It’s back to school time and for a lot of homeschoolers that can mean a huge variety of conflicting emotions. Worries and questions and excitement about the year ahead are swirling around in our heads:
Am I doing this right?… I love the freedom of homeschooling! Park days during the school year are the best!… Are my kids getting what they need?… Why won’t they stop fighting?…I’m so excited to learn together! But some days (many days…every day?) don’t go as I planned…How can I stay on top of all that I need to do? …How do we establish the routines and practices that will help our homeschool to be successful?
As we head into our 9th year as a homeschool family, I have a few of those thoughts swirling around in my head, too. But I feel secure in some of the routines and habits we’ve developed, so I want to share with you today Five Things that are Saving our Homeschool:
Reading Aloud during Breakfast
Reading lovely books aloud is one of the cornerstones of our homeschool. Experiencing powerful stories together is my absolute favorite part of our day. It seemed that over the past few months, our reading aloud time had been dwindling and it was really inconsistent. I dreamed of reading chapter after chapter at bedtime. But the reality is that our big kids have sports practices in the evenings, and by the time we get home Littles (and Mama) are done for the day.
I recently anchored reading aloud to breakfast time. We gather together when we’re all fresh and ready for the day ahead, the kids fill their bellies and I read a chapter aloud. Some recent favorites include The Birchbark House
(which is like Little House on the Prairie, except about a Native American family)and Maniac Magee
. We just started The Reluctant Dragon
I love that I can check off this most important part of our day first thing, and we’re definitely getting more out of that time together than we were before. Another thing I love about this is that you don’t have to be a homeschool family for this to work. If you want to make reading aloud a habit in your home, anchor the tradition to breakfast, or if that time of day is too crazy, aim for after-school snack time. The two elements about this that help it work best are :kids are eating and it’s at the same time every day. I highly recommend finding a time that works with your schedule and sticking to it.
The Family Cleaning Zone
One of the most stressful parts of homeschooling, for me, is keeping the house from turning into a complete disaster. Because our kids are around all day every day, messes can easily take over. And I’ve got a lot on my plate, it’s hard to get to deep cleaning tasks and the purging/decluttering projects I love.
We’ve countered these issues by creating the Family Cleaning Zone. It’s kind of based off of the Fly Lady’s system, but much less rigid. Basically it works like this:
- I choose an area of the house that needs some attention
- Make a list (could be a mental list, or a physical list) of everything that needs to be cleaned/sorted/decluttered/organized
- Spend 15 minutes per day cleaning it until it’s under control
- Set a timer and really stick to 15 minutes
For example, a few weeks ago our storage area/garage was getting on my nerves. So for 3 days in a row, we set a timer for 15 minutes and worked together to sort/organize, sweep and clean that area. I directed the kids and worked alongside them, and it’s pretty amazing what we can accomplish in just 15 minutes a day.
This week we’re tackling the pantry, kitchen cupboards and drawers. It’s really very liberating to have this habit in place. It helps me feel more on top of how our house looks and feels, it teaches the kids how to work and care for our home and it helps our home to feel more peaceful.
Morning time is the backbone of our homeschool days. We gather around the table, we sing a hymn, study scripture (this year we’re using the study guide I wrote
. It’s designed to take you slowly through the stories you know well, to uncover deeper meanings and more insights). We read/recite poetry and study history, science and geography together. For a closer look at what we’re studying, check out this post
The things we study during this part of the day are the most important. The most uplifting and crucial and enjoyable. Together we learn about history one day, and science the next, we read Shakespeare and watch documentaries. I love Morning Time. For me, it’s what sets homeschooling apart from traditional school. Learning and growing together, experiencing beautiful and uplifting books and building a family culture.
(Side note: our Morning Time is not beautifully blissful from start to end. We have plenty of grumpy moments–from the kids and/or myself. We’re human. We annoy each other. We don’t always want to sit down together and learn things. There are interruptions from Littles, from bickering siblings, from the toilet overflowing. But we’re doing our best and overall I love how this time goes.)
We have been blessed to find a couple of groups that we love. Nature group meets every Friday, all year round. More often than not, we’re hiking together. But some days we go to the lake and hang out. The kids squelch around in the mud and sand and the Mamas visit. Or we go on a trip to the local tiny zoo or bird refuge. It’s been so refreshing for me to find these like-minded families. For our kids to form friendships while I do the same.
We’ve spent years searching for just the right homeschool co-op for our family. Because we have such a wide range of ages, that’s been difficult. I am hopeful and excited that our new co-op this year will fit that bill. It’s based on the TJed model, with more intense study for older students and hands-on project and lots of play for the younger groups. We started a few weeks ago and love the group so far.
Unplugging in the Mornings
I have discovered that I need a large chunk of time to myself in the mornings before the busy-ness of homeschool life begins. I thrive on quiet time, time to think and plan and learn and fill up my tank. I have a carefully curated morning routine, filled with activitiies that bring me life. This routine has grown and changed over the years. Currently it looks like this: I study scripture (this year I’m studying the Old Testament), read a few pages of Walking with the Women of the Old Testament, read an uplifting book (currently: A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman), I write in my journal, perhaps create a little art, write for 25-30 minutes (for the blog) and exercise.
It sounds jam-packed, and I really do manage to fit in a lot during the 60-90 minutes I’m up before the kids arise. Some mornings it’s hard to get started, but I’m always happier if the day begins this way; it brings my introverted heart such joy.
I found a couple of months ago that it was really easy for me to become distracted during the mornings. I’d hop on Instagram just to check in and end up spending 15 (or more) precious minutes there. I’d be so frustrated with myself because then I couldn’t get to all the life-giving parts of my routine. It created a mantra, “I did not get up early to be on social media.” and that helped, but what really changed my habit is using an app called App Block.
I set it up to block email and Instagram (other social media apps are not on my phone at all, ever–I’m looking at you, Facebook) until 11:30 every morning. That means I don’t “check in” there at all until my morning routine is complete, until the kids and I have read aloud and done school and the bulk of my list for around the house is complete each day. This has been life changing for me. I didn’t realize how much time “checking in” ate up throughout the day. And not just time, but mental space. It took me out of the moment and distracted me from spending time on what really matters.
I’m a definite morning person, so my most productive hours are before lunch. With this system in place, I don’t waste my most productive time on social media. I have App Block set up to block email and Instagram again from 1:00-5:00 in the afternoon. I most often accomplish work for my blog and shop as well as any other project I’m working on, during this time. Without the temptation to see what’s new online, I am able to get much more of the work I love done. I often rest or read during this time, and it’s much too easy for me to pick up my phone instead of a book, so I’m trying to eliminate that temptation all together.
I’m definitely a work in progress in this area. It’s sad to me to think how much time I’ve wasted scrolling, but I find inspiration online, too. I use it for my little business, so I’m trying to find a balance and right now App Block is working well for me.
What is saving your life/homeschool right now?