Thursday, May 3, 2012

Our School Schedule

I don't know how interesting this post will be, but for my own records, I want to document the school schedule we have worked out. Working out a schedule has been one of the biggest advantages to doing a "trial" run in homeschooling. To say we've struggled with figuring out what works would be an understatement. This would have been stressing me out tremendously if it had been a "real" school year so I'm so glad we've spent the time to figure it out now. Recognizing that we will probably never have the perfect schedule and certain aspects will be ever changing, I'm pretty happy with what we have figured out and it is working well for us.
Having said that, our school schedule is not a perfect science and is a constant work in progress, especially if we have extra activities going on. For instance, on Thursdays we have violin lessons, followed by BHLC and gymnastics in the evening. Given this schedule we typically do a little less by way of formal school work on Thursdays. Those are all important activities which enhance our homeschool experience, however, so Thursdays are still a great school day!
I have learned to be relatively lax about when the kids get up (unless we have a time to be somewhere). This has been, and if I'm being completely honest, still is, difficult for me. For a while I was trying to get them all up and ready to go so we could officially begin our school work no later than 8:30. This seemed reasonable to me given that everyone begins school by 8:00, right? I'm not sure why, but this doesn't seem to work for us... Like many things, I let it stress me out for a while. Then I realized (after some good conversations with other homeschool mothers) this is the kind of stressing out that is not necessary when you homeschool! I'm doing my best to ditch that type of expectation. Some mornings every one is ready to go by 8:30. Some mornings not everyone is ready to go at my predetermined random starting time. If someone needs to sleep in (I'm not saying they're still sleeping at 8:30 but that by the time they get up we may not be thru breakfast, dressed and ready to begin learning at 8:30), then they can do that. I find my munchkins are in better and more cooperative moods if they've had as much sleep as their little bodies need. That makes everyone happier (and less stressed out - even me)!
After we've eaten breakfast and gotten dressed we begin with our Kumon Math and Writing workbooks. One reason we start our day this way is because if the girls do get up at different times they can do this on their own while they are waiting for the other to finish breakfast and getting dressed. If one finishes before the other, they can play until I'm ready to begin our devotional. The other reason is because I have found, not surprisingly, Math is a subject best accomplished early in the day. I have learned that if we don't complete it in the morning it's probably better to let it go for the day. This is because it is a more challenging topic that doesn't tend to go well when we're tired and worn out late in the day. Here are some of our Kumon workbooks, including the little one in front which Jackson uses when he is interested.
 After finishing our workbooks, we do a bible study as our first group activity of the day. I like to begin our day with a devotional for several reasons. The first is because I feel like it sets a positive tone for the day. The second is because this particular devotional introduces a new song every day which all of the kids enjoy. Jackson loves being completely included in this time and runs to our dedicated space as soon as he hears me say "It's bible study time." Depending on how busy our day is, we generally listen, sing and dance (well my munchkins dance anyway) around the room to a number of our favorite songs enjoying our time together. The final reason we include a devotional in our day is because of something interesting I recently read in "The Well Trained Mind." For clarification, we had already been beginning our day with a devotion, but this was an interesting and important aspect of a well rounded education which I had not considered. Susan Wise Bauer points out that out of neccessity public schools remain neutral, if you will, on the subject of religion. They essentially neglect the study of all religions. The problem is, when you think about it, is it actually neutral to pretend there is no God? Regardless of what religion you belong too, is it neutral to ignore the influence religion has played in history as well as our current every day lives? I doubt many of us would find pretending religion doesn't exist to be a very neutral or welcome position in our own personal lives. All of that said, religion is significant and should be addressed within your curriculum. Which brings me to yet another beauty and benefit of homeschooling! We don't feel the need to have every subject and learning moment centered on religion, but I feel so fortunate that we can include it in our schedule and not have to worry about being PC (again, if you can really call ignorning the importance of religion - regardless of what religion you are - a neutral or politically correct position to begin with).
After finishing our devotion, we read Aesop's Fables. We have two books we use for this and we generally read three to four stories. This includes our story of the day and a favorite each of the kids request (if we're busy or they're not interested we'll read less). We read Aesop's Fables for a couple of reasons. The first is because these are simply good stories with morals which are easy to understand. There is a reason these stories have stood the test of time and so we want our children to be familiar with these wonderful tales. The second reason is because our munchkins love to read. For this reason I have tried to actively schedule reading times throughout the day. Otherwise it would be pretty easy to concentrate reading time at bedtime and if we did that we'd be reading until midnight every night! :) 
