Our First Day of Homeschool

My favorite thing about being a mother is watching my children learn.  We're homeschoolers and can't help but smile about it.  This year, [C] is in kindergarten and [A] is in preschool.  I wanted to document their first day of school last August and a typical week to show an honest view of what homeschooling looks like at our house so far.

They look confused because it is that rare that I wake up before them.  A true special occasion.

"Today's the first day of kindergarten!"

 We started off the year with a scripture (D&C 88:119): "Organize yourselves . . . establish a house . . . even a house of learning."  I let them put together a puzzle of a house as we discuss whether learning is something we want to be a part of our home.  
Then we organized ourselves.  Each of them received a responsibility chart that shows our schedule for each day that week.
The charts worked out beautifully, especially for [C] who likes to know the plan.  The cards are laminated (business card sized pouches) and stuck to the chart with velcro dots.  We used them consistently for about 3 months, when I stopped finding time each week to readjust them.  Maybe our schedule varied too much from week to week.  This time around, I knew I needed to set up a routine that is the same each week, so that I don't have to update it unless we make changes.  [C] is thrilled to start using them again. 


I also surprised them with a little first-day-of-school gift.  A- received a lunch bag, since as a preschooler he occasionally brings a sack lunch with him to his co-op preschool that meets once a week.  He adores it, and it gets used for much more than that.  When we go on field trips, he is the one that gets to pack and carry our snacks.  I think he knows he's the man of the house when Papa's gone.

 [C] was delighted with her backpack.  Why would a homeschooler need a backpack?  There were only 3 things I envied about public school kids as a child: backpacks, school buses, and recesses.  Maybe it's silly, but I thought that by getting her a backpack she would sense what a milestone this is and that what you learn is more important than where you learn it.  It is filled with writing supplies, nature notebooks, stories, field guides, bug catchers, and ballet shoes. 
[A] was 2 this school year.  
Up to this point, we hadn't had much more structure with him than an occasional "music time."  My goal was to have learning time with him daily, more to teach him how to stay focused and follow directions for a few minutes than produce specific skills.  It's also his first year attending a preschool group.    

[C] was 4 this school year.  Technically, she's too young for kindergarten but academically, she needed more.  She was accustomed to daily reading lessons among other things.  She has thrived on the additional attention, instruction, and routine.  

To meet our legal requirements, we promise to hold school for 4 hours a day, 180 days a year.  When we complete that, I'm going to move [C] up a grade, even if she's farther along in some subjects than others.  I never knew what grade I was in when I was growing up, and it didn't matter much unless a friend asked and then they would get a complicated answer ("well, in math I'm in 5th grade, but in reading I'm in 11th . . . ").  This way, the accountability lies on how much work they do rather than on how their skills line up with the national average.  We'll just keep them challenged, and expect them to progress.  We can afford to go at their pace.  If I ever have a year where they act like they deserve to fail, I won't count the time wasted as time in school and they'll have to work harder to move up. 

I also want to keep the state standards in mind for transfer purposes.  The Common Core Standards are listed here.  I do not design our curriculum around this.  (Why would would I trust them to know what my kid needs?)  If I ever need some peace of mind, I can always look them over and realize that we're doing just fine.  (Yep, she uses common verbs in speech and she can even point to the cover on a book.  Check--we're doing just fine.)
What is most important for my child to learn?  I set up Google calendars for each of my kids, with school events that repeat  (we visit the library every two weeks, we do a math lesson every day . . .etc.)  The advantage to this is that now I have a paperless, searchable record of exactly how we spent our time.  I can visualize color-coded schedules for everyone in the family at once. The system can expand with our family and change with our priorities.  It is both a plan and a report.

 It forces me to face reality; it makes me cross things off my list that simply can't be done.  We're well above the requirement for time in school, with only an hour of book-work.  Everything else is fun and my kids don't even realize we're doing school.  A typical daily assortment of subjects might go something like this:

Reading Lesson for [C] (30 minutes)
Learning Time with [A] (15 minutes)
Math Lesson for [C] (30 minutes)
Either Preschool, a trip to the Library, Creative Writing, Kids Book Club, or Science Play, depending on the day of the week (2 hours)
Nutrition (because they help me prepare lunch!) (30 minutes)
Chores (15 minutes after lunch and 15 minutes before bed)
Storytime (1 hour in the afternoon and 15 minutes before bed)
Homeschool play group and ballet class (once a week)
Violin (30 minutes)
Family Scripture Study (15 minutes)

= 5 hours a day for [C], and 4.25 hours a day for [A]

Individual Attention

What do I when I'm working with one child, and another won't stay out of the way?  I've never met a homeschool family that doesn't struggle with this, so I'm not going to beat myself up over it.  After all, we currently have a student-to-teacher ratio of 2:1.  Name a school that can compete with that.  There are certainly times when I have to wrestle [A] on my lap, a wrist in each hand as he desperately tries to knock over the tower [C] and I are working on for math, but the upside is, she's taught herself to concentrate on tasks despite distractions that would drive any normal adult nuts.  

