Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool (with a nearly-3 and nearly-6 year old)

My homeschool philosophy is based largely on Classical Education and Charlotte Mason. My daughter Alina is in first grade, studying reading, math, handwriting, history, science, and music. My son Ian is young enough that I don't require any formal schooling of him, but he does choose to do some preschool workbook pages most weeks.

Our weekly school routine is planned so that we do more school work towards the beginning of the week, and have more free time and outings later in the week.

We start our school day bright and early, typically finishing up no later than noon.  While every day seems to have some variation, a typical day for us looks like this:
  • 5:30-6:00AM
    • I wake up early a few days a week.  Since my youngest is still not sleeping through the night, I never set an alarm, but I do seem to wake around 5:30 a few days each week. I use this morning time to grab a quick snack and do some blogging or homeschool planning. 
  • 6:00-7:30 AM 
    • My son is an early riser, so he usually gets up between 6-6:45AM.  We get up together and relax a bit; usually he nurses while I check e-mail and read a few blog posts.  
    • A few times a week, I offer the option for my son to do some school work, and he typically chooses to do so about twice a week. Even though it is early, this is the best time of day for him to do school work, when I can have some one-on-one time with him and he hasn't yet gotten involved in playing with his cars.
    My current stack of math, science, and history read-alouds
  • 7:30-9:00 AM 
    • My daughter usually wakes up between 7:30 and 8:30AM.  Once she gets up, she can choose to have breakfast right away or to do her quiet reading time. 
    • During breakfast, I read aloud from a history, science, or math book (depending on the day). 
    • Alina during quiet reading time
    • For quiet reading time, my daughter will settle onto the couch for 30 minutes on her own. She is an advanced reader, so she gets to choose her reading material from a stack of books I've placed on the couch. While she reads, I start a load of laundry or clean up breakfast dishes. 
  • 9:00-10:00 AM
    • My daughter does her writing practice for the day. 
    • I often join her at the table so I can get in my own study time as well (I'm studying homeopathy these days).  
    • Little brother plays with cars or trains on his own.  
    • When she is done with her writing, Alina gets a 20 minute recess to play and I skip off to get dressed for the day.
  • 10:00 AM-noon
    • The kids can have a piece of fruit for a snack. (Fruit is their only food option for this snack time, and it makes things so much more simple.)
    • Math time for Alina. Twice a week this consists of playing a math game with me (usually Addition or Subtraction War, 21, Yahtzee, or sometimes Monopoly if we have extra time). Ian likes to play along sometimes too by playing with the dice or cards. Once a week, Alina gets to do Khan Academy for math (which has short arithmetic demonstration videos and a chance to try her own arithmetic).
    • Alina gets another recess to play for 20 minutes.
    • I work on dinner prep, making lunch, and doing laundry.
    • our current science project
    • We have lunch and then finish up any remaining school for the day.
  • noon-1:30 PM
    • Free play time for the kids.
    • I clean up lunch dishes, finish dinner prep, break up sibling squabbles, and work on laundry.
  • 1:30-4:00 PM
    • Quiet time for everyone!  
    • Ian naps for ~2 hours.
    • Alina is in her room with the door closed.  She is allowed to listen to music, color, read, work on a sewing/bead project, or do whatever strikes her fancy so long as she's in her room and cleans up before she comes back out.  
    • I take a short power nap (essential for a mom recovering from adrenal issues!).  The remainder of quiet time I spend blogging, working out, doing yoga, or finishing up laundry in blessed solitude.
  • 4:00-6:00 PM
    • The kids have a snack of fruit or homemade cookies. I sometimes read aloud during their snack.
    • Free play time for the kids.
    • I empty the dishwasher and make dinner. Sometimes a little helper will join me if anyone is willing.
  • 6:00-8:30 PM
    • My husband arrives home from work.
    • We eat dinner as a family.
    • My husband and I clean the kitchen. Meanwhile, the kids play.
    • Free time for all: chatting, reading, playing games, coloring, etc.
    • ~30 minutes of read-alouds before bed. Everyone is in bed by 8:30 PM (us grown-ups too, although my husband and I use this time to read in bed, enjoying the calm and quiet before going to sleep around 9:30-10).
That's a typical weekday for us. If there is interest from you readers, I'll post more about the specific curricula/resources we use for each subject soon.

Do you homeschool?  If so, do you follow a routine, or have things more free-form?


Steckley said...

