Category Archives: Schedules

Helpful Changes

Last year I made a few changes which helped me streamline as I’m adding children, but not hours, to my life.

  1. Instead of scheduling a 36 week school year, plus 3 weeks of exams, I scheduled a 30 week school year. Each 10 week term is divided in half with a “project week” and ends with an exam week. I added the project week because I always have ideas for fun activities and outings during the year, but in my head they take away from “school” days and put us “behind” so it’s hard for me to actually take the time to do them. By scheduling a week for activities, it helps legitimize the activities in my head. It’s mostly a mental thing for me, but it gave me more freedom this year. We did a big collaborative painting one week. We went to the zoo and a museum several times…and didn’t do school when we got home. The last term, we shipped Kids Tres and Cuatro off to their FL grandparents and they had a 10 day project week of kayaking, swimming, fishing, making slime, building styrofoam boats, having tea parties, playing at the beach, and launching rockets. Kids Uno and Dos had less fun–they spent their week helping me with some organizing and cleaning, but they did a lot of reading, some weaving on a new loom, and going to 7-ll for Slurpees. 🙂 Exams don’t take us a full week, but scheduling a week for them gives me more mental flexibility. As far as planning…books and curricula divide just as nicely by 30 as they do by 36. Imagine that! Overall, decreasing my school year by 6 weeks eased a lot of pressure on me to fit everything in, so I’m keeping that schedule for next year.
  2. I started the year with 4 kids using Ray’s Primary, Intellectual, and Practical Math as their main math curriculum, supplemented by Miquon, Strayor-Upton, and a couple living math books. Within a week or so, I was going nuts trying to keep over a dozen math balls in the air. And the teacher key for Ray’s is horribly incomplete; instead of just being able to flip a page and check the kids’ work, I frequently had to work the problems myself because the answer was not in the key. I just do not have time for that! So I ended up putting the Year 3 and 5 students in Strayor-Upton (which is written to the student and has a full answer key), supplemented by Miquon or living books twice a week and doing Ray’s Intellectual orally twice a week (to keep up their mental math skills). The Year 2 and Year .5 still did Ray’s Primary or Practical with me every day since their math is still all oral. But I limited their lessons to 10-15 minutes daily, which kept my time very manageable, and kept them alert through the whole lesson. The Year 2 also had Miquon 2 days a week, and I Love Math weekly. So the math year ended much less frantically than it began. I’m definitely keeping that format for next year.
  3. The other positive change was how I laid out the schedules for each term. Luke kindly reformatted them for me so they are easier to read (his word processing skills are much more current than mine). And instead of scheduling every single box to check every day or week, we made some more open-ended boxes. That gave my box-checking mind more breathing room. As I plan 2018, I think I’ll use even more open-ended schedules (more logging and less scheduling). I feel like we have a good handle on a Charlotte Mason lifestyle (outdoor time, nature study, art, music, living books and things, practical skills, etc.) and instead of planning everything in advance, I can just fill things in as we do them as part of life. Serendipity meets Type A, or something like that. 🙂
  4. Finally, in looking for other ways to streamline, I calculated that I spend about 20 minutes each night writing next-day lists for 4 kids. I think I can get that down to 5-10 minutes if I template a to-do list, print it, and fill in the relevant bits for each kid. As much as I love lists, I’d rather spend less time writing them…and more time blogging about them 😉
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A Day in the Life

Someone said she’d like to see what a typical day looks like for us, so here is a “normal” weekday during this season (with 4 school age kids, a preschooler, a toddler, and me in the sick/tired first trimester with Kid Siete):

6:45       DH wakes up with the the two youngest, gets everyone breakfast, changes diapers, gets ready for work. The older kids trickle out of bed and the more motivated ones can start on their school lists (which I leave on the kitchen counter the night before).

