napping. Which meant maybe 2-3 sessions scattered throughout the day. As that sibling grew out of naps, then we would wait to homeschool until Daddy Bruss got home from work. He would spend time with Night Owl while I “played school” with Puma. It took me a couple of months to figure that one out. It took a while for the idea to sink in that homeschooling didn’t have to happen during traditional school hours. “Homeschool” just means allowing learning to happen at home – the bonus is that it can happen anytime that it is convenient as the day unfolds!
If I had to run the homeschool and take care of housekeeping with four children, our life would be much more chaotic. I would probably make different choices about how to run our days. For one, would be eating a lot of cereal and crock pot meals (which is what we did pre-nanny, and that was okay, too!). Thanks to our helpers, we eat a lot of healthy, whole food prepared from scratch every day. It is a blessing that I thank God for *every* day, especially during the summer when they get time off to recover from the Bowman clan!
So, having said that, what does a typical school day look like for us? I will share the general outline, plus share ideas to entertain younger siblings while you are spending time with the older children.
Our homeschool day actually starts the night before. We use the Sonlight curriculum for the older three, and we used Horizon for our preschooler. Both curriculums include parent/teacher guides, so I lay out the materials they will need for the next day ahead of time. It gives me the opportunity to glance at what the following day will entail and prepare any activities. An added benefit of laying everything out the night before is that allows for any early risers to get a head start on their schoolwork that they can do without me: handwriting, math review worksheets, language arts review exercises, reading. It motivates our kiddos – they enjoy being the first one to finish and have more playtime. Works for me!!
Our school day ususally starts at 8:00 am with the younger two (Charger and Night Owl). I set the timer for 25 minutes, and they get my undivided attention until the timer rings. We will read their books, play games, sing songs, do their worksheets – basically work through our checklist until the timer rings. Once the timer rings, it’s time to switch “teams”.
The cycle starts again as I work with our older set of children (Puma and Night Owl). I set a 25 minute timer and focus my attention on them. We usually start their day with the Sonlight “Read-Aloud” list so that they start the day with art or some other quiet activity (building, puzzles, play dough, etc.) as they listen and ease into the day. When the timer rings, the older set get a break to play or help around the house, and the younger kiddos get my attention again. And so progresses our school day, in 25-minute segments.
We all take a break for snacks and meals. We also do a “recess” after lunch. It’s usually around 25 miuntes while I check and answer pressing emails, or make phone calls. Once the breaks are over, the timer starts again.
So that is our day in a nutshell. Although it is somewhat tedious to live by a timer, it works for our family. The Sweet Pea Kids even ask if it has been set! We usually start “school” at 8 and finish by 1 or 2 pm. This system takes longer than if I barreled through the day or worked in longer time blocks. Why I stick with it: all the kiddos get my attention through the course of every hour, and their learning time is paired with playtime, which makes them happier scholars when it’s time to focus.
To add variety, sometimes we will homeschool in different settings. On occation, I set up in the kitchen. We have three outdoor areas at our home that are available when the weather is good. Other days, we have gone to the library or a park with a segment of the day’s work for all of us to have a change of scenery.
We also take the time to do activites outside of the home throughout the week or month. Most Friday mornings are spent outdoors. We take advantage of children’s programs at museums or the mall in our area. There have been times when we participate in programs at the zoo. A great benefit to homeschooling is the flexibilty to take a “field trip” on off-peak days. This allows us to spend a whole day out with the kids enjoying an attraction with little to no lines. I plan one “field trip” every month.
Another way to keep ourchildren motivated is to have what we call a “Reading Day” or a “Reading Week”. Aside from the read-alouds, the older set have 7-8 subjects we work through every day; and the younger set have about 4-5*. “Reading” means that all we do on those days are the read alouds; plus their own grade-level reading, math and logic. All Thursdays are “Reading Day” because that is the day we host preschool. It lowers the stress level considerably by scheduling less. If we focus, we are finished before the parents and children arrive for the Preschool Playdate, then they have the rest of the day to play. In addition, every six weeks I schedule a “Reading Week”. All of us enjoy those!
Over the last year, the younger two have decided that maybe they want to stick around the school room even if it isn’t their turn with me. I am a believer that the younger children learn by osmosis, so they are welcome to be around while I am teaching the older children as long as they are not distracting us. They can paint, use play dough, do puzzles, play quiet games (memory, dominoes), etc. There is an expectation that they must play quietly so the older siblings can focus on their learning activities.
If the preschooler and the kindergartener do not want to play quietly, then they are asked to go play away from the school area, or to help the nanny who will put them to work. If they opt to help out, it is a passive opportunity to learn life skills. By helping with laundry or with meal prep, they are learning skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. In addition, as they help, they are still learning: sorting (math), recipes (reading), measuring (math), mixing (chemistry!), in addition to exercising their gross and fine motor skills…it’s all good.
Now you know what homeschooling looks like for our family. If you homeschool, how does it work at your house?
Check out the Homechooling page under the RESOURCES tab for links to our favorite homeschooling websites.
For Puma and Night Owl: Science, Spelling, Reading, Language Arts, Handwriting, Creative Expression (writing), Math, Logic, Spanish, French
For Charger and Otter: Reading, Math, Logic, Handwriting, Spanish