Melissa’s Homeschool Day in the Life (with a 3-, 6-,9-,10-,13-, and 16-year-old)

Melissa's Homeschool Day in the Life (with a 3-, 6-,9-,10-,13-, and 16-year-old)Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins

I always feel a little nervous sitting down to write these day-in-the-life posts. I’m never sure which parts of our day you’ll want to hear about! And will you wonder why my three-year-old is changing into her fourth outfit since breakfast? Because I do not have an answer to that question.

My sixteen-year-old daughter was asked to describe her days recently. She wrote this:

I make breakfast for myself and one of my younger brothers, then do half an hour of yoga. After that, I do my schoolwork—I’m a lifelong unschooler, I manage my own workload and have a lot of say in what I study—and spend an hour outdoors. When I’ve finished, I’m free for the day.

Three sentences, friends. My run-through is going to be somewhat longer and will include far more parentheses.

A homeschool day in the life

EARLY MORNING

My day starts with making my bed (quick win!) and sipping ginger-turmeric tea, followed by yoga and listening to a podcast for spiritual or emotional growth, and then a super-speedy shower and a green smoothie.

Having a morning routine that actually happens is new—this is the first time in sixteen years that we haven’t had a baby or toddler in our family to “help” with whatever I’m doing in the mornings. I’m still adjusting.

While I’m doing early-morning things, the kids wake up, get dressed, brush their hair and teeth, and eat their breakfasts. (The oldest two help the youngest two, and it all works out.) Then we knock out our morning chores so we can get to the fun stuff.

9:00AM

In our ongoing quest to balance guidance with independence, my husband Dane and I try to create a structure to the day and then give the kids lots of freedom to decide what to do within that structure.

Everyone starts off with activities that we think make for healthy humans: they spend some time reading, some time creating, some time moving their bodies, some time outside, and some time learning new things. Within that framework, they decide exactly what they’ll do, and how.

“Learning new things” looks different for each kid. Abigail, our sixteen-year-old, divides her time between science MOOCs, a geometry and trigonometry text, reading history and literature, writing, and graphic design. Owen, who is thirteen, opts for a mix of living books and Khan Academy lessons, with lots of hands-on science on the side.

Today, Audrey, who’s ten, and Sadie, who’s nine, are listening to Story of the World on audiobook. Audrey is stitching a wool felt project and Sadie is working on her Handwriting Without Tears book while they listen.

While big kids are busy, I read to Eli, who is six, and Evelyn, who is three and newly interested in listening (instead of trying to lure us away from the books and into something more sticky).

LATE MORNING

Abigail and Owen put their projects on hold to play with Eli and Evelyn while I write for an hour. Today Abby is baking cookies with Eli, and Owen is blowing bubbles outside for Evelyn to catch.

NOON

We all meet up for lunch, and then Audrey and Sadie take a turn playing with Eli and Evelyn while I tend to household things nearby. They read books and build a block city, I start another load of laundry and clear the kitchen counters. Win-win.

1:30PM

After play time is quiet time. Abby and Owen are still working on their various projects, Audrey has a book to read, and Eli and Evelyn rest with an audiobook, crayons and paper (Evelyn), and logic games (Eli).

I’ll tend to a few things at the computer while the quiet lasts.

Sadie runs a chocolate shop for our friends and family (think: lemonade stand, except with made-to-order chocolate bars), and she has orders to fill. She decides that now—while everyone else is occupied—is a good time to melt chocolate and chop nuts and marshmallows to mix in. She is not wrong.

AFTERNOON

Whenever they finish their activities for the day, Abby, Owen, and Audrey all email Dane at work to let him know what they’ve done, and then they’re free to do what they like.

We love these check-ins—Dane gets to be more connected to what the kids are up to every day, and the emails create a simple record of what each kid worked on and how long it all took.

I always know Abigail has finished her projects when I hear the Hamilton soundtrack start up. When Owen has wrapped up I’m likely to hear him checking in with a couple of favorite YouTube channels. (I would define his YouTube interests as “fun with physics,” but he would probably describe it as “important uses for a hydraulic press and a slow-motion camera.”)

