The Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Homeschool Edition)

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Jamie over at Simple Homeschool asked for readers to document their homeschool days this week. Below you will find an actual account of our day Tuesday. Times are approximate. Events are accurate. (If you would like to see what “normal” looks like, see this post and this post.)

11 February 2014

5:45 am Alarm goes off.

6:00 am Start coffee. Do eurythmy by candlelight.

6:15 am Turn on lights. See note from husband, “Vet 3:30. Bring poop.” Think of heading back to bed.

6:30 am Have coffee and blog by candlelight.

7:00 am First child up. Grunts morning greeting. Has slight panic that NOAA radio is not coming in clearly. Informs me of impending snowstorm and importance of hourly weather updates.

7:15 am Wake up husband and dog. Hear continued radio static from downstairs.

7:30 Second child up. Sweetly greets me with “Good morning, Mom.” Husband and dog stumble downstairs.

7:45 am Serve delicious whole grain breakfast to self and first child. Second child asks for a plain bagel leftover from the grandparents. Husband finds sausage and French toast in the back of the fridge. Dog eats dog food. Scrounges for crumbs.

8:00 am Take shower. Get dressed. Brush hair. Brush teeth. Moisturize. Moisturize again for good measure. Feeling pretty good.

8:30 am Mix bread to rise. Assess refrigerator for lunch and dinner options. All seems well.

9:00 am See husband out the door. Reminds me of vet appointment and poop sample.

9:30 am Rouse boys to stop playing Legos, get dressed and ready for school.

9:45 am Continue rousing. Louder this time.

10:00 am Give bi-weekly speech about expectations, attitude and responsibility. Put bread to bake.

10:30 am Enter schoolroom to find second child on the floor moaning, “What do I have to do? How long will it take? I’m so tired.” Give him 5 minutes to “Get it together.” Hide in kitchen. Starving! Grab a hunk of cheese and a few crackers. Come back and start lesson with multiplication tables and bean bags. Second child can barely throw hard enough to reach me. First child interrupts, “Mom, where’s your phone so I can time my quarter-mile run?” Dog throws up.

10:45 am Take bread out of oven. Admire crunchy crust. Inhale yeasty aroma. Pat self on back. Continue lesson summarizing Br’er Rabbit tale. Plot out drawings for reader. Second child can barely contribute to lesson. “I’m just so tired.”

11:00 am Second child dismissed. Proceeds to bound up the stairs and shoot 651 consecutive baskets in Nerf basketball hoop. Dog throws up again. Contemplate the statistical probability of dog vomiting exclusively on rugs, when 90% of floors are hardwood.

11:15 am Text BFF: “Remind me again why I homeschool?” Copy, paste and text the same to husband.

11:30 am Starving! Mix up protein powder/chai seed shake. Wonder who invented such things. Wonder why I drink such things.

11:35 am Start main lesson with first child. Sail through eurythmy, cursive practice, report writing. Complete section of business math. Remember why I homeschool. Dog throws up again. Think of vet appointment and wonder, “How much is that going to cost me?”

1:00 pm Second child asks, “Mom, can you buy me a sombrero?” Try very, very hard not to roll eyes. Text brother in San Diego: “Nephew wants sombrero. I want tequila. Send mine first.”

1:15 pm Go in kitchen to start lunch. Glance at table to see detritus of energy bars, potato chips and remnants of freshly baked loaf of bread hacked to bits. Breathe deeply. Make lunch.

1:30 pm Serve lunch. Inquire about bread. “We needed a snack.”

1:50 pm Take dog for a walk. Procure poop sample.

2:00 pm Read two chapters in Anne of the Island for afternoon storytime. Wonder if the Anne/Gilbert storyline is lost on the boys. Decide I don’t care.

2:45 pm Starving! Eat bowl of soup and broccoli from last night.

3:30 pm Arrive at vet with dog and poop sample. Dog pees on floor of exam room. Vet comes in just in time to catch me mopping it up. Asks questions and permission to “check some things.” Wonder for the second time, “How much is that going to cost me?” Multiple attempts to draw blood (from the dog and the vet). Make small talk about whipworm, urinary tract infections, food sensitivities and the impending snowstorm.

