My Homeschool Command Center

A.K.A. the kitchen counter! I have been setting up this little “command center” for myself each homeschool morning, and I thought it would be fun to share. I claimed the end of our kitchen counter peninsula as my spot. It’s right near the dining table where the kids do seatwork and just a few steps from the living room where most of our reading happens, plus it’s in the kitchen where we usually do science experiments and messy activities. So it’s a nice central location where I can keep everything I need for the day.

Here’s what I keep here:

  • A box of tissues – Because someone always has a cold lately!
  • A glass of water – I try to fill one up each morning, otherwise I forget to drink. 
  • A timer – This comes in handy if someone has a cooking project or science experiment.
  • Sharpened pencils – I sharpen a bunch each evening – no more hunting for pencils!
  • My cell phone – I keep the landline ringer off during school hours to minimize distractions, but I keep my cell on for my husband. 
  • A big mug of tea – I like to use a travel mug so it doesn’t get cold!
  • Our chore chart & a dry-erase marker – So I can keep track of what needs doing. 
  • My planner – I often leave this open, so I have a spot to quickly jot down to-do’s and notes about various things as they occur to me. 
Not shown are our language arts and math work crates, which I keep just in front of the counter. 
 I feel much more organized and professional since I started setting up my little command center each morning. Something about laying everything out helps me get my brain in gear for the day!

Our Read-Alouds & Discussion Block

Continuing on with the homeschool routine series…the last part of our day (after lunch) is reserved for read-alouds and discussion with my three older kids. I generally do Rose’s read-alouds during my time with her (before lunch). After lunch, Grace, Christopher, and I do our current read-alouds from BookShark World History 1. This is the level that Christopher is working on; Grace has moved onto Level 2, but I am doing the read-alouds with both of them together, at his pace.

If it is warm enough we do our read-alouds outside, but I fear those days are numbered as autumn sets in around here. We have two books we read from each day:  Favorite Poems Old and New, which is the much-loved red book on the bottom (we lost the dust jacket long ago), and our read-aloud. We just finished The Shakespeare Stealer and we are now reading A Murder for Her Majesty.

I generally follow the schedule in the BookShark Instructor Guide. We usually have several poems assigned, and I read those aloud first. Then we go over any unfamiliar vocabulary from the read-aloud. I love that BookShark includes vocabulary and unfamiliar words in the IG. After I read we discuss, using the questions in the IG.  I don’t always ask every question, but I appreciate having them all laid out for me – with answers! If there is a map assignment we look it up on the fold-out map that came with the IG.

So this is how the rest of our homeschool day plays out….Christopher goes off to work on his independent work while I discuss Grace’s independent readings with her. Once a week we discuss what she is reading for science and go over her vocab work (she is using Vocabulary from Classical Roots). I also use this time to check in with her about her current writing project and to see if she needs help with anything.  We probably spend about 20 minutes (tops) discussing her independent work, then she goes back to it.

Next I do read-alouds with James, going over discussion questions and map assignments just like above, then discussing his independent work with him. I also use this time to watch his Latin DVD with him when needed. Then he goes back to work and I discuss with Christopher. Rose usually listens in, plays with the puppy, or draws while all this is going on.

If there is anytime leftover I just do whatever needs doing. Maybe I didn’t get to finish Rose’s readings earlier, or someone needs help with an experiment or writing project…it varies day to day, but I usually have 20-30 minutes of “flex time” at the end of the day.

And that is our day! I am going to put links to all of the different parts of our homeschool day on my homeschool routine page.

Tweaking the Routines

We are already making changes to our daily routine, our homeschool routine and our chore routine, just a few weeks into our new school year. I am a big believer in routines lately, and the more we have going on, the more I rely on my routines to keep things going (somewhat) smoothly. Naturally I would love to sit down, write up my ideal routine on paper, and then have it work out perfectly…but that is pretty unrealistic. Routines need tweaking constantly, because life changes constantly. Following are a few of the changes I have made to help our routines work better for us.