But Owen, it turns out, has been making a Darth Vader mask for Evelyn, which he shows her before heading outside to scooter with Audrey and Sadie. Meanwhile, Abigail is deciding how to divide up the rest of the cookies. She wouldn’t want them to get stale, you know.

Evelyn decides to make a picture “of all pink,” so she works on that while I help Eli add some peanut butter to a sliced apple.

EVENING

We tidy up downstairs, and then it’s time to make dinner.

Abigail, Owen, Audrey, and Sadie each make dinner one night a week, but tonight’s one of my nights, so I find some headphones and fire up another podcast. Eli, Evelyn, and Sadie watch an episode of Tumble Leaf on Prime while I chop the onions.

Dane stops at the grocery store for fresh produce (you’d be amazed at how many apples six kids can eat in a day) and gets home just in time for dinner.

AFTER DINNER

I tuck Evelyn into bed, and everyone else settles in for a round of Dragonwood. After the game, Eli has lights out and Audrey and Sadie hop into bed to read one last chapter each.

I read over what I wrote today so my brain can keep working on it while I sleep, then I check in with social media, make sure everything that should be scheduled for tomorrow is set to go, and turn the computer off for the night.

Abigail and Owen will be up for another hour. This is when we talk current events, Star Wars movies, and anything else that might be on their minds.

EVEN LATER

Dane and I fold the mountain of laundry that has mysteriously appeared on our bed—didn’t we fold that already? or was that yesterday?—and I read a book with real pages before it’s time to sleep.

Okay, it was really probably time to sleep an hour ago, but who’s keeping score? (Me. I am keeping score.)

What else do you wonder? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer. Though I still can’t explain about the three-year-old and all her clothing changes.

How the days have changed:

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’d love to focus on the awesome family culture you’ve developed, but I’m totally caught by the pictures of your children on a white couch with white trim and white framed photos in the background . . . and it’s all bright and clean!

    How is that possible?
    Anne’s latest post: A Week, Briefly (In Which We Build Small Cabins)

    • Ha! It’s all Ikea, totally washable. 😀 I cover the seat cushions of the couches with blankets, too, and then I don’t have to wash the cushion covers as often. I just shake out or wash the blankets. Though after I took this picture, my oldest daughter looked over my shoulder and pointed out that you can see actual dirt and crumbs on the couch. So there’s that. 😉
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: Because We Don’t Have Time to Be Busy

  2. Kaylee Steiff says:

    Wow the structure yet freedom really sounds awesome. How long did it take you to find this rhythm?
    I as the teacher/parent love the IDEA of unschooling but my 7 year old seems to need lots of structure and direction.
    My other question is when how do you make sure all these children are bathed and dressed? Lol. I only have two boys and of a struggle.

    • We tried LOTS of things before we settled into this rhythm. The thing that has been consistent over time is that we focus on structuring the environment (so that everything available is something we want the kids to spend time on, and so that their space is ready for work/play) and the chunks of the day (when we’re home vs. out, when it’s independent work time vs. working together time, quiet time vs. active time, that kind of thing), and then letting the kids choose what to do within that framework–but it all runs a lot more smoothly now that the oldest kids are super independent and I have a better idea of what to expect from the days.

      When my oldest kids were under 10, I would sometimes pull out a different kind of activity each day of the week (math stuff on monday, science supplies on tuesday, writing stuff on friday, etc), and the kids would choose what to work on from those options. (Unless they were already into a big independent learning project, in which case I just let them be.) The book Project-Based Learning has lots of other helpful ideas, too.

      Bathed and dressed: ha! Right?! We actually have a schedule for bathing and nail trimming.

      If we’re going out in the morning, everyone’s clothes are set out the night before. If not, the routine is: dressed before breakfast, because otherwise it’ll never happen. 😀

  3. Do you utilize any homeschooling programs? Or just strictly do the “unschooling” ?

  4. I loved reading about your day! Sounds like a beautiful balance of structure and freedom.

  5. We are slowly moving to unschooling and I couldn’t wait to hear about your homeschooling day!! An ebook with all of the nitty gritty details might be just amazing!!
    Thank you for sharing your day!
    Julie

  6. This completely inspired me! I love the blend of structure with unschooling. I’d love to hear more!

  7. It’s always fun to read these posts with multiple ages involved. It’s great how each child has their own rhythm.
    Camie’s latest post: Hidden Figures (Movie Review)

  8. I have started doing yoga in the mornings, but I’ve just been doing Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube because it keeps the kids somewhat entertained, too. What have you found that you like?