8ish      Or 9ish these days, with early pregnancy fatigue. I wake up, eat, clean up breakfast, do some laundry, clean. DH leaves for work. If the kids are playing nicely together, and we aren’t going anywhere that morning, I let them play for a while. If we have an outing, we start the long process of  getting ready to go. If they are fighting, or if someone is eager to get his list done early that day, I have them start on chores or independent school work. This includes handwriting, drawing, typing, music appreciation, nature journals, math for the older kids, some art projects, memorization, assigned reading, written or drawn narrations, and so on.

10:30       The little kids are ready for a snack and I am ready for all the kids to have outside time. This is a minimum of one hour daily (lots more in warmer weather). Sometimes I do yard work or take them across the street to the playground, sometimes we all go on a “nature walk”, sometimes I run (taking one or two with me in the jogging strollers), sometimes I get caught up on indoor stuff while they pester me play outside. I’ve also been doing food prep in the morning when I can since my morning sickness gets worse throughout the day. About once a week, we hang out with friends, or go the zoo or museum or somewhere special outdoors. This is also when I schedule doctor or dentist visits.

12 or 1    Either Kid Uno or I make lunch. While they eat, I check my email or the news or finish whatever I was working on earlier. If we’ve had an outing in the morning, I try to get home by 1:30 or 2. After lunch, Kids Cinco and Seis nap for a couple hours, so it’s straight to the books for the rest of us. I alternate among kids. This is when I do math and phonics, poetry, read alouds, hear narrations, get out supplies for art projects, check handwriting and Miquon, sing, etc….everything they can’t do without me.

3:30       Twice a week, I take Kid Uno to her ballet class. The younger kids often watch Wild Kratts while I’m gone, or finish their independent work. On other days, I frequently doze off during someone’s times tables or phonics, thanks again to pregnancy fatigue, so when I wake up we try to pick up where they left off (unless Kid Seis already woke up from her nap, in which case everything just goes crazy).

4            The two younger kids wake up sometime around now, and everyone has a snack. We usually have a few school things left to finish, like correcting math. Then chaos free time descends. And chores. And neighbor friends. Lately I’ve been sending them out for more outside time before dark but that will probably end when it starts snowing, because it’s not fun getting into snow clothes twice a day. I do more laundry, pay bills, make dinner, etc.

6ish       DH gets home. We usually eat dinner around 7. Kid Uno needs to be picked up from ballet twice a week, Kid Dos has a horseback riding lesson once a week, and we have house church one night a week, so our evenings feel pretty full. If I haven’t worked out during the day, this is usually when I do it.

7:30       We clean up dinner, DH usually supervises the kids picking up the house, plays with them, does baths, and reads Proverbs to the kids while they eat something sweet. I check off all the boxes we completed today, and write out tomorrow’s school lists for the four older kids. Occasionally I read stories or play a board game to assuage my mom guilt if I haven’t spent much time with a kid that day 😉

8            Bedtime for Kid Seis.

8:30      Bedtime for Kids Cinco and Cuatro

9            Bedtime for Kids Tres, Dos, and Uno. They can do something quiet till 9:30. Meanwhile, I have crashed and am doing something low energy like online shopping, reading, or talking with DH.

11ish     DH and I go to bed. The end. Unless someone little wakes up in the night 🙂

 

A Helpful Resource for Scheduling

I came across these printable Subjects by Form charts at A Delectable Education, and I really like them! They’ve done all the work of deciphering what Charlotte Mason’s students did each year, but without the constriction of listing specific books. I find them much easier to use than Ambleside’s schedules where I have to look at each book and try to figure out why it is scheduled that year, and for what purpose it is assigned. I’m pretty comfortable picking my own books now, and these charts provide a nice framework for putting it all together. Anyway, I’ll be using them as I plan next year, and thought I’d link to them in case anyone else finds them useful.

 

 

Thinking Out Loud…Halfway Through 2016-2017

How are we doing this year? On track to finish at the end of May. We took a week off for my unexpected surgery and then spent 3 lovely weeks in Florida on vacation.

