Melissa’s homeschool day in the life (with a 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, and 14-year-old)

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Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins.

Rather than structure my children’s activities, I structure our time, our environment, and my availability.

I think of myself as the curator of our home and our schedule — I bring in inspiring materials, I make sure our home is set up to encourage kids’ learning, and I leave plenty of free time for them to pursue their interests.

The super-simple version of our daily rhythm looks like this: we have breakfast and morning chores, and then I stay available to help with activities or questions all morning.

After lunch is quiet time, when everyone—including me—works on individual projects. After quiet time, we come back together to play and make dinner and tidy up. Then it’s dinner and bedtime routines, and the day is over.

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We all like to focus deeply on one thing at at time, so we don’t tend to hop from one activity to another on any given day. That means that some days might be all about math, while others might be all about writing, or creating, or experimenting.

Here’s what it looks like today:

7:30. My four-year-old is hovering over me, his face two inches away from mine. It must be morning! This isn’t a season of me getting up before the little ones, so Eli is often my wake-up call.

The seven- and eight-year-olds are up, but the toddler and the older kids are still asleep. I’ll wake them after I sit here and blink a minute.

8:30. We’re dressed and heading downstairs for breakfast. We try, try, TRY to have breakfast prepared (or at least planned) the night before, so we can just sit down and eat. This morning it’s green smoothies for the adults, and banana bread with peanut butter for the kids.

9:00. When they finish eating, the kids clear their dishes and head to morning chores. We clear and wash the table and sweep underneath, unload and reload the dishwasher, put away any laundry I washed overnight, and tidy up the downstairs common areas.

We think of this as pushing the reset button on the house for the day, and we move fast-fast-fast to get on to more fun things.

9:30. After breakfast, I putter. On purpose. Today I’m throwing in a load of laundry, and then I’ll sort through some outgrown toddler clothes. It’s interruptible work.

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The kids know that this is the best time to get my attention, so this is when they tend to ask for help with new math skills, ask my opinion on a piece of writing, set up a science experiment, practice handcrafts, bake something, or just bounce ideas off me.

It’s also a great time for reading aloud. Most days, each person only tries to do one of those things. Not everything.

Some mornings, if no one’s in the middle of a project of their own, I’ll set out a learning invitation after breakfast. Today, though, they all scatter to their own spaces to work on Important Stuff.

Owen (11) zips over to my computer to request library books — he’s almost through the Chronicles of Prydain, and wants to make sure there’s something waiting for him on the hold shelf when he needs it. After that, he might watch a few science-y videos online. He can navigate to them from my Pinterest boards.

Sadie (7) is on a mission to read all the Marie-Grace and Cecile American Girl books aloud to her older sister, so both girls are on their bunks with a book. Audrey (8) has an art board and colored pencils for sketching while she listens.

Abigail (14) is revising her latest novel, so she’s reading over this week’s editorial suggestions from her editor-slash-mother.

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The bigger four stay busy for a long while, so I play trains and read board books with Eli (4) and Evelyn (1).

11:00. Evelyn needs a nursing break, so I take her upstairs for a few minutes. She isn’t ready to nap, though, so when she’s done cuddling, she toddles into the boys’ room where there are race cars in a box on the floor. Owen is in there too, working on a project from The Star Wars Craft Book. “She can stay,” he says, so I take Eli back downstairs to set out a snack.

Owen comes downstairs a few minutes later for help with his project — he’s making Star Wars character finger puppets that double as chess pieces, and needs a little help stitching the wool felt together.

Audrey and Sadie take a break from their book to be Evelyn’s buddies while Owen and I debate the merits of whipstitch vs. running stitch.

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11:45. Quiet time is coming after lunch. I remind everyone to choose activities, make a plan, and get any help they need NOW before we eat, because during quiet time, I will be busy.

12:30. Lunch time! Everyone’s favorite. And lunch cleanup! No one’s favorite. (It still gets done.) Abigail makes refried beans for everyone, Owen makes their quesadillas, Sadie heats up a batch of brown rice in the microwave, and Audrey and I play defense, keeping the youngest two out of the kitchen.

