This week I am so privileged to be guest posting over at Activity Village. This site is my absolute favourite for colouring pages, puzzles, and fun printable things. I am talking about different ways I use some of their colouring pages. Check it out! While you’re there, have a poke around the site. They have some great resources.
I will be honest with you. Sometimes my days are hard. As much as I like people to think that we all wake up cheerfully and plunge into fascinating, delight-driven learning, where everyone is enthusiastic and our conversations are riveting, where my children flow seamlessly from exploring a fascinating maths concept to discussing the Fall of Rome to designing and crocheting their own blankets, all before lunch – that’s just not my life. We do have some great conversations. One day they might crochet a blanket. But often, I have to convince them that learning is a good idea. Sometimes, I know that we should be doing a nature walk, but I can’t face the thought of getting coats and boots on everyone, tramping out in the wind, to look at nature that I then have to convince them to draw or write about in their nature journals. It just seems too hard.
But you know what? Some things work, without seeming to take any effort from me. And that could be because some of my kids are now big enough to help out, and can get things done for me (I’m learning the wonderful art of delegation!). But I think that it is mostly because of the two Rs – Rhythm and Ritual.
I have discovered that when we are in a rhythm, the next thing just happens. This is totally different to the “S” word. Here in the Disorganised Homeschool, schedule makes me twitch. I just can’t keep to them. They make me stressed out (Although, I do call the girls’ bookwork lists “schedule books”. Go figure).
Rhythm, unlike a schedule, is a flowing, a beat. When we finish lunch, the girls always go and get books and head up for Rest Time. I never have to remind them and I never ever have to convince them. It’s not because they are weird or drugged – I used to have to convince them way back when. But now, it’s just so much part of our day that it just happens. It’s not discussed any more than we would discuss whether we are eating dinner that day. It’s easy.
Other examples of beautiful, easy rhythm in our family are Bible time in the morning, read alouds over lunch, Maths Drill, and our morning checkpoints. None of those things take any effort whatsoever on my part any more (Except breaking up squabbles over emptying the dishwasher during checkpoints. I may have rhythm, but my kids are still humans).
I was reflecting on all this yesterday morning. A week or two ago I talked about what our days look like. I mentioned in that post that I wanted to get in the habit of everyone running up and down the street for some exercise between Maths Drill and bookwork. I tried it, and I got arguments. Lots of arguments, and complaints. But I put on my Mummy steel-capped boots and insisted that we do it anyway. Yesterday, a beautiful thing happened. After Maths Drill, the kids got up, went and put their shoes on, and ran outside. Suddenly, it wasn’t hard, and didn’t take energy. It just happened.
The second R is ritual. Rituals are the little things that anchor the rhythm in place. Like rhythm, they take a little while to set up, but then, they just happen. They come to be expected, and appreciated, and missed when they are not there. They can be things that you do, or things that you use. Like lighting a candle on the dinner table. It’s a small gesture, but it anchors the dinner, makes it special, sets it apart from other meals.
So, here are some of the rituals here in the Disorganised Homeschool. We always start Bible time with our School Day Prayer, and we always finish it with the Grace. We always use the same pens for Maths Drill. We always use our teacups with cornflowers for poetry teatime. For our monthly movie night, we always have hot dogs and popcorn for dinner.
As you might have guessed, I am not an organised person. Being consistent is really, really hard for me, and takes a huge amount of energy. Lots of people think that I am organised. I try hard not to laugh in their face. Because I’m not. I’m really, really not. The thing that makes me seem organised, makes me feel organised, is rhythm and ritual. What are the rhythms and rituals that make your days flow smoothly? I would love to know.
Last Saturday, my dining table was strewn with scissors, markers, glue, tape, and bits of paper. An innocent viewing of a video changed the course of our day, even our week – we had discovered hexaflexagons. The morning became filled with talk of equilateral triangles, folding directions, flexing, and trying to find hidden faces.
