Happy weekend before Christmas! Are you ready? Since my family is moving back across the country in a couple days, we elected to skip decorating or getting a tree (instead, we helped my parents get theirs) and have been relying on our awesome friends here in Iowa for the other traditions like gingerbread houses, caroling, and Christmas cookies. So I have nothing to say about Christmas traditions today, but I am taking this packing break to reflect back on what I’ve learned about making our homeschool work this year.
First of all, I have come to accept that homeschooling is a full-time job, and the more kids you add into the mix, the less time you will have for other things like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping! It is totally feasible to homeschool one child for kindergarten and first grade for an hour in the afternoons while the younger kids are napping, and you can continue on with morning play groups, Bible studies, and the like, without totally changing your lifestyle yet. With more and older kids, though, you have to spend your whole day schooling, and you’re probably not going to be able to do loads of laundry or clean the house. When our house started getting out of hand, my husband and I sat down and instituted Saturday morning cleaning chores. Each of my kids has three tasks, ranging from cleaning bathrooms (the big two) to washing windows and vacuuming (the little ones). My husband and I oversee things, and by noon on Saturday, the house is as clean as it ever gets. We didn’t need to do this when the kids were younger and I had daily cleaning tasks that I had the time to do myself, but now that my weekdays are as full as my husband’s, the weekend is for cleaning.
Along the same lines, my cooking has become streamlined in this season of life. We love to try new recipes and learn new techniques, but now I mostly save that sort of thing for the weekend and stick with tried-and-true dishes during the week. I use my crockpot multiple times a week, especially for the evenings when we have dance lessons or art class right up until dinner time. Pretty much every single week, we do a whole chicken with carrots and potatoes in the crockpot, then I make broth overnight and do a soup (bacon and bean, chicken noodle, potato, etc) with it the next day. I’ve also finally taught my kids to eat beans, so we also have a weekly crockpot beans-and-rice night, either with pinto beans (which I blend with my stick blender to make refried beans) or black beans (which we eat whole over rice and then use the leftovers in chicken tortilla soup or Mexican chicken). Throw in a pasta night (my big kids can cook tortellini and slice up chicken sausage and put together a green salad, so that’s a night I don’t have to do a thing) and our traditional Friday night pizza-and-movie night (by now I can make pizza dough in my sleep, and the kids make up the pizzas), and that’s pretty much our weeknight meals. Predictable, but with some variety in the general categories.
This fall, Anna rocked my world by telling me she has a set menu for breakfasts and lunches. I’d never done that–I mean, I have a variety of options, from oatmeal to cereal to eggs, and I let the kids choose. Choice is good, right? Except it’s not when it literally cripples them, as it does my middle girls, who I was spending an hour or more each morning cajoling to eat. After Anna’s pep talk, I announced that we’d be instituting a weekly breakfast menu. (We still do sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, but that’s usually not a source of conflict, so I haven’t set up anything official.) The kids whined at first, but after a week or so, my kids all admitted that they liked not having the pressure of deciding what to eat every single morning! Here’s our rough breakfast plan:
Monday–muffins (Mondays are hard, so if I get up early and bake muffins, it sets a positive, fun tone for the week!)
Tuesday–oatmeal (overnight baked if I have time, stovetop if I don’t–two of the kids complain about it, but I still allow fun toppings–mini chocolate chips, coconut flakes, or fruit–so they’re doing better about eating it than I expected)
Wednesday–egg something–scrambled, omelets, over easy with toast, French toast
Thursday–oatmeal again (It’s cheap!)
Friday–bacon or sausage or something a little more fun, like crumpets or sausage gravy and biscuits
Saturday and Sunday–since Daddy’s home and the kids have more time, it depends. The big kids might make pancakes and waffles, or we might do cold cereal, or if we have company, we might do something fancier.
In the school realm, I’ve long bemoaned the fact the public schools are cutting down recess time, but I’ve only this year truly committed to giving my kids a solid half-hour recess every morning at 10:30, rain or shine. In good weather, they have to be outside, running around, riding bikes, roller skating, or jumping rope. In bad weather, I turn on the La La Land soundtrack and we dance! I used to try to just push through with schoolwork until lunch, but frustration levels decrease and concentration increases when we take a good brain break. (Also, this is usually when I tackle the breakfast dishes, take a shower if I didn’t get one in before breakfast and school started, and do any set-up or photo copying for school stuff.) Sometimes they’re playing so well that it’s hard to pull them back in. Sometimes I just pull one kid in for a quick one-on-one phonics or Latin lesson. Sometimes I let the little girls stay outside and keep playing (because they’re often basically done with school by that point) while I drag the big kids in for more schoolwork. Sometimes the kids are begging to come inside after two minutes, and I tell them they can’t come in until the timer goes off! Regardless, it’s a really important part of our day.
I’ve alluded to our four-day-a-week schedule before, but this semester, while we’ve been temporarily living in a new place, it’s been a key part of our homeschool life to spend four days on all our formal seatwork then take a field trip on the fifth day. I picked up these amazing field trip journals this summer (designed by a homeschool mom for homeschoolers!), and according to them, we’ve been on 18 unique field trips this fall, not counting the repeat visits to the local children’s museum. I’m a huge believer that exposure to museums, monuments, and presidential libraries is an essential part of a well-rounded education. (Sometimes the field trip is just to the local library, which is more low key for me, but still fun for the kids, too.) In addition, each child has a nature journal for our nature hikes, park trips, and botany studies, which we actually have time to do when we have that free fifth day. We don’t use textbooks for science, because I literally remember nothing I read in a textbook before high school, but our journals allow the kids to record the things they want to remember and refer back to them.
And lastly, this is a silly thing, but our other favorite new discovery for the 2017 school year has been Frixion erasable pens. They really work, they’re amazing, and I will never back to regular pens again! I’ve long been a pencil (Ticonderoga only!) and colored pencil (Prismacolor!) snob, but the kids think it’s such a treat to write in pen, and when it can be erased just as easily as a pencil, I can be the cool mom and let them. Somehow a math practice page is just less daunting with a pink pen in hand.
What practical homeschool (or homemaking) survival tips have you figured out this year? Will you be switching anything up after the holidays?
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