This is very helpful. Would you mind posting which Classical Curriculum you use? Did you use any formal reading curriculum to teach your daughter to read? My daughter is 4 and my second is 1, so we are just behind you. We are working on reading skills now with my older daughter. I'm drawn to classical style learning for sure. I'd love any suggestions for curriculum that you have. thanks! steckley

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Steckley,
I don't use a "boxed" curriculum, rather I pick and choose for each subject. If there is enough interest, I will do a follow-on post that describes all the curriculum/books/resources I use.

As for reading, we used a combination of phonics and sight reading. I started working through "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" with my daughter when she was 4&1/2. We worked through about half of that book to get a solid foundation on phonics and then switched to more of a sight reading approach (after the basic phonics rules have been covered, I find that the later phonics rules tend to be a bit obscure, and at that point sight reading worked best for us). I posted about our favorite resources for teaching reading here:

In the 6 months since that post, my daughter's reading skills have accelerated tremendously, and she is now reading 5th-7th grade level books! Now the challenge is finding age-appropriate books for her that are still at the upper end of her reading ability. I have found that Classic books do this the best.

I also have planned to write a post about the specific methods I used for teaching reading, and hopefully I'll get to that soon.

Anonymous said...

Your day sounds a lot like ours. Only now that my boys are 12 & 9, there is a bit more structure but it's still pretty loose. I try not to pile on too much at once or it kills their joy for learning. I'll have to think about my homeschool day and post something maybe. Great blog, by the way. I have another loaf of your bread in the oven. As I write this, my boys are hovering around the oven, counting down the minutes and seconds. Our morning starts with a large chunk of reading, about an hour, so they'll get to finish their reading while eating banana bread. It's a great start to the day.

Angela said...

This is awesome! You guys make homeschooling look fun and not overwhelming. I tutor some kids who are in "regular" school, and I seriously have no idea what they do all day. How can they possibly "learn" for 7 hours a day, and then do homework after??

If your daughter can handle "Matilda," she would probably love it b/c it's about a girl who is also an advanced reader :)

Susan said...

My daughter is 17 now, but when she was three she gave up naps. There was no easing into this, it just happened in one day. Period, over. So for the first couple of days I went along with it, but nearing insanity on day 3 or 4, I quickly changed the rules. I told her I was fine if she didn't want to sleep but that she had to give mom a time out for an hour. I told her she could color, read, do crafts, whatever, but if she didn't want a cranky mommy, she had to let mommy rest. It was a little touch and go the first week, but after taking away her after dinner dessert priviledge, she caught on quickly. Soon I was enjoying quiet time where I napped, prepped for dinner or read. It made such an improvement in the rest of my day!

I've been criticized for "ignoring" my daughter instead of playing with her or paying attention to her, but I never cared. I knew what worked for my house and the added benefit is that now, at 17, I have rarely heard my daughter complain about being bored. She knows how to entertain herself and I know some adults who can't even manage that!

My hat is off to you Sarah for putting your health needs first. I too suffer from adrenal fatigue (and probably did when my daughter was little and just didn't realize it) and I know how it can knock the wind out of your sails. As a mom, you want to be everything you can for your kids, but you can't do that if you're sick. Nap, nap, nap while you can! Looking back I ignored many signs of AF until I was in complete crash mode! I've been house-bound for over 3 years now. You are a wise woman to realize that if you don't put your needs first, you won't be able to handle anyone else's needs! Be well!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the post! I am curious what books you use for your read-a-louds. Do you choose from the CM bookfinder? I'm also curious what writing practice means - do you mean handwriting?

We are homeschooling a 7. 4 and 1 year old. We use a mix of Classical, Waldorf and Project-based homeschooling. Our day is not quite as structured, but does have a rhythm. After breakfast we start with chores and then movement. Then we get going on our school work of the day.

I love the daily math games idea!

I struggle a lot with quiet time, especially with 3 kids and 2 bedrooms, one of which the baby naps in. Somedays are good, other days not!

thanks for sharing!

Danielle said...

Please count me interested- I'd love to hear about your curriculum choices, and I very eagerly await your reading methods post. I have one eager phonics beginner, and one who says "I just don't like letters, mama." How does your son do with his preschool work? Does he seem as eager/advanced as your daughter was at his age?

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Elizabeth,
I use lots of different read-alouds, mostly from our local library. I have used some CM-related booklists on the internet as well as books recommended in Well-Trained Mind and the Story of the World Activity Book (which includes reading suggestions to compliment each chapter). The main thing I focus on is trying to use "living" books that tell a story and really engage the kids. I do seem to spend a fair amount of time researching which books to use (not really that much overall, but probably at least an hour or two a month).

