A day in the life of our homeschool

Here is a little look into what our day often looks like.

We don’t run according to a schedule here. My head doesn’t cope well with following strict times. Something always happens to disrupt the schedule. I get woken up overnight by a baby and need to sleep in. My husband and I have an important conversation in the morning and we are late starting breakfast. My sister calls from the other side of the world just as we are about to start a read aloud when I haven’t spoken to her for over a week. Life happens.

We prefer rhythms. When there is a natural order to things, it becomes easy. Snugglepot, particularly, thrives on predictable rhythms. We use the phrase “usually, but not always”. We usually, but not always, do bedtime maths. We usually, but not always, do morning jobs straight after breakfast. We usually, but not always, sit on the couch under the window to read. It’s liberating to live this way.

And so, without further ado, here is the rhythm that usually, but not always, orders our days:

6am: My alarm goes off. I roll out of bed, put the kettle on, and make tea. Then I sit and read my bible for a while, and wake up. If I have time I chat to family on the other side of the world, or watch a short educational youtube clip, or have another cup of tea. Usually, Rosebud wakes up at about 6:30 and my husband brings her downstairs to me, then we sit and chat over tea and coffee.

7am: I have an alarm set to remind me to get the other kids up, which I do by turning on music.This is their signal that they are allowed to come downstairs, though they sometimes choose to sleep in or read.

7:30 (ish): I have a shower and get ready for the day, then get breakfast ready. One of the things I like about our days at the moment is that we sit down and eat breakfast together, with time to chat. I like to have a toast rack and a teapot. They are some of the grace notes of life. Grace notes are little notes added to music that are unnecessary to the tune but add depth and beauty. A pot of tea adds beauty to my life. Especially if it has a pretty teacup with it.

After breakfast we clean up and divide our morning jobs. We feed the dog, vacuum the lounge, put on washing, and empty the dishwasher. All my big kids (aged 9, 7, and almost 5) can do these jobs – Buttercup with a bit of help. Then I usually put on an educational program of 10-15 minutes while I put Rosebud down for a nap if she’s not already gone down. I take a moment to get my head into gear. And make a cup of tea.

9am (ish): We sit on the couch together to start our Morning Basket time. This is one of the main parts of our day, and we all look forward to it. We begin with a school day prayer, which I shamelessly ripped from somewhere and now can’t remember where. Then we say the Lord’s Prayer or Apostles’ Creed. We then move into our Bible time. Sonlight, the curriculum we use, uses a book called Leading Little Ones to God. We start with this on the days it’s scheduled. I mostly like it – I have some theological issues with it but I’m using it as a chance to teach the kids to be discerning. After that we do a Bible reading, and then, on the days it’s set, a collection of stories about missionaries. Once a week we also watch a video put out by the Bible Project.

After Bible we do our history reading. We are loving the Core B history – we have great discussions, sometimes brief and sometimes not at all brief. Here at the Disorganised Homeschool we know how to talk! History has always been one of my favourite subjects and I still can’t believe that I get to sit here every day and read interesting books with my kids, and it’s my job.

After this we need to move a bit, so we get up and do what I creatively call “Get up and move time”. I have a list of activities, numbered 1-31, and we do whatever is on the list for today’s date. I find that obeying a list takes out a lot of complaining about doing things.

Then we sit right back down – nearly there – and use the bedtime maths app. It’s a great little app and we all enjoy reading the stories on it and solving the problems.

We finish with the Grace and then it’s onto bookwork. Depending on when we start, and how long we chat for, it’s usually sometime between 10am and 10:30am.

10/10:30 am (ish): I announce bookwork. The kids announce they’re hungry. I tell them that it’s not time to eat. They complain a bit, then start their bookwork. It’s part of our rhythm. They have a schedule for the week in a spiral notebook, and they have some work that I help with, some they do independently. Mostly it’s done on the loungeroom floor.

11am (ish): We break for snack and read aloud. This is an institution. I’m not allowed to read if there is no snack. We don’t snack without a book appearing. This is where we do our Sonlight literature read aloud. We don’t follow the Sonlight schedule for these – we just pick up the book we’re up to, read a chapter or two (or three), and when we’re done, go onto the next one. Sometimes we read other books in between. Again, I can’t believe that part of my job is to sit here and read great books to my kids. It’s fantastic!