The Busy Desk

Here's one of my tricks:  if one child keeps getting in the way when I'm working with another, I invite them to go sit at the Busy Desk.  There are coloring books and puzzles in it-- and they are more than welcome to busy themselves there until I'm finished.  How exciting, right?  We only needed it for a week.  After that, when given the choice, they always prefer behaving and watching their sibling to doing busy work on their own.  Okay, so I use busy work as a threat when many teachers have to use it to prove something's being taught.  Hey, it's effective.  I've noticed a pattern with my siblings: we all have antagonistic attitudes toward assignments we perceive as busy work; that is, we despise time-consuming work that doesn't really teach.  When integrated into mainstream education, we had to find ways to cope with this attitude (bartering with the teacher, adding creative self-imposed challenges just to make the task more interesting, judging whether something menial is nevertheless worth a grade . . .)  In the end, I think we tend to be better off for always asking the question, "what am I supposed to learn from this?" 
I've digressed, and I think it's because I don't have any more tricks for teaching multiple individuals simultaneously.  Any comments would be taken to heart.  

I have memories of Mom reading with me on the couch.  It's only now that I'm a parent that I can remember with my peripheral vision.  She probably had a baby under that blanket, cozily nursing away.  And she probably had two other kids listening in, wing-men whom I either learned from or tuned out.  Was there a toddler in the bathroom playing with the toothpaste?  Someone banging on the piano?  Constant inquiries about lunchtime?  If there were, my memory didn't keep that part.  It was just me and my mom, reading a book.

Our Favorite Subject: Play

It's important to prioritize when formulating a curriculum, right?  I just want to make it clear to myself that amid all of the school supplies, routines, and lesson plans, that what is most important doesn't get left out.  For us, it's playtime.  Nothing compares to its teaching potential.  Public school keeps students boxed in and zipped up for too long and so squanders it.  Entertainment muffles it, kidnaps it, and brainwashes it.  Even well-meaning homeschool mothers (I'm really only pointing to myself here) overlook it or manipulate it.  The fantastic part about playtime is it happens all by itself.  

I need to do better at protecting it.  This is a major motivation for homeschooling.  We try to save time on everything else so that our children can have more time to play.  
If we can skip the amount of time wasted in classrooms, (waiting in line for the bathroom, taking attendance, solving behavior problems . . .) and accomplish our core studies more efficiently, we can still participate in extracurricular activities such as music lessons, sports, and friendships; and ultimately, still have a portion of every day set aside for Nothing.  That is the whole point.  After all, isn't happiness even more important than education?

At the end of our first week, the benefits to starting school at home were already numberless, but my favorite was how it changed the way my children played.  It was an aftershock I hadn't been watching for.  I would find myself finally by myself, and at a time when there would usually be a great deal of whining and demanding, my children would be playing instead.  Independently.  They fought less, asked for less, and laughed more.  Their minds had fresh information to process; their world had expanded to include new villains and heroes, and their games were creative, provocative condensations of their experiences.   

Spare time to . . . build a campfire out of diapers?  So glad she can't reach the matches yet.
So here we go.  We are a few weeks from finishing the year and it has taken me that long to jot down a few notes and pictures from our first day.  
I'll detail our curriculum in subsequent posts so you don't have to read it all in one sitting.  It has been a wonderful year.  I'm so grateful to my mom and dad for being the forward-thinking idealists that they are.  They really are brilliant educators.  I loved being taught at home.  I love the memories made with my siblings as we played at one subject or another.  I hope my thoughts on homeschooling cause no harm to parents who don't feel they can.  If anything, I want to prove that what we do is nothing more sophisticated than a stack of good books and a great deal of love for learning.    

And yes, she is wearing her backpack with pajamas.


  1. I'm SOOOO excited that you are going to be posting about your homeschooling experience! while I don't plan to home school, I have been working quite diligently on a summer curriculum that I hope to carry throughout the year to supplement the less-than-what-I'd-like-it-to-be preschool (for Gwen) and absence of preschool (for Caroline). I would love to know more about how you organized your day. I can't see all the pieces of your charts for the kids. Right now I find that I'm planning more advanced things for Gwen during Caroline's nap time and more general exploration activities when they can both participate. But what will I do when Caroline cuts her nap? I'm not sure I'm ready to handle the distraction... but your busy desk is a good idea. I like what you said about how they are encouraged to play more independently now because their minds are expanding to incorporate the things they've learned. I would like to have that happen for my kids. Keep up the posts! I'm REALLY looking forward to reading them!

  2. Loved this Anita. Your educational philosophy meshes pretty darn well with my own but I'm not nearly as articulate. I kept finding myself grinning while reading this. :)

  3. Apparently I'm mystery.

    -Anne Bean


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