Snapshot: Autumn 2015

FullSizeRender 3Sometimes 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.

IMG_4354Sarah (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.

DSC_0434Table 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.

IMG_4496Late Afternoon/Dinner

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.

FullSizeRenderTwice 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.

Evening Routine

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.

IMG_4468A 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.

jack soccerWeekends 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.

17 thoughts on “Snapshot: Autumn 2015

  1. I love this. It’s so helpful to get a glimpse into what is working for someone else! It’s also encouraging for me to remember that your youngest school-age kid is less than a year younger than my oldest school-age kid, and that maybe that has something to do with the fact that none of our schoolwork is done independently just yet. I’d love to hear what kind of jobs you have your kids do at different ages! Danny has just trained our oldest two (ages 7.5 and 5) on how to load the dishwasher after dinner, but that’s about as far as we’ve gotten.

    1. Here are our daily/weekly jobs that all the kids do (which we did start at around age 5):
      -Make your bed
      -“Fold” (or whatever) your own laundry and put it away (as long as it’s not on the floor or something I let go of unwrinkled perfection)
      -Carry dishes to counter, wash them off with a dish sponge, put in dishwasher
      -Empty dishwasher (carefully! The kids rotate who does which part: top rack, bottom rack, silverware and utensils so that no one is stuck with the whole thing or same job every time)
      -Clean your room
      -Clean up the basement/toy room

      Jobs from the job wheel (rotates daily so every third day someone has this assigned for morning and evening job time):
      -Dust and straighten (straighten means picking up stray toys, crayons, etc, straightening couch cushions, making sure chairs are in the right spot, books on shelf, etc
      -Sweep (breakfast/school room and kitchen)
      -Wipe table (sounds simple, but our table gets really dirty! And covered with the flotsam and jetsam of school work and art projects etc)

      Other jobs, usually for extra money:
      -Clean a bathroom (Sarah still requires supervision and mostly is only reliable for scrubbing counters and mirrors)
      -Water plants
      -Scrub floor (usually just a small part)
      -Do a load of wash from start to finish (only Hannah really does this reliably and even she makes lots of mistakes at it still)
      -Make a dinner for the family (with lots of supervision for all, but Sarah can easily do this–once the kids is reading well, it’s good practice at following directions)

      For younger kids:
      -Give them a wet cloth or spray bottle of completely non-toxic cleaner (like Shaklee Basic H) and have them wipe up a sliding glass door, edge of tub, table top, etc)
      -Put away toys and books
      -Put away dirty clothes in laundry sorter (Eliza is 2, but she does this)

      I’m not excellent at following through on everything, and lots of days I still say “I’m too tired to spend twice as long doing this so I can show the kids how” and just do it myself. The job wheel and unloading dishwasher type jobs are non-negotiable though.

          1. The center circle rotates on the brads. It’s just on posterboard, but so far has held up well for about a year. These are posted right next to the smallish whiteboard that holds our day plan for that day. The kids are always checking the whiteboard, so they can’t help but see the job wheels. That’s the theory anyway!

  2. Interesting post! Based on this and some other posts I’ve read lately, I can see that breakfast is a big thing here. Not that I make a huge breakfast every day, but some days it can take me a solid half hour to get everything together. My husband keeps saying I should do eggs on the large griddle, but then it’s taking up the counter all day and I really don’t have any to spare (it has to cool before cleaning, then dry before getting wrapped and stored). There is also the fact that our curric is pretty mom intensive. I feel like the quality of what we use is what we want though….so, I guess it’s one of those things where I can’t have my cake and eat it too?

    1. Half an hour is not too bad for breakfast!

      Some of our curriculum is pretty mom-intensive, and other pieces are less so–that’s one reason why I’m glad that Tapestry lets me combine the kids for some subjects. I’m willing to do really mom-intensive things (like our Spelling curriculum, which actually couldn’t even slightly be independent work) if it meets the underlying teaching goal I have for that subject. I like teaching, which is why I homeschool! But I do also see value in transitioning older elementary kids to more independent work, so we move in that direction where we can.

  3. Catherine,

    Thank you for this! it is really helpful.
    When do you have people over?. I found myself struggling with this. We have 4 kids ( 7,5,3,1)
    I’m homeschooling the 5 and 4 year old and it has been a difficult start. It has been a hard transition with having our oldest go to the local school this year. Wha would you do different now then when you stared to homeschool?
    Thank you for the encouragement.

    1. We have people over for playdates fairly regularly, and either shift school around for that or if I don’t have a lot going on with work we have the playdate in the afternoon. We don’t have families over for dinner as often as I would like, but when we do we tend to go with Saturday evening, because it’s a simpler day and my husband is home at a regular time!

      I do a lot of things differently now than when I first started, because every age and stage means we have to tweak the system (the first year I started recording what we were doing for school was Hannah’s Pre-K 3 year–so I had a 3 1/2 year old, a 2 year old, and a 7 month old baby–totally different ballgame than what I have now!). But the biggest thing I’ve learned is how critically important it is to understand the WHY of everything. Why am I doing Latin? Why this year? Why for this kid? What is my actual purpose in teaching grammar? Is this method working to that purpose? I force myself to really define what I’m doing, which helps me to pare down the things I would otherwise do just because they are important to other people, and it helps me make better curriculum choices when I can see right away if it fits my goal and philosophy for learning that subject. I think this is why homeschooling can (and probably should) look so different in different families.