After snack and read aloud we go back to bookwork. Rosebud is usually well and truly up by now, wreaking havoc amongst the school books on the floor, whilst I try and convince everyone that the dining table is actually a wonderful place to do writing. Buttercup is not officially required to be at school yet, so her work is optional. She is a bright little thing, though, and chooses most days to do some reading and maths. Otherwise she potters – helping me with housework, looking at books, colouring, distracting her sisters.

12:30 (ish): Bookwork is usually finished and we are all well and truly ready for lunch. The kids hit the backyard to blow off steam on the trampoline. I have a quiet moment if I can to gather myself, and then make lunch.

1pm (ish): We usually, and almost always, have rest time after lunch. This started life as afternoon naps, and I have clung to it tooth and nail. It is absolutely essential to my sanity and it is so much a part of our day that my kids now ask for it. I never have to  ask them twice. Ever. We are all introverts in this house, and need our down time. They read on their beds, or do a quiet jigsaw puzzle or some colouring. If I’m super lucky, Rosebud naps during this time and I get a blissful few moments to myself. I usually waste it on Facebook, but I’m trying to be disciplined and read instead, or do craft.

2pm (ish): The kids come downstairs. What should happen is that they watch another 10-15 minute educational program while I prepare an afternoon activity. What actually happens is that they trickle down declaring their hunger while I struggle to find energy somewhere to move. Sleep deprivation is a killer. We’re still working on our afternoon rhythm. A cup of tea helps.

Over the afternoon we play, do craft, bake, maybe read aloud again, play with the baby, go out to groups and activities or to meet friends. Somehow it disappears, and before I know it, it’s evening.

5:30pm (ish): I start getting dinner ready, often with someone hanging round to help. On a good day the kids play well, and then come and cheerfully tidy up. On a long day I put on something for the kids to watch, make a cup of tea, and hope my husband won’t notice the mess when he gets home.

6pm/6:30 pm (ish): Dinner. We eat at the table, and at the moment Rosebud keeps us all entertained by painting her face with food. The dog is her best friend at dinner time.

7pm: Rosebud and Buttercup go to bed, and Bookworm and Snugglepot read in the playroom until 8, then follow the others to bed. My husband and I tidy up the kitchen and collapse on the couch. Another day is done.

Some days go smoothly like this. Some days have a lot of yelling. Some days we get loads of work done, others we don’t because we desperately need to go shopping to buy more tea, or because the day is too lovely to stay inside, and we go to meet friends instead. Through it all, lots of learning happens. I like our days.


I’m baaack!!

I am coming back to this blog after giving up on it for a while as I was just too busy. There are a few reasons why I’m starting again. The main one is that I really need to write –  I have been feeling it more and more desperately. I have put aside myself for years now while I have been busy with babies – and now I am getting to the point where I need to be able to have my own outlet. So, here I am. The other reason is that a few people have asked me to share my experiences with home educating in general, and using Sonlight, our main curriculum, in particular. If that was you, I hope you enjoy reading!

This post is going to be a news post, as life has changed dramatically in the nine months since my last post. The biggest change is that we are no longer expecting. Our fourth little blessing has arrived – little Rosebud. Bookworm, Snugglepot and Buttercup are all ecstatic big sisters. Rosebud has turned my world upside down, and completely captured my heart. She is a happy little soul, and into EVERYTHING. At seven months she is cruising along furniture – yikes! The impact on our homeschool is that we have to fit our school days around me feeding and settling her for naps. And the biggies are learning that they can’t do their bookwork on the floor while she’s crawling around. As Snugglepot says: maths + baby = soggy maths book!