4:15 pm Get my answer: $289. Leave with special non puke-inducing food, doggie antibiotic and an appointment for canine dental extraction in 7 days.

4:30 pm Come Home. Make delicious cup of chai. Check email. Boy Scout meeting cancelled due to impending storm. Dog sleeping in little doggy circle. Boys quietly playing upstairs. Think about dinner.

5:30 pm Husband calls to say he’s on his way home. Tell him about the vet bill. Mutters something about whose idea it was to get the dog in the first place.

6:15 pm Blessedly uneventful dinner. Extra glass of wine afterward with husband. Makes me promise we will never, ever get another dog. Admits he has always preferred cats. Feed dog new food and first antibiotic capsule. Both go down (and stay down) easily.

7:30 pm First child puts together emergency preparedness kit for likely power outage due to impending snowstorm. Asks if it is a true emergency, would it be possible to eat new dog food since it is made solely from salmon and potatoes. Reassure him this won’t be necessary. Secretly think husband would eat the dog first.

7:45 pm Husband gets kerosene heater out of shed and begins to read assembly instructions. Decides power outage to be highly unlikely. Gets boys ready for bed instead.

8:00 pm First child checks NOAA weather one last time. 4 – 8 inches of snow predicted. 100% probability. Fills pots with water.

8:15 pm Boys in bed. First flakes begin to fall.

9:00 pm Crawl in bed myself. Don’t bother to set alarm.

School Day Rhythm: 2013

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We are still fine tuning our rhythm, but below you will find an approximation of our daily schedule. For the most part, Jude’s day has pretty much stayed the same from last year, but Vincent’s has changed substantially. Up until now, all Vincent’s schoolwork was contained within our main lesson time. This year (grade 6), he is responsible for a variety of independent work in math, handwriting, spelling and additional assignments related to our current main lesson block. He also needs to keep track of his penny whistle practice, independent reading/handwork progress and any achievements/work related to Boy Scouts.  This is all compiled by him during the week and turned into me on Fridays at noon. It has been a process that has stretched him in regard to deadlines, time management, and meeting expectations. For me, it has brought up issues with setting expectations, holding boundaries and sharing responsibilities. I’m sure it will be a year fits and starts in regard to personal growth for the both of us.

“Extras” like form drawing, penny whistle practice, poetic recitation and concentrated movement exercises are still being worked into our day. I am finding I like doing these activities individually with the boys at the beginning of their main lessons. We have not gotten everything integrated into our weekly rhythm yet, but I am trying to at least do form drawing once a week. We are beginning the year with circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. These are called “standing forms” in grades 1/2 and “freehand geometry” in grades 5/6. Currently we are drawing the forms on Mondays (circles and squares so far this year), but I also have plans to model them out of beeswax and paint them with watercolors. (Donna Simmons has some really good information about painting the forms in her book Mathematics Grade 2.)

Below you can see how this shakes out. (Times are approximate.)

Monday

  • [9:15ish] Vincent Main Lesson (On Mondays, this will include form drawing, a math lesson for the week, 10 vocabulary/spelling words from the upcoming week’s reading and finally new material.)
  • GO (Get Outside)
  • [11:00ish] Jude Main Lesson (On Mondays this will include form drawing.)
  • Vincent does his independent work during this time. This includes math practice based on the week’s lesson, handwriting practice and any other ML work he needs to finish.
  • [12:30 most days] Lunch
  • Free Time/Play Time
  • DEAR (Drop Everything And Read – or handwork)
  • [4:30 – 5:30pm] Penny Whistle Lessons in Town
  • Drive-Thru Dinner (as in I go through a drive-thru for dinner . . . even the Cowboy Boot Contessa has limits!)
  • [6:00pm] Jude Cub Scouts (3 out of 4 Mondays)
  • Night Routine
  • [9:00pm] Bedtime

Tuesday

  • Vincent Main Lesson
  • GO (Get Outside)
  • Jude Main Lesson / Vincent Independent Work
  • Lunch
  • Free Time/Play Time
  • DEAR (Drop Everything And Read – or handwork)
  • Free Time/Play Time
  • Dinner Prep
  • [5:30pm] Early Dinner
  • [7 – 8pm] Vincent Boy Scouts
  • Night Routine
  • [9:15pm] Bedtime

