We started our school year today. Overall, the day went very well. My kids were itching for some structure, and an early start will allow us to ease back into our school days and have a relaxing fall when we can take full advantage of the cooler weather. Gianna (age 6.5) has a full schedule this year. While I am always tempted by all the amazing schooling resources, in planning our curriculum I try to stay focused on the 3 R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic (reading and writing include phonics, spelling, grammar). Science, history, geography, poetry, music, and art round out our list of subjects, but most of these latter areas are addressed through real books and read alouds by mom, or living experiences like growing our own garden, drawing and crafts in the afternoon, and playing the piano. If I keep our focus on the 3 R’s, my kids will build a good foundation for life long learning, and also have plenty of creative free-play time.
Gianna is also preparing for 1st communion this year, so formal religious education will take place during our school days. In prior years, we did catechesis on the weekends or in the evenings with Dad. We are using Faith and Life by Ignatius Press, as well as The New Saint Joseph’s First Communion Catechism. Any other suggestions or recommended books?
One of the biggest challenges of our school year is keeping the younger ones occupied while my older children do school. Since so many of you have asked questions regarding this challenge, I will write a little about how I occupy my non-school age children. If you have additional tips or suggestions, PLEASE feel free to share them in the comments. The picture I paint below is a pretty one (we had a good day), but there are plenty of days when the interruptions are unceasing, and I’m at my wits end dealing with a fussy baby.
My baby Claire (10 months) is still taking a morning nap, so we have 1.5 hours each morning with a sleeping baby. I have to take full advantage of this time each day, which means putting the more teaching-intensive moments of our day into this window. We usually manage to get through most of the “mom’s full attention required” parts of our school day during Claire’s nap.
Gus (age 2.5) can be pretty destructive unless occupied with a great activity, so I bought some special school toys for him, and I also set him up with various pre-school activities while the older two do more formal schooling. Charlie (age 4.5) seems to drift back and forth between formal school workbooks and pre-school play activities. Today, I began our school day with the calendar (see below) and modeling clay, and both boys played with the clay for about 1/2 hour while Gianna did her math lesson. Gus then started sorting various objects (teddy bear counters and pattern blocks) by color, see photo below (and yes he is not wearing pants.)
Charlie quickly moved from modeling clay to his new math book, and he was finished with quite a few pages before I interrupted him and suggested he work with the magnet board and make some words. He immediately requested outdoor time. I obliged, and he and Gus went into the backyard to play while Gianna finished her last hour of school. We have a fence-enclosed yard, so when it is not raining my boys will both spend an hour each morning playing together in the yard. On rainy days, they play in a gate enclosed playroom, and while there is sometimes crying or complaining, they are usually able to play alone in that room for an hour while Gianna does the remainder of her school work.
After our formal written work is finished, we spend time reading books from our book basket. Mary Alice uses book baskets and was the first to introduce me to the idea. I put about 15 carefully selected books (history, poetry, bible stories, science, geography, social studies, seasonal books, etc.,) into the basket and I pick from the basket for our read aloud time (the kids can pick as well if we have time). I actually designed a “schedule” of the types of books I would read each day (so we are getting a well-rounded group of books). I rotate the books in the basket throughout the year, and in the afternoons or evenings the kids are welcome to select books from the regular shelves in our playroom. Ideally, we read for about 1/2 hour before and after lunch. Gus and Claire (if she is awake) can be disruptive during this time, so I will often save the longer stories for after lunch when the babies are napping or in quiet time. Some days I have Gianna read to Gus while I read Charlie some stories of his choice.
After lunch I read to the older two, and then my kids head into naps/quiet time. Gianna will read during this time, Charlie will play, and my babies nap (ideally, although Claire has been quiet difficult in this department lately).
And that’s a nice summary of our ideal homeschool day. As I mentioned above, there are plenty of days when the schedule does not go according to plan. From fussy babies to sick kids to tantrum-prone toddlers, we will have our fair share of interruptions. I plan on our school week lasting only 4 days, so the fifth day is a flex day used for co-ops and activities or catching up on core curriculum. I will also utilize afternoon quite time on days when we have had too many interruptions and haven’t accomplished enough tasks.
I hope this helps!