New Year, New Routine!

Happy new year!!

I’m the kind of person who likes routines. Lists checked off in an orderly fashion, charts made up of neat lines and clear fonts, new planners with all the possibilities of the fresh, clean year spread among their pages – these are the things that make me excited. I’m not generally a huge fan of change.

Of course, my husband is a huge fan of change. In his personal life, he is spontaneous, not much of a planner, and completely unimpressed at the sight of a year’s calendar precisely filled in and color coded. Marriage to him for almost ten years has certainly taught me to enjoy the unexpected.

We also have four small children. The oldest three are triplets- there’s a curve ball I didn’t see coming! We’ve homeschooled from the beginning, and our daughters are now halfway through second grade, with a little brother following along in preschool. I still appreciate routines and having a flow to our days, but I’ve learned that different seasons of our homeschool will require different kinds of routines. And the last few weeks of our fall semester convinced me that it was time to make some adjustments.

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Reading in a box. Why not?

In spite of having a “classroom” of kids with three children all the same age, our school days don’t ever look like that of a typical class. Homeschooling multiples deserves a post (or series of posts!) all on its own, but to keep to the point, I’ll just say that there are some subjects we do together and some that they do with me individually. I needed to figure out a way to ensure that each of my four children had focused time alone with me each day, and also that my son, who will be four in a few days, wasn’t left to his own (often destructive) devices when the girls and I were busy doing some of our joint work. I also don’t like telling him to be quiet or sit still for long periods of time. He’s still a little guy. He needs lots of loud, jumping, running, crashing free play every day.

(I should note that my second graders don’t do a lot of independent work. I don’t have stacks of papers they can fill out on their own while I work with someone else. They have independent reading every day, followed by a short narration, but that’s about it.)

After a lot of thought, this is what I settled on:

We kept our early morning routine of waking up and taking care of our chores, feeding pets, and practicing instruments before breakfast. After cleaning up, we head into the living room for morning time together, as usual. But that’s where the new routine comes in.

After morning time, the girls each grab their current independent reading book andimg_3636 disappear to various quiet corners of the house to read while Benjamin and I color, count blocks as we build, sing the alphabet song, and rhyme with our school puppet Petey the Puppy. Spending this one-on-one time with him first thing fills up his love tank and is the exact opposite of telling him to “be quiet,” “sit still,” or “take that (loud toy) somewhere else.”

After he and I reach the end of our time together, I call the girls to the table so we can do our Bible lesson and critical thinking puzzle together. We’re able to reconnect, and Benjamin is in and out those few minutes, as involved as he wants to be.

Next follows an hour and a half where the girls cycle through a half hour each of time doing individual work with me. This includes math, spelling, and reading aloud. The other two hang out with their brother, free to play games, read books to him, build puzzles, ride bikes- whatever they want to do together. The girls each end up with a break from thinking about schoolwork, and Benjamin has playmates focused on spending time with him.

By the time the last child has had alone time with me, little man has been pretty well satisfied and is content to play by himself, often right there in the school room with us. The girls and I cover copywork, discuss grammar, and practice cursive, then enjoy one of our weekly enrichment studies (artist, composer, or poet) before lunch.

We’re all together at lunch and alternate science and history, ending the meal with either an experiment or an addition to our timeline. Benjamin is very involved and loves being a part of this time!!

After lunch, we end our day with another of our weekly studies: either Spanish (two days a week), ASL, or nature study. Benjamin does these with us as well.

img_3673We’re left with a short while to tidy up and play before it’s time to tuck little brother into bed for his nap. And while he’s asleep, the girls enjoy an hour of sewing or reading or playing quietly. If it’s a pretty day, they play outside. And I get an hour to breathe deeply, hear myself think, and recharge for the rest of the day.

There are several things I love about this new routine. First, I noticed that neither I nor any of my children was getting burned out by the end of our school day. Everyone was still eager and attentive, and there was plenty of energy to make it through all we had planned to do. I also noticed that because Benjamin was getting plenty of time with me and his sisters, during the short periods of time when we needed him to be quiet, he had no trouble complying. It’s good for him to learn to be respectful of others’ needs and to practice some quiet play on his own, but I think it’s important that his free time far exceeds the amount of time he’s required to be more contained. An unexpected bonus to this new routine is how much of my own daily work I am able to accomplish during the day. I have an hour and a half when I’m right there available to one child at a time, but the girls don’t need me hovering over their shoulders at every moment. For example, during their math practice, except for explaining new concepts or helping with an occasional tough spot, they can complete their fifteen minutes of problems on their own. And with the utility room opening off the school room, I can keep laundry going, sweep the floors, tidy bookshelves, confirm appointments on my calendar, and correct the previous day’s work while the girls work nearby, always available to them but able to keep the household running at the same time.

We’re still early in the final semester of this school year, but I feel pretty confident that this new routine will remain a good fit for us until the wild freedom of summer arrives. After that, who knows?

Do you have a daily routine? How do you handle juggling homeschooling and homemaking?

– Katie

Living an Interruptible Life

100_1681.JPGThe first time I ever thought about the idea of an interruptible life was when a woman I barely knew, a dentist from our Sunday school class in a new state, gave up her free evening to come to my house and rock my sick babies. My triplet daughters were just five months old, sick for the first time, and my husband was in the middle of major exams in pharmacy school. I had three infants crying and vomiting and staining their clothes with diarrhea, desperate to be comforted, but I couldn’t comfort them all, care for them all, and continue cleaning up the frequent messes alone. I’d already tried to do that for more than two days and I was exhausted. The acquaintance from church had once told me to feel free to call her if I ever needed anything, and my poor babies’ tears finally convinced me to do so. I threw out my pride and asked if she would please come over to just sit in the rocking chair and cuddle my sick little ones. She immediately said yes, and before long my miserable girls were all being held and comforted. Two soon fell asleep and were laid down, and she continued to rock the third baby (whose misery was compounded by colic) while I scrubbed carpet and threw a load of laundry in the washer and prepared bottles for the next round.

