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Homeschooling year-round is not for the faint of heart, but it’s the best thing that works for us. I’ve had others ask me what sort of schedule we follow, and for a long time my answer to that was rather haphazard. But, as we have completed three full 12-month years of homeschooling, and started our fourth year, here’s a few things that have remained consistent:
- We can handle about 4-5 hours of school today…max…on a good day.
- Time outside is paramount
- Reading aloud is paramount
- Everything else is very very important, and “everything else” includes a lot of things
- We need lots of breaks and flexibility
#1 and #5 are probably the biggest reason for homeschooling year-round.
#2, #3, and #4 are my biggest source of angst and guilt
I spent our first two years searching for a way to manage all the things. I want kids who are rigorously educated, well-read, well-rounded in the arts, emotional stable, relationally available, real-world responsible, wise, and faithful to Jesus. To me, all of these things matter.
Scripture memory matters
Science (ick) matters
Mowing the lawn matters
Doing the laundry and dishes matters
Critical thinking matters
Knowing God’s Word matters
Art (kinda) matters
Creative writing matters
Economics and civics matter
Grammar and spelling REALLY matter
When everything matters…yet you are trying to make all of these things happen for two little boys whose biggest “weakness” is an inability to sit still and chronic distraction, you are basically trying to do the utterly impossible.
I thought I came up with an incredible system last March. It worked incredibly…for one and a half months. Then ran out of gas and died. So…back to
the drawing board all the spreadsheets.
I looked ahead and saw summer coming. While we school year-round, after two full years, I felt the boys needed a little bit more of a break than usual. So I looked at ALL THE IMPORTANT THINGS and decided to pick just SIX to focus on between the beginning of summer (also, the beginning of year 3, because we start on June 1st) and our next big break – a planned trip for their birthdays in September.
I made a visual plan for both boys. (I’m only sharing Ezra’s, because LB’s sheets all have his name on them.)
This first sheet was still a bit “involved,” (and no…we didn’t finish everything on here). But by limiting myself to focusing on six things, it made it a lot easier not to be overcome with guilt at seeing that vocabulary curriculum on the shelf, or taking a language arts break over the summer. It also allowed me to give individual short-term projects to each of the boys. Ezra spent the summer copying all of George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, a project that lasted through November. He then mailed the notebook of rules to Colonel Washington at Colonial Williamsburg. LB spent the summer writing to fire stations around the country asking for “paches” to collect and put on his bulliten board.
The summer was so successful in this regard that, come fall, I decided to try this system again. This next “session” started after a week-long trip to the Outer Banks for the boys’ birthday. It lasted the fall and was one of our longest terms.
You can see things were a bit more simplified. I’ve quit putting history on there, because we are moving so slowly using novels, that there’s not that much of a point. It’s just that pot simmering on the back burner making the kitchen smell amazing and bringing richness into the home.
I was so excited to finish SOMETHING. More Than Words was one of my least favorite curriculums we’ve used, but we FINALLY finished it.
LB finished up his Masterbooks first grade math! He’s really cruising through almost everything we give him!
Going into the Christmas season, I was flush with ALL THE IDEAS! I had a huge creative surge, and majorly overplanned. But between our A Christmas Carol unit study, our Moravian Family Lovefeast, and our “picture book surprises” (where I wrapped up Christmas picture books and paired them with a learning activity, a movie, or a snack), the holiday season was so incredibly rich!
At the beginning of the year (well, probably more like November, because I plan so far ahead), I began looking at our calendar and making plans for how to divide up the year. I plotted a few blank weeks for some trips we had planned. The natural breaks really popped out at me, and I ended up with six “sessions” or “terms” for the upcoming year. (I believe the accurate term is “bimester,” but that just sounds weird.)
Our terms for 2022 vary in range from 5 weeks at the shortest and 10 1/2 weeks at the longest.
In January, I started teaching both of the boys piano, which has been quite a different experience than I had in the past when teaching other kiddos! Yes, at one point, I did utter the phrase, “LB! We can’t play the piano when we are standing on our heads!”
