The ranks of the homeschooling have grown exponentially in the last, well, yesterday. Maybe you find yourself making a face like Saint Anne here 😒.
As an accidental homeschooler myself (for the past twelve years) I figured I’d share a few tips on how we manage the homeschool day with various age groups. Hopefully you can look at what works for our family and use that to figure out what will work for yours.
Unless you are the Virgin Mary, I do not recommend attempting to homeschool babies, but one must not forget that they’re in charge of how the day goes. We let babies go about their usual business as they prefer and fit homeschooling around their preferences. Contented babies can sit on mom’s lap or hang out in the carrier. Sleepy babies can nap in the carrier or elsewhere and we hit homeschooling hard during those precious minutes or hours. Grumpy babies can nurse while we work, or get fed or entertained by one sibling while another works with mom.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
I also don’t recommend attempting to homeschool toddlers (or even preschoolers), but the key is allowing them to THINK you are. So we have a few special “school” items that the under five set are allowed to play with during school time only. These are things that are potentially messy or otherwise require supervision, and are therefore interesting, but that don’t require hands on assistance from mom. So . . . play dough, balance bears, painting, bristle blocks, colorforms, sticker books, sorting pony beads into a muffin tin, stuff like that. They get to choose one activity at a time for their “school,” and keep doing that one until I can conveniently switch it out for them.
Maybe you would have different luck than I did with tv or other screens for little kids during school time, but it really wasn’t a success for us. It was terribly distracting for older kids and the little kids would lose interest and wander back in with us anyway, but then I was in the middle of a lesson with someone, and would have to scramble to try to include or occupy the toddler. So what’s worked for us for many years (and many toddlers) is to let them feel like they are a part of our school day, but in a mostly self-directed way.
Kindergarten through Second
It will depend, of course, on what your particular curriculum requires, but in our house we do a minimum of instruction in these grades. I do forty-five minutes to an hour maximum of seated, direct instruction-type school for these early grades. Always first thing in the morning. We get up at a set time each day (6:30, most of my little kids are naturally early risers anyway), get dressed, do morning chores, eat breakfast, tidy the kitchen, then start school at 8am. My little kids are freshest at this time of day and we have the most success and the fewest tears.
We focus on phonics/learning to read, math, catechism, and poetry memorization. All in short concentrated sessions. After that time they can wander off and play, ideally with the baby or toddlers, so I can have some focused time with older kids. In other parts of the day we might go for a nature walk, or read aloud, or cook something, or do some other little project, all of which is definitely educational but doesn’t feel so much like school.
Third through Sixth
This is the age group on which I focus the most energy as mom/teacher. It feels important to me to accomplish everything on our daily syllabus. They can read independently, but I still read their textbooks aloud to them whenever possible so that I can guide their perception and check their comprehension.
In our house, kids this age get up/get dressed/do chores/eat breakfast/tidy the kitchen, all on a set schedule and they start school at the same time as the younger grades. They begin the day with independent work, math and other worksheets can usually be accomplished on their own, then checked by me, but in my house independent work happens under direct supervision. Pretty much zero schoolwork that I assign gets accomplished if I am out of the room.
After the little kids are done, I can take turns working individually with middle grade kids. We all take a break together for lunch/playing outside/reading aloud or audiobooks. Then nappers nap and middle grade kids finish things like reading and memory work on their own and are done for the day.
Seventh through Tenth
These are the transition grades in our house. I prefer to send kids off to school in this window so they’ll have outside authority figures and educational influences. If that’s not possible, we rely heavily on dad’s involvement in these grades.
I still expect kids to be up and about at a reasonable time, and to get dressed for the day and help with chores. I still expect to do a check-in in the morning to discuss what they need to accomplish and how they plan to go about it. Depending on the kid, they might be able to do their work for the day in another room, so as not to have all the distractions of the younger kids around. Or maybe they need to be where I can keep an eye on them.
They can help younger kids with assignments, which helps me and helps break up their day a bit.
In the evening, they are accountable to dad for what they’ve finished and how they’ve stewarded their time and resources.
Eleventh through Twelfth
These kids are preparing for launch. The same tactics I’ve used with so much success in the earlier grades aren’t appropriate here. They need independence and discussion, and room to make their own schedules, but also accountability and to not be knuckleheads.