Wednesday and Thursday

  • Vincent Main Lesson
  • GO (Get Outside)
  • Jude Main Lesson / Vincent Independent Work
  • Lunch
  • Free Time/Play Time
  • DEAR (Drop Everything And Read – or handwork)
  • Free Time/Play Time
  • Dinner Prep
  • [6:00pm] Dinner
  • Play Time with Dad
  • Night Routine
  • [8:45pm] Bedtime

Friday

  • Baking Day
  • Vincent’s Independent Work Due at Noon!
  • Lunch
  • Free Time/Play Time
  • DEAR (Drop Everything And Read)
  • Free Time/Play Time
  • Dinner Prep
  • Dinner
  • Play Time with Dad
  • Night Routine
  • Bedtime

A Brand New Rhythm

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When I first came to Waldorf, I built our daily rhythm around three things: cooking meals (perfect for grade 3), walking (perfect for when you have nothing else planned – which I didn’t) and afternoon story time (which, in my opinion is just perfect period – anywhere, anytime). Last year, Jude began first grade and that meant I was teaching two grades. Cooking became less intentional and more simplified, but we still walked every morning and had story time every afternoon. This year, Vincent is in middle school and Jude is in grade 2. What has worked in the past is not working anymore, and our rhythm has gotten a significant overhaul.

Perhaps the biggest change is with cooking. This summer I did a series of posts asking for suggestions on breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. After reading those posts that week, Tom came home and said bluntly, “You cook too much.” (This from a man who grew up in a house with an Italian mother AND grandmother who cooked every meal, every day and then some.) However, I did see his point and a couple of slight adjustments have made a big difference. I already had the idea to streamline school day mornings with a serve-yourself breakfast/morning snack bar. (No cooking and no major clean up!) I adopted this idea from Maya and list the daily choices on a small chalkboard. (No questions!) I have also been lowering overall expectations (mostly my own) for lunches and dinners during the week and serving more leftovers. No one has noticed or complained and the time I am saving is considerable.

The second big change to our rhythm was initially postponing and then ultimately forgoing our morning walk. I knew we needed to make more time in the morning for Vincent’s main lesson which has been taking about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Vincent and I are both up early and ready to go – we don’t need a walk to get our energy going. Why wasn’t I taking advantage of this? Live and learn, I guess. So after Tom leaves, we both begin to transition to the school day. We have been beginning around 9:15-9:30, which lets us finish both main lessons before lunch. I thought about doing our walk between main lessons, but really we (well, I) need a break. So instead of walking together, the boys go outside and play for about 20 minutes, and I take the dog for a walk or sneak in a quick dvd workout.

Giving up afternoon story time is proving to be my biggest struggle, as it was my absolute favorite, favorite part of the day, everyday. However, as much as it pains me to say this, this is not all about me (lol). I started afternoon story time with the intention to encourage Vincent to read fiction. Well two years in, it has finally started to work! Now we have something every afternoon called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). The form is the same as when we had afternoon story time: I set out a snack tray and light a candle. Instead of reading together, we are each tucked into our own book or current handwork project. This quiet time provides a nice in-breath after all the energetic playtime after lunch. I still read aloud to both boys during their individual main lessons, and we will still have our annual tradition of reading the next Little House book in January and the next Anne of Green Gables book in February.

This new pattern fits the needs of our family as a whole right now. And while we are still working out some kinks and falling into the rhythm of it all, it seems to be working out nicely for now.

*Read other examples of our yearly rhythm.

sample rhythm teaching 2 grades

sample rhythm teaching 2 grades

sample rhythm teaching 1 grade

sample rhythm teaching 1 grade

Reblog: Homeschool SOS

If you are panicking about school starting, if your rhythm is non-existent, if you haven’t planned one single thing for next year, if you have just made a last-minute decision to homeschool, take a breath. I promise you, this is a foolproof plan for getting started.

#1 Go for a walk in the morning. This is a great way to start the day. It gets everybody’s ya-yas out, and doing it every day after breakfast will begin to shape your rhythm. Just get outside. Don’t have it be a nature lesson or a historical walking tour. It’s fine if these things casually come up, but just get everyone out of the house and walking. Walk for as long as you can, building up to an hour if you have nothing else planned for the morning. When I first started walking with my boys, they were nice and tired when we came home. I gave them a snack, and found myself with some free time where I could do some planning. Usually I had a lot of ideas generated on the walk – getting them down on paper was a step in the right direction.

