Friday, August 21, 2015

The Nitty Gritty

Sorting through the sea of curriculum is only half the battle when considering the homeschooling year.  The next part of the equation is fitting it all together and making it happen.

This year, we have two 6th graders, a 3rd grader, a 2nd-ish grader, and a 4 year old.  We also have chores, band class, dance class, co-op, church, regular library visits, field trips, and whatever else to fit into our daily, weekly, and monthly routines.

Once I finalize what books we will use in the classroom, I start evaluating every aspect of how our school year days will look.

I start with what time the kids wake up naturally.  That's somewhere between 6:30 and 7:15, depending on the kid.  This means that it's safe to say that breakfast should be at 7:30 and our day is constructed from there.  Currently, this is what our weekly schedule looks like.

This simply outlines the hours of the day that we know we will be out of the house, the hours that we know we'll be home, and a general guideline of how we will use those hours.  On Fridays, the only school we will take part in is what goes on at co-op and then tie up any loose ends from the previous week.

Our daily routine looks more like this at the moment, but we're still tweaking through it. 

In years past, I've had individual time slated for each child.  This year, I don't have it scheduled into the day, but it's a natural flow of the way we actually do the day.  When I cleaned out the school room this summer, I got rid of a TON of books and two bookshelves.  We moved the whiteboard and suddenly I had an empty corner in the room that demanded a cozy chair.  So we put a cozy chair in it (we happened to have one upstairs that was in need of being re-homed).  I spend the entire school morning in that chair or at the table with the kids.  I'm right there all morning long.  They stay on task, I get a lot of work done, and I'm available for anything and everything.  Daniel's little play area and desk is right beside my comfy chair, so it's easy to stay present with him while I'm relaxin', too.

Those pretty two charts up there?  Those are actually one of the last things I do to prep for the start of the school year.  Once I've got all my curriculum and resources in place, I determine what that subject looks like on a weekly basis, then break it down into daily segments.  I am in love with Mardel's homeschool planner and take great joy in filling in all those pretty blank pages.

Word to the wise, y'all: Always, always, ALWAYS plan in pencil.  White out on gray paper doesn't look as neat and tidy as white out on white paper.  Besides... who ever knows where the white out is hiding when you need it? 

Knowing what subjects we will be tackling each day and what the actual assignments are, I can then work in what chores to do each day.  I don't get to pick the days for band and dance, since I don't teach those, so I pencil them into the calendar as soon as I know the date and time.  Those are The Big Activities for the school year and we plan a lot around those.  Then, like pieces in a puzzle, it all slowly works together.  And, like a puzzle, you sometimes find that what you thought worked over here actually needs to be moved over there or flipped around a bit to fit just right.

Having the curriculum and the schedule tamed, I turn my attention to making things run smoothly.  Organization.

My kids made color assignments easy years ago.  They all have different colors that are their favorites.  Kid you not, I now a family with four girls and all of them claimed pink as their very favoritest color in the whole wide world.  Thankfully, my kids didn't go that route.  We don't color code everything, but after talking to Lora about her Color Coded Classroom a little, I went out and bought orange, pink, yellow, and green washi tape.  Thomas was handed a roll of blue painters tape because we already had it and it's basically washi tape.  Then the kids each got their very own box of colored pencils, box of pencils, package of colored pens (the older three kids deemed it Scholastically Necessary to have pens this year) and their school box.  They patiently went through and marked all their pencils and pens with their color of tape.  I did the same with my stuff.  Miraculously, I'm not experiencing pencil mysteries this year...

Last year, I bought milk crate type baskets for each kid to keep their school stuff in.  I liked the way they looked standing on their sides with the books neatly lined up in them.  Except that's not how they stayed.  I'd get twitchy looking at the haphazard mess of stuff the kids kept in them.  Everything from the school books that belonged there to junked up construction paper and old newspaper they were hoarding to be creative with at some vague point in the future.  Candy wrappers, loose colored pencils, doll clothes.... it was like looking under a kids bed, which we all know you should never do. This year, I set those bad boys on their bottoms and pretend I can't see the disarray through the little holes.

It's all about compromise.

Finally, I keep the kids on track with their weekly assignment sheets.  This keeps me from having to tell 4 people their different independent assignments every day.  We've been tweaking this system for a few years now and finally landed on a super simple version last year.  Each week, I fill out weekly assignment sheets for each kid and hand them over to their owners.  The sheet tells them what their assignments are each day.  They do them, check it off on their sheet, and turn the completed work into my Check Box each day.  Since I'm in the room at all times, I usually check it pretty quickly so that by the time the next subject, I have the first one checked and they can make corrections or we can talk about it as needed. 

Imma try to be all high falutin on y'all - if you'd like to try the assignment sheets without the time spend in Excel, please just click here to print your own!

I mentioned the Check Box.  When the kids finish up each subject, they turn it in to me to be checked over.  This used to mean a pile of books and notebooks that made me feel overwhelmed in it's sheer volume and haphazardness.  When I moved the bench seat to my place at the table, I placed a cute little file folder holder from Thirty-One on one end of the bench.  I actually have two - one for teacher books and one for the kids turn in work.  Right there next to me, easily accessible but contained!

I can practically hear a heavenly choir singing when I look at those cute boxes.

There's more.  There's always more.....