We have had so many requests for an in-depth look at how we juggle all our “curriculums” and activities that I finally sat down today to churn out this monster of a blog post. Its long. Really long. There were that many questions to answer. So for those that asked, here we go.
First of all, a philosophy of education is not a curriculum. Its a philosophy. In using various methods we have knit together our own family philosophy of education and in all likelihood it is different from everyone else’s because it is personalized for our particular family’s needs. Everyone’s personal philosophy of education will differ and that is a beautiful thing.
Let me begin by listing what we are using for each subject in our household of four boys aged 3-8 this year so everyone is on the same page.
Math: Saxon Math, Make Math Meaningful and Life of Fred
Science: Properties of Ecosystems (My Fathers World), Usborne experiment books, Beautiful Feet Books History of Science, The Giles Frontier Nature Study, My Father’s World Kindergarten, and finally, lots and lots and lots of nature walks with Wild Explorers Club or gathering finds for the Nature Pal Exchange.
History/Geography: My Father’s World Exploring Countries and Cultures, Stories of the Nations (Simply Charlotte Mason), Brave Companions by Dave McCollough, Pin it Maps.
Bible: MFW ECC (^^) Our 24 Family Ways by Clay and Sally Clarkson
Language Arts: Spelling Wisdom Book 1 (Simply Charlotte Mason) Student Intensive A (Institute for Excellence in Writing) Explode the Code (book 6 for my 7 year old, book 4 for my 8 year old), Linguistic Development through Poetry (IEW), Delightful Reading (Simply Charlotte Mason) My Father’s World Kindergarten
Fine Arts: Pottery Class, Drawing With Children, Guitar and piano at home, Artist study (Simply Charlotte Mason) Composer Study (Simply Charlotte Mason, Hymn Study (Simply Charlotte Mason).
Foreign Language: Memoria Press Prima Latina
Throw in A Year of Playing Skillfully (AYOPS) for my 3 year old (ok, ALL my kids because everyone loves it) and Classical Conversations for three out of four kids (and myself since I am the Director of our Community).
Is your head spinning? Mine is just from writing it all down. But we’ve established our daily rhythm and our understanding of how and why we are doing this so during the week it works for us!
Here is the first thing I establish when I look at my year. SEASONS. Not the usual four season of spring, summer, fall and winter, but the seasons of our activities.
Classical Conversation runs 24 weeks out of a 52 week year so I am all about getting lots done whenever CC isn’t going on. We always start our main curriculum, My Fathers World, in June. This year I will have a solid 10 weeks of school under my belt before the first day of Classical Conversations. (Hooray!) This gives me a huge lead as I navigate the rest of the year. By the time CC wraps its first term the week before Thanksgiving, I only sneak in one more week of MFW before we wrap for Advent. We like to take the whole month of December off to really enjoy Christmas together. We still do AYOPS, but its such a fun month that it feels light and easy. This year, my eldest will be using the month of December to review and work ahead towards Memory Master. We’ll see how that goes!
In January we start up again. By this point, our MFW year is nearing its end! We usually wrap up in March and CC ends in April. Now you are probably wondering about my K student. Well, he started Kindergarten in March of last year. Which means that while his brother’s were on “summer break” from March-May, I was making headway with my guy on his K work. It was so much fun to just focus on him for awhile and I am so thankful that I scheduled it that way. As a third born his normal speaking voice is a near shout! He definitely blossomed under that special one on one time and attention. Once his brother’s started in June he was so confident in his work and his rhythm that the transition was nearly seamless. Praise God!
I’m sure there are some readers thinking, heck no! I need everyone off at the same time and I need a break! But the truth is, for us, this is what works and its how we make it all work. Seasonal shifts in our schooling with the ability to focus in on a specific student during their neediest time of year. I’ve loved it and the work load is so much lighter during those seasons that it feels restful.
Which brings me to how we homeschool. We homeschool from a place of rest. If you have yet to read it, I encourage you to pick up Sarah Mackenzie’s book, “Teaching from a Place of Rest.” It is life giving and life changing. Friends, I feel called by God to homeschool my children and I am resting in His sovereignty and grace. I am not panicked about my children’s educations. I do my research and put it before the Lord in prayer. I make a plan, I pull the trigger and I adjust as God leads.
The main thing I do as a homeschool mom is stay flexible and adjust where needed. We are not teaching stagnant little robots. These are growing, changing, creative beings and their needs, interests, challenges, passions, and requirements evolve constantly. If we have pulled our children from a system that seeks to standardize, then we need to relish the opportunity to personalize!
Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education echoes my heartbeat when it comes to education. Classical Education is what my children enjoy. I read “Consider This” by Karen Glass and realized that these two philosophies can and do blend together beautifully. SO we school under an umbrella of CM/CC. We read tons of living books throughout the year and if its possible to accomplish it outside, then that is where you will find us. My goal is to blend Charlotte Mason and the Classical Approach together in all we do. We are in the midst of Charlotte Mason and the Grammar Stage and I can honestly say I wouldnt change it for the world! Additionally, The older two love interest led learning. The younger two thrive with Waldorf and Montessori flair sprinkled throughout their days.
How does that look on a typical day when all parts of our year are in full swing? First I’ll share a break down of our day and then I’ll share a bit about how I plan and prepare for smooth days. Here is an example from the month of October with greater detail than my previous scheduling posts:
Breakfast/ Morning Meeting
While I cook breakfast the older boys work on their Classical Conversations Geography maps which I keep at the breakfast table along with their dry erase markers. The youngest helps me prepare breakfast and sets the table as his practical life skill. I set out a pot of tea and do a quick round of “show me/tell me” with the maps, picking various locations from the past weeks or perhaps whatever they learned at community that week. Then I sit down and we pray and then sing a few of the hymns we have learned so far during hymn study. We discuss whatever habit we are currently cultivating. Sometimes its just a check in, sometimes we read a book or story pertaining to the trait, etc. Next I choose something out of our morning basket (We have something for each day of the week: Artist study, Composer study, hymn study, poetry study, catechism). We will do whatever was assigned for that day for a few minutes. It is short and focused. The point of this time is to nurture and inspire and awaken. Not to hammer or quiz or lecture. Next I will read from our current history read aloud (This year its Stories of the Nations from Simply Charlotte Mason). Next we go over any big assignments for that day or appointments, errands, etc. or we write thank you notes or notes of encouragement to others for a couple minutes. We sing CC’s scripture passage that we are learning for that cycle (This year we are all memorizing Ephesians 6) and we end the meeting. The boys go and make their beds, change out of their pajamas, brush their teeth and clear off the table. 10 minutes later we meet up in the classroom.
The Block Schedule
We begin our lessons on the hour. Math is always, always first. (Leigh Bortins has an excellent explanation of this block schedule process in the first portion of the 4th edition Foundations Guide and I will state from the outset that the block schedule is the heartbeat of our rhythm and without it this circus would go up in FLAMES). We sit down to the table together and practice skip counting, counting in tens, counting up to five hundred, counting backwards from 200, whatever! We all do it together, out loud. The younger ones benefit from hearing the older ones recite for a few minutes. Then I pull out one of my prepared math trays or activities for my 5 year old and 3 year old to do. I pull out the Saxon lesson for my older boys and we work through the new concept and then they do their lesson. While they do their lesson, I pull my five year old over for a math game. Anything I do with him regarding math is just for fun and mostly interest led. If he’s into bugs, we count bugs or put them in ordinal positions. This is not a huge drawn out thing. It is brief and fun and I leave him wanting more. Which is KEY for getting little guys to like school. Next up, I get my three year old and do a morning circle time with him. We read a Waldorf story and play with his wooden animals. We sing songs and he spends lots of time sitting on my lap and getting that pressure hug he craves so much as a sensory needs little. Usually the older boys finish up while we are in circle. Sometimes they wander over and join in, sometimes they run outside to play or ride bike, sometimes they pick up art supplies or knitting needles or legos and do their own thing. I wrap up with the younger ones and then I usually have just enough time (10-15 minutes) to throw in a load of laundry or do a quick chore or answer emails or scream into a pillow. On some hours, we all finish at the same time and we go outside to enjoy our farm and play in the back hollow together. Or sometimes the elders will be working and the littles need something hands on so we leave the classroom and go to the kitchen to bake bread or assemble a pie while the elder brothers wrap things up in silence. Point is, on the next hour, everyone comes back and is mentally refreshed and ready for the next topic.
We transition with our CC Memory Work. The subject that comes after Language Arts is History. So we will sing our history sentence as we gather up for history. Or our Geo song as we gather for geography, etc. Transition time is review time for CC. We usually close out our morning by singing the Timeline song and adding anything new we learned into our individual book of centuries. And this is how our morning progresses. We all gather on the hour and recite our work together and then move to our respective work in shifts. The older boys have slowly been working towards independent learning for years and now its really paying off! I can explain what they need to do and they execute with minimal guidance as they progress. As they work, I continue with the 5 year old. Having fun and learning new things and planting little seeds of independence that will help him in years to come. Then the 5 and 3 year old repeat AYOPS activity or start a new one. We have anywhere from 5-7 options available for them to choose from. We sometimes play games to learn new subjects to help our kinesthetic learner. When we do spelling I have to input each word verbally into my eldest son’s head since he is visually disorganized. My youngest son’s therapy always happens in the middle hour while everyone else is working. My third born needs at least 5 minutes of my undivided attention every hour or he will absolutely break down (This is one of the reasons why he is the only one with his own desk/workspace). My second born is always looking for something to do, and I don’t mean some useless cutesy pinterest craft, I mean something to do that is useful and valuable and of importance. Its a lot to juggle and I had to pay close attention to figure out all these specific needs and by the time I pinned them down they were usually starting to change. This means I am constantly on my toes but the truth is…I can do this because I am the world’s leading non divine expert on these children. He gave them to me, He called me to do this, He listens to my petitions and cares about my cries and He ultimately equips me in ways I didn’t know were possible!