 

I’m glad we started in August last year; it gave me a mental buffer even though we weren’t expecting a baby this year…and recovering from abdominal surgery has been harder than recovering from a birth. On paper, our schedules are very balanced and doable. In reality, I am struggling with very long days for myself, generally 8:30 am to 9:30 pm without much/any margin. Kid Seis is Super Destructo Toddler–she can destroy our entire house in 3 minutes.  And send us all into hysterics watching her because she is so FUNNY!

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But she is very hard to keep up with, and it seems like someone else is always getting the short end of the stick. My elegant solution is to hand the stick to a different person every day 🙂 We are doing well covering the skill subjects and readings. It has worked well combining Kids Dos and Tres for several readings. They have a sweet relationship with each other, without the competitive element between Kid Uno and Kid Dos. We are doing great at spending 1+ hours outdoors daily, even though it’s been a COLD winter. img_20170119_123554738

DH takes the kids on an outing most Saturdays, which is fun for the kids and gives me some very appreciated. I’m starting to get into planning mode for next year; I always enjoy planning.

It’s all the “extras” that feel very rushed to me; I assign something to a kid, and then nag and say “hurry up and finish, we have so much other stuff to get done”. But really, I want them to dive into their art projects or handicrafts or outdoor exploration, and really spend some time enjoying it.  So that is something for me to improve over the next 18 weeks. I’ll have the 3 older kids doing the same thing every day, to see if it streamlines things a bit. So everyone does picture study one day, nature journals another day, sports another day, art project another day, handicraft another day…

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Also–the little kids. I want to grab a bunch of picture books, Five In A Row Style, and read them a couple times, and do a few activities that we are inspired to do. Kid Cuatro is a little academic. She spends hours drawing, and now writing, as long as she has a willing parent or sibling around to spell it for her. She doesn’t even listen anymore when we read her stories because she is too busy sounding out words on the page. She’s begging for reading lessons. And she’s not quite five yet! I think I’ll start reading lessons with her when Kid Tres finishes 100 EZ Lessons, probably in March. SONY DSCKid Cinco needs more cuddling, more stories, more playtime WITH me, and lots of music. He loves music! I bought a CD player to replace our broken one, and showed him how to use it so he can put on CDs by himself. SONY DSCThe little kids also need more art, and more board and card games through the rest of winter. Kid Dos has been dying for horseback riding lessons, so she and Kid Tres will start weekly lessons in March. Then we’ll have one day with music lessons, one day with horseback riding lessons, and three days with ballet classes. Plus house church, Sunday church, fitting in visits with friends, family outings,travel and hosting people, etc. It feels like so much. img_20161109_110652916

How can I streamline? Maybe clustering kid chores in 3-4 days per week, instead of every day. Maybe cutting out Bible with each individual older child, and just reading Egermeir’s as a group (DH has been reading the Bible with all of them at night). What about not scheduling drawing on nature journal days, and not scheduling handwriting on days when Kid Uno has lots of written narrations? Perhaps making math lessons a bit shorter. Maybe scheduling a few things which seem less “schoolish” for the weekends (music appreciation, handicrafts, longer readings like Robin Hood). Sometimes I could save a bit of work with older kids for after DH gets home in the evening and can watch the noisy little ones. Maybe having older kids help with the baby during the day while I take a turn with another one. And next year, I may try scheduling a 4 day week or an 11 week term, and see if that helps. Or maybe just drop all of my very detailed plans and unschool instead 😉img_20161230_111011926

How We Do…School With Babies and Toddlers

With six kids under age nine, this seems to be one of the most common questions I’m asked these days…how do you do school with babies and toddlers?

I’ve never been a morning person, although I have tried hard (at times) 🙂 So that rules out the wake-up-early-and -get-it-all-done-before-the-little-kids-wake-up method.

