How can I best structure our homeschooling day with my large family?
I need help with how to structure our day in our Heart of Dakota homeschooling. My children are ages 13 (MTMM), 10 (CTC), 8 (Bigger), 6 (Beyond), 3 (wild toddler), and baby (nursing). We get up around 7 AM and try to have a 20 minute “meeting” to sing a worship song, review/discuss memory verses, and pray together. This tends to go long, and some of the children are grumpy. Then, we have breakfast, which is chaotic and takes 45 minutes to an hour. I really lose the focus of the littles at this point. After breakfast, my olders start their independent work. The middle, in Bigger, does math, cursive, sometimes spelling, and practices piano. I work with my 6 yo and sometimes the 3 yo.
I need to structure my 6 yo’s homeschooling and my 3 yo’s day better.
I have all the 6 yo’s hardest things first – not the best way to structure her day. We do math, copywork, spelling, and reading (TRL). TRL is pretty hard now. Generally we have to have a pep talk to get it done. Copywork takes her a long time. In that first block with my 6 yo I also do poetry and Bible. These are easy for her, and she likes them. I also take a 15 minute break to nurse the baby and put her down for her nap. Sometimes my 3 yo is just racing around with a car and making a lot of noise. I should probably find some guidelines for him, so he is not so disruptive. If I get distracted, my 6 yo often runs off or starts doing something else. Then, I have to find her or call her back, which frustrates me greatly.
I need to structure my second block of time and my oldest daughter’s day differently.
For my second block of time, I work with the 8 yo. I nurse baby again. Before lunch, I try to work with my oldest, who I’ve had to remind to get back to work often by then. (Granted, she has a very long independent block; I’m sure I’d find it difficult to work that long without a break or distraction. Not the best structure for her either!) Lunch is chaotic and long. After lunch I finish with the oldest, then the 6 yo, then the 8yo – mostly read-alouds. Baby often interrupts, as well as the other children. Focus is a problem throughout the day. When it is sunny and 70 degrees and knowing cold weather lies ahead, sometimes I just say “forget it” and don’t finish the rest of the day. I know I’m in an intensive time, but thanks for any help or encouragement you can give!
“Ms. Please Help Me Structure My Homeschooling Day Better”
Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Structure My Homeschooling Day Better,”
You have such a busy household that it is no wonder that you are finding it a challenge to school right now! Especially as you are starting new guides and also happen to be doing Beyond and Bigger at the same time (not to mention nursing a babe with a busy 3 year-old in tow)! I know that we can talk through some things that will help you find a pace that works for you. Not all of our suggestions may work, but hopefully you will find a few ideas that will be of help.
Some Suggested Changes in Structure for Your 6 Year Old
I have a few suggested changes in structure for your 6 year-old. First, I’d shift to half-speed Beyond for a while. She is on the youngest age range and is struggling a bit with the workload. Shifting to half-speed would help both you and the 6 year-old. It will also enable you to spread out your 6 year old’s tougher subjects over 2 days. I would do phonics daily. However, I’d shift to doing a very short phonics session (7-10 minutes daily). Since she’s balking at The Reading Lesson right now, you can just write the words from The Reading Lesson on a markerboard one at a time to be read. Or, you can do just half a page of each day (covering up the rest of the page, so it is less daunting). Keeping the sessions short and sweet will help make phonics less stressful right now.
Changing the Structure of Your Day by Choosing a Realistic Start Time
Second, I would change the structure of your day by choosing a start time for your teaching part of the day that is realistic. So, for example if you set your start time at 9:00 or 9:30 AM, then you won’t feel like you are behind when you do begin. Also, if your kiddos enjoy sleeping in, a later start time will allow for this. We still start my youngest child at 9:20 AM even now! That is my first formal teaching time of the day, which works for me as I am not a morning person. We do have our older kiddos begin on their own earlier, which you could definitely consider doing with your older children.
Thoughts on How to Structure Your Older Children’s Day
Our two oldest sons begin at 7:15 AM, with our third oldest son beginning at 7:45 AM. We eat breakfast at 9:00 AM, meaning breakfast prep begins around 8:30 or 8:40 AM. Our older kiddos enjoy their quiet work time before everyone else gets up. They do the same assigned independent subjects during their time each morning. This way I know what to expect they will have done and what will be left to do. When it is time for breakfast, they come and eat quickly and then return right away to their subjects. Two of my boys also do 45 minutes to 1 hour of assigned subjects for school the evening before from 8:00-9:00 PM at night. This really helps them feel like they are ahead going into the next day. They do the same assigned subjects each evening. You could consider doing this as well.