I sat on the step leading into our living room then and just breathed deeply as I watched her, this woman who was giving up precious free time with her own daughter so she could bless me. Suddenly Leviticus 23:22 came to mind: “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.'” This kind woman, mostly a stranger to me, had chosen to leave the edges of her time available to give away freely, and I was gleaning great blessings because of it.

I have never forgotten that night. For several years, in pharmacy school out of state with three, then four babies to provide for, there was little left at the corners of our family’s “fields.” Little time, money, energy. And yet I longed to offer what I could, and what I had to offer was my home. A new acquaintance, married to an alcoholic and mother of four small children, could come to our house for a slight reprieve to drink tea while her children played with mine. A friend going through great personal hardships could come over to cuddle babies (sweet smelling babies are good for the soul, and we had plenty to go around). A stay-at-home mother who needed to go to a doctor’s appointment knew she could bring her children to my house to be cared for while she was gone. All of these were small bits of offerings, but they were all I had to give, so I gave them freely and cheerfully.

Our children grew and we began to homeschool, and I discovered, to my great delight, that this flexible lifestyle allows us to continue to live an interruptible life, open to the many opportunities God sends us to bless others. We can adjust our plans easily to allow us to focus on the people around us. When we aren’t tied down to a strict schedule, we are free to open our home to those who need a place to rest, free to pack up and visit those who are sick or struggling, free to be available mentally, emotionally, and physically when God clearly sets people in front of us who need Him.

Educating our children at home may offer us the gift of freedom, but it’s all too easy to enslave ourselves to other pursuits, losing those precious “edges” so that once again we’re left with nothing to give. Sports, music, dance, theater, co-ops and tutorials- there are so many good things that we can be tempted to pursue, and if we aren’t careful, we’ll find ourselves reaping all the way to the very “corners of our fields,” viewing anyone who intrudes upon those pursuits as an interruption to our lives. I find myself evaluating and prioritizing the extras in my family’s life often, trying to make sure that they are not robbing us of being able to give to others.

No doubt you’ve heard it said that “Children are not an interruption to our work; they are our most important work.” I’m thrilled to also teach my children that people in need are not an interruption to our lives; they are the reason that God blesses us with His spiritual gifts.

Our days include reading and writing and math and art and music and field trips and loads of other fun things, but I hope that none of it ever overshadows the pouring out of love onto the people God brings to us who so desperately need Him. Our life is His, and so whoever He chooses to bring into it could never truly be an interruption. Some days can be hard, but I’m grateful that homeschooling allows us this great freedom to love others with not only the edges, but the entirety of our days.

– Katie

Year Round Homeschooling

“Schoooooool’s out for summer!” …. Well kind of, but not really. For my family, we are what you consider year-round schoolers. I’ve had a lot of people ask about what our summer schedule is like, so I want to take a minute to share. First, I want to talk a little bit about why we do “summer school.” My oldest is a creature of habit. This could possibly be explained by his ASD diagnosis, but here lately I just like to think that’s how he’s wired in general and forget the little details. When we first started school it was like pulling teeth getting him to cooperate and do “table time.” With some compromise on both of our parts, we finally hit our stride in about October. Then December hit. We made it through our first semester!! I turned in our grades to our umbrella school and happily closed our books. We enjoyed a few blissful weeks of free play and play dates. The 2nd week of January it was time to get back to work and it was like starting at square one! I decided from then on, we would school year-round. Now that isn’t to say I don’t make summers special. We celebrated the “end of 1st grade” with our co-op group, and my son knows it’s summer and our schedule is different, but we still have “school time” and here’s what it looks like…

Summer 2018 Plans

-The 3 “R’s”
All summer we will start our day with morning work, which consists of Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic. For reading we continue our All About Reading (currently on level 2), writing is our PALS (Primary Arts of Language) curriculum, and math is Rightstart (hoping to finish level A before the end of the summer, PRAISE THE LORD!! ) I like to continue these because my son is technically behind his peers in some of these subjects, so the extra practice helps us catch up some. Also, these aren’t his favorite, so continuing them through the summer helps us not have that starting and stopping drama.

-Sports
We spend a LOT of time in the summer outside, and as a result we are practicing a lot of sports/physical education. We are wrapping up coach pitch baseball season, right in the middle of basketball clinic, and about to test for our green belt in Taekwondo. That doesn’t even include all the swimming! Lightening up on our science and social studies during the summer gives us the time to focus on these super important skills.

-Enrichment
One thing I wanted to work on most this summer was my son/s diet. He is the pickiest of picky eaters, and quite dramatic on top of that, so meal times can be quite the experience. So this summer we are cooking through a kid’s cookbook! We are using the Usborne Start to Cook. He makes a shopping list each week, reads the recipes, and makes them 100% on his own. Through cooking we are tackling several subjects in addition to getting him a little more comfortable around food!

On top of all this, he also has 20 minutes of independent reading time, piano practice, and a list of daily chores  that have to take place before he can have any screen time.

With all that being said, we still have lots of down time built in. What is usually 4 hours of structured learning in the school year is cut down to probably 1.5 hours in the summer, depending on how long our recipe takes.  It/s amazing how something as simple as opening books for an hour a day throughout the summer helps with our transitions. Now when my son is older and can understand better the concept of school breaks we might build in some more breaks, but for now we will keep on going!

Happy Summer, Everyone!!!

– Valerie