I make a list for the two “school kids” every night, and leave it on the counter where they will theoretically see it and start on it when they wake up. (Actually I suspect DH gets them started, because I am sleeping or nursing a baby in bed so I don’t really know for sure what happens before 8:30 am). Most days, they get in a good chunk of independent work in the morning. Mainly Kid Uno, since Kid Dos is dependent on me for most of her work. This may include handwriting, drawing, outdoor time (at least one hour every day), some written math, art projects, memorization, music practice, etc. Meanwhile I am wrangling younger kids, cleaning, paying bills, putting winter clothes on the little kids so they can play outside…

Then we have lunch. I don’t eat with the kids. Sometimes I read them a story from Egermeier’s. Sometimes I nurse a baby. Sometimes I check my email or put in a load of laundry or work out…

Then Kid Cinco and Kid Cuatro go down for naps. And naptime is when we do all the other school stuff. It is basically a race to get it done before the little kids wake up. Which doesn’t really allow for leisurely discussions or interesting rabbit trails, because I must check off my boxes to make it look like a productive school day! Just kidding–sort of. Some days are more enjoyable than others, and some days just don’t really work out the way I intended, and some we finish earlier than anticipated which gives us a little down time, and I am still not always happy about “giving up” my naptime break (I used to be able to use it for reading or hobbies or cleaning or whatever) because it makes my day REALLY LONG…but that is what works for us during this phase.

Once a week, we have a day where we do our together stuff…this is singing a hymn, reading One Small Square, Among the people, Saints, Lamb’s Shakespeare, and filling in their timelines (every 3-4 weeks). On the other afternoons, I alternate between Kid Uno and Kid Dos with their separate readings and math and narrations.

Kid Tres kinda does his own thing in the afternoons. His only schoolwork is handwriting, which takes all of five minutes a day, and I haven’t started reading or math with him yet…so he plays solitaire Othello or Nerf basketball or looks at books or draws or does puzzles or plays legos.

Most days we finish somewhere between 4-6pm. If we’ve had a morning out of the house, or if we’ve had friends over, we will probably have a lighter school day in the afternoon. We almost never go out between 2-4 because I am a stickler for naps for little kids. We rarely do any school on Saturdays, but often the kids’ weekend activities count toward my checklist for them. Things like ballet class, art projects, a hike, learning a new chore, listening to music, and so on. DH will often take the older kids out for a few hours on Saturdays so I get a kid break. Those are nice times for recharging, planning, hobbies, catching up, and thinking uninterrupted thoughts. And two of my goals for this year are to use the weekends for kid dates (so they each get some one-on-one time with parents), and to read aloud more to the younger kids. During the week, I probably spend about 2 hours a day reading to the older kids, and my voice is a bit worn out by evening, so the little kids get fewer stories than I think they should. Still trying to balance those needs.

So that is what our general schedule looks like. It’s actually quite different from the Charlotte Mason ideal of morning lessons, done by lunch, and afternoon free time…but I am not her, and she was a teacher, not a mother of six children! My priorities are outdoor time for everyone in the morning (my kids seem to do better with sitting down after they’ve used up some energy, and I do better after they’ve taken their noise outside for a while), and naptimes for the under-fives while the older kids work through their mom/teacher intensive subjects while it’s relatively quiet and I am available. So far, so good!

 

 

How We Do…Schedules

I like to plan…It’s so much prettier and more perfect than actually implementing the lessons 🙂  It goes in spurts–there’s no set time I spend planning. I just get in the mood and start working on the future.  It’s fun to change things till they fit us just right. The Ambleside Online schedules for each grade are my framework. We school year-round, with a couple weeks off here and there (for camping, for out-of-town visits, for vacations, for new babies, for spring fever). In theory, I’d like to accomplish the bulk of our academic stuff between November and April, when the weather here is not as nice, and we spend more time indoors than outdoors. The AO schedules are based on a 36 week school year (broken into three twelve week terms), plus one week of exams at the end of each term. So I round up to 40 weeks of school, and 12 weeks off. Our state requires no reporting, so we basically have complete freedom in the scheduling department. We can also teach whatever subjects we want, when we want, which is nice! And the compulsory education ages are 6 to 18, although there are so many exemptions for 16 year olds, I kinda look at it as 6 to 16. Which means I need to plan 50 years of education…so far 😉

For grade levels, we consider the kids to be whatever they would be at the local public school. So Kid Uno (age 8) is 2nd grade, Kid Dos (age 6) is Kindergarten, and so on. But their personal new school years start on their half birthdays (or a bit later). So Kid Uno started AO Year 1 when she turned 6.5, and Kid Dos is still Year 0. I try to get to a good stopping place in their schedules before we take time off, especially if it will be several weeks off, but I can see that getting complicated as we have more kids moving up into school age. Unless there are unforeseen issues, we will always have a kid in alternating years (so next year the three older ones will be Year 3, Year 1, and Year 0).

