I have been struggling trying to find the perfect schedule. I will think I have it and then something changes. A new baby, no more naps for the toddler, but more than anything else it’s me that changes.
I thought that I just lacked discipline. When I mentioned that to my husband he actually laughed, “You are the most disciplined, driven person I know.”
Oh. Ok. So it’s not that.
Well then, why is this so hard!
I took a step back and really looked at the day. There was no life in our day. Certainly not in our school. Every activity was something that had to be forced, coerced or punished if not finished. I was simply exhausted from both trying to control everything and not loose my temper. No wonder this wasn’t working. Something needed to change.
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Finding Life in our Day
This happens a lot. I will lean towards an unschooling bent and school will be easy but my kids will be wild and then I will start to feel guilty that my students are not doing enough formal school and school will be hard and lifeless. My students won’t be quite so wild but rebellious instead. Fun, right? But I’m getting so much done!
One day, I got out a math game. Even though it was Halloween themed and it’s now summer. Kids didn’t care. We played that game for 45 minutes. All of us. Even the toddler. Not the baby, she would have eaten all the cards. For 45 minutes! No crying. No forcing. All of them practiced math skills together. And we had fun.
What else could we do that was fun?
I started thinking about activities we could do together, have fun, and learn. Then I would try them randomly and see how well that worked.
That’s when I hit on the magic formula for the perfect day.
The Magic Formula for the Perfect Homeschool Day
Really, this magic formula works for any day. Any day.
Before I show it to you, be warned. It looks simple, obvious even. Don’t underestimate it’s power!
Here it is:
Together time followed by free time.
Told you. Simple. But so powerful.
Together time can be anything you can all share. I’ve been using meals as our together time. So, while we eat breakfast, we are playing a math game, or reading a math book.
Meal times now have so much less chaos and noise. Although the baby does contribute her fair share.
Free time is unstructured. Sometimes they play together. Sometimes everyone needs alone time. Sometimes I do one-on-one time with them, sometimes I am doing my own project (like right now).
A Tale of Two Structured Unschooling Days
To give you an idea of how I use the Magic Formula, I will illustrate with the last two days of school. You will see that I followed the Magic Formula better the second day than the first.
Monday I woke up feeling so so tired. I think I might have been fighting a bug. I woke up 20 minutes before my students (normally I wake up about 2 hours before them). Hubby is already at work, so I can’t ask him to make breakfast. Lame. No shower today. I make my breakfast and then theirs, eating mine before I wake them up.
Eating breakfast before them means that my tolerance will be high and I’ll be able to read to them while they eat. I eat every meal but dinner before them for this reason.
I wake up my students and quickly realize that they are not at their best either. I try reading a book to them but they are non responsive slugs, so I let that go.
After breakfast is free time. Hubby and I had gone on a date the day before and bought this adorable Mancala game. I left it sitting on the table and after breakfast my kids noticed it. We spend about an hour taking turns playing Mancala.
And then, I sit on the couch do nothing. I just couldn’t bring myself to get up. While on the couch I listen to my students all playing a make-belief game. Why interrupt their play.
I eat my own lunch and then get the kids. Today I don’t have anything planned. Just too tired.
Monday is library day. I really don’t want to go, but we have so much due and holds to pick up that I make myself. A poopy diaper forces us home early.
I know what’s going to happen after a library trip. I sit on the couch, and sure enough there’s a crowd of little learners wanting to be read to. I read for an hour at which point I declare myself too tired to continue. They scatter to read their piles and some go play while I sit on the couch and do nothing.
We listen and color for about an hour. Then it’s my cooking time and their free time.
After dinner the kids alternate one-on-one time with Daddy and free time while I sit on the couch and stare into space.
Tuesday was much better. I’m still tired but much less so. The kids seem completely fine although a little wilder than normal. Probably from the copious amounts of free time they got the day before.
At breakfast we try a little math. This time with a game from Beast Academy. It goes much better than yesterday.
I take a second to see what moods my kids are in and decide that they all need one-on-one time before we do our next activity. I have 5 kids, so that takes 50 minutes.
I give them a 5 minute warning that we will be doing morning time. Warnings are essential to transitioning from free time to group time.
You can read this post to see what we do in morning time.
I let them know that I’m not feeling great and I cut morning time in half.
Now it’s time for me to eat lunch. When I’m done it’s their turn. We do about 30 minutes of reading picture books.
After half an hour of free time, I do reading with Ben (10 minutes for him to read to me 20 minutes of me reading to him) then I’m supposed to do reading with Faith but I didn’t realize until typing this that we did math instead. Oh well, she wanted to do math so that is probably better anyways.
More free time. Wow. My 10 year old gets a lot of free time during this time. I don’t have anything I’m working with her on. I should probably fix that.
I’m feeling like I am a super hero, doing all of that work while feeling sick, so I take some free time to just play.
Tea Time Tuesday!
After dinner, we play this family game which was adorable and my 4 year old’s favorite.
A List of Family Fun Learning
Here is a list of the activities I have found fun to learn with multiple aged students:
- Listen to audiobooks (and color)
- Poetry Tea Time
- Documentaries (we are currently watching this one)
- Sensory play
- Outside play
- Nature study
- Listening to music
- iPad games
I have found games such a painless way of practicing skills that I am going to be making efforts to learn/create more games.
Do Things Have to be Scheduled?
I am trying to pinpoint the things that we all love and make sure those happen, at least, weekly. Right now, I intend to do math and phonics everyday. Morning time is scheduled 4 days a week. And I pick one of the activities in Family Fun Learning for everyday (including Sunday).
I have learned that the specifics of what I do doesn’t matter. My students don’t absolutely have to have Tea Time Poetry on Tuesday (although that one almost always happens), but the time must be filled with some kind of family togetherness.
When I follow the schedule (together time, free time) my students needs are all being met and everyone is happy. Of course there are still squabbles, but they almost never last all day like they used to. I’m getting better and better at filling in the together time. My students are learning and they are learning together. I have found my perfect schedule.