Homeschooling: One Room Schoolhouse Meets Three Ring Circus

by | Oct 1, 2013 | Homeschool, Link Up | 15 comments

In the comments of a kind of random post about some Latin quizzes I made, Tamar and Caitlin asked me how I manage a homeschool day with four different grades, a preschooler, a toddler, and one in the oven.

I guess the real answer is: Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Some days our school work is done by noon and we spend the afternoon in wonder and discovery and all that. And some days there is yelling and people get rapped on the head with pencils.


But almost every day our school work does get done. We have a daily syllabus, and we do it. I want my kids to take their education and their responsibilities seriously, and I want to take my role as their teacher seriously. Especially that last part has been a work in progress for me. But the more kids I’ve had, the more I’ve realized that the more prepared I am for a school day, the better it seems to go.

So, remembering that the beauty of homeschools is that every one is different, and yours should reflect YOUR family culture, here’s what I do to make homeschooling work for us.

1. When they’re doing school, I’m doing school.


This one is the biggest no-brainer, but it was the hardest for me to discover and it’s the one I still need to remind myself about.

With my oldest (cough <guinea pig>) I would set him up with everything he needed for an assignment, explain what he was to do, and go tend to the baby or the dishes or any of the one thousand other things I needed to be doing that morning. Then I would come back after a reasonable amount of time and he wouldn’t have done his assignment. I would convey my disappointment. Rinse. Repeat. All day. Every day.

Finally, as I was lamenting my accursed existence over dinner again, the husband wondered if perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea to treat teaching as a bit more of a j.o.b. and put in some facetime. And, really, it has made all the difference.

When 8:30am rolls around, the kids start school and so do I. Even if there are still dishes in the sink. Even if someone on the internet is wrong. I sit at the table with them during school time. That other stuff isn’t going to get done on its own either, but I never get mad at the dishes when they don’t do themselves.

2. When circumstances change, so do we.


Just because something used to work, doesn’t mean it works now. I try to look at what’s going on in our family NOW and plan school accordingly.

I’m having a baby around Thanksgiving, so we started school early and will be done with our first semester before then (fingers crossed) so that we can take a nice long holiday break.

But really, newborns aren’t usually a problem for schooling. Mostly (hopefully) they sleep and nurse all the time. Usually we can do that at the school table. But once baby requires more active attention, I try to get A LOT done during morning nap. If I’m still needed at the school table, the big kids and I take turns on baby-entertaining duty, so I can work with the younger grade kids.

Recently we’ve made the switch to a working lunch. It didn’t seem like much of a break for the older kids to go from sitting at the school table to sitting at the lunch table. But a long lunch and recess break was eating into our mornings, and I need an afternoon nap. So this year I’ve been serving them a sandwich while they work, then giving them an excercise break during naptime instead.

I know families who have done the whole school day for an older child during afternoon naps for little ones. We’ve never done that, since I find my kids and I are all more productive in the mornings. But the key is to find when and where and how you can be most productive and do that . . . until it’s not working anymore. Then try something else.

3. Homeschooling is a whole family experience.


I would guess that it’s easier to homeschool without a toddler. Or a baby. Or a toddler and a baby. But, honestly, I wouldn’t know because I’ve never tried it.

We do school at the dining room table, which is adjacent to both our playroom and the sliding glass door to the backyard. So Anita (4) and Frankie (almost 2) spend the morning going between the playroom, the backyard, and the school table.

They are welcome to join us for school if they can manage to not be too disruptive. Frankie likes to color and Anita loves her little workbooks. She also mostly has all of the poems that the kids memorize through about third grade down pat. If they pause during a recitation, she’s usually the one to pipe up with the next word. And Frankie is excellent at repeating phonogram sounds.

I love that school feels like something we do as a whole family.

But if the little kids get too noisy or wiggly, they get sent outside for a bit. Usually the two of them are fine playing out there by themselves, but if Frankie’s having a tough day the big kids and I will split time keeping him out of everyone else’s hair.

