Melissa’s homeschool day in the life (with a 2-, 5-, 8-, 9-, 12- & 15-year-old)

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Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins

I feel a little silly writing to you about our daily routine, because between holidays and travel and sick kids, the pattern of our days has been off for weeks.

Our usual daily routine starts with breakfast and morning chores. After that, I try to structure our time and our environment and let each kid choose what to work on within that framework.

So all morning, the house is more-or-less calm and I’m available to help kids with focused work. After lunch we have quiet time, when we can each rest or work on our own projects without being interrupted (much). Then in the afternoons we play or run errands, make and eat dinner, prepare for the next day, and go to bed.

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This week, though, is a planning week at our house.

This is a new system we’re trying this year and so far we love it. We do our usual projects for four weeks, and then we take a planning week to reflect on what we’ve been working on, and to make plans and goals for the next four weeks.

Here’s what that looks like:

BREAKFAST.
It’s 8:30 a.m. Everyone’s dressed and eating breakfast. So far, so good. After breakfast each kid has a job: we clean up breakfast, we move the laundry, we wipe the bathroom mirrors and counters, all as fast as possible.

MORNING.
The kids are off to the things they’re most interested in.

During a planning week they mostly choose to take a break from Life of Fred and Handwriting Without Tears to focus on other projects.

Abigail (15) writes fantasy novels, and she’s hard at work on a new book. I haven’t read this one yet and I’m dying to see where she goes with it.

Owen (12) is building paper airplanes. He is into all things that fly, and has been learning to build things I would never have imagined.

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Audrey (9) is writing a story this morning while Sadie (8) works on her latest Lego creations. They both prefer to have privacy while they work and then to show us what they’ve made later. I understand that impulse.

Evelyn (2) is playing with the new dollhouse furniture that arrived under the Christmas tree. Now that there is furniture, she ignores the dolls in favor of full-time interior design. Okay then.

Eli (5) is hopping back and forth in front of me and peppering me with Star Wars questions and trivia. “Why does Yoda have wrinkles on his head? Did you know Yoda can duel with his light saber? Are there baby Yodas somewhere? Are there baby wookiees? Where are the babies? Where are the mommies? Does the wookiee mommy’s fur tickle the baby wookiee? Can we make wookiee cookies?”

I answer what I can, then pull out our planner and a pen and call the older kids over one at a time.

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Yesterday we spent the morning reflecting.

We looked at what goals they’d set for themselves for our last four weeks and compared that to what they accomplished. We noticed where they had done more than they’d expected, or done less, or gone off in a different direction entirely.

We talked about whether their expectations had been realistic, how they’d felt while trying to meet them, and what changes they might want to make.

Today we’re talking about how they each want to spend the next four weeks.

We talk about which projects they’re still working on and which they’re ready to let go of. We talk about new directions and new interests. We talk about skills they want to build, books they want to read, goals they want to set.

We think about each of the subject areas we need to be learning about, and make sure nothing’s fallen off our radar.

I really like getting to listen to each of the kids think about where they are and where they’re going. And then I get to encourage them in who they’re becoming and lead them toward ideas and interests they might not think of on their own. It’s kind of the best.

Together, we make a list of goals for the next four weeks and write them in the planner. Tomorrow we’ll break those down into steps and figure out what needs to happen each day or each week to meet those goals, and we’ll write all that on our calendar.

While I want the kids to have plenty of time for exploring and following their interests, I also want them to have practice at setting goals and thinking through the steps they’ll need to finish their projects.

We want to make sure we’re protecting the time and space to focus on the things that matter most to us, and reflecting regularly on our progress has really been helpful.

While I’m talking with one kid at a time, the others work on their projects, ride scooters outside, pop popcorn, and ask approximately one million questions. (Do we have more hot glue sticks? Can we use the camera? Why do we have to outgrow our favorite shoes? Can we have a turn with the iPad? Has anyone seen the paper cutter? When can we go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens again?)

After a while the five-and-under crowd is bored with all the talking, so they settle in for an episode of Curious George before lunch.