By the time lunch rolls around we usually have finished math, language arts and history/geography. I do this purposely so that if we are having a hard day and its all going up in flames I can call off school for the rest of the day and hide in my bathroom and eat chocolate. Its good to get the basics down and done by noon. The rest of the day is icing on the cake! I make lunch and the kids blow off steam. I always hope they’ll choose to do and pleasant lovely things but usually they just wrestle and beat each other up in the living room and holler like crazy. Eventually I’ll call one over to set the table, usually its a recently injured child that needs a breather. We all gather at the table for the meal and sing the Doxology. I pull several books from our book basket for the week (K and ECC) and we read aloud as we eat. I pause between books to get some of my lunch in too! Lunch is long and leisurely and we often chat and share ideas. I love it. At the end of lunch the boys do their narrations for the day. Sharing what they have heard and absorbed and what they know. Sometimes I will pull out a large piece of block paper and ask them to draw something for me while I ask them questions. This is how I administer tests. They narrate, create, explain and make connections while I jot down notes. They never even realize they are being tested.
Quiet Time/Nap Time
Mandatory. Thats all I can say. Hate napping? Fine. Lay in bed and listen to audiobook. Its quiet time. Don’t want quiet time? I will give you the grossest job in the house to do on constant repeat until you beg for quiet time. I need quiet time. Every day. Cant function without it. Also, kids need quiet time. They need time to process what they have learned. They need time to ponder and wonder and just be. So yes, we have quiet time at my house every single day.We do it in shifts. The younger two usually listen to Ted Jacobs poetry CDs or The Jesus Storybook Bible, Beatrix Potter, AA Milne, etc. Something lovely and calming. The older boys and I get the detail work done during this time. Things they can only do when their little brothers arent around to mess it up. Usually art or weaving or detailed recordings in their science journals. We spend about 30 minutes doing that and then we move on to either Latin or Science. Once we are done the older boys go to their rooms for some quiet time and the younger ones bust outta their rooms like bats from a cave. The older boys use their time to play with legos or knit new projects and listen to GA Henty or Lamplighter audio books. The littles and I play, play, play, play, play. Usually its some kind of game involving letters of the alphabet or animas or naming things, etc. The older boys join us by the end because they LOVE AYOPS! I usually leave them playing skillfully together while I drink tea or read a book and just grab a few minutes for myself. On days when I just cant do anything organized because I am sick or have cramps or am seriously considering sending them all to school and going back to work, then I plop them in front of the TV and my substitute teacher Ms Frizzle teaches them for a bit while I decompress. I never ever regret it.
Nature Time/Poetry Teatime
Usually around 3pm we are ready for a snack. If we didnt get enough outdoor time in the morning between subjects, then we will grab a snack and head out for a walk. If we’re pretty tired, I set out a tablecloth, break out a large pot of tea and we read poetry while we eat snacks. I’ve said it on here before, if I feed them, they will come. I provide snacks and tea and they come to the table and soak up poetry. Its wonderful and quite possibly, my favorite thing we do.
At 4 pm I start making dinner and my boys clean the house. They bless our family by doing work so that when Daddy gets home we can enjoy dinner together and relax and play afterwards. They clean up books, put away legos, sweep the floors, wipe down counters, stack dishes, put away laundry, collect dirty laundry and toss it into the machine, etc. I love Blessing Hour and definitely feel the burden of housework when it falls by the wayside. I always spend a couple of minutes of Blessing Hour making sure my littlest littles know what they are doing. At other times of the week I will work with them to teach them how to do certain tasks. For example, learning to do dishes. They watch me do dishes several times, we do dishes together several times, I help them do dishes several times, I watch them do dishes several times and finally, I walk away and they do dishes by themselves forever and ever, AMEN! The process takes many long weeks but its worth it for smooth days in the future! If you are wondering, dishes is actually next on my list for a couple of my kiddos and I cant wait!
Depending on the day of the week, we usually eat dinner right when Dad gets home. Sometimes we have sports practice afterwards, sometimes we have small group, but during most seasons, its just family dinner every night of the week which is an extremely high priority for us. I say NO to a lot of things around us so I can say YES to family dinners. We read our Bible stuff during this time and we enjoy it together. After we eat its free time. Romp around the farm, play music, read books, watch a fun movie together.