  4. I don’t know how you are able to do all these things with your children and spending time with each one of them. I also ask my kids to help with the house care. They have their chores and cleaning the house is happening! Thanks for sharing this! Your post have given me some wonderful ideas!

    1. There are 168 hours in a week, and I spend a lot of them with the kids–one-on-one teaching and reading time, plenty of one-on-one conversations throughout the day and at bedtime, and weekly one-on-one kid date time…I’m not worried about spending enough time with them! Glad some of the ideas might work for you!

  5. Hi Catherine,

    I would be interested in hearing your evolving philosophy on Latin! I am new to your site and have been reading through some of your homeschool and curriculum posts, as I am in the development stage of my homeschool curriculum. I recently read “The Latin Centered Curriculum” and “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning”. I am praying over how involved Latin should be in my family’s curriculum. Should it be the center of the curriculum? Or does it make more sense to have English be the language arts focus? Did your family try out Prima Latina or Latina Christiana I? I never considered such an in depth study of Latin until I read the first book mentioned. My plan was to use Susan Wise Bauer’s and Jessie Wise’s curriculum for language study (I read “The Well Trained Mind” a year or two ago). I also thought Spanish would be a must, but I wanted to introduce it to my kids audibly. Do you have a specific curriculum you are following in the co-op group? Thank you for your time!

    1. HI Becky, I’ve read those books too and they definitely impacted my thinking on education. I find that my perspective changes as I read more and also as I teach my children year by year–every family will look different, because we all have different gifts and challenges and circumstances, and that’s ok! But I do think you’re on the right track to think about WHY you want to study Latin and language arts. What are your goals for those subjects? And as you begin to teach them, and continue to pray about it, you’ll probably find that your thinking shifts and becomes clearer.

      We have done Prima Latina and Latina Christiana I. We’ve also done Latin for Children A. While I think the Memoria materials are solid, and they did give a good backbone, they were, for us, painfully dry. It became exceptionally onerous to get through Latin, and with three different children at three different levels, it was taking up too much of our time. At the moment, in our current circumstances (newborn, toddler, three elementary age kids) we are focusing on enjoying Latin and building vocabulary. I think next year I might have my oldest, or perhaps the oldest two, do Latin for Children independently or online. But I’m not certain about that yet.

      We use SWB language arts (First Language Lessons and Writing With Ease) and I think they are very easy to customize, quick, and get the job done. They are very useful for parts of speech and diagramming, which is what I was going for. We’ve also used Michael Clay Thompson’s grammar books as enrichment, but I don’t think they stand alone.

      Last year we tried PowerGlide Junior for Spanish, but again, with three kids to get through it at varying levels, it was so time consuming so we dropped it. This year we are just doing the Spanish vocabulary and homework that comes home from co-op. They are using a book there, Risas y Sonrisas.

      I’m still developing my thoughts on language study, so I am afraid I have no simple answers for you!

      1. Thank you! It was helpful to hear how the Memoria Press material worked for your family. It seems some of these scope and sequence might work well for a homeschool family of one and possibly two children, but any larger than that, it seems it would be just a headache to keep all of the children on different levels outside of the skill areas. That is why the cyclical cycles of Tapestry, the Well-Trained Mind, and CC have appealed to me in studying the humanities. What I did like about the “Latin-Centered” schedule, not given as much weight in most other classical ones, was the fact that he designated music study as a must and core subject. After all, for those that are serious about music study, it is also a skill subject and not content (when talking about learning to play an instrument, not music appreciation). So if nothing else, that has helped me to bump music study into my morning “core” along with the math and language skills. (I am just beginning my homeschool journey with 3 children: 4, 2, and baby). I also have a bias towards music study, as a classically trained musician myself 🙂

  6. This post is so helpful to me! I read it when you first posted it and I just came back to it after reading the day in the life post at Simple Homeschool. I have 3 children- ages 8, 5 and 3. I have been finding it really difficult to to try to order my day in such a way that I give each child some individual time, accomplish my goals for the day and keep my house in some kind of order. Reading this gave me some ideas for how we might change things around a little in order to get more important things done first. Also I think I might need to reevaluate some of what we are using. I think my older daughter probably should be doing some more work independently. Right now I am pretty involved in everything.

    You mentioned piano lessons. I was wondering when your children practice. My two older daughters take piano lessons. My oldest daughter can practice on her own but she does so much better when I sit with her. I’m just having a lot of trouble fitting everything in!

    I really started writing this comment to just thank you for this post! 🙂 I appreciate your blog so much and have gotten a lot of insight, book ideas and encouragement from it. Thanks again.


    1. Gabrielle, thanks for your comment! Reading this post again I realize perhaps I should do another one because we do things quite differently this semester! I’m always tweaking!

      I spent a lot of time this winter re-evaluating the schedule (I was stuck in bed and had lots of time to think!) and piano practicing was one thing I needed to crack down on a little. So now that fits in to the morning in a different way, which I will probably post on soon. What works for us generally is making a set place in the flow for something, so it’s just a habit not something we have to renegotiate every day.

      Thanks for the impetus to revisit this topic!

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