They get to be in charge of their own schedules and methods for as long as they can show that they have been successful in an evening check-in with dad.
I also expect them to interact with the family, join us for lunch, help with the little kids, etc. But in an ideal world, they’re working completely independent of mom.
Speaking of Mom
Saint Anne is just NOT feeling today’s lesson 🤨.
I consider myself a stay at home mom, but in moments of self-awareness, I might admit that I do quite a bit of work outside of usual homemaking and homeschooling responsibilities. I have found time and again that when I try to be Bruce Wayne and Batman at the same time, I just end up doing both badly. I really try to stay off my phone and off of the computer and NOT do my work during our school day. On days that I am successful on that front, everything goes better.
My usual schedule is to be up and ready to go for the day when we start school in the morning at 8am. It’s school time all morning, with me staying in the room, engaged in what they’re doing. We break for lunch around 11:30, and by that time, I SHOULD be done with all their direct instruction for the day. After lunch is reading or audiobook time and playing outside. Babies, toddlers, and mama all take a nap at 1pm, while older kids finish up things they can do on their own. All kids who cannot be trusted to be unsupervised during naptime also take naps. After naps we tidy the house, check schoolwork, run errands, and make dinner.
Once Dad gets home, we eat dinner, do the dishes, little kids go to bed, big kids check in with dad, mom and dad hang out. Then I stay up super late, or go to bed really early and get up really REALLY early when the house is quiet and have a four hour or so stretch to write. Which works because I took a nap.
The way we do it works well for my preferences and talents and temperament. I like order and I like people being dressed and I like naps and I like not doing schoolwork in the afternoons and I like a nice quiet house in the wee hours to work on MY stuff. It works for our family. It works for my kids. EVERY homeschooling mom or dad should look for ways to make the school day work for your particular family. That is the beauty of homeschooling!
I know a lot of you didn’t ever plan to be in this position, but I hope you’ll be able to enjoy it! Or maybe not, and just think how much you’ll appreciate school when it starts back up again! Drop your questions in the comments and I’ll see if I can answer them for you. And other homeschooling moms, please share your best practices as well!
This is almost our exact schedule. We’re also up and at em and mostly done by lunch. My older elementary kids sometimes prefer to save a little work they can do themselves for nap time (LEAVE MOM ALONE) so they can play with the toddler in the morning, but they have to prove themselves. But I’ve only got up to a 5th grader!
Usually we do daily mass twice a week at 7:00, but there is no mass now It’s going to feel different
Yes to leaving mom alone time! 🙂 I think this whole to do is challenging us differently. The introverts are stuck with their people, and the extroverts are stuck at home!
St. John Cantius in Chicago is live-streaming daily Mass at 7 and 8am (central time)
Do you follow a certain Catholic all in one program? Do you recommend any? Or do you pull from various resources to build your day of content? Thanks!
We have used Mother of Divine Grace for twelve years! I’ve been very pleased with it.
Miss Kendra, I admire your thoughtful home-schooling program. Also, in particular, how you are aiming for your older children to graduate *on time* from high school, and “launch,” as you say, into their independent lives on their own. (Of course, they look to their parents, if they are fortunate, for a while after high school, but the trend is to independence.)
I home-schooled my kids back in the 1990s-2000s, and even though I was nowhere as good at it as you obviously are, I have never regretted it for a minute. For one thing, that was when we took up the Baltimore Catechism, and we ended up — teenagers first! — being received into the Catholic Faith, at an FSSP parish which we still attend. We have so much to be thankful for.
I so enjoy your blog. I am a fan!
Thank you! I have one senior who has had a bad case of senioritis since before the school year started! But the brick and mortar school that my oldest four attend is setting up virtual classrooms and there will be outside accountability.
He is still waiting to hear back on his college applications. I’ll feel great about things if/when he has an acceptance in the bag. I figure colleges will all be pretty understanding about the second semester of this crazy year!
Kendra, you rock my world! I was just thinking that I had to look up your “day in the life” post from a few years ago. This is even better. Here’s what my husband said when I read this post to him:
“Kendra is awesome. We need to pray for her so that she can keep being awesome. Because somebody needs to be that, and it’s not us.”