Between our winter term and spring term, I took the boys on yet another trip to Colonial Williamsburg for their Homeschool Days. This was Ezra’s THIRD trip, but LB’s FIRST! And he LOVED it!
During our spring term, we started a unit study of The Lord’s Prayer, which we just wrapped up TODAY! Both boys were able to memorize The Lord’s Prayer, and Ezra got in a LOT of cursive practice!
Between our spring term and our first (out of 2) summer term, we had a week-long beach trip with MY family. The boys got to play with their sole boy cousin (who is also homeschooled), and I got to share the (practically empty) beach with my parents, grandparents, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew! My mom and mother-in-law got to spend some time together, and Russ and I enjoyed staying up late and playing Canasta!
We are on our last week of our third term of 2022, and our sixth term using this system. On top of assuaging some of my guilt and helping us balance all the things, it also helps the boys with their need for novelty within their learning. I always try to make one thing out of the six be something fun or different from things they have done before – like writing Christmas cards, taking piano lessons, or joining their local swim team (more on that to come in a subsequent post).
When I saw how well this “choose six things” system was working for our homeschooling, I realized that I needed something like this in MY personal life as well. I’m constantly torn between writing, catching up on my shows, watching figure skating and gymnastics, reading, listening to podcasts, music arranging, listening to audiobooks, exercising, working on home projects, and (most importantly) SLEEP. I have lists and spreadsheets full of things I desperately WANT to do. It doesn’t matter what gets done, there’s so many other things left undone. I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels all the time.
At the beginning of 2022, I decided to give this “choose six things” system a chance, using the same “terms” I’m using for homeschooling the boys. It has made SUCH A DIFFERENCE. It has allowed me to hone my focus and devote myself wholeheartedly to one thing (er…six things) at a time. Everything else goes onto the shelf for later. (Thus, why it’s been nearly four months since my last blog post. Obviously, the blog hasn’t yet made it into a “six things” term for Mommy!)
I’m actually ACCOMPLISHING THINGS! Not ALL the things…but some of them!
Of note in the winter term, I made good progress on The Lifegiving Table (audiobook version), watched the Olympics (which was completely counterproductive to “earlier sleep nights,” but at least that was only an exhausting 3 weeks), and finished a music arrangement for our church that I started back in 2019. I also organized the crap out of several areas of my home, and made great use of my label maker. Sleep and exercise I definitely didn’t maintain perfectly, but I marked those with checkmarks because I gave it a darn good effort!
Spring was much less successful – in a few ways. BUT – I did paint my entire entryway and hallway and started painting Russell’s office. With all of that painting, I found myself breezing through not just the rest of The Lifegiving Table, but also listening to one whole podcast (Hunting Warhead), almost all of a second podcast (Escaping NXIVM), and finished SIX books total:
- The Lifegiving Table: Nurturing Faith Through Feasting, One Meal at a Time by Sally Clarkson (audio, free through Scribd)
- When I’m Sorry Isn’t Enough by Gary Chapman & Jennifer Thomas (audio, free through Scribd)
- Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela J. Hanscom (audio, free through Scribd)
- Caught in the Web: Inside the Police Hunt to Rescue Children from Online Predators by Julian Sher
- Don’t Tell Mummy: A True Story of the Ultimate Betrayal by Toni Maguire (ebook, free through Scribd)
- When Daddy Comes Home by Toni Maguire (ebook, free through Scribd)
(I went through a bit of a dark true-crime phase there for a while…it is what it is…)
My planning documents may seem a bit over-the-top. I make no apologies. I quit my social media and graphic design job back in October so I could focus more on my family and homeschooling. Every once in a while, I have to channel that creative energy into something…and my therapists says I need to create things regularly. So this is one of my coping mechanisms.
It doesn’t have to be six things. I chose six because it fits nicely on a sheet of paper, and keeps me from taking on more than I can handle. But the overall takeaway is this:
Short term goals and projects have helped me and my family consistently accomplish things.
Take a short-term amount of time, and asking yourself this: What really matters in THIS time? What do I want to focus on the most?