Autumn approaches here in New England! It is visible in the changing of the first leaves of the maples, the smell of wood smoke in the air, and the flocks of geese honking as they fly over us.
This time of year I get ready for the birds of winter. I get the feeders washed, buy new seeds (kept in a big garbage can to keep the snow and squirrels out) and sign up for Project FeederWatch operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. It is a terrific opportunity to sit back, watch and learn what birds come to your feeders, and record your data. There is a $15.00 fee for the Research Kit, which is for the materials, the Cornell Lab Newsletter, and the year-end report from Cornell.
Those of you that love to feed the birds in the winter, and love to do some scientific research, will enjoy this project very much!
Rhythms, routines, and rituals help us stay centered and on track as homeschooling parents. They enable our children to relax and feel secure because they know what to expect each day. A thoughtful routine allows us to focus our energy in one area at a time, knowing that other essential areas will not be neglected. Establishing a rhythm removes some of the guesswork, giving us a ready answer to the question, “What comes next?”
Well-established rhythms help us manage the ebb and flow of homeschooling and free our remaining energy to deal with the unexpected. We can focus on schoolwork knowing that there is time set aside for outside play. We can make a last-minute visit to the park knowing what time frame will still allow us to get dinner on the table. We can go about our day confident that routine tasks will be remembered and taken care of.
It may take some time to uncover the rhythms, routines, and rituals that work best for your family. Keep trying until you find your way. Once you have some ideas, post them someplace visible in a form that everyone can understand (with simple words or pictures for younger children) so that the whole family knows what to expect.
Here are some ideas as you seek to find and refine the rhythm that works for you:
Observing daily rituals and following a routine helps to center and calm us as we begin the day. It can be as simple as first opening the curtains to let in the morning sun, feeding the cat, preparing a cup of something delicious, and then sitting down in a favorite chair for a contemplative moment before the day’s work begins.
Modeling a morning rhythm for our children by having one for ourselves is a powerful example. Some children wake slowly, while others greet the day with every ounce of exuberance. How can you support your child’s inner rhythm and incorporate it into your expectations for the day?
Circle time is a time-honored tradition in Waldorf-inspired education and is part of Oak Meadow’s curriculum for younger learners. Some families begin with an opening verse, read a poem, share a song, do a fingerplay or game, and end with a closing verse. Oak Meadow curriculum contains content and ideas for circle time.
For some families, this will feel just right. For others, circle time may need to feel very different — shorter and more active, or more fluid and less structured, or with completely different elements. The exact content is less important than the act of sharing a ritual to focus your attention together as you start your day. Some families incorporate stretching or yoga into their morning circle. Some find other ways of sharing and connection. With some trial and error, you will figure out what works for your family.
Daily and Weekly
What is your family’s energy like on Mondays? Some families like to jump in and start the week with a burst of fresh motivation. Others regularly need post-weekend transition time and hit their peak productivity mid-week. Does it work best for you to work intensely and then rest thoroughly, or sprinkle learning and play together in a more spontaneous way?
Daily routines are one way to ensure that everything gets done and nothing is forgotten, which can be a great help when there are many tasks and needs to keep track of. Housework can be done with the children’s help. When everyone is working together as a team, it can help motivate participants who might be reluctant.
If your family is quite busy with outside activities during the week, consider blocking off one day each week in which you all stay home. If there is a day when nobody has to go anywhere, it allows the opportunity for uninterrupted down time and relaxation. You might even declare this a “pajama day” to honor children who prefer their pajamas and would love a celebrated reason to stay in them once in awhile.
Are your weekends different from your weekdays? Do you have any recurring components to your weekend, such as a late brunch, a family activity, or the observance of faith traditions? If your week already has a predictable basic rhythm, start with that and build around it.
When are your children most focused and ready to learn? When do they seem to need rest or down time? When do they burst with physical energy and need to play outside? When are they drawn to be quietly independent?
Keep a thoughtful eye on the emotional state of the household and be willing to be flexible. You might find that the order of activities matters most, rather than the exact start time of a recurring activity. The best routines are the ones that can sway and stretch as needed to accommodate the shifting needs of the family.
Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed with flexibility in mind. One lesson can be completed in a week if desired, but there are other approaches that also work well. Some families spread lessons in all subjects evenly through the week. Others choose to do “block scheduling,” which might mean focusing on one subject per day or one subject per term. One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is its inherent adaptability to the needs of those involved.
If you have multiple children, you may need to arrange your day so that they get your one-on-one attention at different times. You may be able to arrange for older children (or another helper) to engage with one child while you work with another. If that is not an option, a mother’s helper (perhaps an older homeschooler or a retired friend) can be a boon.