In my last post last year I was discussing starting a Morning Basket time. We have been using that successfully since then – it’s a lovely and absolutely vital part of our school day. We have changed it slightly as time has gone on, and it fits us just about right for this stage of our home ed journey.  I’ll do a dedicated post on it soon. I really will. Promise. We also started using Sonlight in January. It’s an American, Christian, literature based home school curriculum that has the tagline “The way you wish you’d been taught”. Boy are they right about that. I love this curriculum – I love their books, the discussions we have, the ideas they cover. I can honestly say that we have very few complaints about school these days. They love it – and I love it too. Gone are the days (mostly) where I think “Ugh – I just can’t be bothered doing school today”. I sit down, pick up my IG (instructors’ guide), and start reading. We are using Core B (Intro to World History year 1 of 2), with Bookworm doing Language Arts 3 and Science B, and Snugglepot doing Language Arts 2 and Science A. We are still using Miquon for maths.

Our first Sonlight box day. So many books!


Watch this space for a day in the life post so you can see what we do, and I will try to do a regular or semi regular update on our day to day activities. Forgive me if I don’t post frequently. I am a homeschooling mum with four kids, after all!

Getting back into things after a break

It’s been ages since my last post – we have been overseas getting a new visa and visiting family and friends. We got back early last week, and I have spent the week getting over jet lag and trying to get myself organised. The rest of this year seems like a massive hurdle. We have a baby due in 8 weeks, then Christmas and all the accompanying craziness.

Although we took work with us, we didn’t do nearly as much as I had planned. I spent the time away re-evaluating what we are doing with our learning. I thought about what is working, what is not, what the future will look like, and how things are going to work with a baby in the house. I am going to make some changes, starting tomorrow – our re-launch. We are following a Southern Hemisphere school year, but here in the Northern Hemisphere school has just started back, so it seems appropriate to make changes now.

We are going to start doing a Morning Basket. It has been quite difficult this year getting everyone to gather and focus for bookwork. I am hoping that having a deliberate gathering time will make our days start with more purpose. In our Morning Basket time we will do things like devotion, singing, reading picture books, doing science/history read alouds, music study, maths facts, bedtime maths, word games, and things like origami just for fun.

Another big change will be a big increase in the amount of writing and bookwork in general that Bookworm is doing. I have realised that I have let her get away with writing very little, and I haven’t been increasing the amount of work she does at the pace that I should have. So as well as the language arts program that I’ve been using with her, she is going to be given other writing assignments to do over the course of each week – a thing called “The Big Write”, where she writes on a topic I give her, book reports/reviews, history reports, science reports, and instructional pieces. The Big Write is an idea that I stole from something my niece does in school, where they write for half an hour on a topic, then highlight the different words in the sentences – nouns, verbs, etc. I have tweaked the idea so that Bookworm will plan it one day, write a draft the next, and over the next three days will edit it then write out and illustrate a neat copy. We’ll see how we go. She is very enthusiastic about the idea, but we’ll see if that translates to actual writing!

With Snugglepot, my main focus is going to be on improving her handwriting. She is struggling with poor letter formation, and lots of letter reversals. This makes writing a big chore for her as she is not fluent enough at writing. I also need to help her become more consistent with using capitals and lower case letters appropriately. So I have armed myself with chalk markers to write on the windows, shaving cream for writing either on trays or in bags on the days I can’t handle mess, chalk for outside, and playdough. We are going to do sensory writing activities every day, until we nail this thing. Bookworm could do with the handwriting practice too, and Buttercup is desperate to learn to read and write, so this is going to be a family activity.

Buttercup has just turned four and I have no intention of making her do schoolwork yet, but she needs to be kept busy and is oh so keen to do what her big sisters are doing, so we will be working on her reading, at a pace led by her, and I am going to give her some practice with scissors and things so that she can use them independently. I also realised the other day that I need to give her more access to art supplies and the chance to create freely. The house we are in is just not suitable for me to have art supplies out all the time and freely accessible to the girls, so I have to be more mindful of getting them out, and letting them do free art and craft, as well as our art projects for school.

Things will probably change again next year, as I am hoping to be able to get a boxed curriculum that I can just pick up and run with, to make life easier. But I am hoping that we can get a good routine going before the baby comes, to stand us in good stead for the months after that.

Learning vs School

It’s been a while since I have posted anything. We’ve had a number of interruptions over the past few weeks – visa issues, serious illness in the family, the fact that I am nearly 5 months pregnant and getting tired easily. Thankfully everything is sorting itself out, but we have been pressed to simply do life over the last few weeks, much less write about it.