Hexaflexagons are strips of paper which are folded into equilateral triangles, then twisted into hexagons. By pinching and pulling on them, known as flexing, you can expose three different faces (for the simple trihexaflexagons). They are fun to make and addictive to play with. We discussed geometry (how to make an equilateral triangle, how to fold a strip into a hexagon), history (how they were discovered), and how a 2-dimensional shape with two obvious faces can somehow have a third face (mind=blown!). We decorated them and tried to make cool patterns when they were flexed. It was a beautiful fusion of maths and art. Even better because it was a Saturday morning and we were learning without any thought of “school”.
Things took a further turn (flex?) yesterday when maths made its way into lunch. Inspired by Vi Hart, we decided to make hexaflexamexagons. The results were messy, but tasty. They didn’t work as well as we hoped, mostly because of the cheap tortillas I bought, but they were fun, and we had some success. We’ll definitely be making them again.
This is what I love about a family culture of learning. It inspires exploration, creation, and fun. It feeds our minds, and sometimes our stomachs, too!
I decided after a hiatus of 18 months that it was about time to revive this blog. I let it slide because life was just too busy to commit to it. Life is still busy, but now that Rosebud is two, I feel like my head is kind of coming out above water again. Sometimes.
I could do a long boring post of all the news since I last blogged, but it would be, well, long and boring. So I am going to give you a snapshot of what our days look like now, and the news can filter in where it’s relevant.
I looked back over my last day in the life post. Some things have changed dramatically. Some are pretty similar.
Our Homeschool Day in the Life (March 2018)
6am: My alarm still goes off at 6am. On the good days, I stumble out of bed and shuffle downstairs, thinking to myself that 30-mumble hurts a lot more than I expected it to at 20. On the other days I lie in bed reminding myself that consistency and diligence is the key to a successful day. Sometimes it works.
When I do make it to the kitchen I make tea and sit down with my Bible, resisting the urge to look at my phone. After some quiet time I sometimes call my family in Australia, or sit there succumbing to the phone temptation, or enter a tea-drinking time warp.
7am: Gone are the days that I need to put on music to wake the kids up. Rosebud has a Grow Clock and at seven every morning enthusiastically goes to every room to inform everyone that “Mr Sun’s Up!”. They come down and get themselves breakfast, I chat to my husband for a bit then go and have a shower.
My strategy for keeping the mornings running is a thing called Checkpoints. Every morning by 8am the kids need to be up, dressed, hair brushed and beds made. By 8:45 they need to be done with breakfast, emptied the dishwasher, and tidied the kitchen. If they have done all this they can play, but only if it’s all done and only until 8:45. After 8:45 they need to get ready for school, which involves cleaning teeth, making hair neat, using the toilet or getting a drink or a jumper or slippers if they need to, and getting the Bibles out. By 9am they all need to be at the table, ready to work.
I used to have lots of complaints about Checkpoints. But now they mostly accept them, and the definitely keep our morning flowing. Because the kids know what they need to do by when, it means they can get on with it, and I can get on with my own tasks – vacuuming the kitchen and lounge (which I do every day, because Dog); feeding said dog; putting washing on; doing a quick tidy; saying goodbye to my husband; drinking more tea and mentally girding my loins for the day.
9am: We meet at the table for Bible Time. We do our school day prayer, read the passage in the Bible that we are up to, and do our catechism question. We use the New City Catechism, and it has a song for each question and answer. Dancing sometimes breaks out. Once we have composed ourselves we go around the table and pray, each saying a Thank you and a Please prayer. We finish with the Grace, then into…. Maths Drill! I give them a 25 question sheet with basic maths facts, set a stopwatch, and they complete it as fast as they can. Buttercup does just one column, the older two do the sheet.
9:30ish: With Bible Time and maths drill done, we head into bookwork. The weather here has been awful the last few months, and we’ve hunkered down inside a lot. But a couple of weeks ago it was sunny one morning and I made everyone go outside between maths drill and bookwork and run up and down the street a few times. It made things go much better through the morning, so I would like it to be a regular thing.
We use a variety of resources for bookwork. Sonlight, IEW, Conquer Maths, Miquon Maths, Reading Eggs. XTB Bible notes, and some random bits and pieces. They each have a folder of “fillers” to do if they finish early or are stuck and waiting for my help. The fillers have some colouring, some word/maths puzzles, a fiction book, and a non-fiction book.