OK, after you’re walking consistently for about a week . . .

#2 Have afternoon storytime. I have written a lot about storytime. If you get a basket, put some really good books in it, and read to your children every afternoon, you are doing something great. Depending on the ages of your children, walking and reading could be enough.** Or perhaps, enough for a good long while, and then enough to build upon. If you are uncomfortable reading aloud, start with audio books. My advice is to go for the classics – these books have stood the test of time for a reason. You can take a look at our reading lists here.

There, if you are walking in the morning and having storytime in the afternoon, you have 2 anchor points during your day. Bonus points can be added if you have predictable mealtimes. Again if your children are little, especially if your oldest is under 7 or 8, relax. You’re doing enough** – or at least enough to buy yourself some time to get a solid plan together. However, if your children are older, and you want to do more . . .

#3 Do some math. I’m not talking about researching every math curriculum out there and spending a lot of money. Math can be baking. Math can be playing games. Math can be playing cards. Math can be skip counting, times tables with beanbags, baseball stats, football scores. I have some cheap and easy math ideas in this post and this post. The idea is just to begin introducing math into your homeschooling day. See how your children learn. See what they like. My favorite resource for beginning with Waldorf math is Melisa Nielsen’s math book. It is simple, yet thorough, and not expensive.

OK, you can feel good about getting some math in. And now, last but not least . . .

#4 Recite some poetry. This could be nursery rhymes, tongue twisters, seasonal verses. This could be simple songs. Interacting with language orally promotes literacy on so many levels. Check out a book of poetry from the library, and read it together. Pick a poem to memorize. If you really want to impress your kids, memorize “The Jabberwock” by Lewis Carroll and recite it to them one morning after your walk. Donna Simmons suggests this in her book Living Language, and it is a sure fire way to generate some enthusiasm around poetry.

Do these four things consistently for 3-4 days a week with your children, and you are really doing big things!! Add a baking day. Add a library day. You’re doing it. You’re homeschooling. You’re starting a rhythm. Congratulations!!

**Obviously you need to check the homeschooling regulations for your particular state, as they vary widely. However, my advice – no matter what rules need to be followed – would be to start slow and to start small. Build a solid foundation and move on from there.

Clearing the Slate

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You know when the day gets squirrelly? It seems to happen in a blink of an eye sometimes. All of a sudden everyone is on everyone else’s nerves. The house seems too small, too cluttered, too close. We all have our tricks for dealing with these times. Usually I send the boys outside to play, or send myself outside to walk. But some days this is not feasible or efficacious for whatever reason. During those times, I try really, really hard not to exacerbate the situation with talking (ummm . . . yelling) or finger-pointing. I try hard not to hide in the bathroom. I also try hard not to bust into that bottle of Prosecco that seems to stare at me whenever I open the refrigerator door. Instead, I clear the kitchen table.

Our kitchen table is the mirror of our day. In addition to the many meals eaten there, it also is home to the day’s projects, reading material, correspondence and the various flotsam and jetsam that accompanies all these activities and more. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, if our day is going south, the table is a mess. This is one of those divine mysteries of homemaking that I don’t choose to grapple with. I merely accept it as truth and proceed to take action. I remove everything currently on the table (trying not to just dump it all on the counter), wipe it off, light a couple candles, add flowers if there are any around, and presto! I feel like I have been given a clean slate.

This little domestic ritual can totally change my mood. So while the boys may still be at each other, I am more settled and able to deal with them in a way that is able to smooth sharp edges and calm flared tempers. After cleaning off the kitchen table, my next step is to make a snack plate, go in the living room, clear that table and light some candles in there too. Then I plop down in my chair and start knitting. I have admitted before in this space that I don’t like to knit, but both my boys do. If I sit down with my knitting, they will sit down with theirs. It calms them, centers them and pushes restart. We all have a little snack and move on with the day.

I would love to know how you change course in the middle of one of those days. Leave a comment and/or a link and tell us all about it.