Our Daily Routine
Walking the dogs: First of all, I have been trying to spend some time each morning walking the dogs, because I have found that the day runs much more smoothly with a tired puppy! This means I have to get up a bit earlier each day, but so far it is working well and it’s nice to have some outdoor time first thing. Exercise, tired dogs, time in nature, quiet time…. some pretty good multitasking goes on if I can get out of bed early enough.
School starting later: I really do want to start school at 8 a.m., but it is just not working out. 8:30 is ambitious enough for us right now, and honestly we seem to get almost the same amount done whether we start at 8 or 8:30. We still stop at 2:30 no matter what, except on Fridays, when we stop around 11:30.

Less writing time: My least favorite tweak is that I had to cut back on my writing time. My goal was to write for ten hours each week, but right now that feels like too much. I really love writing, and in the past few weeks when I have been writing more, I have had time to submit some articles for publication, which is so exciting. I have found though, that squeezing in that much writing time made life feel very hectic. We are really only home two weekday afternoons each week, and I really need that time to take care of other things. Now on one of those afternoons I have an “office hour” when I make phone calls, catch up on email, research things, plan my next FIAR row, take care of my to-do list, plan our next week, make shopping lists, and things like that. On my second afternoon at home I plan to spend a good chunk of time on housework.  I still have a few evenings set aside to write for an hour or so, and I am still brainstorming ways I can find more time, but for now less is better. It would be much easier if I was one of those moms who could stay up half the night doing things, but I need my sleep! 

Our Homeschool Routine

As I said, I really wanted to start our homeschool day at 8 a.m. but it is just too early for us. I am usually up early, but some of the kids don’t wake up until 7:30, and I don’t like to wake them up. I figure if they are sleeping, they probably need it.  When they do get up, they like to play with the dogs a bit, and eat really slow, and then there are all the chores to do, and the puppy to take out (again), and before you know it we are way behind schedule. I hate always being behind schedule! So now I aim to start at 8:30, and if we are able to start early I get to feel like I’m ahead.  Other than that, there have been no real changes to our homeschool routine yet.

Chore Routine

I had originally assigned room cleaning tasks to specific days, but now I am back to my old housework loop plan. I kept the loop the same, but I only plan to work on it for two hours on Wednesday afternoons and one hour on Saturday (maybe). Anything that doesn’t get done during those time slots will wait until the following Wednesday. We are still sticking with our morning, noon, and evening chore lists, but now the major cleaning is assigned to just Wednesday and Saturday. Housework is something I can’t let totally slide, but I don’t want it to take over the week, either. For now, this seems like a good compromise.

Our Lunch Time Homeschool Block

On to the next part of our homeschool routine…our lunch time block.

I have used lunchtime as “school-time” for quite awhile.  When the kids were younger they would take just about forever to eat their lunch, so I had time to eat, then do a read-aloud while I had a captive (and mostly quiet!) audience.  These days, we use lunchtime for logic. Last year we worked through the Critical Thinking books; this year, we are using Art of Argument. This is “officially” for Grace and Christopher, but my younger two both enjoy listening in and I am often surprised at how much they are getting out of it. 

So our lunchtime routine is: get lunch set up, get out the books, then eat and discuss. I will hopefully do a review of Art of Argument another day, but so far we are enjoying it. I usually have a bit of text to read aloud, then we all discuss the questions and illustrations. A fun feature of this book is that it includes mock conversations between Socrates and his students. We take turns playing the different parts, which gives me a bit of a break and keeps everyone from dozing off. We read and discuss until most people are done eating, then I just put a sticky note on the page we will start on next time.  We spend about 20 minutes per day on logic, much less than recommended in The Well-Trained Mind, but this is a subject that would be hard for me to fit in otherwise. I am just happy it’s getting done!

Only a couple of block posts left to go. Next up is reading and discussing with my older two, which I do after lunch most days.

