Three years ago, I was at the peak of my homeschooling load. I was homeschooling five kids, and I had baby with Down Syndrome. (Think lots and lots of doctors’ appointments.) It was a joyful year, but it was also intense. On the one hand, I had a kindergartener who needed help with almost everything. On the other hand, I had an eighth grader who was preparing for the momentous HSPT (High school Placement Test). And in between, I had three high-energy boys.
Sometimes homeschooling all five kids felt like a juggling act. But in reality, it was more of a choreographed dance, with everyone doing their part. Such choreography allowed our homeschool to run on auto-pilot: the kids knew what they had to do without being told, they usually started their school work without having to be prompted, and they continued to do their school work even when I had to be elsewhere. This is not to say that our days were always smooth and the kids were always co-operative… we certainly had our moments! But, overall we had a rhythm to our day which allowed for much autonomous learning.
For those of you who are wondering how to structure your homeschool day, here are four ways to make your homeschool run on autopilot:
1. Choose curricula that fosters independent learning. Children are natural learners. They are born with an inquisitive mind, and they yearn for independence. Once children are able to read fluently, there is so much they can teach themselves. Doing so builds their self-confidence and self-reliance.
Many homeschool curricula are designed for independent learning. Given the right curricula, these are the subjects children can usually learn on their own with minimal guidance: History, Geography, Science, Latin, Cursive handwriting, Grammar, Vocabulary, and Art.
The subjects that children need direct instruction for are (generally) Writing, Spelling, and sometimes Math. Math programs such as Saxon Math and Teaching Textbooks are geared for independent study, but many children will still need clarification and help.
For religion, I suggest using a mix of independent study books and discussion-based/hands-on lessons. We don’t want religion to just be another intellectual activity; we want out kids to love their faith, and this love can only be imparted through your own enthusiasm, lively discussions, and living a sacramental life.
It also helps to consolidate where possible. For example, last year my 4th grader studied Ancient history. So, for writing we used IEW’s Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons, and he read a lot of historical novels that took place during Ancient times. If you have children that are close in age, you can teach them together for subjects that are knowledge-based (rather than skills-based). For example, in past years, my kids have studied religion, art appreciation, and science/nature study in pairs.
Looking for curricula recommendations? Our favorite curricula can be found at the top of the home page under the “Curriculum” tab. Many are geared towards independent learning.
2. Use Roll-Over Lesson Plans, which are a combination of regular weekly checklists and, when needed, single subject lesson plans. These allow your children to work independently. They also give you the flexibility to make quick and easy adjustments to your schedule when you want to make room for special activities or when the unexpected crops up. See my post on Roll Over Lesson Plans for sample checklists and lesson plans.
3. Have a consistent routine and use block scheduling. If you want your homeschool to run on auto-pilot, it’s essential that your maintain a solid routine. Make sure your kids go to bed at the same time each night, rise at the same time each morning, eat breakfast, start school, and break for lunch at the same time each day. This sets their circadian rhythm and prevents children from becoming overly tired. A tired child is a grumpy child. And a grumpy child makes an impossible student.
Within that routine, use block scheduling.
Do not try to micro-manage your children’s schedule, as is done in school:
This does NOT work in a homeschool setting.
Instead, give your children larger chunks of times to complete their independent work.
In our homeschool I give my children one-on-one lessons from youngest to oldest. This is because the older children have so much more they can do independently while I’m teaching the younger ones. When I work with a child, first I grade his completed work. Next, I help him with any corrections he needs to make. Then, we move on to direct instruction. Sometimes a student has not yet completed all his independent work by the time I get to him. In that case, I grade other children’s work while I’m waiting (there’s always lots of grading to do!), or I move onto the next child who is ready for instruction.
Try not to multi-task when you are working with your kids. Give your children your full attention. If you are checking texts and answering emails while trying to teach your kids, you will lose their attention and they will end up feeling bored, impatient, or frustrated. If you are working a full-time or part-time job in addition to homeschooling, it is best if you can block off the time you spend with your kids so you can focus on teaching.
And what about scheduling breaks? In past years I have tried scheduling a specific break time, but I have found it more effective to be flexible with breaks. If you schedule a break time for everyone at 10:30, one of your children might be deep in the middle of math — do you really want to pull him away from it just because it’s 10:30? Instead, I let my kids have breaks when they have completed math or a good chunk of work, when I need someone to play with the toddler for fifteen minutes, or when I see a child is mentally stuck and needs a change. Unlike school, in a homeschool your kids don’t need to have breaks all at the same time. In fact, it’s really helpful to send some kids outside to play while you work one-on-one with others.
4. Most importantly, motivate your kids to complete their school work in a timely manner. Some ways we motivate our kids are:
- You get a break after math is done
- You get a snack after science/history is done
- You get to use the computer for fun after all your school work is done
- You get donuts at the end of the week for great behavior
Sometimes we have to use negative reinforcements:
- No dessert if you whine or complain
- No snack if you distract your siblings
- 20 push ups for arguing with Mom
But truly, the best motivators are your own enthusiasm for the subject at hand as well as sincere and specific praise for work well done. Be enthusiastic! Show how problem solving can be fun, express wonder at the marvels of nature and science, be dramatic when reading or discussing a history text. And then, when a student puts in a good effort, praise and encourage him. Wow! Look at this neat handwriting! or, Great job on this writing assignment! I really liked your use of alliteration.
I know this sounds like a crazy analogy, but homeschooling your children is like line dancing. Line dancers don’t move on puppet strings. They know their dance moves, and they dance to a highly repetitive and predictable rhythm. Like line dancers, you and your kids need to be synchronized, with everyone doing what they’re supposed to do. But to get that synchrony, you need a rhythm to your day and your children need predictability.
So, to recap: The four ways to make your homeschool run on autopilot are:
- Choose curricula that fosters independent learning.
- Use Roll-Over Lesson Plans
- Have a consistent routine and use block scheduling.
- Motivate your kids
I hope these tips are helpful! If you have any questions, drop them in the comment box.
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