I spend this part of the morning going between kids helping with maths problems, explaining writing tasks, listening to Buttercup read, checking work, motivating, dealing with squabbles, helping Rosebud find things to do, stopping Rosebud drawing on people’s work, preparing food, and sometimes, if I am lucky, getting washing on or out. Tea is consumed during this time.
10:30ish: We pause our bookwork mid morning for a snack and our history read aloud, and geography song. This is a recent thing. I used to have all our Sonlight Core read alouds and work in one spot as a morning basket at the start of the day. But we were starting bookwork too late and maths and writing weren’t getting done. So I tried doing it as an afternoon basket. But it just meant that there were a few months were the Core work just didn’t get done. So now I have split it. We do Bible at the start of the day, History, Geography songs and Aesop’s Fables at morning tea time, literature at lunch and dinner, poetry during our weekly Poetry Teatime (more on that later), and catch up on everything else on Friday afternoon. It seems to be working better, although the jury is still out on the Friday afternoon slot.
After morning tea everyone goes back to finishing off bookwork. Rosebud goes down for a nap at about 11, which gives me a lot more freedom to help people finish off work and get lunch ready. I am trying to be organised and get dinner prep happening here too, but this is the Disorganised Homeschool, so don’t worry – it doesn’t always happen.
12:30: When everyone has pretty much finished their bookwork, we sit down for lunch. Sometimes Rosebud is awake for this, other times she is still asleep. We eat, and I read our current literature read aloud. This is an Institution. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday, a Sunday, or the middle of the school holidays. I am expected to read while we eat lunch, unless we are running late or I am too tired, in which case I put my foot down in order to hurry everyone off to….
1pm: Rest Time. We still maintain this time with religious fervour. I don’t get any arguments from anyone about this time. Everyone scatters to their bedrooms. The kids each have a calico bag which is their “Rest Time Bag”. Like a library bag, they fill it with books, take it upstairs, and (in theory), bring it down again at the end to put the books away. Before you run away screaming “Oh no! This is looking organised! Run for your lives!”, I still have to go on a book hunt at least once a week, and still daily go looking for a culprit who has Not Brought Down Their Bag. But it’s a nice idea in theory, so I cling to it.
2pm: Rest Time finishes, and the girls come down and watch an episode of The Famous Five, while I make more tea and take a deep breath for the afternoon. After they have watched, they are hungry, and we go into our afternoon activity. I am trying to create a rhythm to our week. So, in theory, on Monday we do Nature Study, Tuesday is free for either catching up on housework, visiting people or just having a free afternoon, Wednesday we catch up on missed bookwork or do art or handicraft. Thursday is given over to Poetry Teatime and science experiments. Friday is our Core Session, where we catch up on any read alouds, do art appreciation, watch YouTube clips, and do timeline and map work.
The afternoons are a work in progress. The only consistent thing we do is Poetry Teatime, where we sit around with nice china and read poetry. I could say more but really it deserves its own blog post, so stay tuned.
3:30ish: When our afternoon activity is over, we are supposed to do housework. Often we scatter to play. I’m working on it.
5pm: As the kids get older, life gets busier. At the moment we have evening activities on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Otherwise it’s play, dinner prep, and tidying up from the day.
6pm: Dinner, and more reading aloud of our current book. We are way ahead on our literature read alouds, and that includes adding in extra books. I often get asked to read more than one chapter, because we just need to know what happens next. I love the books we are being exposed to through Sonlight, and the fact that reading together is such a part of our family culture.
7pm: We move into bedtime routines, and after we have cleaned up the kitchen, my husband and I collapse on the couch, or head to bed to read for a while before we succumb to exhaustion and fall asleep, ready to repeat it all tomorrow.
Phew, what a long post! Thanks for sticking with me to the end. I would love to hear what your daily rhythm is like.
Apologies that I haven’t posted yet this week – we’re on a home education camp with limited internet but lots of fun, food for thought, and that all-important socialisation that we apparently miss by not being in school.
I’m loving the old-time village atmosphere, where the kids roam free together and come home when they are hungry, you don’t have to lock your door, the young people are respectful and helpful, and there’s a strong sense of community.
I’m loving the teaching, and the conversations with people. They are fun, and deep, and inspiring.