Hah! Yes, please do!
Totally agree with your husband! 😉
Yes to all things Catholic All Year. One thing that has helped me tremendously have been visual lists for morning routines, school work, and chores. I use Tripclip to drag and drop clipart and easily print lists for my kids, and then I laminate them and give them dry erase markers to check off items. New routines can take awhile to establish so have patience with them and yourself and put your own phone away while working through those lists. Also, if your younger kids read with you, do a page or two of math, and play for a couple months, they will BE. JUST. FINE. Some of the work lists I’ve seen from friends’ schools are completely unreasonable (4 hours of work for a Kindergartener?!). 1:1 is SO much more efficient and I completely concur with the amount of time required for each age group you list above.
Thank you for posting the information regarding TripClip — this will work very well for us!
I’d love to know how you get toddlers to nap when they don’t want to and are no longer in a crib, but rather a bed. Also, do you have a daily behavior incentive program in place? We are struggling with disobedience (or obedience lacking in promptness) as well as lying and a few other issues.., mostly all one kid but he’s a big brother to 3 other kids so I’m trying to work on him for the sake of example if nothing else! Interested in how you discipline and a real life example for both toddlers and 7 year olds. Who makes breakfast and lunch? What responsibilities do you have off to primary grade kids to free yourself up for the needs of littles or other demands? I’m drowning here with 5 kids, ages 8 and under in a less than ideal small home that can’t properly be baby/toddler proofed, adding so much more stress! I appreciate any insights! You are inspiring! God bless you.
Totally get you Cami! I have 4 kids and ever since the baby started moving I think I have not had my shtuff together! The older boys have ONE chore and take FOREVER to do it. Any tips on this Kendra? (I mean on chore enforcing?) Also what to do if a kid sleeps late (he just has a heck of a time falling asleep, not sure why) and consequently wakes up late. 🙁
Sorry for the delay, ladies, catching up on comments here! I have a few posts that address these topics.
What to Do When They Won’t Stay in Bed https://catholicallyear.com/blog/what-to-do-when-they-wont-stay-in-bed/
How to Get Your Kid to Stop Doing That
And, really, my main advice for every parenting situation: Always Mean What You Say https://catholicallyear.com/blog/always-mean-what-you-say-how-of/
As for waking up in the morning, we find that it works best to wake them up in the morning at a set time, and make sure they’re getting exercise and some fresh air during the day, then they can fall asleep more easily.
Kendra I would love to hear how you teach your Littles catechism! My oldest is only 5 but I would love to start. Is there a children’s guide? Thanks!
We use the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism: https://amzn.to/2U4P6MR and then the two Baltimore Catechisms, along with my Little Book About Confession: https://amzn.to/2xL9mu0
My kids memorize, word for word, the catechism questions. We also memorize prayers, learn hymns, and read aloud from a Children’s Bible and lives of the saints.
Hey I have a question! I have been working through the first communion Catechism with my oldest and based on your comments on memorization I wonder how long I should be spending on each lesson? They are short and don’t take long to get through, but I’d like for him to be able to memorize and also for the lessons to sink in. I’d love to hear more about how you go about this!
Good question! I read the lesson aloud, we do the discussion questions, then spend 5-10 minutes per day for a week working on memorization, jumping between the newest lesson and reviewing previous lessons.
Hi Kendra, Could you share which homeschool programs you use or would recommend?
We use Mother of Divine Grace and have had success with it for many years. I definitely recommend it if you like the idea of a classical/one room schoolhouse type approach. https://modg.org/ They have a team set up to help answer questions from people interested in enrolling now, in response to the quarantines.
I am having difficulty with the “at-school schedule and assignments” being homeschooled. When the schools send assignments, the way they are done in a school setting, and expect that the parents are to run their home just like it is a school building. I have a first grader and it takes HOURS to get through the first graders assignments! It doesn’t make sense. I am quite lost.
Might be worth talking to the school about the course load. That sounds like too much for at home to me!
Thanks for this great article, Kendra!
For anyone (teachers, homeschooling parents, etc.) looking for resources during this time of quarantine, I’d highly suggest checking out: http://www.CatholicReligionTeacher.com