I am all too familiar with the challenge of being a homeschool mom. I start Monday morning with goals and best of intentions, but by Wednesday afternoon chaos has broken out and I have only accomplished a third of what I intended to. We all know how things come up, appointments get moved around, sunshine beckons us to go play; illnesses and toddlers strike at the worst of times. But it is also the beauty of homeschooling. Our schedule does not control us rather we control it! But with this freedom comes one great challenge for many – routine.
Creating a workable, but flexible routine is critical in being a successful homeschooler. If we don’t stick to some sort of schedule, we can spend half the day in our pajamas, reading a book, or scrolling Facebook while our kids run feral through the house. It’s great to have those days, but a lack of planning and intentionality are the death of productivity.
So, how do we find the balance in a routine? Start with mapping out your week. Do you have weekly appointments, lessons, or commitments? Make sure to include transition time in your schedule for locating the rogue shoes, and actually getting into the car, and back into the house. Once you have those times blocked out, decide how much time per day you need for schoolwork. This will vary depending the grade and personality of each child. You don’t need to get into the amount of time devoted to each subject. That can vary by day.
Once you have your days blocked out for appointments and schoolwork, now you can work backwards into your morning to determine what time you all need to be up, dressed and fed by. I recommend putting as much on the kids as possible. Create a chart or a list of the required morning chores and activities that are to be completed by a certain time. I would also suggest that breakfast be the last item on the list. Hunger motivates! I also put a closing time on the kitchen so they aren’t tempted to snack while doing schoolwork. A successful morning routine will impact the success of the rest of your day. This routine should remain largely the same every day of the week (except weekends) to build efficiency and familiarity. This requires training and follow-through, but kids thrive on this structure and continuity.
Now we can talk about the part of the routine that gets the schoolwork done. I recommend having a list of assignments and activities written (or drawn for the young students) for every day. Some activities will have an assigned amount of time (reading, practicing music, or math facts) while others can be more flexible. Sometimes I give a minimum amount of time they are to spend on a subject; sometimes it’s a certain number of lessons or pages. Knowing your student is key to making an effective plan.
I believe that choices and independence foster responsibility, autonomy, and a sense of pride in students. If I’m creating a more specific schedule, I like to sandwich the favorite subjects with the not-so-favorite subjects to encourage them to work hard. But I often just lay out the required assignments and let the student choose which one they want to do first. This cuts down on the power struggles and nagging. If they want to get the ugly stuff done first, they can. Or they can start with the favored things and work their way down. Again, knowing your student is key. Some need a strict schedule with the same subjects studied at the same time every day. That is fine if that is what works for them. As parent/teachers we need to be willing to look at what best serves our student, and that often means giving up control over the small things.
Having breaks and a stopping time is critical for students! Even just a two-minute leg stretch, a five-minute jump on the trampoline, or a quick snack is all it takes to snap a kid out of a slump. You also want to know what time you are ending each day. Sometimes a student drags their feet all day and needs more time to complete an assignment. Where you fit that time is up to you. I also find it imperative that students are given the option to put an assignment or subject aside and return to it another time. Frustration or burn-out impedes learning, and you will not achieve the desired result.
In summary, know what you need to accomplish each day and be intentional about it. Routines are a great tool in cutting down nagging, micromanaging, and power struggles. Do they need a strict schedule that changes very little day to day? Or do they thrive on flexibility? Know your student and find what works for them. Your routine doesn’t have to look like mine. Just find a way to be successful at it, and you will settle into an enjoyable and productive rhythm.
With eleven core subjects that Washington State requires we teach, it can be a daunting and expensive task to find a program that teaches all of these subjects well. The good news is that we don’t need to! Integrating subjects is a great way to increase student learning, and simplify your program.
Integrating subjects simply means that we combine subjects so they work together, rather than teaching them individually. This method is proven to increase learning, and make your program more cohesive. I categorize the eleven subjects into two basic categories, the skill-based and the content-based (plus the few that overlap both). When setting goals and program planning, I always recommend starting with the content-based subjects.
If you’re following the recommended student directed learning approach, content-based subjects (history, social studies, science, language, health, art and music appreciation) are designed around the student’s interest. It’s also important to know that you don’t have to teach all eleven subjects all year long, you just need to cover each subject at some point, and demonstrate student learning. Usually the core subjects are history, social studies, or science. The example I will give you is centered around history for an elementary age student. This method can be applied to any grade, all the way through high school.
Main Subject: Early American History
Reading: Literature-based Early American History (Beautiful Feet Curriculum is one example). This curriculum uses quality literature throughout the program.