We only have two bedrooms (including ours), so for quiet time my son is in our bedroom and his sister is in the kid room. That's just where we are for now, and I'm sure things will have to be adjusted over time.

Sarah Smith said...

Okay Danielle, I'll make sure I get to that post! I've had it in my list of posts to write for months, but seem to keep bumping it.

My son and daughter are rather different in their learning styles. My daughter seemed rather advanced in her fine-motor skills, especially with coloring and cutting paper, when she was 3. I remember that she liked to color entire notebook pages at a time (where there would be absolutely NO white space left at all). Her brother is more interested in doing things that don't take nearly as long. But he seems to be progressing through the Kumon workbooks we are using at about the same pace she did (those books are absolutely wonderful for preschool, and not as good for primary in my opinion). My daughter was interested in fine-motor type activities more than he is; she would spend lots of time coloring and painting without any supervision whereas he is only interested in doing those things for a few minutes. Although I haven't spent nearly the same focused time teaching him things such as the letters and numbers, he luckily seems to pick up quite a bit through seeing what his sister is doing. He does get discouraged more easily than his sister did, especially if his sister criticizes anything he is working on, and that is one more reason that I try to do his school work in the wee hours of the morning before his sister wakes up.

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for the book suggestion! I'll add it to our list!

I agree that we seem able to accomplish so much in so little time schooling at home!

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Susan,
I absolutely couldn't live without our daily quiet time. And the days I end up missing my nap, I am always cranky and worn-out by the end of the day. I am surprised people would criticize you for "ignoring" your daughter, as I think it is such a valuable time for the kids to be able to focus on whatever they like and learn to keep themselves entertained. I think it fosters creativity and self-sufficiency in a healthy way. It did take me having a total adrenal crash a little over a year ago to realize that I'd better start napping during our daily quiet time, and things have been so much better since.

mary said...

I love this article. My daughter just turned 3 and is finally into fine motor skill tasks - coloring and filling in the whole page just like you described along with painting and threading things to make necklaces. She's still not interested in reading. Going to start working on that. She prefers "activity" style books to actual reading books - seek and finds and mazes and puzzles - or she wants to play games - candy land and memory are current favorites. A suggestion on a possible book to try reading would be great. Most of her books are princess stories but I'd live to try something else. Thanks for such a great blog. Miss you at work. :)

JuliPickle said...

I'm so happy to hear you're including music in your homeschooling!

About the "ignoring" kids during the quite time I once read in an Agatha Christie novel it described as "a healthy neglect" and I loved that.

I have a question about reading. Arvilla turned 4 in September and is doing great with sight words. We got the Bob Books and the first 4 she picked up on quickly, but now she's been struggling because if she doesn't know a word she breaks down crying. I never put any pressure on her and I reassure her that if she doesn't know a word I will help her sound it out, or if she wants to take a break from reading that's ok and we can come back to it later. I'm sweet and gentle about it so she will know that she isn't in trouble, but she still cries almost instantly the second she comes upon a word she can't sound out on her own. I think it's because she doesn't like to "mess up" because I was very much that way when I was a younger, I always wanted to do it right the first time and would get very upset if I couldn't. Do you have any suggestions of what I can do to help her? We've been stuck for a while not moving on to new books because of this. Is there another route I should take right now besides the Bob Books?

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Mary,
For us, the most important part of learning to read at the age of three was for me to read aloud picture books as often as possible. Usually at least twice a day for 15 minutes or so. This created a love of books in both of my kids, and I think that is crucial to them actually wanting to read. When I read to my nearly-3-year-old, I also move my finger along under the words as I'm reading so he can see there is a connection between what I'm saying and the words on the page. Since many books have styized words where the first letter on the page is large, I often will talk about one or two letters in the book, showing him that large letter and emphasizing the sound it makes. Now he is starting to pick out some letters on his own.

As for first books to start with for reading, Bob Books are excellent. But I wouldn't really start those until at least 3.5 or closer to 4 years old. For now, I'm just making sure Ian loves books and stories.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, we have only 2 bedrooms including ours, so it can really be tricky with two non-nappers! Sometimes they do quiet time together, other days that does not work and my 4 year old is in the main living space with me which is hard.

I'm also curious if you daughter stays in her room the entire 2 1/2 hours. We do one hour, so it is hard for me to imagine 2 1/2!


Heather Mac said...

Thanks for sharing your day. I am still struggling with adrenal fatigue and have a few issues with doing "rest time" for myself. My children are definitely old enough to handle me resting, so you have inspired me to just do it. We are a recent GF-lifestyle family, so I am definitely interested in your cookbook. Have a blessed weekend.

Xenia said...

If she likes memory, maybe you can try a memory with pictures and words or games like that in which seh has to match words and corresponding images. Just an idea!

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Juli,
Wow, Arvila is 4 already?!

We went through that fear-of-failure phase too. Sometimes it can be so hard being little!

Maybe skip working on books for awhile and work on phonics sounds some more first? For instance, the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading goes through learning a little rhyme for each letter. We turned those rhymes into a song, and then anytime Alina couldn't remember the sound for a letter we'd sing the little rhyme.

That same book also has lots of fun little games to play to build confidence without the pressure of actually having to read a book. Alina especially liked a game where I made half-sized index cards in two sets. One set had word endings (such as an, at, it) and then another set had just one single consonant. The ones with single consonants I put staples on in one corner to make them easy to pick up with a magnet. Then I'd figure out all of the consonants that would go with a particular word ending (for instance, an would go with f, p, t, c, m). Those consonants would be placed writing-side down and then she would fish for them with a magnet on a string. Once catching a fish, the consonant would be placed next to the word ending so she could sound it out. If she got it correct, she'd get to keep that fish; otherwise I'd read it correctly for her and that fish would get thrown back into the pond for another try. She wanted to play that every day!

Anyhow, I hope this explanation makes sense, and I'm sure it is explained better in that book!

Oh, another thing that could work is to use the books on They are free and you can print them out. Those books are different because there are some words for the kid to read and some for the parent to read (color-coded so you can each easily tell which words to read). Those books might make Arvila feel a little better since you'd be reading along with her and maybe she wouldn't feel as much pressure (even though I know you aren't the one pressuring her).

I hope these ideas help!

Sarah Smith said...

The length of quiet time has increased over time. I think it was originally only an hour, but as she has gotten older I've been able to make it longer. We did stick with 2 hours for awhile, but now that she likes reading so much, I've been able to increase the time a bit and she will easily stay in and read for most of that time. (We do often get into quiet time a little later than I plan, but usually it's between 2-2.5 hours.)

One other thing that helps is that she is allowed to listen to one chapter of an audio book each day during quiet time. (If I allow her to listen to audio books too long, she gets that same zombie-stare that videos can sometimes cause.) I downloaded lots of classics on audio mp3 from (the ones I downloaded were all free) such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Five Children and It, etc.

I hope you can find a routine that works well! I think one other thing that helped in getting my daughter used to staying in her room is that, once I started napping during quiet time myself, even if she came out of her room no one was around. So she'd just go back in. I do remember "hiding" in my room and reading while the baby slept a few times when she was having trouble staying in her room...

Colleen said...

Great post! Love to see how HS families make it happen in real life. We will start next year.

I want to commend you for not including TV in your typical day and still finding ways to give yourself a break. With the arrival of my third 5 months ago, I'm having trouble keeping the TV habit under control, but now I'm inspired to persevere!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply! Blessings!

Elizabeth said...

Remember that you have a new, new baby! When my third was born we used a lot of TV. Now she is 18 months and we have movie night once a week and that's about it for TV. Be gentle with yourself! Life (and TV) has its seasons! Blessings!

Robyn said...

I would love any suggestions for beginning reader books. My son (5) loved the Bob Books but I'm having trouble getting him interested in anything else. I think he would like a series with repeating characters. Thanks for sharing your homeschool plan. We are new to homeschooling and new ideas are so helpful.

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Robyn,
My daughter liked the following series as she was graduating from Bob books:
-Dick and Jane (even though the first ones are very easy, they get progressively more difficult)
-Frog and Toad series
-Danny the Dinosaur
-Mr. Putter and Tabby
-Madeline books (you may have to help with some of the words)
-Mercy Watson books
-Any picture books at the right reading level

Unknown said...

I am so interested in learning more about this! We had our first in December of last year and although she is only four months old I am already thinking about whether home-school, private school, or public school. (Does that make me crazy?) With all of the terrible things that have been happening I have begun to lean more and more towards home schooling but I don't know anyone who does it! I would love more information!
-Brittany @