4. I am a limited resource, so I use myself wisely.

There’s only one of me and I have students in first, third, fourth, and sixth grades. I do two grades per spelling lesson, but other that that, they each have a unique daily syllabus. So it’s really important to use my individual time with the kids effectively.

Kindergarteners and first graders don’t need a lot of school time, but what time they do need, needs to be supervised.

Second and third graders have more to do, and still need supervision, but there are some things they can do on their own.

I expect fourth graders and up to work pretty much independently, keeping track of what they need to get done in a day and doing it, correcting their own daily work, and coming to me with things we need to do together. 

Since we’re all at the same table, I can keep an eye on what everyone is doing, but my efforts in the morning are focused mostly on the younger grades. My fourth and sixth graders choose for themselves in what order they’d like to do their assignments. I usually sit in between the third and first graders. First thing, I give the third grader an assignment he can do mostly on his own, and work through the day’s assignments with the first grader.

He’s still mastering reading and handwriting, and those are the foundation for everything else, so I want to make sure we get that done right.

The third grader still needs direction on what to do and when to do it, so I do that for him while I’m working through first grade. Then when we’re done with the first grade work, I turn my attention to the things I need to do with the third grader.

Ideally, he’s done before noon and while we eat lunch I do the things with the fourth and sixth graders for which they need me. But more often than not, I’ll also need to work with them for an hour or two in the late afternoon. During naptime, the preschoolers and I are sleeping, so the big kids get their afternoon breaks and do kid-led projects like art and science together.

Only if they’ve been really unproductive during the morning do I ask them to do school work during that time, because when I do, it often doesn’t get done anyway (see #1).

I also finally broke down and got some help around the house, so I’m able to devote more of my time to teaching and mothering.

5. I get out of it what I put into it.


Just this year, with my third-trimester nestiness, I’ve developed an organizational system that’s really helping with our productivity.

I got the kids each a three ring binder. Each Sunday, I spend a couple of hours getting their binders completely organized for the week. I print out their daily lesson plans and make any necessary changes or notes in writing. For instance, if we’ll be gone for a day for a field trip, I actually move around all their assignments for that day, so they’ll know exactly what to do each day. (The new Mother of Divine Grace family website has been great, it allows me to customize their syllabi and print them as needed.)

Then I put all the worksheets, tests, and papers they’ll need for the week in the binder, behind the appropriate day’s assignment list.

This is a lot of work for an evening, but has been a huge time-saver during the school week. The kids used to waste a lot of time looking for books, or waiting for me to make a photocopy of something for them. Now, they are able to move easily from one subject to the next, without having to wait for me to finish an assignment with a different kid, so I can get the thing they need to start the next subject.

My inclination is to just print and copy and orgnize everything for the whole year all at once, but I’ve been resisting, since I do think it’s important to maintain some flexibility. 


That’s what works for us. But there are lots of circumstances I’ve never been in. So, I’m opening the comments and the linked-up floor up to you guys.

What does YOUR homeschool day look like?

Not curriculum choices, just the daily task of when and where and how you get it done. Do you have high schoolers, special needs kids, multiples? One kid? Many, many kids? Some in homeschool and some in traditional school? Health issues for you or a child? Does Dad help? Or grandparents? Do you work part-time or full-time? How do YOU get through a school day?


  1. Kate

    We started this year much more organized. We have a 7th, 8th, and 10th grader. The oldest is very motivated and a great self starter. The 7th grader is fairly conscientious about getting his work done. The 8th grader ~ he needs to be followed up with a lot. I haven't figured out how to teach him self motivation. On the plus side the oldest has been giving me hope because she used to be easily distracted as well. We still are not what I would say is wonderful but we are doing way better. I work part-time and my husband who is home teaches in the morning. We have split up teaching responsibilities. He does math, science, religion, and latin. I do English/grammar/spelling/ history. I feel like he is more organized than I am but it is a work in progress.
    We go to Mass every day. It is how we start our day. The kids are home after they drop me off at work. They practice the piano for a half hour each and then as they finish piano they move to their math lessons. Sorry for the length…should have posted and link. Take care and thanks for sharing some of the ways your day works.

