Christmas vacation is rounding the bend, which means that our family is approaching the last of our pre-planned school weeks. Double. Gulp.
Back in august I knew that a requisite of figuring out how to homeschool successfully would be making positive use of trial and error. So when I created our schedule, I didn’t want us obligated to one, specific method for the whole year. Christmas break is my wiggle room; my opportunity to evaluate our routines; keep what works and trash what doesn’t. My last color coordinated day is on the last week of Christmas. From that point on, my file folders are empty, copies have yet to be printed, and my planner is a blank slate.
It’s liberating, but like most things that are, it’s also considerably intimidating. I want to jump out of our comfort zone a little bit, shake things up! But I also don’t want to muck up what I know already works, at least most of the time. Then again, every time I think about how far we come, coupled with how much could still be improved on, I get all revved up. So today, I’m rolling up my sleeves.
Yesterday was a pretty typical day so in the middle of our organized train wreck 10:00 a.m. routine, I whipped out my notebook and started jotting down ideas. We had arguing, we had meltdowns, we had a late start and shopping didn’t get done; we had breakthroughs, we had cheering and we had a relatively good report for dad at the end of the day. The kids’ rooms were clean, laundry had a healthy dent in it, and dinner was on the table by 6:30. It was also one of our longest and busiest, being a Monday, so it was a great day to gauge realistically.
This is what it looked like:
I knew that Mary hadn’t slept well the night before so I let her sleep until 9:30.
Note: Right out of the gate, this is our hairiest issue: whether or not to be a drill sergeant over the time we start. Over the first weeks of homeschool, this was by far what she fought me on the most. I expected her dressed and fed, pencil in hand by 9:00, which she thought was radically unfair. One of the “only” good things about homeschooling, as far as she was convinced, was the liberty to sleep in a little. I stuck to my guns for a few months and then gave in a bit, which was actually nice for a while. It worked out well enough for me to consider relaxing about permanently. She wasn’t nearly as hostile with an extra 45 minutes of sleep, which meant that we ended up finishing no later than we would have if we’d have gotten the early start but clashed at every ten second interval. Everyone was happier. But the freedom stopped being appreciated when it became the norm and the same old issues cropped up, only we were dealing with them until even later in the day now. And since there were no concrete rules about when to get up and how fast to be ready, it wasn’t easy for me to reprimand either. One of the first changes will be reinstating the mandatory 9:00 a.m. start – relaxing about it only on days there’s a reason to.
She took way too long picking out what to wear and making this elaborate breakfast and doing her make-up, which she knows she can only take time to do if she wakes up with her alarm at 8:30 – though you wouldn’t know it by the way she farts all over it like it doesn’t exist. The rule is that if she wants to sleep in until I’m forced to wake her up, she loses those privileges and has to wait until we break for lunch. She didn’t argue though, so I said my piece about it and we moved on.
We met in the schoolroom for grammar, which I think we’ll do more often too.
Note: The schoolroom has been an issue for Mary. I was really proud of myself over the summer for single-handedly saving one room of our basement from essentially being a dungeon to basically becoming a shrine to some of Pinterest’s best do-it-yourself ideas. I love this room, and Matthew does too. But almost to spite me, Mary refuses to work in it. She’d rather work up at the dining room table, which is fine except that I’m constantly having to cart things like art supplies, not to mention forty pounds at a time of textbooks, up and down the stairs; it all clutters the main area of the house, which is the very issue the schoolroom was built to avoid; and I don’t have use of the dry erase board for demonstrations. It’s also where so many things are hung and displayed that it’s useful for her to see everyday. The more I think about it, the more it aggravates me that we already use it as seldom as we do.
I love that she works so diligently at the dining room table, which is why I haven’t bitched about it as much as I’ve sometimes wanted to. Though yesterday, when I had us work back in the schoolroom because I knew I’d be needing the board, she did really well. In fact, Matthew did too. (After a meltdown, anyway – which was my next note.) So maybe we’ll agree to meet in the schoolroom for just at least the first part of the day during grammar.
While I taught Mary’s determining adjectives lesson at the board, I offered Matt an activity that I knew would keep him stimulated and occupied for as long as I needed him not to run around like a rabid squirrel. He was pumped when we first started, but grew petulantly frustrated with me for gently insisting that the numbers not just be Velcroed on the calendar whatever way he feels like putting them – 340,000 times. If anything, the activity was too easy for him so I couldn’t figure out what was to blame. I tried to call him over to show him something I thought would help, but he crossed his arms, refusing to move. When that didn’t bother me as much as he wanted it to, he started throwing things as I answered questions for Mary.
Note: Even though outbursts like this are expected when you’re dealing with a four-year-old sometimes, it’s intensely nerve-wracking to deal with when it interrupts an older child working so well. Both of them are about as easily distracted by each other as a bathing kitten by a darting red laser. A five minute deviation could derail her whole attitude. But I had to take the time Matthew required. Luckily, when he got on track, he was a saint – even earning candy as a reward for how hard he worked to spell a whole list of new words. But it was emotionally exhausting for me, which is not fun so early in the day.
I tried to think of a solution here, (like maybe not trying to work with both of them at once) but honestly, Matthew got back on track so well that I don’t know it’s worth trying to change. It’s really rough sometimes switching between two such different activities and levels thirty times a minute, but there are too many benefits I wouldn’t want to risk losing. They distract each other less when they’re both busy working, and they influence each other to stay on task just by doing it themselves. Part of me would love to keep Matthew buried in a Spongebob workbook for much longer than I do because as soon as he’s free to play, chances of disaster unfurling while we’re consumed in something that should not be interrupted, go rocketing through the roof. But he’s a kid and kids aren’t wired to handle stress so if I make him “work” for more than a few short hours, he turns into a living Chuckie doll. Lesser of evils, that’s what we’re working with here.
Next, Mary had to edit the crap out of this one paper for her next Language Arts subject. This afforded me the time to knock out like eight tons of preschool stuff with Matthew. You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about the baby yet, that’s because life works that way: one minute everything on the planet is working against you and the next, everyone’s cooperating so much you’re wondering if it’s an elaborately planned practical joke. The baby just roamed around, reading books and playing with blocks and by some miracle, not even making much of a mess. Matthew and I sang his days of the week song, numbered the calendar, said the day, practiced writing the date and then recited the pledge of allegiance, which he almost has memorized. We did a reading exercise, where every time he came across a word that made him stumble, we put it on the board and dissected it together. After that, he read the book from start to finish, super fluently. (Super awesome moment, he was WAY proud!)
Then I read to the baby on the sofa before laying her down for a nap.
While she napped, Matt and I worked on his silent GH words. He noticed that the word ‘light’ tripped him up three times during our reading exercise and actually asked to be taught how to understand why in the “freaking world” it’s spelled in a way that makes utterly no sense. He was way into trying to name words that belong to the ‘ight’ family. I wrote them all down for him on a dry erase handwriting practice board, using pale yellow for the silent duo. Then it was his job to trace the gh in dark green.
Mary rocked her writing, Scarlett rocked her nap, Matthew rocked his workbook page after that and I rocked the hell out of an awesome mid-day bubble bath before lunch. Not everything went according to plan, but it was nice. Mary even said that homeschool moms should get paid by the government to do it – that way, more people would do it, which she said would be “better” (I repeat: “BETTER”) for society since homeschool makes kids so smart! Wow, what a turn-around from the perspective she used to have.
Then again, today is a new day, and the baby who had to be cared for back to sleep for half an hour in the middle of the night, literally just woke up screaming like a raptor at the top of her lungs. Ah, a sure sign of promise! Let the note-taking commence.