Coffee and Books: An unexpected homeschool game-changer

Coffee & Books: A unexpected homeschool game-changer

Written by Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley of My Little Poppies

September is here.

Armed with fresh notebooks and colorful pens, we feel renewed and inspired. We are determined to make this homeschool year a memorable one.

We have a plan for how we want the year to go, a vision.

And yet, sometimes, the best homeschool ideas are unplanned.

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Take, for example, last winter.

A lifelong morning person, I suddenly found myself unable to wake up before my children. I can see now, in retrospect, that it was the result of saying yes to far too many people plus a case of the winter doldrums.

My motivation was at an all-time low.

By not waking before my children, I lost my planning time. Rather than enjoying an hour to myself, drinking my coffee in silence and setting us up for a peaceful morning, I woke up to rambunctious, hungry children.

When my feet hit the floor on those cold wintry mornings, I already felt behind. I was overwhelmed by a sense of urgency, a need to accomplish all the things … and fast!

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I’d rush through breakfast so that we could tackle math. (Because don’t we all worry a little bit about math in our weakest moments?)

This resulted in colossal power struggles. And tears. And general chaos.

Needless to say, we didn’t accomplish much.

One morning, as I was laying in my warm bed, silently berating myself for not getting up and accomplishing all the things, I had a revelation:

What if I start our mornings with what we love? What if I tackle the one area I never worry about?

And so I got out of bed, poured a cup of coffee, and grabbed a book.

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When my kids arrived in the kitchen, sleepy-eyed and ready for breakfast, I read to them.

I didn’t know it yet, but a tradition was about to unfold. 

We had stumbled onto something good: Coffee and Books.

Starting our day with the easiest thing

I’m a reader. My first word was bookie. I’d follow my mom around the house, book in hand, and plead, “Bookie? Bookie-bookie-bookie-bookie?”

I had a children’s book collection years before I had children.

At any given time I’m reading at least a half a dozen books.

I cherish read-alouds with my children. Reading is the one area I never worry about.

So, on that first morning of what we’d later call Coffee and Books, it didn’t feel overwhelming to pour a cup of hot liquid goodness and open a book.

Coffee and Books did not require any motivation. In fact, it felt almost too easy. 

But here’s the interesting bit: by starting our morning with the easiest thing, we accomplished more. 

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At some point along the way, I started sharing our Coffee and Books on Instagram. I didn’t share every morning, just on the mornings when I was waiting for a straggler to come to the table, or when I was especially excited about a particular book.

And an interesting thing started to happen: others started to look forward to our Coffee and Books posts. If I missed a couple days, I’d receive requests for more.

It was only then that I realized we had stumbled into a new homeschool routine. Coffee and Books was completely unplanned and born out of desperation, but it had grown into a cherished family tradition.

Sometimes, the best ideas are the simplest ones

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that Coffee and Books revolutionized our homeschool.

Here’s why:

  • Coffee and Books provided a slow, peaceful start to those otherwise chaotic wintry mornings
  • Reading over breakfast cut down on breakfast bickering and sibling squabbles
  • Starting our day with something everyone loved resulted in good moods
  • It seems counterintuitive, but we actually accomplished more on Coffee and Books days
  • And, while it certainly didn’t feel like work, reading aloud is arguably the most important part of any homeschool day
  • Since stumbling upon Coffee and Books, read-alouds have become contagious over here. It’s not unusual to walk into a child’s room and see this:

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Coffee and Books: Stealth learning at its best

I love Coffee and Books for many reasons, but at the top of the list is this: Coffee and Books allows me to tackle those subjects that I am worried about, while creating positive family memories. It is stealth learning at its best.

What are you worried about? Have you been slacking on science? Is math driving you mad? Guess what? There’s a book for that. 

In fact, there are oodles of books to cover whatever subject is currently stressing you out … and you can have fun while reading them!

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Coffee and Books, the 2016-17 edition

Last year, Coffee and Books was a pleasant, unplanned surprise. I’d wake up in the morning, minutes before my children, and scramble to find books. Our Coffee and Books was impulsive, haphazard. This year, I plan to be more intentional about our choices.

  • I want to plan our Coffee and Books selection the night before, rather than flying by the seat of my pants.
  • I plan to incorporate heaps of books from Give Your Child the World.
  • And I promise to share them all on Instagram. In fact, doing so will help me to document our read-alouds for our year-end porfolio!
  • I’m also planning to add some math play at the end of our Coffee and Books. I recently devoured this book and it has inspired me to make our math as fun as our read-alouds!

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Sometimes wonderful traditions grow from desperation. They sneak up on us, take us by surprise, and change us for the better.

Tell us: Do you have an unexpected homeschool tradition? Share here!

Originally posted on Sept 7, 2016


About Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Cait is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. You can also find her hanging out with Kara at The Homeschool Sisters Podcast.


  1. I love this idea because, although I do set my alarm to get up earlier than my kids, they’ve been getting up earlier and earlier. This might be just what we need. Now if I can just get them to sit long enough… 🙂
    Shelly’s latest post: 12 of the Most Common Spelling and Grammar Mistakes

  2. This is the jam! I struggle with bedtime reading now that my Danger Mice are older and fall asleep at different times. We’ll be trying Coffee and Books for this school year! Brilliant!

  3. Oh my word, we’re a couple of weeks into our very first year of homeschooling, and I’ve succeeded at exactly one thing: stressing myself out! (We’ve yet to have a science lesson, and don’t even get me started on math.) Yet, when my husband walked in from work the other day to a quiet, peaceful house and saw everyone laying around the living room reading, he chuckled and said, “Goodness, they’re turning into you…all they want to do is read all the time!” To which, of course, I said, “Good…it’s working!!” 😉 My daughter just read her first chapter book over the summer and has gone on to read three more JUST THIS WEEK. So, I say all this to say that I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that we were on to something with all this reading we’ve been doing, and that it wasn’t just filler between things. I even thought last night that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be mostly literature-based in our approach. It feels right. Then I wake up this morning and read this. Thank you so much. I’m chalking this up to completely providential. 🙂
    Amy’s latest post: An education manifesto.

  4. I love this idea. Thank you for sharing. I’m having trouble waking up before the kids, too, and I know we would all love to start the day this way

  5. It really is a peaceful way to start… plus there’s coffee 🙂

  6. I LOVE this! Mornings are such a struggle for me because the kids want attention right away and I want to have my coffee and slowly start the day. What a great compromise!

    This year we have been ending each homeschool day with the easiest “subject” for my daughter, which is usually an art of some sort. Or math with manipulatives that she can then free-play with after the work is done. I’ve found that having an open ended project, like painting or playing with the manipulatives, makes the transition from school time to play time seamless, and I can slip away to do chores or other things while she plays.

  7. So simple, so genius! 🙂 We might just have to give this a god too!

  8. I think we might need this morning routine, although I might need the first cup of coffee before the book.
    And seriously it is true we worry about math in our weak moments, why math, my kids even like math and I still worry about it in middle of the night.

  9. My daughter and I read Dragons Love Tacos in the book store when we were looking for a gift for a friend’s daughter. We embarrassed ourselves laughing out loud! And I MUST get that book pictured, Ada’s Ideas, for my new granddaughter, Ada, even though she won’t be able to read it for a while. Her parents start reading to my grandkids from birth, so, soon.

  10. And to add about morning routines, any routine I might have had has gone out the window with the adoption of our 4 month old puppy. I guess the new routine is get her outside before she wets the floor. Then we take her and our other dog for a walk to get the energy out!

  11. Stealing this idea! We are expecting a new baby and I think this may be the extent of our homeschool plan for the newborn phase!

  12. Oh I love this! We had something similar happen last month but in an opposite kind of way. Our afternoons were becoming hard and full of whining and just unpleasant and it was awful because our mornings were always so great. One day I dragged cushions out into our garden and made an afternoon tea with hot chocolate for them and coffee for me with little snacks. We sat in our garden under a tree and had story time. I read to them from a chapter book and then they read to me from their books. It lasted the whole afternoon. So we did again the next day. Then the next. Now we do it every day (when we are home) and we all love it. I treasure it. And I love hearing other stories along the same line.

    • I adore this! Isn’t it amazing how tea and snacks makes EVERYTHING better? Happy reading, Mich!
      Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: My Little Poppies Week in Review 30

    • Jodi Collins says:

      I love the idea of doing this in the afternoon MichM! I have been really stuck on our late afternoons lately. We have been in a rut where nothing good is happening from about 2:30-4. I’m pretty low energy at that point in the day and saving it all for dinner/bedtime/husband so I haven’t wanted to do anything messy or that takes much planning. So we all end up drifting around the house with no plan-and lots of requests for electronics. But we love books and snacks. We are going to try this today!!

    • Fantastic switch up and making this idea your own! I too struggle with those moments at the end of the day! I definitely will try this out especially as the kids start to head down their cell phone rabbit holes when they get free time-it will help us all to pull focus back on family time. My teens are 13 & 16 and they still enjoy a shared story! And of course-I love it too because those days are quickly coming to an end with me and they will hopefully create a positive family tradition to share with their own children.🌻

      And Caitlin-thank you for such a beautiful gift of reclaiming family bonding time!
      Lisa Roberts’s latest post: Hello world!