Can weekly chores be scheduled for a predictable day? It may work best to start (or end) your week with a family effort to tidy up the house. It can be helpful to pin a weekly activity to a particular day (such as Tidy-Up Tuesday). Another example of a chore that can be simplified with a recurring weekly theme is meal planning. The less time you have to spend thinking about what comes next, the more easily you can dive in and accomplish it.
Do you have a ritual for gathering the family for dinner? This might mean having children take turns setting the table, lighting a candle once everyone is present, and observing a quiet moment of gratitude before beginning the meal. Some families enjoy a tradition of word or number games over dinner, and others take turns telling what they learned or enjoyed about their day. Even young children can take pride in helping to clear the table after the meal.
In the evening, do you foster a sense of calm as the day winds down? What would that look like in your home? In some families, evening can be somewhat chaotic, with a parent arriving home from work, older children going to and from evening activities, a kitchen flurry that hopefully results in a good dinner, and everyone’s energy in fragments after the long day. As parents, we steer the family ship. Ending the day on a calm shore is a gift we give our children and ourselves.
Making It Happen
Experiment with what you imagine might work for your family, observe the results, and make adjustments through trial and error. Ask your children for their ideas and suggestions. If you get stuck, consider a support consultation with Oak Meadow’s experienced staff.
There are no right or wrong ways to do this. Continue to embrace the things that work, and gently let go of the things that don’t. By incorporating routines and rhythm into our homeschooling lives, we help ourselves and our families remain centered and keep our homeschool plans running smoothly throughout the year.
Oak Meadow student, Fae Leonard-Mann, completed her third grade poetry block in language arts with a beautiful poem called “Fairyland.” As I was reading this poem she had scribed so endearingly, I couldn’t help but ponder how the season of summer seems to be the avenue for becoming entranced in the world of fairies.
This summer, I had the joyful opportunity of personally experiencing fairyland when I visited Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, California. Not only did I appear miniscule in this vast forest of giant redwoods, I could also feel the presence of tiny living elements amongst the ancient trees, shimmering streams, and frocks of ferns. It left me with a sensational impression that linked me to great unknowns.
Exploring nature and reading the poem Fae shared in her main lesson book compelled me to further research and read other poems about fairies. I found a wonderful site that offers a plethora of fairy quotes, poems, and verses. For additional inspiration in music and cinematography, I encourage you and your family to view the brief video that offers soothing fairy-lilted voices and instrumentation. It is a balm to any fairy lover.
Another great activity for this time of year is building your own fairy houses. In the spring 2013 issue of Living Education, Oak Meadow’s Director of Curriculum Development DeeDee Hughes wrote a lovely article on Fairy Houses and Fairy Gardens. It shares so many wonderful ideas and helpful tips for you and your children to design and construct your own fairy house or garden.
I do hope you take a moment before the end of this summer season to arouse your senses, hone in on your keen observation skills, and look around you at the mysteries of life that are so close to you. Who knows. You may even discover a new friend!
Each fairy breath of summer, as it blows with loveliness, inspires the blushing rose.
You’ve just finished a great book. You’re sure you are NEVER going to be able to find another one just as good! Where do you begin to search? You could ask at the library, read the best seller lists, or you could visit one of these awesome sites!
What Should I Read Next will provide you with similar books to the one you’ve just read and lead you to Amazon for a description. Of course you don’t have to buy the book, just go to your local library.
The Book Seer will offer you many recommendations after you enter the title and author of the book you just read.
Makin Book Talk is a little different from the other ones. You choose an award program such as the Georgia Peach Book Award for Teens, or the Iowa Teen Book Award. Then you can select from the list provided.
So if you are stumped for what book to read next and you are looking for something similar, try one of the sites and see what they suggest!
“I don’t know how homeschooling families do it all.”
“I like the idea of homeschooling, but I could never do it all.”
“I can’t even imagine how you do it all.”
“How DO you do it all?”
Do it all?!!
In Part I, we explored the academic side of “doing it all” — finding support, planning carefully, and keeping expectations realistic. In Part II, we take a look the equally
important non-academic side of things: running the home, the importance of routine, getting your own needs met, and staying connected as a family.
Homeschooling families are particularly sensitive to housework and other issues because we tend to spend more time in our homes than families who spend their days out at work and school. Do all you can to simplify housework or make it more efficient. Finding ways for each family member to help out as part of the daily routine can help to ease the load.
Make chores a regular part of each child’s day and learning. Plan meals in advance to simplify grocery shopping and meal preparation. Foster independence. Older children can help younger ones accomplish routine tasks. Limiting each member to one cup, one bowl, one plate, and teaching everyone to wash their own after meals can simplify dishes. Even small children can help sort laundry if clothing tags are marker-coded for each family member (one spot for the oldest child, two spots for the next-oldest, etc.) Does all the underwear really need folding? Choose your challenges wisely and let go of the rest.