I’m loving the rest from preparing lessons and supervising writing and maths, even though I am still washing and cooking and doing dishes.
I’ve made blackberry crumble from berries my kids foraged for me. I’ve watched my kids do country dancing, and run off hand in hand with new friends, and find the courage to look an adult in the eye and thank them (a big step for us).
I’ve stayed up way too late chatting with old and new friends, and wrestled my kids into bed when they really just want to keep playing.
It’s great, and I will post again when it’s done and normal life hits. For now, I need to sleep and get some energy for tomorrow. And see if I can find somewhere with enough internet to post this….
There has been a much longer gap than I intended between posts. It’s partly my fault – I had a little incident with a cup of tea and my computer. But it is also because despite our plan to school through summer, these August days we have found it soooo hard to stay in routine.
Some of that is the weather. We have had some lovely sunshine and it’s hard to sit at home with books open when we could be outside, catching up with friends and watching Rosebud explore the great outdoors. She had her first taste of sand and her first taste of grass this summer.
Some of that is a sleep deprived Mama. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in living memory, and it is starting to get to me just a little bit. Our mornings have been derailed by me sleeping in and then struggling to hit the ground running.
Some of it is, I think, that the kids know that all their school friends are on holidays. There is a bit of a holiday atmosphere in the air, and it’s permeated its way into our household.
Some of it is that my school planning has been in a state of flux. Buttercup is hitting compulsory school age now, and so although we started our school year in January, I kind of feel like we are having a mini start to the year in September. The back to school sales and all the pictures online of people starting school haven’t helped.
Whatever the cause, our summer days have been lazy. Which is good, I think. It’s nice to take a month to slow down, do a little less, and breathe, reflect and plan. We’ve had shorter weeks, and I am loving it. I’m hoping it will give us the stamina to carry on till the end of the year.
Along the way, I’m remembering how much learning actually happens when we don’t let education get in the way. I’ve watched the kids playing for hours in the backyard, reinventing their own version of Swallows and Amazons. I’ve seen epic Lego masterpieces, and elaborate cardboard sweet factories being built. I’ve seen loads of children snuggled in various places and positions with books, and overheard them reading poetry to each other. I have seen one learn to be generous to and care for a sister she was struggling to relate to, and I have seen them learn valuable life lessons in decluttering and saying goodbye to things.
Our family life has been quite busy, and it won’t settle down for another month or so yet. But I think, on reflection, it has been a good summer. Today it’s cold and wet and it feels like summer is ending. All our normal activities will be starting up again soon. I’m trying to work out how to tweak our days to run more smoothly, so that we can finish the year well. There’s a bit more tweaking to do still, so watch this space – I’ll let you know how we go.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. How has your summer gone (if it’s summer in your part of the world)? Are you feeling ready and energised for the months ahead, or are you hiding under a blanket hoping that no one will notice?
I was thinking today about how much I love home educating. Some days I think I don’t. Days when one child is yelling about how she doesn’t like maths, another child is telling me that she hates school, another child is scribbling all over her work, the baby is getting into everything she shouldn’t, and the dog is dragging her manky blanket over all the school books.
But those days are few and far between. Not the days when the baby gets into everything. That happens most days (She’s “helping” me type this right now). I mean the days when I just want to load everyone into the car and push them out at the nearest school gate, then drive like a mad woman to the airport.
Most days, I sit and watch the learning happening, and think “I’m so blessed to be able to do this”.
Today I saw Snugglepot draw a picture in her history journal of grave robbers robbing a beehive-shaped tomb of a Mycenaean king. I saw Bookworm drawing a picture of the birth of the Greek goddess Athena from Zeus’ head, and I saw her use the word “for” correctly in a sentence, then tell me that she’d used it because she was learning about coordinating conjunctions a few days ago and realised that she was joining two thoughts and needed to use one.
Confession: I had never heard of the Mycenaeans until we read about them this year in history. And I didn’t know what a coordinating conjunction was.
I am learning so much, right along with my kids. And. I. love. it.
I love seeing their eyes light up as they make connections. When they understand that the planet Mars is called that because it’s red like blood and Mars is the Roman name for Ares, the Greek god of war.
I love seeing them turn with excitement to tell me that four is a homophone. And that bow is a homonym. Just because they noticed.
