Sometimes it helps to read about other people’s life hacks. This fall I have a 9 1/2 year old, an 8 year old, a 6 1/2 year old, a 2 year old, and a baby due in early November. So what works for me may not work for you. On the other hand, maybe you’ll find a couple of things that might make life easier at your house, or give you a few ideas, or just make you glad that you don’t have my life!
One fact I have accepted about myself: I abhor having to get my family anywhere by a set time in the morning. This is odd because I tend to be a morning person and my kids tend to wake up early. But every time we have tried a morning activity–MOPS, co-op classes, tennis lessons, etc–it has resulted in stress and more than the usual amount of fussing at everyone to find their shoes and stop crying and remember their backpacks. I’m sure there are hacks for this, but I’m done looking for them. Instead, I rejoice in the fact that I can arrange our schedule to NOT have to be anywhere in the morning.
I like to get up earlier than the kids and have time for coffee, Biblestudy, exercise, and a shower before everyone else wakes up. I really like it if I can get work time in that window too. But the reality is that I am not sleeping well at this stage of pregnancy so I’m cutting slack wherever I can. I do get up and shower and get dressed, and sometimes have time for coffee and a little bit of work time before the kids descend and the wild rumpus starts.
In the interest of streamlining I have cut breakfast down to things the kids can make themselves with no mess. That means cereal or breakfast sandwiches or yogurt and peanut butter toast type meals. I’d love to make this a higher protein, higher quality meal, but the reality is that I can’t do it all right now. The kids get their own breakfast, either while I’m cooking my eggs or while I’m reading out loud to them.
Sarah (6 1/2 – 1st grade) is cheerfully eager to learn first thing so we go with that.
Sarah has first Teaching Time as soon as breakfast is mostly over and morning jobs are done. We usually start this around 8, give or take half an hour. I have 45 minutes slated for her individual teaching, but it’s often more like an hour or more. She often has her independent assignments (copywork, cursive, math page) done already. I teach her the next new thing in math–she’s on about lesson 60 of Saxon 3–which could mean one lesson or could mean several, depending on how well she’s catching on. Then we do a grammar lesson from First Language Lessons 2 and a section in All About Spelling 3. After that, Sarah reads out loud to me from a chapter book (currently Little House in the Big Woods) for 15 minutes, which helps me catch anything she’s skimming in her reading and helps her work on good expression and reading aloud skills, which are different from independent reading (she does lots of that too). Finally, she does the Biblestudy her Sunday School teachers put together, which involves looking up and reading a short passage then answering a couple of questions.
Hannah (9 1/2 – 4th grade) is working very independently but needs oversight.
Next is Hannah’s Teaching Time. At this point, Hannah does her copywork, math problem set, writing assignment, and independent reading on her own just fine. However, she does still need oversight and so we have a 30-45 minute one-on-one teaching time every day. In that time we go over the new material in her math lesson and talk about any issues with the previous day’s problem set (she’s working in Saxon 6/5). This is my reminder to CHECK that she actually completed the problem set, as a couple of times she has slacked off there and I only found out later. Then we cover grammar in First Language Lessons 4, and spelling in All About Spelling 4. I’m about to loop in Writing With Skill, but for now I give her weekly writing assignments based on independent reading.
The Reading – We cover lots of subjects together.
After Hannah’s Teaching Time we collect on the couch to read for an hour or 90 minutes from our history, literature, poetry, geography, art history, composer study, and science books. We use a literature-based approach to all subjects, and look for living books. So we read a mixture of different levels of books to learn about all sorts of aspects of the time-period we’re studying. The kids intermittently narrate what we read, especially science, but I don’t make them narrate everything because I find that tiresome. We often have talks about how different subjects relate or how what we’re learning about now relates to things we’ve learned before. It’s a good way to process ideas and put things in context.
Table Time – For things that fall through the cracks.