While the bigger five are still eating, I take Evelyn up for her nap, and remind everyone that quiet time is next. They clean up (mostly) while I’m upstairs.

1:00. Ev has been asleep for maybe thirty seconds when Eli asks if we can please, please do an exercise in his Handwriting Without Tears book? Even though it’s quiet alone time? I say yes, because who says no to handwriting?

Since we’re not really settled yet, I ask Abigail and Owen to work together to scrub potatoes and pop them in the oven to roast. We’ll need them for dinner.

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After that we’re on to quiet time, for serious now. Abigail is back to her writing. Owen is still crafting. Audrey and Sadie are working on Legos and imagining grand adventures for the minifigs.

Eli gets a turn with the iPad, and I’m at my computer, working on this post for you.

3:00. Evelyn will be up soon, so I let everyone know it’s a good time to wrap things up.

3:30. The potatoes are roasted, and I need to prep the lentils and vegetables and put them all together into a vegan shepherd’s pie. The bigger four kids all help in turns, dicing shallots, peeling garlic, rinsing lentils, and gathering ingredients.

Evelyn and Eli mostly climb up and down the kitchen chairs, nibbling at the snacks we set out before lunch.

4:30. Dinner is made, and we have errands to run. We’ll eat when we get home.

I have an appointment with my chiropractor, and then we’ll pick up our library holds. Today’s haul is a mix of kids’ nonfiction (requested for the kids by the grownups), and the entire Gail Carson Levine oeuvre (requested for the kids by the kids).

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While we’re at the library, Owen and Audrey ask the librarian to help them find the latest Lemony Snicket book, and we add that to our stack, too. (“Do you need me to order anything else?” the librarian asks, as we stack up the dozen books that won’t fit in our book bags. Nah, we’re good for today, thanks.)

6:30 We’re home! Dinner time! And then dinner clean up, tidying the house, and telling Daddy every single thing that happened today.

9:00 I sit with Eli while he falls asleep. The seven- and eight-year-olds are in bed with lights on. The older two are downstairs playing with the toddler and chatting with Daddy.

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9:15 I’m back downstairs for a few minutes of Mama-Daddy-baby time. (Our four-year-old’s natural rhythm means he sleeps and wakes earlier than the one-year-old. It works out.)

Owen goes upstairs to read one more chapter. Now that everyone else is tucked in, Abigail grabs the iPad and runs upstairs for more writing time. She’ll turn it off and read awhile, too, before turning out her lights.

I make green smoothies for tomorrow’s (grownup) breakfast, and set out oats and a pot for tomorrow’s (kid) oatmeal. My husband is reading to Evelyn, and she’ll be ready to nurse to sleep when I’m done.

Then the grownups will stay up working, throwing in more laundry, chatting, doing one more round of dishes, and enjoying the quiet until we notice the clock — and get to bed.

Today was a lot of reading, and a lot of making. Tomorrow will most likely have a different focus.

(Well, except reading. Every day has a lot of reading.)

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Do you love reading about Melissa’s day? Her free e-book will tell you how you can “do your thing too” and bring the same calm and confidence to your homeschool. To get your own copy, plus separate printable journal pages, visit here.

What about you–do you focus on one project at a time, or do a little of everything every day?

About Melissa Camara Wilkins

Melissa Camara Wilkins is a homeschooling mom of six in Southern California. She writes about being who you were made to be and letting go of the rest.

Comments

  1. I love this post. Your day feels simple but full to me, if that makes any sense at all. It seems you focus on the important things but don’t stress about schedules or must-dos. I, too, enforce a mandatory quiet time for all after lunch. It is a nice breath of fresh air in the midst of our day. Must check out the Blue Fairy book! Thanks for sharing your day with us!
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: Rise: A Refreshing Dose of Gifted Reality

  2. This sounds quite a lot like our days, except I don’t have the little ones or a quiet time (although I think both are very nice ideas). I work from home and people don’t know how I can do that and homeschool. It’s because I am, exactly like you said, a curator of our home and schedule. We are all working together. I don’t need to be teaching my kids every moment of each day when there are so many worthwhile activities for them to do, including “working on Legos and imagining grand adventures for the minifigs.” Right there with you!
    Have a beautiful day!