Technology/ Occupational Education: Use kid-friendly and informational websites to further explore topics. The student learns basic computer skills and typing. Various occupations of the time can also be explored.
Writing and Language Arts: The Beautiful Feet Curriculum incorporates copywriting, but if you aren’t using a curriculum (or want to supplement), it is simple enough to incorporate writing through summaries of the reading, and creative writing about the time-period. Handwriting is practiced daily. Even though grammar should have a separate content-based source, the student should be applying the learned concepts in their writing about history. You can further work on writing and grammar through identifying the parts of speech in a sentence and walk them through using vivid language to make their writing more powerful and descriptive. This can be easily applied at any grade level. Vocabulary words can be taken from the history reading, and worked into their writing. Spelling also needs its own content-based instruction, but should be practiced and enforced through daily writing. Note on writing: There should be time allowed every day for free-writing, in which the student is free to write about any topic, and is not graded for spelling or grammar.
Science: Science and history can be really fun to integrate! Every time-period in our history has its scientific contributions, and inventors. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on science, especially if the student doesn’t have a lot of interest. For this example, there are plenty of inventions during this time period, and of course there’s the famous Benjamin Franklin to study. Great literature can be fond on Benjamin Franklin, and his inventions and scientific discoveries can be studied in a very interactive and hands-on approach.
Social Studies: Social studies and history are a natural combination. This time-period in particular has a lot to offer on this subject. The political changes in the country at that time are significant, and the founding of our nation is an important topic to learn about. The Declaration of Independence has a wealth of social topics to investigate, particularly in the higher grade levels. The geography of our country and the world changes at lot during this time period, and maps can studied (and drawn) to show the changes that took place.
Health: Even health can be integrated! Health and nutrition played a large role in the every-day life of the pilgrims and settlers. Their diet and lack of nutrition contributed to the high death rates. Diseases struck that we now have vaccines and/or treatments for now. Diseases wiped out entire Native American tribes; and nutrition caused the weakening of troops during the Revolutionary War. If you have a student with interest in science of medicine, you can investigate the medical practices of the day.
Art and Music Appreciation: This is a really fun topic to integrate into history! Art and music are a huge part of civilization from the beginning. There are styles, instruments, and composers to study throughout history. You can listen to music composed during the time-period, study the composers, and look at how musical instruments have or have not changed over time.
Math: This is one subject that can be integrated by studying the contributions to the field of mathematics during the time period. However, this may not interest many students, and will depend on the grade level. Math should still have its own stand-alone curriculum to match the student’s level.
As you can see, you don’t have to study eleven independent subjects! Choose your core subject, set goals, and get creative!
We all know that kid – the one who can’t sit for a single moment without drumming, tapping, wiggling, or fidgeting. For those who have learned to control these impulses, these kids can be distracting and sometimes outright irritating! Even as a teacher, I find myself leaning towards the old-school way of thinking—that learning can only happen when the body is still and the mind completely focused on the task at hand. But for many kids, this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Movement has a valuable place in learning.
With the growing number of children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, it is critical that we learn to move with them, rather than bind them to our less active ideals. This also applies to kids who don’t have ADD/ADHD, but have these tendencies. And don’t worry; fidgeting by itself is not an indication that your child has this disorder. As parents we don’t need to have medical diagnoses to understand our child’s needs. Your observations are a powerful tool in helping better design an environment that maximizes learning potential. But we also have to step out of the way. That’s another topic entirely, one I could devote an entire article to writing about; but we often teach how we ourselves learn. We also tend to project expectations on our kids to be like us. You might find yourself frustrated that your child doesn’t have your penchant for being still, or paying attention the way you do. But be patient and willing to try something new.
During the learning process we are engaging our working memory. For some this comes easily, for others that floating attention can get the better of them, and the fidgeting and wiggling start. But it’s not a bad thing! Outwardly it appears that these children aren’t paying attention. But the truth is, for these kids the act of fidgeting or moving can aid the working memory. Mindless tasks can quiet the floating attention and give it something to focus on while simultaneously completing the task at hand. In fact, the more challenging a task is the greater the need can be for physical activity.
So what do we do about this? How do we incorporate movement and fidgeting into the learning process? The first step is to know your kid. Are they a doodler, a fidgeter, or do they need large movements? Their natural tendency tells you what sort of activity they need.
The Doodler: This can be incorporated into the learning process quite easily! This is a quiet task that doesn’t require a lot of space, and is not a great distraction to other around them. This can be a coloring book, doodling in the margins of the paper, or even encourage them to doodle about the topic they are studying! This can actually be used as quick anecdotal assessment tool to monitor their comprehension on the subject.