I love seeing them watch, enraptured, a harp recital. Did you know that harps have pedals? Or that harp players don’t use their little fingers when playing? We do, now.
I love watching them spend ages playing a game inspired by Swallows and Amazons, drawing up ship’s papers, making a chart of their island, allocating roles of Captain, Mate and Able Seaman, and sailing off on adventures.
We discovered this week that the Hittites came from Turkey, and were famous for their iron. There was a knife with a Hittite blade discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
We have encountered the Psammead in Five Children and It. Read aloud time is a beloved part of our day, and it is so lovely to see my girls enjoying books as much as I do.
The two oldest girls and I have done some crochet, and Buttercup has surprised me with some very neat embroidery.
These are some of the things that we have learnt about this week. Lest you think our days are full of sunshine and happy learning, I have also been screamed at many times this week. I have had a headache most days. My house needs baby-proofing again because Rosebud is cruising along furniture and the living room is not set up for an active baby. One of the girls said today “I hate bookwork!”. I have a messy kitchen and I have had a Mount Everest of washing in the basket for most of the week. I haven’t had nearly enough sleep to function normally.
And yet, I love what I do. It’s great fun as well as being very very hard. I’m seeing my little people learn to love learning. I think I’ll keep my day job!
Have you learnt anything interesting this week? I’d love to hear it!
We have been studying Ancient Egypt in history recently. It’s easy to see why it’s an essential part of any history curriculum. Majestic pharaohs, mysterious tombs filled with treasure, strange tales of gods with animal heads, a hippo/lion/crocodile monster that eats bad people after they die, code-like hieroglyphs, battles and boats, massive pyramids and colossal statues, beautiful queens and women who rule. There’s something for everyone.
It is easy to find crafts and hands on activities too. Sugar cube pyramid anyone? Crack the secret code. Turn your doll or an apple into a mummy. Make papyrus with brown paper bags. Walk like an Egyptian. Pinterest is awash with inspiration to satisfy the cravings of even the craftiest of crafters.
We have learnt about Menes the first pharaoh and Cleopatra the last pharaoh. Ahkenaten who worshipped the sun and Ramses III who fought a battle at sea. We have discovered how they irrigated their crops and what they ate. But as I reflect on what we have learnt lately, there are other, bigger lessons that we have been learning. Life lessons.
I don’t mean that lentils are tasty, though I wish my kids would learn that one. Or that if you are a naughty girl the Devourer will eat you in the afterlife (very thankful that one is not true!). I mean lessons like that of Jean-François Champollion, who worked for fourteen years trying to decode the Rosetta Stone before he deciphered a single word.
One of my children struggles with perseverance. She is gives up on average after about a minute and a half. Fourteen minutes is a long time for her to stick at a task, let alone fourteen years. So we are choosing to make Champollion one of our role models. To carry on with something just a little bit longer before we give up. If Champollion can work day in day out for fourteen years before he got a result, we can work just a little longer before we decide that our maths is too hard, or that our sock is lost forever.
Another lesson we can learn from the Ancient Egyptians is to manage our resources well. The Egyptian farmers built irrigation channels and catch basins to make the most of the Inundation – the yearly flooding of the Nile River. Careful engineering meant that the once a year flood would provide all of their water for the rest of the year. If they didn’t make the most of it when it came, there would be no rain later – their crops would fail.
It’s easy to let time pass and miss opportunities because we are busy or distracted. But if we work hard when the time is right, then we can manage our resources well and have provision for later.
Practically, that means for me taking a week off school when our apple trees are ready to harvest, so that they don’t drop and rot on the ground (ooops…. it makes a mess, I can tell you!). But it also means putting in the hard work of character training when children are young (digging the irrigation channels) so when the Inundation that is the teenage years come, we are ready to use the wonderful opportunities that they bring, instead of being swamped. It means teaching our children that if we save our money by not buying every sweet and toy that catches their eye, then later we can travel and build memories. For me as a mother of young children, it means not shirking my task, but investing in my children while they need me. The season will come when I can finish writing a blog post without a million interruptions, or get a full night’s sleep, or drink tea while it is hot. It’s just not now. The Egyptian farmers, like farmers everywhere, live their life according to the seasons, with busy periods of work and periods of rest and maintenance. We do well to do the same.
History has always fascinated me – it’s full of colourful characters and darn good stories. They catch the imagination and lift us for a little while out of the mundane. But one of the things I love about home educating is the chance to go deeper with our conversations, to let history shape us and direct our future. To learn from the successes and failures of the past, and to be inspired by those whose stories we read. That’s what I want to pass on to my children.
One of the best pieces of advice that anyone has given me about having a smooth and easy day is this:
Manage your transitions well
The times when my day most often gets derailed is when moving from one activity to another, from one time of day to another. Breakfast to jobs. Morning Basket to bookwork. Playtime to pack up time. Teeth time to bedtime.
Once I have lost them, it takes simply ages to get everyone back together again.
So now, I try and focus on managing the transitions. By being deliberate about them, by creating little rituals around them, our days are peaceful.
When we don’t manage the transitions well – peaceful? Not so much.
Here are some of the ways I try to make it work:
I have transitions that give me time to gather myself. The kids watch a 15 minute program between morning jobs and the start of our learning time. It gives me time to make a cup of tea and check that I have everything we need. We will sometimes do this when we get home after being out somewhere, to give me time to decide what we will do next.
It’s thinking space. Breathing space. A chance to get my act together so that I can pretend I know what I’m doing with our day. I sometimes use DEAR time (drop everything and read time) the same way.
I prepare for the transitions before the previous thing ends. I try to organise what we are doing in the afternoon before rest time ends. I try to organise breakfast before the music plays for the kids to get up (music is another good transition tool. A signal that it’s time to change).
Some days everything goes to pot and this doesn’t work. Some days I forget. Some days life gets out of control. But when I do manage the transitions, we keep our daily rhythm much better.
Do you have any tricks for managing transitions? I’d love to hear them!
This was meant to be a end of the week review last week but I was busy getting ready to go away for the weekend for our 12th wedding anniversary. So it’s a mid-week review instead!
We are doing Week 15 of Core B this week. We are finishing up the Ancient Egypt section in Usborne Time Traveller this week. It’s been one of our favourite history books so far. We’ll come back to it later – it is scheduled out of order, something that really bugged us at first. We almost didn’t read it as scheduled, but I’m glad we are. Something that I am learning about Sonlight is that they have good reasons for scheduling things the way they do. Time Traveller is covering the same topics that we are reading about in A Child’s History of the World and Usborne Book of World History, but it gives a different perspective. The cries of recognition as we read about something that we came across in another book are fun for me to hear. It’s nice to see them making connections.
We are trying a new thing at the moment. I’m calling it “history journalling”. I have given the girls each a sketchbook and in our Morning Basket time we are spending a few minutes creating a page about what we have read and discussed. I’m leaving it pretty free for them – they can choose to write, or draw a picture, or do a diagram or map. I’m using the discussion questions in the IG as a prompt if they want it. I am expecting Bookworm to do a fairly detailed drawing or to write about it, Snugglepot to caption her drawing, and at this stage Buttercup can choose whether or not to join in. The other day she stuck in a map of Egypt that I photocopied out of World History. It’s a way of them making connections with what we read.
I also started using Khan Academy with Bookworm. We have been using Miquon maths but she was having a bit of trouble understanding multiplying fractions with whole numbers, so I pulled up a few videos to show her. I have had the Khan academy app on my phone for ages and not used it. I think I will be making it a regular thing!
Today we have been having a bit of an alternative day. One of my good friends is moving away (sniff…) and so she came over for coffee this morning. We started our day late because I was up with Rosebud overnight and needed a sleep in. So we have only done half our Core work and no bookwork. But… Buttercup spent the morning doing a jigsaw puzzle that my friend gave us. All three biggies spent a good few hours playing with a wooden train set from said friend, including figuring out how to put it together and make the ends connect. Right now they are all making cards (cardmaking is a shared craft love). I think that free play and developing creativity is so important, so while part of me mildly panics about not doing maths yet today (we might still get to it), another part of me knows that they are still learning, and it is still time well spent.
Does anyone else struggle with having the courage to take an alternative path in learning?