Thoughts on How to Structure Your Early Morning and Breakfast Time
Third, I would suggest a structure change of removing your group meeting time. You mentioned that this morning time often goes longer than planned and that you lose the little ones’ focus. With this in mind, I would instead make breakfast as short and succinct as possible. Assign your older kiddos breakfast clean-up chores to do while you begin working with your 3 year-old right after breakfast. I would do 15 minutes of Little Hands to Heaven (only doing half of the boxes each day). This will fill your 3 year-old’s need for attention right away after breakfast (while your olders are cleaning up). Your 8 year-old could also be getting out all needed books in preparation for you to do the left side of Bigger Hearts.
Thoughts on How to Structure Your Time with Your 8 Year-Old
After that 15 minutes with your 3 year-old, I’d structure time for either your 6 year-old or your oldest to play with the 3 year-old for 30 minutes, while you work with your 8 year-old. During this 30 minute time with your 8 year-old, I’d do as much of the left side of Bigger Hearts as possible, placing last anything on the left side he could continue doing on his own after you need to move on to teach another. After that, your 3 year-old could have 30 minutes to either watch an instructional DVD or play alone in a room nearby with quiet toys and books. He could have a quiet, calming music CD playing. A small snack may help too. During this time you could work with your oldest child to check his/her work and go over anything needed from your teaching in order to move forward.
How to Structure Some More Meeting Times and Recess
After this, I’d structure a time to have either the 8 year-old or your oldest play with the 3 year-old for 30 minutes. During this time, I’d meet with the 6 year-old to do either the left or right side of Beyond. I’d alternate left and right sides by day, since this child would be doing Beyond half-speed. During this time, the child not playing with the 3 year-old would do independent work from her guide. Next, I’d have a 30 minute group recess where they all play together. This would be your time to regroup, throw in a load of laundry, pick up, correct schoolwork, glance at dinner prep. etc. When recess is over, I’d have the child who has not yet played with the 3-year old do that for 30 minutes while you go back to working 30 more minutes with your Bigger Hearts child.
A Possible Structure for the Day After Lunch
After lunch, you could have phonics with your 6 year-old while your 8-year old works on math/cursive/copywork etc. nearby. Your three-year old could either be watching an instructional video or playing with toys or doing computer (whichever task wasn’t done in the morning). Then, I’d have one more session each with your 8 year-old and oldest child to finish out their work, and you are done! (This is assuming that the CTC child has worked earlier in the morning and/or the evening before on her school.) Then, all could have another 30 minute recess together while you regroup.
Choosing a Structure That Focuses on the 3 Year-Old for 30 Minutes at a Time
As you can see from what I’ve shared above, I’m putting the focus on a structure that includes scheduling the 3 year-old’s day in 30 minute increments. While this seems crazy when you have so many other kiddos to be teaching, it does make sense to spend time planning around the 3 year-old. This is because a 3 year-old can derail a school day more quickly than anything else. This is usually where one of the huge stressors in homeschooling comes from! Honestly, babies are easier to morph into the mix than a wild 3 year-old!
A Structure That Takes Advantage of the Beginning of the Day’s Initial Energy and Attention Levels
You can also see from what I’ve shared above that within a few hours of starting your day you can have taught most of the left side of Bigger and much of Beyond. Likewise, you can also have checked on your older child’s work to propel that child forward. By touching base with each kiddo for 30 minutes and by planning for your 3 year-old, your day will start better. Plus, by getting started right away with individual students, rather than by trying to keep their attention as a group, you take advantage of your energy right away too in getting everyone going on their guides.
Just Some Brainstorming Ideas to Start Realistically and Strong in the Morning
Anyway, this is just to get you brainstorming about ways to start realistically and strong in the morning. Your actual schedule may differ as you know your kiddos best. I am hoping that these ideas are an encouragement to you, as I know the load can be heavy. We all need encouragement to persevere in this calling. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Since it is not, we need the Lord, and we need one another along this path. I am so thankful for all of you, who share from your hearts as we journey together.