Bookworm came home from Brownies a few weeks ago and told us that she had been talking with some of her pack about homeschooling. Apparently they were all going to go home and ask to be homeschooled – they thought that the idea of half an hour (!) of school a day was brilliant. Thankfully I didn’t get any angry comments from parents the following week!

We definitely do more than half an hour each day – but it got me thinking about my kids’ perceptions of their education. We try (with varying success) to steer away from using the word “school” – because I am trying to get them to embrace a life of learning. I don’t want them to think that school is where you learn, and the rest of the time you don’t. Seeing as we are not in the school system, why bother with the necessary distinctions imposed by that system?

We have bookwork each day, the part of our day that looks most like school and what Bookworm was probably referring to – though it usually takes longer than half an hour! But there is so much more that we do in our learning than bookwork. Like the reading that we do alone and together. Like the epic game of battleships that Bookworm and I played yesterday – learning grid references, communication, the importance of listening carefully (otherwise you tell Mummy it is a miss when she has hit your ship!), and strategic thinking. Like the engineering skills Snugglepot is learning by building structures with her “Clicks” blocks. Like the tangram puzzles that we play with. Like the lessons we have learnt over the last few weeks about showing consideration for others, and caring for people while they are sick. Like the parts of language that we learn when we play Mad Libs, or the literacy skills from reading Braille coded messages that I have written for them. Like the very important and carefully done sharing of food so that everyone gets an equal amount. Like the calculating of the cost of sweets and the counting of coins to see if the said sweets can be bought. Like the writing of letters, cards, and notes to friends, family and each other. Like the “typing game” on the computer. Like the Edwardian Farm program we have been watching and enjoying. Like the way Buttercup counts her toast pieces to make sure that I have indeed cut it into six triangles – like the way she counts nearly everything, in fact. Like the way we notice patterns in things and pause to remark on them.

There is so much that we learn which looks like playing, or fun, or just normal life. Some of it is simple, some of it is quite sophisticated. Sometimes the learning opportunities are deliberately created, and sometimes they happen naturally. Sometimes I worry about how much they are learning. But when I sit down and think about it, they are learning an awful lot. Some of it is out of a workbook, and a lot of it isn’t. I don’t know whether I should be concerned that they think they are not learning for a lot of the day, or let them just keep doing it, filling their minds with good things and being blissfully unaware that this is all part of their education.

Braille, sunshine, and the lure of the school gate

This week the Disorganised Homeschool really lived up to its name. It was one of those weeks where somehow we struggled to get everything done. We had a busy week of appointments, which really didn’t help, but in between we just flagged.

We had taken last Friday off as a long weekend, so we really should have been leaping in with enthusiasm this week, but things just didn’t go like that.

It all began with the start of summer – an early June that felt more like early February. Bleak, dark, drizzly and cold. It infected all of us and on Tuesday morning we had a bad case of “I-just-want-to-crawl-back-into-bed-with-a-book-and-a-cup-of-tea-itis”. In hindsight we should have done just that. But I knew that we had done hardly any work on Monday, would be out for our regular mums’ bible study group at church on Wednesday morning, and would be busy for most of Thursday (it really was one of those weeks), so I insisted that School Was Important And We Must Get Our Bookwork Done. Of course, all that happened was that Bookworm complained about how much work she had (which she really didn’t), and I felt, for the first time in the 18 months that we have been home educating, the intense desire to load her into the car and drop her off at the nearest school gate. I got upset, she got upset, and we both ended up in tears. Fortunately, as is always the case with my sweet Bookworm, the tears turned to cuddles, I decided I wanted to home educate after all, and things improved.

In the last half of this week, the sun has come out and our tempers have considerably improved. We went to have lunch and spend the afternoon with some dear friends yesterday, and driving through the English countryside in the sunshine was balm to my soul. As was the cup of tea we shared, and the conversation we had.