  3. I really need to start enforcing quiet time, for my own sanity (I’m an introvert).
    Thanks for sharing! Like a pp said, your days seem so simple -yet full. This is our first year (k/1st grade) and so I’m still figuring this all out.
    Olivia’s latest post: Merry Christmas!

    • I’m an introvert, too. Quiet time saves my sanity! When we’re first practicing it with younger ones, I keep it short so that they can feel successful. Then I make it last a little longer each week, until we’re up to a reasonable stretch of time. Audiobooks also help a ton with little ones who aren’t yet interested in long stretches of reading or individual project time. Good luck! 🙂
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: 10 Thoughts on blessings for the new year

  4. What a lovely homeschool day. I am impressed! Your family obviously has a beautiful daily rhythm together. You make an excellent curator!
    Camie’s latest post: The Blessings of Time

  5. Oh, how I loved Prydain as a girl! Last year I re-read The Book of Three (it was its 50th anniversary year). No wonder I loved it like I did when I was little: adventure, great characters, good vs. evil. Everything that makes a book great.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: The Gift of Friendship

  6. I don’t have littles anymore (mine are 13, 12, and 10.5) but we still have afternoon quiet time. The kids usually read, write, or play quiet games during those couple of hours. We keep it going because I’m an introvert and NEED that time to recharge, myself. I’m a less-nice mom when I have to be “on” 24/7. The kids know this and they give me space. I suspect they need it, too, since they don’t really complain about it.
    Hannah’s latest post: “Boring” Rituals That Make Us Better

  7. I love your days. I have a 6, 4, and 1 year-old and find myself as the curator of the days as well. I’ve fallen into such a guilt trap that we are not doing enough because my oldest is such a self-guided learner. Thanks for the assurance that this is a beautiful way to “do school.”
    Becca G’s latest post: Ezekiel – ONE!

  8. I am a homeschooling dad of 2 girls, 5(kindergarten) and 9(4th grade). They are very self directed learners but I have struggled with being asked questions all day. Maybe because this is my 1st year doing this(My oldest has been homeschooled since 1st grade but up to this yr my wife has done it). Your method of two different times sounds very appealing. I will start that tomorrow. We can either do so much or so little each day and its ok either way. Today my 9 year old asked questions about measuring flooring(new bathroom floors!) which lead to about talk of perimeter and area, read part of Ella Enchanted, talked about and looked up information about Med evil castles and life, drew pictures of them, and talked about weather. Covered all subjects while yesterday she spent all day writing a story based on a dream she had. Only 1 subject. Oh and my 5 year old, she has recently gotten very “schooly”. We spent over an hour each today and yesterday doing Math and English(based off of The 3 R’s) and then she spent another hour drawing cats(today) and butterflies(yesterday)

    • I love how each day can be different, to meet each kid’s needs. Your days sound like a lot of fun! 🙂

      Keeping part of the day reserved for quiet alone time means that I get some uninterrupted thought every day, and that helps me to be comfortable staying open to interruption and flexibility the rest of the time. The kids do sometimes need reminders about when I’m more available and when I’m not, but overall it’s a system that works well for us.
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: 10 Thoughts on blessings for the new year

  9. Sounds lovely! How do you “do math?” Thanks!

    • Thanks, Kathy!

      We have lots of hands-on learning supplies displayed enticingly for younger folks, along with math-related games and puzzles for older ones. We talk about life skills math throughout the day. We have skill-building apps on the iPad, and skill-building toys like math wrap-ups. And we have math books available at each of the kids’ skill levels.

