I recently noticed a comment on last fall’s snapshot post, which reminded me that I haven’t updated it, in spite of having made some good changes since then that might be helpful for or of interest to others.
Game Changer 1: A Checklist For ME
I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this, but when I saw Misty’s post on her checklist, I shamelessly grabbed the idea and tweaked it to fit our needs. The result? Pure gold. Here is why this works for me:
- Everything is on one page. This is an entire week of school, for all of the kids, on one page. It’s a daily to do list and a record keeping tool in one. Because I have it color-coded by child, it’s easy to see at a glance who still needs to get stuff done so I don’t have to scramble to figure out if someone should be playing Legos or actually still needs to finish math.
- I pre-made decisions. To fit everything on one page, I really thought about what I need to do with each child. In some cases, that meant adding some things, and in others it meant getting real about what I could actually accomplish. I don’t have to reinvent this wheel every week. I just change the dates, change the books we’ll be reading together for history and literature, update dictionary/vocab words, change independent reading, and I’m done. Ten minutes, tops.
- It keeps me accountable. I love checklists. Seeing something on my clipboard helps me to follow through with intentions. I am doing much better checking people’s independent math work, actually doing Latin every day, and remembering what we do on which day.
Like Misty, I keep my checklist on a clipboard, which also contains our memory work, map work, hymns, and review pieces for the week. I use sticky notes to keep track of where I am. No more hunting for a poem or looking up passages on my phone! It’s all in one spot, and that really works.
Game Changer 2: Preschool First
I have read over and over again to spend time on the littlest people first, but I never could figure out how to do that. It seemed more important to get the big people through their work. However, when I don’t put a space in for tot school, it falls off the agenda way too often. I’m not talking about crazy academics here, just about the sort of solid reading, Mother Goose, alphabet/numbers, Bible stories, and fairy tale time that I used to pour out for my big kids when they were littles. Eliza (2 1/2) gets a lot of read-aloud time throughout the day, but that often comes during our school reading, family reading time at night, or from siblings reading picture books to her. Preschool time is 20-30 minutes of one-on-one with me going through the great children’s literature we’ve collected. We do this right after breakfast and Convocation, while the big kids get ready for Inspection and do their piano practicing.
Game Changer 3: Building in Margin
Homeschooling with a baby requires more margin than you might think, but also less than you might fear. I’m pretty adept at handling a baby while also teaching, but I have been a lamentable failure at margin for a long time. No more. Teaching From Rest put this in great perspective for me, although it is something I should have accepted long ago. Maybe lessons should take a certain amount of time, but homeschooling (and parenting in general) is not about efficiency, much to my chagrin. I think my reluctance to build in margin is why my schedules never worked before.
This semester, I built in margin every step of the way. Lo, and behold, we actually follow this one. It’s more of a flow than a rigid minute-by-minute thing, but if I don’t at least ball park times for our routine, I’m going to try to put too much in it. Since I built in some margin, this timed version of our schedule is actually what we normally do, give or take a few minutes. It looks something like this:
7:30 – Put on classical music (whatever composer we’re studying) to call kids down to breakfast.
7:40 – Convocation while kids eat (mostly Biblestudy, prayer, singing, and memory work).
7:55 – Preschool with Eliza while big kids do jobs, get ready for Inspection, and practice piano if they have time.
8:20 – Inspection (What is inspected gets done! Everyone has jobs and checklists for this) and get Eliza dressed.
8:30 – Jack’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.
9:20 – Sarah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.
10:00 – Table Time (this is a rotating list of things we do together like memory work, geography, dictionary/vocab, art, Latin, etc) – I peg this to morning snack to make sure everyone gets protein and that we actually do Table Time.
10:30 – Hannah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.
11:20 – The Reading (Subjects we do together using read-alouds, like history, literature, art history, poetry, science, etc) – this takes 1-2 hours but we don’t always finish it all at one time in a given day. It can spill over to meal times, afternoons, after dinner…lots of families do this sort of thing first, but since this is what we love to do most, it’s the one thing I can reliably do in the evenings and know it will still work.
In all, school takes us about 5-6 hours per day. On paper at least! In reality, independent work isn’t always completed efficiently, and often even with margin the times wiggle significantly. Still, we generally follow this plan now and it seems to work pretty well.
Game Changer 4: The Week View
Another great thing about my checklist is how it helps me to see school as a week-long pursuit, not just one day. Some days we have appointments, or a babysitter coming over, or homeschool co-op. Sometimes we just have a rough day. The checklist helps me to see what we have to accomplish for the week, so I can clearly see where we can do more or less on a given day. We can have a really long Table Time, someone can double up in spelling, or we can finish up subjects at night after dinner. School doesn’t have to happen between 8 and 3, and flexibility is part of the beauty of the whole thing.
Game Changer 5: Humility
This year has been all about humility. We’ve had crisis after crisis that I did not see coming. Things I thought I had all sewn up (potty training! getting baby to sleep!) after Kids 1-3 fell to pieces on Kids 4 and 5. I do have some systems in place so that we can stay functional, but more and more I am realizing that what I think I have “under control” is not really under my control at all, and what looks like “together” is actually God’s grace more than my competence. That is simultaneously terrifying and freeing. So I’m bringing my basket and doing my best and praying a lot more and continuing to learn as I go.
In light of that, please see posts like this for what they are–a snapshot of what is working, for us, for now. It will almost certainly change, probably soon, and possibly won’t apply to your situation at all.
Anthropology. It has to go somewhere!
What is working for your family or school life these days?