On the way there the girls and I were talking about being blind, and ended up having a long conversation about Braille. This morning I decided to grasp the Interest-Led-Learning bull by the horns and do some Braille. So I found a Braille alphabet chart, some worksheets, and a Braille font for Word. Bookworm and Snugglepot filled in the worksheets (colouring dots to spell words) with great enthusiasm this morning. This afternoon I greeted them with a note for them to decode in Braille, and they loved it so much that they asked for another one. So I hid a snack for them in the bathroom and typed up a Braille clue for them to solve to find it. They love treasure hunts, so this was a huge hit. I can see that this is going to be an ongoing project!

The week has, therefore, finished on a high note, and though admittedly we haven’t covered a whole lot of our scheduled bookwork, we rediscovered the joy of learning. Which after all, is why we do this homeschool thing.

treasure hunts + braille + snacks = lots of fun!
treasure hunts + braille + snacks = lots of fun!

The joy of reading

Bookworm turned eight today. Leaving aside the slight state of shock that I am in from being mother to an eight year old, she was given, among other things, some books. She said to me tonight that her favourite presents were the books, and that they had given her joy.

It was such a beautiful thing to hear. One of the things I really want for my children is to see them grow up with a love of great books. Already Bookworm, as her name suggests, loves reading. But to get joy from a book – I never want her to lose that. I have a friend with a son just slightly younger than Bookworm, and he, after just graduating off staged readers at school to free choice books, has now been put back onto staged readers in a new program, this time with a comprehension test every week. To get a new book the following week, he has to pass the test. When my friend told me this, my heart sank. What a way to make a child lose the joy of reading.

One of the biggest pleasures when we started home education was seeing my children sitting down at home and reading because they wanted to. Bookworm usually wakes up and reads in bed for an hour before she gets up. Snugglepot, too, can often be found on the couch with a book. Even Buttercup, at three, sits for ages looking at books, being read to by me or her sisters, and has an overflowing book basket in her bedroom. In fact, this week she asked me to hurry up and teach her to read!

Reading positionsMy kids like reading anywhere – even the kitchen doormat!

I was thinking recently about how to make reading such a natural part of life. We recently travelled back home to Australia to visit family. Staying at both my parents’ and my in-laws’ houses, I noticed again that the houses were crammed with books. In virtually every room, every spare wall space, there was a bookshelf. Both my husband and I grew up surrounded by books. We never had to look far to find something to read. Both of us grew up, too, seeing our parents reading. My mum would sit for hours on weekends or holidays, absorbed in a book. Library trips were a regular after school activity, and we were always given books for Christmas and birthdays.

These are all things that I want to give my children. I want them to grow up with books just being part of the house, just accepted as normal, yet also treasured, exclaimed over, read, shared, and discussed.

It seems to be working. My kids are often found sitting side by side, noses in books. Every day we do “Snack and Read Aloud”, and I usually get “One more chapter. Just one more chapter”. Even on the weekend, Snack and Read Aloud is requested, and I often get a book that we are reading dropped beside my plate at dinner time to read another chapter. We don’t sign off how many nights we read in a log book. We don’t particularly pay attention to what “reading level” a book is. We just pick up books and read them, because we like them. It’s part of our family culture. It’s a legacy I want to pass on. I want my grandkids and great grandkids to grow up in houses full of books. Which means I don’t feel guilty when some afternoons, like today, I don’t fold washing because I’m sitting engrossed in a book while the kids are playing. I’m just modelling for them 😉 I’m modelling that books can be a source of joy. That’s what I want to teach my kids.

Silent work time and Fun Break Tokens

I am trying an experiment at the moment. Our bookwork time has been a bit chaotic lately with Bookworm and Snugglepot complaining about their work, asking for breaks all the time, and having trouble focusing, and Buttercup wandering around looking for something to do. So I have introduced “silent work time”, a 15 minute period at the start of our bookwork where everyone in the house has to be quiet and doing something productive. So Bookworm and Snugglepot sit and do parts of their bookwork that they can do themselves without needing my help, and Buttercup has mat time, with a mat on the loungeroom floor. She has to stay on the mat and do quiet activities. She has been choosing a jigsaw puzzle and a book, and I am trying out the idea of Montessori style activity trays for her to explore as well.

