Creating rhythms and rituals

C77F2518-74FC-41EA-AF94-B8FB30767AD7I 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.



Summer Days

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.

Baby toes are the sweetest things!

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?

On managing transitions…

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!

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.

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.