Next we eat some sort of protein snack and cover subjects that might otherwise fall through the cracks. Lots of subjects don’t have to be done every day, so I have a rotating list and we do what we can in 30-45 minutes. Days when we are pressed for time, we can have a short Table Time or none at all and still get more than enough done to see progress. Table Time subjects include:
- Alternating Latin (we’re all doing Song School Latin this year, with extra games and activities since the kids are older – I might post more on my evolving philosophy of Latin) and Spanish (mostly covering what the kids are learning in their co-op Spanish classes)
- Map study (twice a week in addition to maps we look at during The Reading)
- Dictionary look-up (twice a week each kid takes turns finding words from our Tapestry vocabulary list and reading the definition out loud)
- Poetry memory and review
- Art projects – Tapestry includes lots of hands-on project ideas so we do some of that, and we’re also doing a great book with step-by-step instructions for how to draw like Picasso, who is the subject of our current artist study.
Jack (8 – 3rd grade) is the wild card.
This is a challenging year parenting- and teaching-wise for Jack. What’s working for the most part is to give him a concrete list of expectations and then lots of latitude for when he accomplishes things. So some days he does Teaching Time with me, and some weeks he elects to do his entire roster of assigned work on Fridays. It’s not always convenient, but I’m working to let go of what he’d have to do in a traditional school setting in favor of keeping the goal in mind–which is that he be challenged and learning and making progress. This is only an issue for his individual subjects, not the rest of school, which is good. On a day when he’s doing Teaching Time, we do a math lesson (he’s in Saxon 5/4 and mostly doing the problem sets out loud with me after working problems in his head because he hates writing things down. Writing things down is important so I do make him show his work a little bit in each problem set, but I also don’t want to hold him back since he mostly still finds this book easy), a grammar lesson from First Language Lessons 3, and spelling from All About Spelling 4. If he’s willing, he breezes through Teaching Time, having been known to do a math problem set including algebra in 12 minutes flat. Other days, he drags his feet and wants to stop to talk about random things like how penicillin works and it takes a lot longer. Again, I’m learning flexibility. He does always get the week’s assignments done, so I’m letting go of when and where and how that happens.
By lunch time I am wiped out. We do easy things that the kids can mostly handle themselves like sandwiches, cheese and fruit, vegetables and hummus, baked potato bar, or leftovers.
Rest Time/Work Time
After lunch the big kids can finish up independent work assignments and read or play quietly in their rooms or the basement until the neighborhood kids get off the bus. Eliza (2) takes a nap.
This is my prime work time. Most weeks my friend who owns the business I contract through comes to watch the kids on two afternoons, which shifts depending on her schedule and when I have client meetings. I try to schedule work calls and client phone meetings for Eliza’s nap time. It usually works.
- On days when my friend watches the kids, I get five hours of focused work time.
- On other days, I get two to three work hours while Eliza naps, and then sometimes another hour or two of interrupted time if the kids are playing well and we don’t have other appointments.
- One afternoon a week we are at our homeschool co-op from right after lunch until 4:45 or so–each of the big kids takes three classes, Eliza takes pre-K, and I teach in two classes and have one parent connect hour.
- One afternoon a week all of the big kids have back-to-back piano lessons, so I get two hours of work time and then either take work with me or read a book for the hour and a half of piano lessons.
- Other work time happens on Saturdays.
I’m trying to make dinner super simple too. So I’m experimenting with meals I can dump in the crockpot, freezer meals, and very simple things. The big kids are supposed to be prepping and cooking one meal per week each, but the reality is that is very time-consuming for me and I’m usually not looking to spend another hour and a half on my feet at this point in the day. So easy wins for now.
Ideally I would do Eliza’s individual reading time in the morning but mostly it happens in the late afternoon before dinner. I aim to read to her from a story Bible, a Mother Goose, and at least five picture books every day. This takes 15-20 minutes. If we have time, I also do the alphabet with her, if only because of the disarmingly cute way she says “bobba-lyewww” for W. Otherwise Eliza is in the mix all day. She likes to “write” and color when the other kids are at the table doing school, or works on puzzles, plays with the Little People dollhouse and barn (which are kept in our school room), or plays with whichever big kid is done with school or taking a break. She listens in on our school reading and evening read aloud time as well.
In the afternoons I usually try to find time to do my around-the-house walks. I can get some exercise while keeping tabs on kids playing outside and listening to podcasts or books on tape.
