The ranks of the homeschooling have grown exponentially in the last, well, yesterday. Maybe you find yourself making a face like Saint Anne here 😒.
As an accidental homeschooler myself (for the past twelve years) I figured I’d share a few tips on how we manage the homeschool day with various age groups. Hopefully you can look at what works for our family and use that to figure out what will work for yours.
Unless you are the Virgin Mary, I do not recommend attempting to homeschool babies, but one must not forget that they’re in charge of how the day goes. We let babies go about their usual business as they prefer and fit homeschooling around their preferences. Contented babies can sit on mom’s lap or hang out in the carrier. Sleepy babies can nap in the carrier or elsewhere and we hit homeschooling hard during those precious minutes or hours. Grumpy babies can nurse while we work, or get fed or entertained by one sibling while another works with mom.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
I also don’t recommend attempting to homeschool toddlers (or even preschoolers), but the key is allowing them to THINK you are. So we have a few special “school” items that the under five set are allowed to play with during school time only. These are things that are potentially messy or otherwise require supervision, and are therefore interesting, but that don’t require hands on assistance from mom. So . . . play dough, balance bears, painting, bristle blocks, colorforms, sticker books, sorting pony beads into a muffin tin, stuff like that. They get to choose one activity at a time for their “school,” and keep doing that one until I can conveniently switch it out for them.
Maybe you would have different luck than I did with tv or other screens for little kids during school time, but it really wasn’t a success for us. It was terribly distracting for older kids and the little kids would lose interest and wander back in with us anyway, but then I was in the middle of a lesson with someone, and would have to scramble to try to include or occupy the toddler. So what’s worked for us for many years (and many toddlers) is to let them feel like they are a part of our school day, but in a mostly self-directed way.
Kindergarten through Second
It will depend, of course, on what your particular curriculum requires, but in our house we do a minimum of instruction in these grades. I do forty-five minutes to an hour maximum of seated, direct instruction-type school for these early grades. Always first thing in the morning. We get up at a set time each day (6:30, most of my little kids are naturally early risers anyway), get dressed, do morning chores, eat breakfast, tidy the kitchen, then start school at 8am. My little kids are freshest at this time of day and we have the most success and the fewest tears.
We focus on phonics/learning to read, math, catechism, and poetry memorization. All in short concentrated sessions. After that time they can wander off and play, ideally with the baby or toddlers, so I can have some focused time with older kids. In other parts of the day we might go for a nature walk, or read aloud, or cook something, or do some other little project, all of which is definitely educational but doesn’t feel so much like school.
Third through Sixth
This is the age group on which I focus the most energy as mom/teacher. It feels important to me to accomplish everything on our daily syllabus. They can read independently, but I still read their textbooks aloud to them whenever possible so that I can guide their perception and check their comprehension.
In our house, kids this age get up/get dressed/do chores/eat breakfast/tidy the kitchen, all on a set schedule and they start school at the same time as the younger grades. They begin the day with independent work, math and other worksheets can usually be accomplished on their own, then checked by me, but in my house independent work happens under direct supervision. Pretty much zero schoolwork that I assign gets accomplished if I am out of the room.
After the little kids are done, I can take turns working individually with middle grade kids. We all take a break together for lunch/playing outside/reading aloud or audiobooks. Then nappers nap and middle grade kids finish things like reading and memory work on their own and are done for the day.
Seventh through Tenth
These are the transition grades in our house. I prefer to send kids off to school in this window so they’ll have outside authority figures and educational influences. If that’s not possible, we rely heavily on dad’s involvement in these grades.
I still expect kids to be up and about at a reasonable time, and to get dressed for the day and help with chores. I still expect to do a check-in in the morning to discuss what they need to accomplish and how they plan to go about it. Depending on the kid, they might be able to do their work for the day in another room, so as not to have all the distractions of the younger kids around. Or maybe they need to be where I can keep an eye on them.
They can help younger kids with assignments, which helps me and helps break up their day a bit.
In the evening, they are accountable to dad for what they’ve finished and how they’ve stewarded their time and resources.
Eleventh through Twelfth
These kids are preparing for launch. The same tactics I’ve used with so much success in the earlier grades aren’t appropriate here. They need independence and discussion, and room to make their own schedules, but also accountability and to not be knuckleheads.
They get to be in charge of their own schedules and methods for as long as they can show that they have been successful in an evening check-in with dad.
I also expect them to interact with the family, join us for lunch, help with the little kids, etc. But in an ideal world, they’re working completely independent of mom.
Speaking of Mom
Saint Anne is just NOT feeling today's lesson 🤨.
I consider myself a stay at home mom, but in moments of self-awareness, I might admit that I do quite a bit of work outside of usual homemaking and homeschooling responsibilities. I have found time and again that when I try to be Bruce Wayne and Batman at the same time, I just end up doing both badly. I really try to stay off my phone and off of the computer and NOT do my work during our school day. On days that I am successful on that front, everything goes better.
My usual schedule is to be up and ready to go for the day when we start school in the morning at 8am. It’s school time all morning, with me staying in the room, engaged in what they’re doing. We break for lunch around 11:30, and by that time, I SHOULD be done with all their direct instruction for the day. After lunch is reading or audiobook time and playing outside. Babies, toddlers, and mama all take a nap at 1pm, while older kids finish up things they can do on their own. All kids who cannot be trusted to be unsupervised during naptime also take naps. After naps we tidy the house, check schoolwork, run errands, and make dinner.
Once Dad gets home, we eat dinner, do the dishes, little kids go to bed, big kids check in with dad, mom and dad hang out. Then I stay up super late, or go to bed really early and get up really REALLY early when the house is quiet and have a four hour or so stretch to write. Which works because I took a nap.
The way we do it works well for my preferences and talents and temperament. I like order and I like people being dressed and I like naps and I like not doing schoolwork in the afternoons and I like a nice quiet house in the wee hours to work on MY stuff. It works for our family. It works for my kids. EVERY homeschooling mom or dad should look for ways to make the school day work for your particular family. That is the beauty of homeschooling!
I know a lot of you didn’t ever plan to be in this position, but I hope you’ll be able to enjoy it! Or maybe not, and just think how much you'll appreciate school when it starts back up again! Drop your questions in the comments and I’ll see if I can answer them for you. And other homeschooling moms, please share your best practices as well!