  9. My 6 year old has a muffin making business of sorts but we definitely want to know more about that chocolate bar business! She’s trying to earn and save money for some big things and is always looking for the right fit for her. Chocolate might be it if she didn’t eat all the profits. 😉

    • Not eating all the profits IS the tricky part! 🙂

      Sadie has a chocolate bar mold (like this).

      We find that one bag of chocolate chips from Trader Joe’s will make 3 bars. And then there’s the fun of inventing flavors and creating a menu and price list. It’s been super cool for real-life math skills: figuring out how much the ingredients will cost, how much each bar costs to create, how much to charge for how much profit… etc.
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: Because We Don’t Have Time to Be Busy

  10. Hmmm, ok. I guess as a new to homeschooling mom(1 year in after my two oldest were in school, including a classical and a public, while also being a business owner who took them to work with me each day since they were born ((I know, total run-on sentence! 🙂 )), I look at these posts and think, huh? Where is the grocery shopping, the bad days, the extracurricular or not stuff? I’m trying to balance what they had(structure, across the board learning, playtime with friends) with what I in my heart would like to do – be more free with “school”, but how do I make sure they are ready, especially as we start high school next year, for the world “after”? How do you guys check to see if they’re learning the things they’ll need to pass the tests or is all learning considered good as long as they know how to learn? It’s probably my biggest struggle as a type A mom. 🙂 I really used to be easy going until I had to stuff so much into my days that I had to become something I am not normally! LOL Or maybe it’s just that certain personalities are better at the whole “go with the flow” stuff and I’m not one of them? 🙂 I actually am terrified of being solely responsible for our 2 year old’s education. The beginning to end thing kinda freaks me out! Anyway, thanks for sharing your “typical” day! I know that is the catchphrase that this is supposed to encompass, but I’m not sure we have a typical day around here! LOL

    • Haha. I totally relate! Some days I feel like we’ve accomplished so much, but then “shucks we don’t have dinner made”. Or I feel productive cleaning the house, cooking, laundry, etc. but then “shucks we didn’t do A B C” of our formals!……..Then I learned I can’t (and don’t want to) do it all. I try to figure things out for the long haul, prioritize and turn down the good so that we can have the best. And the best for our family looks different than others. So I don’t think these posts are meant for comparison. Just a glimpse of how unique each family truly is. Right now I know I need to work on- slowing down and truly enjoying my babes and planning freezer meals….

    • Oh, Carolyn, I so hear you on this. <3

      I thought about writing up a hot-mess day instead of a normal-ish one, but then I figured everyone probably already knew what that looked like! Ha.

      I think figuring out how to balance all the things is just one of those processes of trial and error—and for me, I never got better at balancing the stuff, I just got clearer on which things (and ideas, and expectations) to let go of.

      One thing that’s been helping me let go of a lot of the “are they prepared/do they know the right things” fears is to involve the older kids more in their own planning.

      They know that if they want to have certain options available later, they have to work on some prerequisites now—so we can figure out together what that should look like. It’s so much less pressure than when I was afraid it was all up to me and if they didn’t know a certain amount of stuff in a certain timeframe, All Would Be Lost. You know?