Routines and Rhythms
Are you worried about feeling overwhelmed? Predictable rhythms help families stay on track and thrive. Routines help ensure that the important things get done automatically without being bogged down in deliberation or negotiation. Establish set times for academics, rest, housework, and play (but always keep your expectations flexible). Take the time to post a plan for your day and week that all family members can reference. Use pictures instead of words so non-readers will know what to expect. Revisit and adjust your plan as you get a sense of what works best for your family.
Predictable rhythms can help family members feel a sense of pride and ownership in the home. In our family, we light a candle at the dinner table; the child whose turn it is to set and clear the table also enjoys the privilege of lighting and blowing out the candle. Weave together work and play, rest and responsibility, throughout the day to keep everyone feeling refreshed.
In many households, time feels tight and everyone always seems to be on the go. Many families fill all or most of their children’s available time with academics, enrichment, and social activities. These things are important, but unstructured time is also very important in a child’s development and deserves a fair share of each day.
Let your child have regular periods of time without structure or expectations. Set up indoor and outdoor spaces for safe open-ended creative play and investigation, and let children follow their whim, however “aimless” it might seem. Boredom is to be embraced; spin it as an opportunity, not a burden. Children who are not accustomed to unstructured playtime may need compassionate adult encouragement, but they will figure it out.
Homeschooling depends on strong, healthy parental involvement. What do you need? Be sure you get what you need to recharge regularly, even if that happens piecemeal. Fit in little forms of self care throughout the day — fresh air, exercise, rest, healthy eating, a change in scenery, social support, and some time devoted to relationships and/or hobbies. Many of these needs are possible to meet with children, and your children will learn self care from your example.
Many homeschooling parents also find it essential to have some time completely alone or in the company of adult friends. If you have multiple children, even going out with “just the baby” can be a nice break. Also give your spousal relationship the nurturing it deserves. It is very important to nourish ourselves so that we are able to meet the needs of our children.
Parenting and Staying Connected
Parenting is an integral part of homeschooling, in contrast to the division between parenting and education that occurs in conventional schooling. Take the time to address parenting issues promptly as they come up. Dovetail life skills and interpersonal skills with academic skills. Reassess daily where your child is most in need of support, and let that guide your approach for the day. Persistence, consistency, patience, and gentle repetition are valuable parenting investments that will pay off over time.
Homeschooling allows for constant physical presence, but emotional connectedness is an additional layer that deserves thoughtful care. Make it a point to regularly to connect with your child (and your partner) in ways that matter to both of you — without dividing your attention or multitasking. A little one-on-one attention can go a long way. If that is not possible, the book The Five Love Languages of Children can help you identify the kind of attention that will go the furthest with your child.
Express appreciation to your children, your partner, and the adults who help support your children, for their roles in your homeschooling endeavors. A set the expectation that you deserve appreciation for your own efforts. Successful homeschooling is a collaborative effort in which every family member plays a part. Make opportunities to celebrate yourselves and your accomplishments as a family whenever you can.
Working and Homeschooling
If you are balancing working and homeschooling, staying connected can feel like a super-sized challenge. (Many families do succeed at this, even with both parents working regularly.) Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed to offer many opportunities to be flexible with schooling around other scheduling demands.
If you are splitting your time between work and homeschooling, use any flexibility you might have to keep things flowing as smoothly as possible for you and your family. Consider enlisting the help of a loving friend or family member, another homeschooling family, or a homeschooled teen to help nurture your child’s learning while you are working. Or get outside help with housework and other tasks so you can focus your attention directly on your child when you are available.
Aligning Your Expectations
Successful homeschooling families discuss and list their priorities, and focus on the top ones while letting the lesser ones go. Focus on your family’s highest priorities and make peace with the rest. Take care of yourself and nurture the connections within your family to avoid burnout. Make sure everyone in the family gets sufficient down time.
There is no one right way to live a homeschooling life, and (thankfully) there are many right ways to “do it all.” What elements and outcomes are most important to your family? Do not be afraid to align your expectations to your family’s capabilities. By tuning into your own family’s needs and crafting a personal definition of what “doing it all” means, you will succeed.
I’ve just discovered the New York Times “The Learning Network” for students ages 13 and older. It’s a blog with lots of news to read, but also has a great crossword section! If you like crossword puzzles, you can do them online, or you can print them out to use with a pencil. I like to print out a puzzle so that I can carry it around with me, set it down, and then go back to it when I feel like it without having to go onto the computer. There are many topics to choose from. I tried the “Life in Colonial America” topic and was stumped at 25 down. What would the two-word answer be for “outfit worn by colonial Americans on horseback?”