Working With My Second Grader

After our math block and our language arts block comes my block of time with Rose, my second grader. We usually spend an hour or so together, just before lunch. During this time everyone else works on their independent work. At least in theory – I do have to check in occasionally to make sure said work is actually occurring!

Rose and I follow the same general pattern most days:

We are up to Lesson 191 – the end is in sight!!

    • I let her choose one or two books from our stack of Sonlight Core B reading for the day. We discuss each reading using the notes and questions in the Instructor’s Guide. We also look things up on our map if there is a map assignment.  
    Two of our current read-alouds and current reader

      • She reads aloud to me from her current reader
      • We do some more reading from our stack and discuss. 

      I don’t usually get to all of Rose’s readings in a day; I fit in what we can in an hour or so. I try to end with her science reading, because I can start setting up for lunch while I help her with her science sheet. If the questions involve any writing she dictates to me, other times she is circling, matching, or quick things like that on her own. Her Usborne World of Animals reading lately has included some map work (coloring, labeling, adding animal cut-outs to an ongoing sheet) that she can do independently. Sometimes we end our hour with Abeku to Zapotec, a Sonlight book & CD combo. She listens while I get lunch going.

      If I have extra time at the end of the day we do some of the readings we didn’t get to. I am having trouble fitting in the science experiments from Core B, so we are a couple of weeks behind on those. I planned for science experiments to be a Friday activity, because they tend to be pretty disruptive to everyone around us, but we always seem to run out of time. She loves doing them though, and I don’t want to skip them! So I am going to try doing them during our hour together. This will mean slowing down the pace of the readings, but I think it will be the easiest way to fit them in and there is usually only one experiment per week, so we can still get plenty of reading in.

      My next block post will be about our lunchtime subject!

      Our Language Arts Block

      Last week I shared our current homeschool routine. Today I am going to share what we do during our language arts block. We start our day with our math block, which I posted about last time. In actual practice though,  the language arts block and math block blend into each other, because my younger three are all using Teaching Textbooks this year and need to take turns on the computer.  So while someone is doing math, the other two are working on language arts. My oldest does math and language arts on her own schedule, so this post only applies to my younger three.

      Before we start,  I get out our math crate and our language arts crate. I keep all of our math supplies in one crate and all of our language arts supplies in another crate. No more I couldn’t find my spelling book, so I couldn’t do it! I tell you, it is amazing how often those spelling books got misplaced last year.

      So I get out the crates and take everything out of them that I hope to do that day and pile it up on the table.

      Then, I just work through the pile with whoever isn’t doing math.  Our language arts block includes  handwriting, grammar, spelling, and our writing program. Some things they do independently, some they do semi-independently, and some are more teacher-intensive.

      Independently they do:

      • Handwriting (James & Rose only, Christopher doesn’t do handwriting anymore)
      • Spelling (for Christopher & James)

      Semi-independently they do:

      • Spelling (for Rose, who needs help with some of the reading involved)
      • Grammar (for Christopher & James… I usually need to go over the assignment with them, then be available to help with questions)
      • Writing Strands (for Christopher & James…. I go over the assignment with them, need to be available for questions, and then check in with them when they are done)

      With me they do:

      • Writing with Ease (James & Rose)
      • Writing Strands (Rose needs help for the whole assignment)
      • Grammar (I do First Language Lessons with Rose)

      So my general routine is to send James to do math, make sure Christopher is working on some language arts that he can do independently or semi-independently, and then do something more teacher-intensive with Rose. Then, I just rotate around through kids and books for the rest of our language arts time. I have been getting better at juggling things, but things do not always run as smoothly as I would like.  I get very frazzled when I am interrupted a lot, so it was important to me to set aside this time for us all to do language arts and math together. It just feels easier to spend a couple of hours first thing on our most intensive subjects, the things the kids are most likely to need help with. It cuts down on interruptions during our independent work/read-aloud blocks which follow.

