Goodness, that sounds so formal, doesn’t it? Let me say right off the bat that our homeschool is much (much, much) more flexible than a formal public school. In so many ways, our homeschool doesn’t resemble public school much at all… We have just 3 kids; we don’t always start school at the same time or with the same subject; we have the flexibility to dive into one particular subject in great depth for the day… you get the idea! But that said, I’ve learned that creating procedures and routines has been helpful — even essential.
The favorite part of our day last year was our writing workshop. Writing went from being a chore, to being an absolute joy for all of us (including my (formerly!) reluctant writer). That was the part of our day that had the most structure. With that in mind, I set out this summer with a mission in mind. Could I find some more routines/rhythms that made other parts of our homeschool day as predictable and smooth as our writing workshop? Could we have structures in place to help us settle into our work… and also help the kids become more (and more and more) independent in their learning?
Each year the way we homeschool changes slightly. When the kids were very little, we homeschooled in and around our nap schedule… as the kids have grown we’ve tweaked it to work for us at their current age/stage. This year is no exception! I spent a lot of time this summer thinking hard not only about how to make our homeschool active, engaging and inspiring (see this post here. It was one of my favorites to write this past summer!), but also about how to improve the flow of our homeschool and to be sure that what we are doing is *effective.*
Good coaches and good teachers constantly experiment with new approaches, discard what doesn’t work and try again. I loved this analogy… you shampoo your hair most every day, but are you truly getting better at it? Perhaps not unless you are tinkering with technique and implementing thoughtfully designed assignments.
Last year we implemented a new routine to our homeschool day. We called it Rotations. The kids had three subjects that they rotated through on their own. For us, that was typing, piano practice and German. Our other subjects were either together (like history, science, writing workshop) or separate but at the same time — like math, spelling and grammar. Rotations worked well for us.
Now as the kids are getting older, I also want to make sure they are becoming steadily more independent in their learning. So, once again I have changed things around. Rotations has grown into a longer checklist. We have an index review system and I’ve tried to make our separate subjects more efficient. I’ll share a little bit more about how that’s working for us:
Here’s a sample of DD’s Daily Homeschool Assignments. The times I put down are fairly loose. At the moment, we’re doing writing twice a day. They have a writing prompt that they do on their own. We also still all gather together for Writing Workshop. I’m sure I’ll write about that sometime soon! I hate to say it, but brushing hair and teeth (still) have to be on the checklist! As I mentioned in another post, this year DD and LD are doing spelling online with SpellingCity (I paid for the membership to have access to more games/options) and lists that I got from HomeSpellingWords. I love All About Spelling and we’ll return to that at some point, but at least for the beginning of the year, spelling needs to be independent (from me) for my older two. Anyway, here’s DD’s Rotation Checklist. The things at the bottom of the page are subjects we do together as a group (or I work with her before she gets started).
We’ve been changing and tweaking things up so much that currently I have these checklists on the computer and then print them out when I’ve made new changes. I bought some plastic dry erase sleeves from Oriental Trading. Each of my kids has their own color and they are pinned onto our bulletin board. I have a friend who uses a dry erase board. She writes their assignments there each evening and the next day her kids check things off as they get to them.
Index Card System:
I felt like I was juggling the kids and was having a hard time trying to remember to review different material with each of them. For example, LD is learning about the commutative and associative properties in math while DD is starting a unit on fractions… DD needs practice on certain multiplication problems while ED could use quick review on her addition facts. They are working on identifying certain music notes on the staff, but it’s going more quickly for LD than for ED. They are at different points on their Civics cards. You get the idea! I wanted a quick way to be able to review the material they’re learning. So… here is our new system:
I got them all passport necklaces that hold index cards. Each of them have a different color. We add new material as we cover it.
Some of the things that go into their Index Card Pouch (actually called a Travel Neck Wallet over on Amazon) are music notes, vocabulary, math facts, German vocabulary and conversation cards, grammar terms, Civics flashcards (See this post on the free resources we’re using for studying the Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc.). As we started our unit on Native Americans, I felt like I needed to review some basic Timeline Facts… so these were in their IC-Pouch as well:
One of the things on the kids’ Rotations Checklist is index card review. They are to go over the material in their IC-pouch. Once a week or so, I “quiz” them on the material. If they know it well enough we decide (together) to “retire” the card. They place those cards into an index file box; filed under the subject tab (math, history, German, etc.). Each of the kids have their own index card holder where the “retired” review cards go. Everything goes back into the basket (on one of the desks) once we’re done with them.
I have found that I need uninterrupted time with each of the kids. While the kids are working independently on some of their work, I meet individually with the kids. For lack of a better term, we call it Mom time. I also have my own index card file box which helps me keep track of what we’re doing during Mom time. I jot down a list of things I am going over with each of them… (Don’t mind the handwriting, that’s why I type so much!). I also tried to make it very clear that we are not to be interrupted during Mom time. The other two need to be working on their Rotations, while I am working with one of the others.
For example, on ED’s list today was…
- Sing Together — Star Spangled Banner and My Country Tis of Thee; do the Pledge to the Flag (I just wanted to be sure the kids knew these!)
- Clapping Game — Skip Counting by 6s
- German conversation
- Math Game — Fast Track
- Read Hiawatha together; Read Life of the Powatan together
- Science – planets book?
- All About Spelling
- First Language Lessons
We didn’t get to some of the things on my list, but that was because we spent more time reading the Native American books… You know, each day is flexible!
As I’m working with the kids, I often realize there will be things I’ll need for the next day… to photocopy a math sheet, to find certain books we’ll need or whatever. I have a tab with “To Do” — and quickly grab a card and stick that in my file box so that I can get to it “later” and don’t forget and have to run around like crazy the next day.
Anyway, the homeschool routine is always a work in progress, but it’s helping me keep track of what’s happening in our homeschool on a daily basis.
I am constantly thinking about what needs to change in our homeschool. This summer, it was finally time to get rid of our craft table and substitute something larger for my ever-growing kids! I bought a small dining room table off of Craigs List. I decided to get a bench for one side, so I could sit side-by-side with one of the kids as we cover a subject. We also got a couple of adjustable desk chairs that can be lowered as the kids get taller. This was a wonderful change for us and we use the table on and off all day long!
We still use workboxes to help keep materials organized. I peeled off all the old labels this summer and replaced them with our current materials. As you can see, we use a plethora of math materials!! Each of the kids has their own row of workboxes. I also have a set of deeper boxes where I keep manipulatives, games and things like that:
That’s about it for today. Tomorrow, I’m going to The Learning Environment: eliminating the squabbles, pokes, taps, random noises and all that.