 We generally practice violin (the girls have a chance to play while the other practices), go outside if the weather is nice or some mornings we have a morning activity (like gymnastics or recently a Spanish class) before lunch. We also sometimes get to part of our Story of the World book if Jackson is in the mood. This part of our schedule is relatively fluid and gives us the opportunity to transition. I think it's good to have time like this built into our day. It works for us anyway, because when I begin to get strict with exactly what has to be accomplished in the morning I start stressing and everything goes downhill from there... This has taken me a while to realize and it's also a difficult balance to strike. You don't want your schedule to be so loose you don't accomplish anything but you don't want it to be so strict that you're not enjoying the learning process. This is a constant challenge for me. Here is a picture of the "Well Trained Mind" as well as the third volume of "The Story of the World."
During lunch we usually watch one of our Spanish videos. After lunch the girls go to the basement to play while I get Jackson down for a nap. When I come down we begin with our Story of the World readings. This includes all the wonderful books which are provided in the suggested reading. As a side note, most of the books are available at the library and are fantastic! Honestly, "The Well Trained Mind" is worth purchasing and reading just for the book list it provides. If we've had the opportunity earlier in the day to do our readings, we do a review session. Then we move onto a little bit of memorization work from a book of poems Grammy received when she was a little girl and has now given to us. This is a completely no stress activity. The girls have favorite poems which they memorize simply through the activity of reading them once a day. Then we read a chapter of Little House on the Praire. I fondly remember Grand-Dad reading these books to us when we were children as well as other great literature one chapter at a time. We have read a couple of series with the girls but this has been our primary focus. We are currently nearing the end of the fourth book, "On the Banks of Plum Creek." We generally read one chapter per day unless the girls request to read more, in which case we do. :) This is also one of the activities we'll skip if our day is too hectic.
 After finishing Little House, we read a science book. These are generally on animals of the girls interest. When possible, I try to make it relevant to what we are studying. This week for instance we have read several books/articles on Crocodiles since the girls are interested in that due to our studying Egypt and the Nile River. We also randomly have science experiments. Science is probably the subject I am currently most laid back about and do the least with. Maybe by this fall I'll be more organized with this subject.
Even though the girls have math workbook pages they do in the morning, we frequently do a math activity to reinforce the math skills they are learning in the afternoon. We do this using manipulatives and activities from the Hands-On Standards book I purchased a couple of years ago through Constructive Playthings. This is a time the girls particularily look forward to as they enjoy the different manipulatives. It's also a good opportunity for them to move and be active which is probably one reason they enjoy it so much.
Next we review the Story of the World material from the day and/or week. We use the activity book to do an activity which enhances what we have been learning about. Below you can see examples of the narrations the girls had me write along with the pictures they drew for discussing the Nile River, the Nile Delta (triangles), crocodiles, and the uniting of the Red and White King's kingdoms to make a single country, Egypt. You can also see an example of a map with associated suggested writing to help children make connections to what they are studying. We have also been using a globe to gain a larger perspective of what these smaller maps show.
We have used the "Your Baby Can Read" program for all three of our munchkins. The kids enjoy the books, videos and games. I highly recommend this system! For both girls we moved from that program to the Dick and Jane series. After that, we have found it works well to move on to the easy reader books like the Biscuit series. Missy K and I work in time in the afternoons to work on her reading and she is doing a great job!
While we might work it in in the morning, we frequently practice violin in the afternoon. It's easier to accomplish practicing without Jackson's assistance. Because that is an activity which truly does require all of my attention it's a time he tends to get frustrated with my complete inattention to his needs.
I haven't specifically documented outdoor and playtime here but we generally take some form of a break between most activities or as the kids seem to need them. That is something I haven't scheduled so much specifically but try to watch for their ques as to when they need a break. I don't know that I have described it well here either, but our schedule moves back and forth between passive and active sessions to help keep the girls engaged. We do try to get outside (especially when the weather has been as gorgeous as it has been this spring) at least once a day. Sometimes we don't manage that but heaven only knows we have enough toys in this house for my munchkins to enjoy lots of free play time together.
Sorry this became so long and wordy. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I use my blog(s) to journal and document what we're doing so I wanted to get this written down as much for myself as anyone else. Thanks for your patience as I work through a couple of these not quite so interesting, but very lengthy posts!

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