       When we finish with a book for the day, it gets put back in the crate. It is very motivating to see the pile on the table shrinking and the crate getting filled up again. When all the books are back in, the crate goes back on the shelf until the next day.

      My next block post will be about the block of time I spend with Rose right after we finish our language arts work. I’m also working on a post about our row of Night of the Moonjellies, which we are almost finished with.

      Till next time!

      Our Math Block & How We Use Teaching Textbooks

      Last week, I shared our current homeschool routine. Now I am working on a series of posts about the different lesson blocks that make up our day. We have blocks of time aside for math, language arts, independent work, and Sonlight/Bookshark readings and discussions.

      This post is about our math block and how we are using Teaching Textbooks this year.

      We start each day with our math block. By “we”, I mean my younger three children. Grace is officially in high school this year and likes to set her own schedule, but my boys are not quite ready to do that. Last year I put math lessons on their independent checklists, but math got pushed to the end of the day -when we were out of time- far too often.  I prefer to get most of Rose’s work done early so she can go off and play or just putter around….so math comes first.

       All three younger kids are doing Teaching Textbooks this year…TT7, TT5, and TT3.

       

      I have been having James do his math first, because he is usually up and finished with his morning chores first. My goal is to have him sitting down at the computer around 8 a.m. to start math, but it is often closer to 8:30.  And he sometimes has a pupper friend with him, which naturally doubles his lesson time!

       

      During his lesson I am usually getting dressed and ready myself, trying to keep everyone else on task, and straightening up the kitchen from the breakfast mess. I really like to have everyone (except Rose) doing some sort of schoolwork by 8:30. After I deal with the most pressing chores, I pile all the books we need for math and language arts on the table.

      I have Christopher start his language arts work while James does math. Rose usually gets up around 8:30, and I often read a chapter of Life of Fred: Butterflies with her while she eats breakfast. When James finishes math, either Christopher or Rose do their lesson. Whoever is not doing math is starting our language arts block work. So, it is really more of a combined language arts and math block from 8 a.m.ish through 10:30 a.m.

      So this is how we use Teaching Textbooks!

      1. The kids watch the lecture on the computer. For my boys, I quickly scan through the lecture notes in the workbook so I know what they are covering. They watch the lecture on their own. I sit and watch the lecture with Rose when it is her turn.

      2. They do the practice problems. These are supposed to be optional, but my kids don’t know that!

      3. They do the problems. There are usually 22 problems per lesson The author suggests having the kids write the answers in the workbook, but I don’t do that because I want to reuse the workbooks. Instead, I printed out some graph paper and stapled several sheets together to form a math journal. Just search “printable graph paper”; there are loads of options for doing this.  I do not make them write out problems they can do in their head; they just enter those right into the computer. This is one of the boy’s math journals…they aren’t ones for leaving much white space!

      4. I check the gradebook – I love that TT grades each lesson for me! If they missed any problems I get out the workbook and discuss it with them. I will ignore a careless error or two, but if there are more than that I will have them redo the problems on the whiteboard.  If they didn’t understand something, I go over the lecture notes with them and make up a couple of problems for them to try. This usually only takes a few minutes.  I also ask them to use the “view the solution” option if they get a problem wrong.  The gradebook actually tells me if they viewed the solution or not, which I love!

      5. They do the quizzes…but I treat the quizzes differently. TT has a quiz every seven lessons or so. On quiz day, I photocopy the quiz and they do it all on paper. They either enter their answers into the computer as they go or enter them all at once when they finish.  I am pretty picky about the quizzes. I ask them to show all of their work and equations clearly and neatly. Completed quizzes are saved and used as work samples to send to the school district at year’s end. We haven’t had any quizzes yet this year, but Rose will be doing her first one in a day or two.


      So that’s how we use TT and how we do our math block. I also did a review of Teaching Textbooks 5 last year. Just ignore the part where it says I have no plans to switch James from Math Mammoth to Teaching Textbooks….because obviously I did! TT turned out to a be a way better fit for him.

      My next block post will about our language arts block.