  2. Caitlin

    Thank you so much for this post! Another topic I'd love to hear more about is your philosophy towards activities (sports, music, etc.) How do they fit into your day? At what age do you start them? I'd really like to strike a good balance between giving my kids the socialization/outlets they'd like and becoming crazy over-committed.

  3. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    Kendra, I just love coming to your blog and soaking up your experience! Thank you for taking the time to write so all of us readers can benefit from your wisdom! I only have a baby and a two year old, so I'm a ways away. But I would LOVE to create a homeschool environment similiar to yours.

  4. Pam

    Great post. We work in a very similar manner. Each evening I load their clipboard with the things they need to complete the next day — math sheets, Latin or phonogram flashcards, handwriting. We start our day with our morning time — prayer and the Gospel reading, a bit of discussion, memory work, Bedtime Math story and problems, mapwork. Then we work very similar to you with the first and third grader. They each work from the clipboard while I sit between them. The third grader does more independent work at first while I work with the first grader. Then I release him to work with the little guy while I finish up with the third grader. On a good day we finish about noon.

  5. Micaela Darr

    I have a lot in common with your style here. I'll try and write a post this week and get it up. 🙂

  6. Anna

    How do you make time for all the extras? Groceries, doctor appts, daily Mass etc. Do you do four day a week homeschool and schedule these things on off days or do you just squeeze these in during early mornings or late afternoons? Late afternoon seems like an awful time to try to get things done but I admit I've never really tried it. Or do you do all this on weekends?

    • Kendra

      Good point Anna. Errands is definitely something that suffers when you homeschool. Basically, I just do a lot less of it than I used to, and it's fine somehow.

      I consolidate shopping and appointments as much as possible, and try to schedule them over lunch or in the afternoons or on the weekends. I also do a lot of shopping online.

      We do a weekly school Mass on Saturday mornings, since the 9am weekday Mass just kills my school day. I go running and to 6:30am Mass before our day starts, but that would require getting the kids up much earlier than they would naturally wake up, which for my kids creates a LOT of grumpiness, so I don't do it.

      The kids have a very short school day on Fridays, just math and reading usually, but we spend from 10:30 to 3:30 at our park day where the kids have a book club and PE and choir and a spelling bee and a school play and run around and play and get dirty and the moms all sit in camp chairs in a circle and chat.

      I think the syllabus intends moms to be able to do errands and appointment on Fridays, but ours are our busiest day!

  7. courtney

    What is the Mother of Divine Grace family website? Please share!

    • Kendra

      If you are enrolled in Mother of Divine Grace, they have a website that allows you to customize and print out your child's syllabus. Formerly they were only available printed and spiral bound. The new website really gives their program a lot of flexibility and customization options. But it only works if you're enrolled. Sorry if that was confusing!

  8. Kelly M.

    So I linked up, but as you can tell once reading it, I actually don't do a lot of hands on homeschooling. My older kids work mostly by themselves with me correcting work and focusing on the basics with the younger ones. (Interspersed with many, many trips to the potty with Teddy.) I'd like to say we do great history/science/art/ etc lessons together, but usually I just assign them reading and call it a day. Some days I feel guilty, but usually I know our days at home are better than anything they'd get in a school.

  9. Chris

    I finally had an opportunity to really read your post…I Love, It. Each of your bulleted pieces of info are so so true. I'm not sure which rings more true with me! Love your way with words.

    I need to save your posts until I can be rested and relax, really absorbing them.
    Thanks for sharing and for being candid about a day in the life.

    Looking fwd to reading the others' links too.

    I linked up again….hope it's okay.

    Be well…enjoy the weekend and God bless!

  10. Chris

    Just grabbed your blog button…forget earlier. Thanks Kendra:)

  11. Bridget Goerss

    Kendra- Love the posts! I am so glad to have found your blog. Silly question- what does "linked up" refer to?

    • Kendra

      Thanks Bridget! This post originally had a "link up" where other bloggers could put links to their own blog posts on the subject. The links don't show up here anymore, but you can still find them by clicking on the inlinkz link at the bottom of the text.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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