Thursday, August 27, 2009

A New School Year

A new school year means, for us, a new routine. Far from being the structured mother, I have always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal, and that HAS worked. However, seeing how I have spent the last four months as little more than a puking couch potato, the start of school means there are several other areas of life that must be ordered if I have any hope of maintaining a school schedule.

My standards aren’t terribly high. I have only one child so far that Montana law dictates must be schooled – our seven-year old, Benjamin. His workload is, I feel, a reasonable one for him. We don’t go for the packaged curricula: part of the joy of homeschooling is tailoring the schooling to my child, and there’s no way a packaged program can do that. (And so then for what would I be paying all that money? For busy work? I think yes.) It's just not for us. I do have friends who use boxed curricula and love them. But I know I wouldn't.

Our five-year old, Lily, will continue to work on reading – we do about 15-20 minutes a day and call it good. Because she would have it no other way, she will also be included in the history time and, along with everyone else, in Circle Time.

As I started perusing our eclectic gathering of school material, I began realizing that this year is going to take some more formal structuring on my part. While the two oldest are able to stay out of trouble (for the most part), they are also capable of being responsible for far more than they have been. And while they are busy with chores or school, there are still four others who are busy in other, less admirable endeavors. Two four-year olds, a two-year old, and a 14-month old do not an organized party make. And, Lord willing, their number will be added to in February, when two newborns will join the ranks of the Clueless.

So I did it. I bit the bullet and wrote a ton of stuff down. I’m still tweaking, but we have a Master Routine, chore lists for each child, and a rough outline of the year’s courses. My goal is for the household to run as smoothly as it can without my input. I AM here and able to give input, but the more the children can be held accountable without my having to initiate every chore, the better.

I began by upping my fortitude with help from some of my favorite sites: Preschoolers and Peace, Pleasant View Schoolhouse, and Large Family Logistics (here and her older blog here). I reminded myself that less is more: more planning is better, but less “formal” schoolwork and busywork is also far better. I don’t agree with those that start their children’s schooling too early or that teach a course because “the schools teach it to their kids in first grade.” I was a teacher in a “real” school – a private one, even – and I am convinced that for the most part teachers impart a bunch of bologna.

The main points that I tried to keep at the forefront of my mind:

  1. Less is more.
  2. Consistency, consistency, consistency. If we can get in 2 pages of math a day, great. If we get stuck on a concept, OK. We'll work on it again tomorrow. It's much more important that we work on it again tomorrow, spending time to try to understand. But not spending too much time. A little done regularly is better than a lot done sporadically or too much done too often.
  3. Morning chores before school. If we can get the basics of the housework out of the way, we will all be much more able to focus on schooling. There will be less for the littles to get into, the washing machine can work without me, and we don't have to dread the work after school.
  4. What are the littles doing? It is very important that I have a plan for what they are doing while I am working with the older children. They need to have a "job" ALL THE TIME for which they are responsible. Sometimes their "job" will be to color at the table next to us (NO CRAYONS LEAVE THE TABLE UNDER PENALTY OF DISCIPLINE AND AN EARLY NAP).
  5. Variety - be mindful of attention spans. After we have done bookwork, we need to do something a little more active. The same goes for the littles. Each day they have a different activity assigned - they only color one day a week. Also, my time has to be carefully divided between the olders and the littles. After Ben does math, he helps me do the lunch prep work and then sits down to do his copywork while I read to the littles (read, and tickle, and play "don't take that book away from me!"). Then he plays outside with the littles while Lily and I do her reading (just 15 minutes). Then the littles come inside to do table work while Ben and Lily have history. Does that make sense? He sits, he does something active, he sits, he does something active, he sits ... And the same goes for the littles. They listen to me read (while they wiggle and dance and whatever else), they play outside, they "work" at the table (or in their highchairs) ...
  6. No overscheduling. Because of the ages of our children and what I can realistically expect them to contribute and what they realistically need from me (a happy mommy who can play and love on them), my schedule is relatively loose. (I'll be glad to share it if you want to see it, but I won't force it on anybody!)       
I’m excited. I just started the children with their chores today (they’ve always had chores, but now they are written down and illustrated and are THEIR VERY OWN CHORES instead of being something I came up with spur of the moment or had to recall from the fog that is my brain). And you know the biggest complaint – the chore that brought tears? Abraham, one of our four-year olds, got upset because I dumped the downstairs trash, showing him how I wanted it done. “I wanted to do it! That’s MY job! I can do that!” he sniffed. And no less than four times today, he reminded me, “I will do the trash tomorrow, not you, right?”

Right. It’s all yours, buddy.


  1. I've been looking for some guidance on doing a devotional time with Emily, and your link about Circle Time really steered me in the right direction! Thank you!! I was wondering if you've used the Big Truths for Little Kids book, and if it's appropriate for a 3 1/2 year-old? Amazon says the suggested age is 4-8, so I'm wondering if I should find something else for now and save this book for a bit? Also, when you do Circle Time, does Jonathan sit in your lap or is he otherwise occupied? I'm wondering if this would be good practice for Erin to learn sitting still and being quiet, or if it's too much to expect. She normally stays in church with us at least until the sermon, but today she only made it about 5 minutes... not good! All advice is welcome!

    Great job getting organized for the new school year! It's wonderful that you're already seeing the benefits of your labor!!

  2. I'm getting there! I will try to post some things that have been helpful to us...soon!


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