      I know that doesn’t exactly help with a two-year-old! But luckily they only grow one day at a time. We don’t have to have a forever plan yet. I’m still figuring stuff out all over again with each younger kid. 😉

  11. I really like the email idea! We might start doing that!

    • It’s been great, Danielle! There’s less for me to keep track of, and it feels like a more active role for both the kids (because they’re keeping track and writing down what they’re doing) and for Dane (because he can’t be on-the-ground with us every day, but now he can know a lot more about what’s happening with each of the kids).
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: Because We Don’t Have Time to Be Busy

  12. This is very inspiring! Thanks for sharing your day with us!
    Christina Strickland’s latest post: Living Simply Series: 5 Ways to Start Simplifying Today

  13. Wow, you have a really busy schedule each day. I really don’t know how you make it work, with 6 kids, which are all home-schooled. I can barely deal with 1, and I still have my hands full. You are a true hero!
    Jane @ Modern Housewives’s latest post: Custom Housekeeping Chore Charts Based on Your Cleaning Personality

  14. Hey Melissa! Love your post. I couldn’t wait for yours to come out because I loved reading your “Day in the Life” posts the past couple of years. Your days seem so peaceful yet full of learning. I have three boys, almost 11, 7, and 2. I want so badly to be able to let go of stress and “what we should be doing” and lean more toward unschooling. I feel like we are relaxed homeschoolers, as we don’t really follow a set curriculum, yet I feel like a big ball of stress everyday worrying if we are doing enough. Plus I feel like I’m constantly comparing myself to other homeschoolers and public school. I want to inspire learning and not require things that don’t interest my kids, but then there’s math. 😉 How do you stay relaxed yet feel like you are doing enough? Do you have requirements for your kids? Also, the Project -based learning book you mentioned above – which one is it? I looked on amazon, and a few come up.

    • Heather! I started writing you a long reply and then it got EATEN. As long replies are wont to do. Let’s try a short-ish reply instead! 😀

      Yeesh, there are a lot of project-based learning books, aren’t there? I was thinking of this one.

      You know that saying, about how ‘you’ll find you have to let some things go simply because they’re heavy’? I think the same is true of comparing. I have to give it up because there are so many ways to do things, comparing would be a full-time job. 😉 Instead I try to start from just: what’s our goal here? And: what does each kid need right now? And then I build forward from there.

      (I say this as though it’s easy—you and I both know it’s not! But if I have an intention of not comparing, then when I find myself comparing again, it’s easier to remember that comparing isn’t helpful and to come back to what I DO intend to do.)

      “But then there’s math.” YES. Yes there is. I would say we organize less around requirements and more around forward momentum—is everyone making reasonable progress in the things they’re learning? Does anyone need extra incentive to get into math, for example? If so, what we usually do first is ask that kiddo to set their own goals for those less-natural-to-learn-about areas. They tend to set ambitious enough goals on their own, and we find they’re more motivated to work toward their own goals than ones we parents come up with. 🙂

      I know that “are we doing ENOUGH?” worry is so powerful. My philosophy is that if we teach them how to learn ANYTHING, and we inspire curiosity to learn and a habit of learning, then even if we accidentally “miss” something, they’ll know how to find it on their own whenever they need it. That’s the most peace-bringing idea I’ve settled on. Because there are SO MANY options, and there’s no one perfect way to do things. You know? <3
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: What If You’re Just Getting Started?

  15. Oh. my. gosh.
    Can I be one of your kids? Their lives sound amazing!!!
    I only wish I could be half the mother you are. Or even 1/3 … since I only have 2 kids. LOL
    You truly are phenomenal. I’m jealous (but in a good way).

  16. Tanya McKenzie says:

    I started my day with a stress level of 11/10 – just one thing after another and always at the worst time (you know it!) But then I read your ‘What If Your’re Just Getting Started’ and this lovely description of your day. And I thought “Wow!” You are all getting so much done – and doing it right!

  17. May I just say I am in awe of how motivated your children seem? (As well as how white your sofa is… 😉 ) Please tell me you have a few days of “But I don’t wanna” or “Do I have to….” Or is that the joy of unschooling? That you get to avoid all of that? 🙂

    • Oh Jen, I get all the “Do we HAVE TOs?” too! I just usually get it about chores rather than about schoolwork. I’ve been thinking about WHY that would be… I think partly it’s because the kids help set their own goals, so they have a little more ownership over the learning activities (as opposed to the totally-imposed-by-me chores!). 😀

      But I was noticing this weekend that some of the “do we really need to do this?” stuff comes up more when Dane and I do weekly check-ins with each kid. I think maybe they get it out of their systems during the planning stage instead of in the doing stage. 😉
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: What If You’re Just Getting Started?

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