Rhythms of Our School Year

Confession: I love structure. Without it, I feel the terrifying chaos of each instrument playing its own discordant notes. A wave of the baton, and they all (hopefully) come together into beautiful music.

I used to work full-time as a teacher, and the schedule felt as comforting to me as a warm sweater around my soul. I knew exactly what I would be doing at 8:12 a.m. or 12:34 p.m. One of the challenges of changing to a more home-based existence has been the loss of that schedule. I used to imagine how when I would home school, I would ring the bell at 8:30 a.m. and voila! The first class of the day will begin to all my children’s eager, bright, and shining faces.

I struggle with idealism.

Homeschooling didn’t work like that in our family, and for that (and so many other) reasons, we almost quit last year. I am what you could call a hesitant homeschooler, or I guess a more negative description is that a few times every year you’ll find me rethinking and on the verge of quitting. I don’t believe it’s the only way for everybody, or even the best way for everybody. I love being a classroom teacher, and part of that as a mom means finding good classroom opportunities for my kids.

But after a lot of consideration of options, and finally reconciling myself to the truth that there is no perfect choice—only the best imperfect choice for our particular family in this particular season, we decided to homeschool again this year.

Evidence of the growth of my soul—I am becoming more okay with chaos. I don’t want to hold rigid to an unrealistic schedule, and then crumble to pieces with it when it fails. I want a deep inner peace independent of my particular circumstances. (Which to be specific, this morning meant having a book thrown at me three times by a child who is learning … ahem … not to throw books.)

So in my mind’s eye I cross out the word schedule and then write routine. Then I cross out routine and write the word rhythm. Yes, that’s what I want. Something flexible that can go slower or faster at a given time, but a tempo to keep us all (somewhat) together.

Because I love reading about schedules—I mean, rhythms, I decided to share mine here. This is not because I’m recommending it to anyone else. Each family finds their own schedule in their own season. You’ll also find it’s not very stringent and includes a lot of margin, which is the only reason why we’ve been able to keep at it for going on seven weeks now.

Ben and I wake up, workout, shower.

During this early morning hour, I also try to make choices that feed my soul. I listen to worship music while I exercise. (My workout is still pretty tame as I recover from chronic Lyme, so no videos or runs yet!) I turn on a podcast after I get out of the shower. God-Centered Mom is one of my favorites. I listen for about ten minutes a day, which is about one episode a week.

The boys wake up, and while Ben takes care of Brennan (after he snuggles with Mommy), David and I have Bible time together.

Ben does P.E. class with David and Elanor while Brennan and I make breakfast. Brennan at two years old is a huge help in the kitchen, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Some combination of the kids getting dressed, emptying the dishwasher, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth. We are working toward eating breakfast as a family at the dining room table more often. Ben usually leaves for work—either driving away or walking downstairs to his office, depending on the day—around 8:10.

One of the reasons this morning schedule has worked for us is that it doesn’t really take 30 minutes to have Bible time with David, or to do P.E. class, or to eat breakfast. All the margin built in means that Ben usually gets time to eat with us and we usually start school on time.

Bookwork homeschooling. David sits at the dining room table, Elanor sits at the kitchen island, and they both work through their books—math, language arts, handwriting, thinking skills. Brennan plays happily in his room, making sure not to interrupt us. David and Elanor both grasp new concepts quickly and without complaint, and I have ample opportunity to gaze out the window, breathe deeply, and contemplate how peaceful homeschooling can be.

Just kidding. This time is almost always crazy chaotic as I attempt extreme multitasking. I’ve found that if I zoom in on any given moment, it often looks like we’re failing—Brennan’s hands are clawing up my skirt as he demands my help to pull puzzle pieces out of the vacuum cleaner, Elanor is crying because she can’t understand why apple doesn’t have an e in it and she threw her pencil and the lead broke again, and David is frustrated that he can’t solve 27 divided by 3. All from this morning.

Zooming in on individual moments of craziness can seem like a failure, so I’m learning to take a deep breath and zoom out. Both David and Elanor are ahead of schedule grade-wise. Learning at home with a side of classroom experience seems to be working well for their introverted personalities and their friendships. Brennan is developmentally on track. I am feeling less anxious and more healthy and whole than I did last year. It’s all okay.

I’ve also learned that for me to survive this time of day in this season, I need to take this time to just home school. Absolutely no laundry folding, dinner making in the crockpot, Facebook scrolling, email answering, what have you, can happen now. I am stretched to capacity. I can only keep my sanity if everything else waits.

Recess outside! Thank you, Ben, for the trampoline and playset! I don’t know what we will do when the weather turns cold or rainy. Bundle up and go outside as long as we can, I suppose. We really need this break.

Keep in mind all these times are a bit approximate, as I look for natural breaks occurring in the kids’ work.

We come inside, and Brennan has movie time while David does more bookwork and Elanor and I work on phonics together. I really need this 1-on-1 uninterrupted time with her, as she’s learning to read this year.

Science or history time while Brennan and I make lunch (my kitchen helper strikes again!). For science, David reads to himself (and then I quiz him), and I try to find age-appropriate library books that explain similar concepts that David can read to Elanor. For history, David and Elanor listen together to the audio of Story of the World. Then I quiz them, and we supplement with more library books.

Lunchtime. We eat an early lunch, because otherwise everyone is hungry and asking for snacks. After lunch, David finishes any school he didn’t get done earlier. I sometimes read aloud to Elanor and Brennan together.

12:00 or 1:00
Quiet time begins anywhere in this time, when Brennan goes down for a nap, Elanor listens to audio books in her room, and David either works on more school, reads, does Star Wars origami (his new obsession), or plays Minecraft. This is my working time to prepare curriculum or grade papers for the classes I’m teaching, answer emails, do homemaking administration, or very occasionally, blog.

Later afternoon
Playtime or chore time—doing laundry or making dinner—on same days going to piano lesson or gymnastics class—maybe having a friend over or letting the kids watch a show so I can catch up on something.

5:00 or 6:00

Monday is small group twice a month and David has running club, Tuesday is Bible Study Fellowship, Wednesday alternates Awana and running club, Thursday and Friday (oh blessed days!) nothing. In the evening we also try (sometimes squished in before or after events) to have Bible time and read-aloud time with David and Elanor. I used to do these subjects in the morning, but I’ve found that moving them to the evening makes my mornings more doable, and also Ben can be involved. I also love that Ben has taken on P.E. in the early mornings. Taking the three subjects P.E., Bible, and Literature out of the mid-morning has definitely helped that time be more doable for me.

Elanor and Brennan’s bedtime is 8:30, David is 9:00, and Ben and I are 10:00. I’m really trying to get 8 hours of sleep each night (at least 7 might be a little more realistic) since my life demands so much energy right now.

So there you have it, the rhythm of our days. I love it—and you know what I’m also learning to love is taking a break from it, going on a field trip to the farm, having co-op on Mondays when none of the home stuff happens, letting the kids play outside a little longer, doing school in the afternoon because we had friends over in the morning. We need to do our rhythm often enough that we have a default mode, but I’m learning to embrace days of variety, and experience that flexibility truly is one of the advantages of homeschooling.

I’d love to hear about your schedules, routines, rhythms, what you do that works for you. And if you’re in a season of chaos where no two days are the same, that’s okay, hang in there, this too shall pass!


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