Boys shower, brush teeth and get to bed (8/8:30). We read books with the littles and then turn on their audiobook. I sit in the rocking chair in the older boys room and we read an awesome book together. Right now its Anne of Green Gables! Once that is done its Mommy and Daddy time!
And that is a typical day for us in the fall. Exception? Our community day which is CC all day long. Or Fridays, which has us doing a nature walk or beach day most of the afternoon and then working on our individual presentations for Classical Conversation’s next community day. We hold strict school hours. We have to. Friends can come play after school hours. On days when we say, “sure! come over whenever” it all falls to the wayside. We hold hard and fast to our rhythm because after many years of trial and error we stumbled into what works and its up to me to guard the boundaries and protect it.
So how do I prepare for all this learning? At the beginning of the year I set character goals and education goals and make sure they match up. If I have an education goal they dont have the character to realistically accomplish, then I need to readjust! I plan lessons by month. First, I make sure that our lessons are short and focused. This keeps their attention and also grows their habit of attention slowly over time. I always leave them wanting more and I often leave them open ended so they boys can chase the spark of interest from what they have learned if they chose to do so. I do use a homeschool planner (Debra Bell’s planner) and fill it out with our block schedule. I coordinate everyone’s subjects to the appropriate hour. I look at all the science experiments we are doing that month and then never, ever assign them a specific day. This helps me not feel like a failure when I fail to do it on that day. Instead I assign them to a week which gives me a little breathing room. I look at our AYOPS curriculum for that month and I pick out whatever is easy and most affordable first. Then I look at anything I can do an approximation of using whatever I happen to have on hand. It wont be perfect, but it will be close thanks to creativity and mother necessity. Then I pick one or two awesome new things that just look too good to pass up and I plan on doing it no matter what. I take an evening to prepare all this stuff while my hubby watches the kids or they all watch a movie. Oftentimes I will place activities on trays or in plastic bins (think Montessori style) and I leave them for my kids to use. The understanding is that they maintain the freedom to do this as long as they clean up each time they complete an activity. Leave it messy? Lose the freedom till you earn it back. Next I make copies of whatever worksheets the boys need (which isnt many b/c I loathe handouts) and then I go onto my public library site and start putting books on hold for the next few units. If the children have expressed particular interest or curiosity over something, this is also the time when I try and sneak some of that in wherever I can for them just to keep them LOVING what they do all day.
This is probably the longest, most thorough post I have ever written. If you are still reading its probably because you are desperate for help so its time for me to encourage you. Running out and doing a carbon copy of my day is probably not going to go very well. I shared this much detail so you can see how much thought went into juggling all these personalities and learning styles. You need to crack your own family’s code. Here are the steps I recommend you take.
1) PRAY. Pray and ask God to open your eyes to your family’s needs and to His will.
2) Make a list of character goals and education goals for your child(ren). Ask yourself if the education goals or appropriate to the character/habits your child already possesses. For example, you want your child to do something independently everyday for 10 minutes. Can the child follow directions? how long is their attention span when no one is keeping them on course? etc. You may need to push the education goal back for a few months or a year and work on the character/habit goals they need to accomplish the education goal.
3)Spread everything out somewhere and have your spouse or a parent or a friend join you in the eagle eye assessment.
4) TRIM THE FAT. Go ahead. You don’t need to do every single thing the curriculum says to do. Maybe opt out of something and be creative with something you know your children will respond to. Are your kids little? Do they have time to think and play?
5) Find your balance. If you have more than one kid then you have more than one personality and you are officially in need of juggling skills. Make a rhythm for your family in PENCIL on a plain ole scrap of paper. Don’t laminate anything, you’ll just hate yourself later. Write it so you can erase it and try something else. Do this until you find a groove! Maybe your kids learn best at night? Maybe they need the hard subject first and thebest subject last so they have something to look forward to. Maybe its flip flopped. Maybe they need hard work first and you start the day off with chores. Maybe you want to book end the day with beauty so you end the day with “morning time.” Whatever you discover works best for your family and all the unique personalities and learning styles therein, jot it down and be willing to change it as time goes on and people keep changing.
6) LEARN TO SAY NO. Practice it in the mirror if you have to. And if you cant say no then practice saying “not right now.” As Sonya Schafer says, “not right now” is a firm no that leaves you open to the opportunity at a later date.
7) MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF (and hubby too). Kick junior out of your bedroom and have a faculty meeting with the world’s hottest principle. Or have a parent teacher conference at the local nail salon or coffeehouse. Don’t let yourself get down to a frazzled mess before you call time out. Its something I am working on now.
8) PRAY again over everything you’ve decided.
9) PULL THE TRIGGER. Its never going to be perfect, just go for it!
10) STAY FLEXIBLE. Be willing to adjust the plan as you go along.