      We find Singapore to be very intuitive for our kids’ learning styles, so they don’t usually need instruction outside of the text, just troubleshooting from time to time. At our house, when a kiddo finishes a Singapore level (about a semester’s worth of math), they get to go to the bookstore and choose a new book as a reward, so they have a lot of motivation to pick up the books regularly. 😉
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: 10 Thoughts on blessings for the new year

  10. Thanks for sharing your day! I was excited to read this as my kids are almost exactly the same ages as yours, except I only have five (no teenagers here yet!). I structure more of my kids’ school time than you do, but they still have plenty of free time to play and read and explore their own interests. It’s always encouraging to be reminded that this is learning as well! I still have the public school mentality in me that school is sitting down at the desk or table and studying something out of a book. (And this is my 6th year homeschooling!) I was also challenged to give my kids more responsibility with clean up and food prep. I like cooking so tend to do it all myself (unless someone is begging to help) and somehow have been the primary dishwasher in our family. Everyone takes care of their own dishes and then I do everything else. I think it’s time for a change! 🙂 Happy learning!

    • Thank you, Alison! Being able to share dishwashing duty with the kids was a turning point in our household. Ahhhh. 😉 And even on days when I do most of the real cooking, having help with the prep jobs is wonderful.

      It’s so cool to see the kids all growing in their skills and judgment, and getting little glimpses of how they might do things when they’re adults. 🙂
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: 10 Thoughts on blessings for the new year

      • I read this today and was going to reply, but then realized I already replied last January when I first read it! 😉 Apparently I needed the reminder that self directed learning can be so valuable. Do you have intentional time of talking with their kids about their interests and potential projects? My 11 year old would hole up in her room reading animal fantasy books ALL day if I let her, and my younger three would just play (imaginative play, mostly). Though I am glad they have the time to do these things, and I think they have their place, it seems like they need more direction. Any thoughts?

  11. Melissa,
    You have no idea how much this post encouraged me! I have an almost-1-year old, 3 year old, 6 year old and 8 year old. And I feel like I need to get it all done – and I’m failing. Just reading that one little fragment tucked in there – “nursing the baby to sleep” – was like a huge hug to me. I’m in that chaotic baby phase with a little boy who is wonderfully destructive and mama-loving (some people would call it clingy lol). The day just takes so much out of me. I find myself feeling like a failure, and overwhelmed to boot, when I cannot sustain several homeschooling subjects day in and day out. I find your family’s routine so much more peaceful and learning, growing, loving conducive.

    I’m wondering what curricula you guys use? Does it lend itself to more independent learning?

  12. I so hear you, Kelly. And I hear how you are loving your kids and the stages they’re in, even as the days are challenging. It’s good work, and it’s hard work, and you are deep in the middle of it.

    I try to remind myself of all the relationship and caretaking and conflict-resolution skills my kids are practicing when we have little ones in the house. There’s so much learning going on—learning about what we prioritize, what we value, and how we meet each others’ needs—alongside the more traditional stuff.

    We’ve used pieces of lots of different curricula at different times. I think the important thing is that the curriculum is always a tool that we use to help us meet our goals, not a taskmaster telling us what to do when. I hope that thought is an encouraging one! ☺
    Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: 10 Thoughts on blessings for the new year

  13. I enjoyed reading your post and identified with so much of it (except the green smoothies — we’ve been taking baby steps toward “real food” for while, but I haven’t really gotten to smoothies yet. I assume they include protein sources?)
    Our children are 7, 6, 4, 2, and 35.5 weeks gestation. Our basic routine is a lot like yours. I’ve been really influenced by Jaime’s stories and the TJEd materials, so I’ve laid off of pushing a lot of organized academics for my older ones at this point; I like the phrase “learning invitation”. We do that sometimes, too, though recently we’ve been in transition across continents (PA to Chile) and haven’t done much except adjust, adjust, adjust.
    Can you say anything about how your kids learned to read and write so far? I was on track to do “school at home” until I discovered simplehomeschool.net and the Leadership Ed/TJEd/interest-led learning universe. I feel like what I’ve learned so far has saved us from an anxiety-based approach to homeschooling, but we’re not very far along the path yet, and I DO still get anxious.
    Thanks for your post!
    -Krystal

    • Krystal, I’m sure Melissa will respond to you as well, but I just wanted to point out this post about our kids learning to read in case you missed it: http://simplehomeschool.net/learningtoread/ Also if you review some of my past days in the life posts, you’ll see mentions of writing and how other things have fit into our days over the years. Hope that helps!!