I’m thinking about combining them when possible, but I also think one of the great advantages of homeschooling is that kids can work at a very individual level. Some things–some readings, singing, and memorizing–could be easy to do together (in Year 1 and 3).

OK, now for the actual scheduling. For Year 1, I used the AO Year 1 Schedule pretty much as is, while adding and dropping a couple things. Then I printed and stapled each term. Every day, when we completed something, I marked it off (or wrote in the box), and sometimes added notes on the bottom. Not very hi tech but it worked great for me. When I plan  Year 1 for Kid Dos , I will be making a lot more changes. It seemed like the readings weren’t spread out very evenly, and next time I can adjust that.  For example, the D’aulaire and Holling books need to be sped up. And I will be treating a week of camp at a working farm as part of nature study. And so on.

For Year 2, I made several more changes, and the subject categories were very different in my head from AO’s. So I used the AO Year 2 Schedule with a lot of modifications. Actually DH did most of the formatting, since his skills are far more up to date than mine. This year I had a much better idea of how long certain readings and projects would take, and the weekly flow has felt much smoother than last year.

For Year 3 (it’s only in my head so far), I think we will be departing quite a bit from AO’s schedule, and somewhat from the booklist. Mainly in science and history.  I’m feeling much more confident in knowing what materials are available, what is important for our family, what our kids’ interests are…and I’ve bought lots of books I’m more excited about using than some of the AO selections. 🙂  I feel like I have a good handle on how to do Charlotte Mason without being married to the AO way. So I can use it as a starting point, and then tweak it. And after completing a couple years, it’s getting easier to just choose a book, decide how long it should take, and divide up the chapters or pages or whatever into weekly readings. Or to look beyond books, and recognize a birthday origami kit as a handicraft, or raising bunnies and chicks as nature study, or future violin lessons as part of music appreciation.

I don’t really schedule Year 0. I print the Sonlight P4/5 book list, highlight the ones I like, and cross them off as we read them. Same for the Five in a Row booklists. And once the child is age six , I aim for 3-4 days per week of reading, writing, and arithmetic, plus lots of reading aloud, time outside, music, playing with friends…just regular family life.

in a nutshell, my scheduling method is

  • Pick the books, projects, activities, DVDs, or whatever else I want to use for a year
  • Divide them into three terms
  • Divide into weeks
  • Check them off as we go along

That way, I never really feel like we are behind; if we take time off, or miss a day, we just pick up where we left off. There’s no daily schedule. I like trimesters better than semesters or quarters. Enough variety, but enough time to get into a groove.

Oh, and I use the exam questions (modified to fit us), and DH spends 2-3 days or evenings administering the exam to Kid Uno at the end of each term. He records the answers, and I eavesdrop a bit; it’s entertaining! I like having him do it–it’s a bit of a safety net in case there is some huge gap or misunderstanding or weakness somewhere that I might have missed–he can alert me to it.

These two blogs have some helpful posts on scheduling:

http://sabbathmoodhomeschool.com/preparing-a-cm-schedule/

http://wildflowersandmarbles.com/2011/07/21/a-considered-booklist/

And it’s been very helpful to me to hash things out with a good friend whose kids are in the same year, and to bounce ideas off DH and my mom when I’m changing things around.

So that’s my rather anal box-checking scheduling…sometimes I wish I could just grab random books and say “Read this”…but I really like those nice little spreadsheets with things crossed off….it feels like such an accomplishment at the end of a week! 😉