Have you ever noticed that when you wake up late and you have to be somewhere in an hour, you magically get ready twice as fast as usual? Or that if you usually do a task in two hours but one day you have four hours in your schedule, the same task oddly takes twice as long?
I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience a lot of activities fit this model: things generally take as much time as you give them.
One area where I see this most acutely is in homeschooling. When I have to go to a meeting or we have an appointment at 10am, we can get the core of our school work done in a flash, but on days when I’m home from dawn to dusk, we often wind up finishing the last subject right before bedtime.
For the most part, I think that’s OK. It’s nice to know that when push comes to shove, we can get a rigorous education under our belts in a few hours a day. And even on days when we have lots of time, I find that it helps to do school in blocks.
To that end, I separate our school work into three tiers: core work, which, if we don’t do it, means I don’t count it as a school day, priority read-alouds, and other reading and activities. If we’re in a hurry, I know that core work and priority read-alouds will take about 2-2.5 hours and we can put off the other reading and activities until later in the day. If we’re really busy, it doesn’t frustrate me if the “other” tier only happens two or three times a week. Or, we might pick and choose from items in the other category. For us, for now, this means of balancing structure and flexibility is working out. In case it helps spark ideas or answer questions, I’m including a more detailed description below.
I don’t count a day as a school day unless we do math, reading, and grammar. While we definitely have days when the kids are lollygagging and being difficult, on days when we have to get done, they rarely act that way. I think it helps them to have a goal as much as it helps me. In a pinch, we can get through core subjects in a little over an hour.
Reading: Hannah reads a chapter or two aloud from whatever book she’s working on (15 minutes) and Jack does a lesson from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading
Grammar: Hannah just moved into First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind
which includes grammar, poetry memorization, copy work, and narration (however many lessons we can get through in 15 minutes) and Jack is working through Explode the Code 3(10 minutes). Hannah also works on her Spelling Plus
list and dictation (15 minutes).
Logistics: I find it’s easiest to enforce diligence by having a set order of events. I’ve experimented with letting the kids pick which subject to do next and it didn’t work for us, although it might for others.
First, Hannah does her spelling page independently while I work with Jack on math and Sarah works on tracing her name. Then I read Hannah’s dictation sentences to her as I can while Jack is working on math.
Next, Hannah does her math independently (I explain it to her first, but she’s really quick and generally just reads it herself) while I do Jack’s reading lesson and Sarah colors or plays with pattern blocks or otherwise amuses herself quietly. If Jack finishes reading before Hannah finishes math, I get him set up with his Explode the Code page, which he works on independently.
Then Hannah reads a chapter or two of her book aloud to me (I think reading aloud is an important skill) while Jack finishes Explode the Code.
Finally, we do a couple of lessons of First Language Lessons together. This all takes a little over an hour on a good day, assuming no one has a tantrum or an attitude problem. 🙂
Core read-alouds vary, but currently include Bible, history, science (Apologia Astronomy), poetry, an Aesop fable, a nature study book, a tall tale or nursery tale, a section from a book about orchestras, a review lesson from Prima Latina, and some pages from a Mother Goose book. Depending on how everyone is doing and how much time we have, we might narrate some or all of these selections, or I might ask questions for them to answer orally (45 minutes).
Other Subjects/More In-Depth
On days when we need to get out the door, we put off the other school work for later in the day. Sometimes that means we read for an hour before bed, but that works out fine. In fact, lots of days when we did the other subjects right after the core subjects in the morning, we read for an hour before bed anyway! If we’re not in a rush, we may take longer on our core subjects, playing math games in addition to lessons, reading longer selections from our core books, and so on. The time we spend on this category really varies widely from day to day. Some days lend themselves to hours spent reading on the couch together, and some days the kids want to be outside for hours so we read a bit during lunch and before bed. This is a flexible section.
History and Geography: In addition to our core read-alouds, we also read other history books, about different countries or cultures, and a chapter out of Our Island Story, which is a great history of England. The kids listen to a Story of the World CD before bed and during afternoon quiet time and whenever they are just playing around in their rooms. We sometimes listen to Classical Conversations history songs and do map work including states and capitals, tracing the US map, and so forth.
Science: We read a chapter out of a nature study book like the The Burgess Bird Book
or The Burgess Flower Book. If I’m feeling really ambitious, we might do a science project out of one of the myriad experiments for kids books I have around. We might also read a book from our preschool science favorites.
Latin: We might do a little more with Prima Latina, listen to Song School Latin, or sing John 1 in Latin (our Classical Conversations Latin for this semester).
Literature: We read a page or two of whatever Shakespeare story we’re working on out of a children’s anthology (Lambor Nesbit – both free on Kindle) – right now it’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. We also read from whatever chapter books we have going, some fairy tales, poetry, and things like that.
Music and Art: We are enjoying Opera 101, which is not a kids book but it’s interesting, and we listen to classical music. Hannah practices piano every day. We read books about artists and attempt picture study. Although I’m not a crafty mom, the kids do a lot of drawing with markers lately and sometimes we get out the paints and whatnot.
Preschool: Sarah is only three and it would be a shame to cut her out of all the great reading we did when Hannah and Jack were little, so I try to read 10 or so preschool books from the great collection we amassed over the years. These include classics from the Sonlight and Ambleside lists, as well as other classics and interesting books organized by topics. Sarah is also working on writing her name and has learned the sounds the letters make, so she gets a reading/phonics lesson a couple of days a week to reinforce the letter sounds.
If you homeschool, do you separate work into blocks/categories, or do you do everything at once? How do you balance structure and flexibility?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Also, please know that I do not post things like this to imply that I have things all figured out. I don’t – and chances are our days will look nothing like this in another couple of weeks because we keep adapting to new circumstances and stages. I post about homeschooling because I find it helpful to read similar things from other bloggers, and because above all this blog is for my memories and I like to have snapshots of how things are.