    • Congratulations on the almost-here babe, Krystal! And on the move, too. What an amazing year of transition! I bet your kids are absorbing a ton about culture and geography and climate and language and healthy adjustment strategies.

      About reading: we mostly just read aloud throughout the day, and our kids learn to read without any particular instruction. Some have picked it up sooner, others later. I know that’s not everyone’s experience, but it’s worked for us so far.

      When we have an almost-reader in the house, I round up easy reading favorites and keep them accessible in baskets near our usual reading spots, for reading aloud or for them to explore on their own. (I’m thinking of series like Piggie & Elephant, Fly Guy, Frog & Toad, Houndsley & Catina, Mouse & Mole, Henry & Mudge.)

      We might watch some letter- or reading-related movies from the library or via iTunes. We go for Sesame Street Old School or PBS’s Between The Lions, but there are lots of newer options out there, too.

      For handwriting, we like Handwriting Without Tears. To practice writing, we encourage lots of real-world writing. We keep a basket of mail supplies handy, so the kids can write letters to friends and relatives. We sometimes keep family journals, where everyone can write something to help us remember special events. The kids make lists and signs and write notes.

      They’re all into storytelling, and they write stories and books and plays. I wrote a series of posts about encouraging kids’ storytelling here. Another fun way we practice writing is in apps like Picture Book.

      Oh, and about smoothies—they can include nuts and seeds: chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, pecans, almond butter. Yum.

      Best of luck, Krystal! I love the idea of encouraging each other away from an anxiety-based approach to homeschooling (and… life). 🙂
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: A day in the life

  14. I really enjoyed reading this one. I remember my growing up years feeling rushed and unable to complete any projects I wanted to do myself because there was always the more important sitting in classrooms. I would so love to be a kid in your home! Sounds like you set up a really good foundation for your children from the get-go so there is a lovely rhythm of working as part of the family and working individually. <3 <3 <3
    Grace En-Tien Chang’s latest post: Knox 35 months – Order and Obedience

  15. renee @ FIMBY says:

    I loved this post Melissa!

  16. Sounds a lot like our days…with an 8 year old, 4 year old, 3 year old, and 6 month old. Glad to hear it might still be similar to our “now” a few years down the line!

  17. One of the things that inspired me about your post was you headed out to do errands at 4:00! I’ve been an errands earlier in the day person for a long time, although now I have teens things are shifting slightly. Your life sounds very much like the life my 17 year old says she wants, I can’t wait to show her this post.
    I’ll encourage her to comment.
    Beautifully written, calmness in your day certainly comes through in your writing.
    Thanks
    Anna

  18. Thanks for sharing your day. I am gearing up for school to start next week and stressing about how I will not get done nearly as much as I intend to. My kids are 11, almost 9, 6, 3, and 1. Life with littles is exhausting and I feel like I cannot spend much time actually schooling. Keeping up with the littles and feeding everyone seems like a full time job. I would love to implement a quiet time, but our day is much less structured than yours. There are cousins that live next door and they all play together and various times of the day. I’m having a hard time putting boundaries on that because I enjoy the break as well even though I know we should be focused on something school related. Anyhow, no one said it was going to be easy. By the way, your kids have cute names, I have an Evelyn and a Sadie as well!

  19. Thank you for your post, it was a very encouraging read! I’m currently trying to decide if I’m going to homeschool my oldest (almost 5 years) or send him to a public school kindergarten this year. I have three kids, 4, 2, and 10 months, and I work from home. It’s very busy! The thought of homeschooling seems very daunting at times. Because they wake so early (5:45-6 am) we have slipped into a tv in the morning habit that I dislike but have struggled to change. Our days lack the lovely flow and routine you described here. It’s a goal I have to arrive at such a place, but still figuring out what the initial steps look like to get there!

  20. This sounds very much like our typical day. Not enouch time in the day for all the amazing things there are to explore!

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