I can tentatively say that the experiment is looking successful. We have had a bit of trouble with everyone remembering not to talk, and with people doing productive work and not sitting there staring into space. Buttercup has had trouble sitting quietly without needing my help if something is not working. But I’m hoping that if we persevere and get used to it, that gradually everyone will come to accept that this is part of our day, and that the focus and quiet concentration will gradually spill over into the rest of bookwork. I’m also hoping that Buttercup will become better at solving problems herself during this time, instead of asking for help straight away. Being the third child, with doting older sisters, she has plenty of people to jump in and do things for her if she struggles with something, instead of having to persevere and solve the problem herself.

My other experiment is fun break tokens. I have been getting frequent requests for breaks, when not much work has been done. So now the older two girls get a card at the start of bookwork, which is a “fun break token”. This entitles them to a 10 minute break at any time they choose during bookwork, as long as they have completed the task they have been working on, and as long as it is not in the middle of silent work time. It’s gone well so far – simply putting “fun” on the token instantly makes it more appealing 🙂 This idea was not mine – I stole it unashamedly as I do most of my great homeschooling ideas! It was on a blog somewhere – I’ll have a hunt and edit the post so that I can credit the person who actually used her brain to come up with it.

These changes only started at the beginning of this week so it remains to be seen whether they will last, but I’m hoping that they become part of our normal day.

Why I said I could never homeschool

When I was a child, I didn’t know a single person who was home educated. People went to school, unless they lived in the middle of the Australian outback, in which case they did distance education through the School of the Air. Choosing to home educate was a foreign concept to me.

Then I went to university, moved across the country, and met people who homeschooled their kids. The first family I met had seven children. Well, I thought, if you had that many kids it would probably be just as easy to teach them at home than it would be to get everyone out the door each morning. Then I met another family – with eight kids. The mother and I discussed homeschooling – by that stage I had married and had my first daughter, Bookworm. I loved the idea of teaching my own child, but as I said to my friend “I’m just not organised enough to homeschool”. I figured that she had to be organised anyway, to survive with eight kids, and again, it was probably easier for her to teach them at home than to get them all out the door with packed lunches, clean uniforms, and the right sports gear.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was in a different city, where I became friends with a number of families who were homeschooling. One or two were the large families I had grown to expect, but some of them had just three or four children. For the first time, it became in my mind something that one might choose to do simply because one felt that it was the best option for them as a family, and not because they were forced into it by circumstance or because it was too much effort to get out the front door in the morning. I spent time with these people, saw the way they raised their kids, saw the relationships they had with their kids, and envied them. They had something I really would have liked to have a part of, but at that stage it was still an “in a different life, a different circumstance, maybe I would have homeschooled” thing.

Then Bookworm started school. And she loved it. Her school was wonderful, her teacher was brilliant, and we had no complaints. Except that she was so tired. And in my lovely, sweet Bookworm, that came out as stubborn refusal to be reasonable. So every morning, we fought over getting her shoes on to get out the door. Every morning I had to drag her out of bed. Every morning I would drop her at school, feeling like I needed to make up with her before I left her for the day. And then, every evening, we fought over getting ready for bed. I was worn out and fed up, and worse, I was grieving the loss of relationship. And I missed her – she was away for most of the day, and when she was home, she was often so grumpy that she wasn’t much fun to be around. My homeschooling envy got stronger. But I was still convinced that I just wasn’t organised enough to homeschool.

Then my husband sent me a message out of the blue saying that there was a job vacancy on the other side of the world. We decided to go with it, got accepted, and then had to think about schooling. Finding a school from the other side of the globe and sorting out enrolments seemed such a headache. Then one day Bookworm was home sick, and it struck me like a thunderbolt. Maybe homeschooling was the answer. That day, after months of stress and battles every morning, we had a peaceful day. It was such a lovely, relaxing morning. Maybe I didn’t have to be organised to homeschool – no more organised than I had to be to get three kids ready to walk out the door each morning. So we moved, and we started, and 18 months down the track, we love it. Life is busy, and sometimes hard, and I have discovered that I do need some level of organisation to maintain my sanity. But I’m surprised to find that, although I’m disorganised, I’m not too disorganised to homeschool. And that relationship, with my dear, sweet, eldest child? Why, it’s never been better.