  13. We do something similar! Only I’m up several hours before everyone else and am working on my coffee when the kids get up. But I found myself rip roaring straight into the school day, rushing my kids through breakfast because hey! I’d been awake and thinking about our day for awhile, so they’re young, right? They should be able to jump right in! Talk about power struggle! So our little intro to the school morning is watching a 10 minute news program for younger viewers with discussion of current events and either reading a chapter or two of a devotional book or Sripture memory/catechism memory. I’ve been focusing more on the reading, though, because we are more relaxed and enjoy it at that time. And my oldest especially loves the current event segment. All things that can be done before the school routine begins. We do our pleasure read alouds st bedtime still, so I feel like we have the win-win of multiple read aloud times throughout the day. 🙂

  14. Cait. Have you come across the Sassafras Science series. We are on book 3 and Mr6 loves them. They have lapbooks etc to go with them (which we haven’t done) but I see they now have colouring pages which I think will be perfect for read aloud time in our home. I always think of you when we discover new books! I love your idea of using Denise gaskins games at the end of read aloud time. Hmmm …

  15. As a creative educator this was an awesome read! I don’t home school but create curriculum. I plan to take this approach in my business life and see the results! Thank you for sharing

  16. Kathy Hartman says:

    Great literature is how I get my kids up in the morning . We read chapter books and the kids don’t want to miss the next exciting chapter so they slowly show up and snuggle in a corner of a couch in the mornings so as not to miss anything. Think I will add tea this year and as Sally Clarkson would suggest , a candle. I have been that hurried scatter-brained mom long enough . This ought set a calm atmosphere.

  17. Love this concept, but I’m in a bit of a rut on this one. What should I start the day with if my 6 year old son doesn’t seem to like any subject? I mean he doesn’t really complain , but I’ll tell you what, he just likes to play with his toy trains. He’s a bit babyish for bis age I suppose……

  18. So funny .. this has just become our game-changer, too. I’m tackling all those subjects which worry me by reading to my kids while they eat breakfast, lunch and supper – so they can’t escape. It’s working. 🙂

  19. We used to do read-alouds with lunch. It started as a selfish thing — I wanted to have my lunch alone, so I could read while I ate. So I fed the kids first and read to them, then sent them off to either nap or quiet play while I had my turn.

  20. Aubrey Carey says:

    This could be just what we need!! Ive gone through in the fall and planned a morning time routine, read lots about it, figured out a loop schedule, but STILL feel like its too much, everyone is scattered and we are rushing and since I cant do it “right” we do nothing at all.
    Today, midmorning I sat down at the table, got my sons a snack and tried to get my 8 yr old to SIT down and stay in one spot and do his school work, he just sneaks off to play Legos, read, whatever, unless I sit with him and get him started. He was whining and i decided maybe Id just read first. We always,read at bedtime but havent found a good rhythm during the day yet.
    He and the 2 yr old listened while I read an illustrated Anne of Green Gables, then he was calm and focused on his work no problem.
    Our breakfast time has gotten crazy, its hard to get them all up and at the table at the same time to eat, and its chaos. BUT the few times Ive simply read to them, they sit quietly mostly and dont fidget or fight.
    I too have been slacking off getting up earlier than the kids and NEED this quiet start, so I plan to try this.
    I never thought to simply read to them, without a “plan”, or subjects lol..

  21. I had something change my homeschool that might seem strange, excercise! I was hitting burnout at the end of November so hubby took me on a little weekend getaway. We were sitting in this cute little coastal pub and an add for Peloton came on the TV they had on. It’s a bike that steams live spin classes straight to your home. There is an app also, that I use with a bike I already had. Now everyday after we finish school I get a healthy dose of endorphins:). It was a game changer for this busy mama who was struggling to find time for herself.

  22. Love this! We do something similar during our mornings but with tea.
    Tea’s latest post: Our Grade 4 Curriculum

  23. What a great idea – but how do you do it? Like read while you’re eating…. or after you’re done? Won’t they get so caught up in the book and forget about eating?

  24. We read aloud just about every day at breakfast; usually I eat before or after the kids so I can read without worrying about my mouth full but it is a nice way to ease into our day. Plus I find if i push reading aloud to our afternoon or later in the day we rarely get to it. It’s one time of the day I have a captive audience and I love to take advantage of that!

  25. I loved reading this! Such a great idea. We go outside right after chores and breakfast, and regardless if we are out 15 min or two hours, we still get more schoolwork happily done those days. If I skip outside time first, it is a painful process to get work done. I don’t know how it works as it doesn’t make sense, but reading your same feeling of greater productivity with stories first makes me happy! Now I know what to do on rainy mornings! Or perhaps it is what I need to get people all out of bed and started at the same time. Thanks for sharing!!

  26. This is a great idea to apply “Coffee and Books” with my younger sibling who is currently 7 years old. Thank you for sharing this one. 🙂

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