The Fidgeter: This can look like a lot of things. Pay close attention to the way your child fidgets. Is it rhythmical or sporadic? Do they like different textures or shy away from certain ones? Simple solutions for this can be a Koosh ball, Silly Putty, a soft fabric square, or a “fidget toy.” There’s a whole market out there dedicated to making small hand-held items that are designed for kids to fidget with. At the end of this article you will find links to websites where you can purchase these items. Pinterest is also a great resource for ideas on home-made fidget items.
The Mover and Shaker: For these kids having wiggle stools, seat cushions, yoga balls, or exercise bands across the chair legs are all helpful items. Trampolines are invaluable for many reasons. If you can put a small indoor trampoline in the room, these are great while listening to read-alouds, lecture style teaching, or while learning through rote memorization (math facts, spelling words, vocabulary words, etc). They are also helpful for burning off excess energy!
Additional tips for working with active students:
Taking frequent breaks in which the child can move around, and get out of their chair helps prevent the build up of too much energy. You also might need to incorporate more than one of the items or strategies listed above. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try things. And as always, seek input from your child. This will not only help you find the right solution, but it builds a sense of autonomy, and validate that they are perfect just as they are!
Where to find these items:
This site has tons of great items! https://www.therapyshoppe.com/category/8-fidget-toys
This shop also has a variety of seat options that are fantastic for those who need movement
And as always, there’s www.amazon.com You can do a search for “sensory toys” and many different things will come up.
Reading was one of my first loves. I would go downstairs in our big yellow house, turn on the Hooked on Phonics records and read until my little heart was content. Of course this was highly encouraged in my home, and I always saw my mom reading books – two critical components in creating literacy rich homes. I still cherish my “I learned to read on the first day of first grade” certificate. I remember bringing home a book to read to my parents. I was so proud! I always assumed my own kids would be the same way.
When I became a mom I knew I wanted to saturate her life with books. I read to her as an infant, it became part of our bedtime routine as a toddler, and continues to be part of daily life today. When my oldest was three years old, she was adamant that she wanted to learn how to read. But when she finally grew to the age many kids start reading, she fought it. She still loved being read to, and we could read for an hour straight, but she was a reluctant reader. I was starting to feel like a failure as a teacher and a mom.
I was forgetting one of the keystone concepts of education – let the student direct the interest. My husband brought home some free comic books one day, ones geared toward young girls. They immediately drew my daughter’s interest. It was still a while yet before my husband suggested we buy her a complete graphic novel for her to read. The light bulb came on. I took my daughter to the bookstore and together we selected a book that she was interested in and that was a challenging, but appropriate, reading level for her. I told her she needed to read it three times before we would buy the next one. In just a few short weeks her decoding skills have sky rocketed! Her comprehension is great, and most importantly, she LOVES reading that book!
I share this story with you to say that not all kids are born loving books. There are a few key components in creating a literacy-rich environment in which that love can grow. Books, books, books! Books in the living room, books in the bedroom, even books in the bathroom. Now, they don’t have to be just books, they can be magazines or newspapers too. But the more literature a child has access to, the more likely they are to pick something up. Another key piece is for your child to see YOU reading. This is the reason I still buy paper books rather than digital ones. If I’m staring at a device, my child doesn’t know whether I’m scrolling Facebook or actually reading. I like them to see me holding a real book.
Reading aloud is one the most important things we can do with our kids. Not only is it a great time to sit quietly snuggled up together, but the more books we read to our kids the bigger their world gets! Mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction – all of these bring us to new and exciting places. I encourage families to spend a minimum of twenty minutes a day reading aloud. And you know when your kid asks you to read the same book 2,285, 585 times? That’s actually really good for them. As they learn to read, the repetition helps build familiarity with the words and sound combinations. I have been known to hide a book or two for my sanity, but eventually they find their way back into the rotation once again. No matter how old your kids get, don’t give up on family reading time!
The final though I have to offer is to find what really interests your child. When they are excited about the book, their comprehension will increase, their enjoyment will increase, and they will be more inspired to want to read on their own.
Fostering a love of reading is really quite simple. Provide tons of reading materials, visit the library, go to story times, read together, find books your kid loves, and read for your own enjoyment. This is one of the greatest investments you can make for your child’s future!
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
Books Children Love, by Elizabeth Wilson
How to Grow a Young Reader,
by Kathryn Linkskoog and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker