Congratulations! You made it through your first homeschool week and while you didn’t do it perfectly, you did it. The great news is the first week is always the hardest, and it only gets easier from here.
To help your second week go a little more smoothly, I thought of five more tips I’ve learned the past six years of homeschooling my kiddos. (To see last week’s post and my Top Ten Homeschooling Tips, click here.)
#1 – Preparation is Everything.
As I’m sure you learned from last week, preparing for the week while trying to teach at the same time is like trying to learn how to swim by being thrown in the deep end without wearing any floaties. It feels like drowning more than swimming and at some point, you will end up at the bottom of the pool. The key to a successful week of school at home is the preparation you do before your week starts.
Every weekend, I sit down for an 1 1/2-2 hours to read through lesson plans and on-line teacher notes, print out handouts I will need for the week, and make a list of supplies or materials my kids will need to get their work done. Each child has her own clipboard or notebook where I put all of her lesson plans and handouts she needs for the week. For their sake and my sake, everything is located in one place and saves us searching high and low for that one elusive piece of paper.
While I do all of the reading and printing for my two youngest girls (Kindergarten and 3rd grade), my two oldest girls (5th grade and 7th grade) are responsible to prepare for their week on their own. They read their teachers’ notes and print out all of their own lesson plans and handouts, but I read all of the notes as well and touch base with the girls to make sure we are on the same page about what work needs to be accomplished, projects finished, books read, etc, for the week. As much of a drag as it can be (after all, who wants to think about homeschool on a weekend?!), the time we set aside to prepare for our week helps all of us feel more prepared for the responsibilities ahead.
2. Establish a Morning Routine that Does Not Depend on You.
Trying to get everyone up, dressed, moving, fed, and ready to think deep, intellectual thoughts every morning can feel a little bit like trying to turn around the Titanic – it takes a lot of physical and emotional energy. A few years into homeschooling my girls, I realized I needed to establish a morning routine that did not depend on me to get my people moving. Everyone had to be responsible for herself if I was going to have enough stamina to make it through the day.
This means on homeschool mornings, I do not wake up anyone. My girls are responsible for setting their own alarm clock at night and getting up at a designated time. My little one sleeps in the same room as my big girls, so she wakes up at the same time as her sisters. They know that when their alarm goes off, they are responsible for getting dressed, making their beds, and having their own devotional time with the Lord. If there is still time before breakfast, they can begin their school day routine, which involves reading independently for thirty minutes and practicing the piano. They do not have to wait for me to give them instructions to know what they need to start working on.
This might sound too rigid or strict, but having time to myself in the mornings has absolutely saved my sanity. In a household with four kids, once everyone is awake and moving, any time I have to myself is pretty much null and void. If I want to have time to spend reading my Bible, writing, studying, or doing anything in the realm of being quiet and still, it has to be before I begin my day with the girls. And to their credit, my girls are respectful of this.
- Practically speaking, this meant I bought every child an alarm clock she could easily use. (To see one your child could easily use, click here.) Even for your older children who have cell phones they could use as their alarm, I would encourage them to keep their phones in the kitchen or a common area at night and set an old-fashioned alarm to wake them in the morning. This ensures a good night’s sleep without distracting texts or calls from friends and without the temptation of looking at a screen.
- This also means the first few years we homeschooled, I typed out our morning routine and taped it up in the kitchen where everyone could see it and have easy access to their responsibilities in the morning.
- For my younger children, I highlight on their weekly lesson plans the things they can work on without mom being right there to help them. Again, this ensures the start of their day does not depend on me. This also ensures that if something comes up in the morning I have to take of, they are not waiting around on me to begin their day.
3. Make One Meal a Day a YOYO Meal.
If you don’t want to feel like a cafeteria lady or short order cook in a diner, tell your kids one meal a day is a YOYO meal: You’re On Your Own (I will be eternally thankful to Susan Ertan for introducing me to this term).
In our house, my girls are responsible for making their own lunches (everyone except for Mia Grace; the older girls take turns preparing her meal). When I first implemented this, my two oldest girls were probably in 2nd and 4th grade, and I thought they would think I was introducing them to cruel and unusual punishment. But to my utter shock, they started jumping up and down in excitement: “You mean we get to fix our lunches by ourselves?!” Wow. I should have started that sooner. Fixing their own lunch gave them a sense of independence and helped them feel very grown up about their day. Certain rules applied: like you can only have one bag of chips and something green or carrot-like must be included on your plate. But one YOYO meal a day preserved sanity for me in the kitchen and a feeling of independence for them.
4. Turn Negative Complaining into Joy
Maybe it’s just my house, but with five women under one roof, negative complaints and comments abound. And I can be just as bad as my girls. Not only am I making negative remarks on my own, but I nagging everyone else about their negativity and only making matters worse. In January, I grew so tired of my own complaining, I made a jar and put it in the kitchen where everyone could see:
Philippians 2:14-15 is taped on the outside of the container: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”
Everyone has their own color pompom, and any time anyone makes a negative remark, she has to put a pompom in the jar. At the end of every month, whoever has the fewest number of pompoms gets cold hard cash. Say whatever you want to say about bribery, but the atmosphere in our home has changed dramatically. More than anything, the thought of putting a pompom in the jar catches us in our speech and helps to hold us accountable with our words.
A word of warning, though, to the wise: one of the rules of the jar has to be that you are responsible for your own negative comments. Siblings cannot put a pompom in the jar on behalf of another sibling. If they do, they have to put one in for themselves as well. This, too, is a YOYO-NC kind of jar: You’re On Your Own for Negative Comments.
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
Don’t be afraid to insert humor into your day.
Write your spelling words with a tiger mask on:
Have a pajama party and serve popcorn for lunch (or keep it a YOYO meal and have your kids serve themselves popcorn for lunch).
When your Kindergartner has a story in her reader like this one, go ahead and laugh and wonder out loud, “What the heck are we teaching are kids?!”
Practice phonograms in shaving cream on an outside table or while doing jumping jacks on the trampoline or in the yard.
But whatever you do, keep laughter an essential ingredient in your homeschool day.
Remember, just like last week, the goal is connection, not perfection. At the end of the day, if your kid sticks her finger in a light socket, has popcorn for lunch, and wears her pajamas and a tiger mask all day while laughing a lot and learning a few things along the way, you can rest assured the day has been a good one. In twenty years, they might not remember how to carry the one, but they will remember a momma who pressed in and held her home with love when the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart.
"The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms."
As you hold your home this week, may you feel God's arms underneath, holding you in His love.