We eat dinner as a family the vast majority of nights. Josh gets home from work late so we often don’t eat until 6:30 or 7. We spend 30-45 minutes at dinner–according to my time logs–and actually have some pretty good discussions. We usually listen to music during dinner, either the composer we’re studying or some other classical music. Then there are the nights when everyone is talking at once and squabbling and spilling things and acting like they have never heard of manners and were raised in a barn. It’s not always idyllic, but many nights are, so we press on.
Twice a month I have book club meetings, one or twice a month I go meet a friend for coffee or something, a couple of Thursdays per month Josh has worship team practice (I’m taking off this trimester), and sometimes he works really late so we eat without him, but mostly this is how evenings work.
After dinner Josh puts on music that is more dance-friendly and he does the dishes, the kids do their assigned jobs, and I do general kitchen clean up, make lunches ahead, and things like that with breaks for family dance parties. This way clean up is faster and more fun.
The kids go up to take showers or otherwise get ready for bed, Josh gives Eliza her bath, and I do school prep. This involves updating notebooks, changing the white board, rotating job wheels, and setting up for anything that requires advance setting up, which is not much.
We really don’t ever do night time activities, with a very few, very rare exceptions. Evening activities are kind of disruptive for our family and keep us from the things we’re prioritizing like family time and reading aloud and getting to bed at a decent hour. That won’t work for everyone, but it’s something we’ve realized works best for us, at least for this stage.
A side note about keeping track of things:
Each kid has a spiral notebook for math and another for everything else. I prep the notebooks by writing the day’s date for them to copy (in print for Sarah, cursive for Jack and Hannah) and then their copywork (print for Sarah, cursive for Jack and Hannah). The next page is their daily checklist, which also serves as my reminder to check up on what’s gotten done. The checklist includes independent assignments and reminders to do things that may eventually become habits like doing morning and evening jobs, practicing piano, daily hygeine, unloading the dishwasher, putting clothes away, cleaning rooms, etc. A lot of it stays the same every day, but it’s a good visual and also something I can keep track of. Last year I tried printing out checklists, but found that they got lost or the kid would say “I finished it and threw it away” etc. In the notebook means I know where to find it. Each kid uses this notebook for grammar stuff like proofreading and diagramming sentences, spelling, writing assignments, etc. I also tape in art projects and other loose pieces of whatnot as a sort of record keeping device. Then I have one school binder where I keep my teaching notes for where we are in Tapestry, our file of poetry and scripture memory for review, and the record keeping sheets showing what each child did for school each day. It’s much more streamlined than last year, and it’s working well.
More reading aloud.
Once everyone is (reasonably) clean, we have read-aloud time of 30 minutes to an hour, then worship, which sometimes is reading from the Bible, sometimes is reading from a Biblstudy book, and always is singing a Psalm or hymn because we like singing. Then we have prayers and the kids go to bed. Josh does final bedtime round up because I’m almost always incapable of doing stairs by that point (lots of hip and back pain this trimester).
My Wind Down
After the kids are in bed I finish any school prep that needs to be done, hang out with Josh, read, and do my Biblestudy (since I can’t count on early morning time anymore). I try to stay off the computer at night because it’s a huge black hole of time wasting, but I’m not always successful. I try to get to bed by 10 or 11. Sometimes earlier, but with the kids not usually in bed until 8:30 or 9, I find I really need some wind down time, and then it takes me a while to get my contacts out and get ready for bed. I’d like to streamline the get ready for bed part, but haven’t found a hack for that yet.
Weekends are different.
Two kids have soccer, I take one kid per week out on “special time” to run errands and get groceries and Starbucks, I usually do a longer chunk of work time, Josh handles household stuff and plays with the kids, we do church stuff on Sundays, and sometimes we do fun extras.
But, generally, this is the flow of our weekdays. Having a general routine and order to the day helps a lot.
I’m planning on devoting one post per month to a more general homeschool and/or life topic. Let me know if you have questions or specific things you’d like to know more about!
Disclosure: The curriculum links above are affiliate links.