AFTERNOON.
After we eat, Abigail settles into her room with a library book, Owen checks his favorite YouTube channel for any new videos on remote controlled airplanes, Audrey works with modeling clay at her desk, Sadie is reading, Eli has a turn being a Toca Boca Pet Doctor with the iPad, Evelyn goes down for a nap, and I am writing this for you.

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We don’t need to be anywhere else this afternoon, so after Evelyn wakes up, we brew a pot of tea. I read aloud while the kids have their tea and snacks. And, okay, yes, cookies too.

Then we play and chat and get ready for dinner. Abigail tells me about the cool plot twist in the book she’s reading and Owen demonstrates his new plane’s maneuvers. Audrey braves the winter chill for one more round of scooter-ing before dark. Sadie and Evelyn play with the dollhouse again, and Eli is building a puzzle while firing off more wookiee-related questions.

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My mom stopped by last week with a crate of potatoes in the trunk of her car. (Overzealous CSA delivery? Really, really good sale? Maybe she has a friend who is a potato farmer? I did not have a chance to ask.) Either way, we now have a lot of potatoes in our pantry, so I ask each of the older kids to scrub a few. We’ll roast them to go with dinner.

EVENING.
After dinner and cleanup, we think about the next day: what’s for breakfast, do we have clean clothes, what do we want to work on?

Next week, when we’ve finished our planning week and are on to regular routines and projects, I’ll pull out the kids’ spiral notebooks after dinner. We’ll write down what each person plans to work on for the next day, along with any chores or notes.

Spiral notebooks get left out on the breakfast table. In the morning, each kid can each check their notebook to remember how they intended to spend their time, and they can draw satisfying lines crossing out the things they finish.

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And then, and then, and then: bedtime for kids!

We’re set for the morning. I’ll throw in more laundry after everyone’s settled, I’ll reply to email, we’ll have adult conversation and ice cream.

Do you have a rhythm of planning and doing? Do your kids help with the planning? What works best at your house?

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. Such a dreamy, peaceful day you’ve described . . . except for the questions. I have all of these kids and questions make me insane. I have some learning to do. 🙂

    I still read your other blog and still love it. Thanks for the writing you share.

  2. Thank you for sharing what you do every day..it encourages me to know it is okay to just basically follow our real life interests and that is enough! When I saw the post title I was almost scared to read the post, afraid it would be yet another homeschool superfamily’s day full of all sorts of academics, read alouds, foreign language, science experiments, coops, band/sports, etc. What a relief to read about a simple, real, easy, wonderful type of day that is truly relaxed and yet full of interesting learning experiences! Like I said it truly encouraged me and sort of validated what we do, such a relief to know we’re okay following this path, as few others around me seem to ‘do’ homeschool in this simple, real life way..Our routine is similar to yours..do some chores and math and handwriting/grammar and then follow our interests..Thanks again for sharing!

  3. I love the rhythm of your day! Thank you so much for sharing. I have four kids ages 7 -12 and each play a sport or dance and we have homeschool classes once a week. Sometimes I am grateful for the activities but other times I feel it is too much. My question is how do you create a peaceful rhythm on days of classes or sports for your family? Or have you decided to participate in these activities? I would really appreciate your thoughts on extracurriculars with a large family. Thanks

    • That’s a tricky one, Alina! We’ve definitely had seasons where I felt like we’d overcommitted, and others where we probably could have handled more individual activities.

      Some seasons we can handle one out-of-the-house scheduled thing per day, but other times it’s more like one per week. I find that if our time gets too hectic overall, that’s not best for anyone, even if the activities themselves are good for an individual kid, so I tend to err on the side of fewer activities.

      But I think the balance between the needs of each kid, and the needs of the overall family unit, is probably different for every family!
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: When You’re Not Sure You’re Ready for the New Year

  4. Wow! That all sounds absolutely magical! We are in our first year of homeschooling (pre-k), and I only have two kiddos (and one on the way!). So, reading this is such an inspiration for the future! We have yet to really get our groove with homeschooling, but I’m truly looking forward to and hopeful for a future that looks like this!

  5. Wow, I read this on my phone, I could NOT wait to get home. Now I re read it. I love the planning week, and am thinking on how to implement that in our currently crazy schedule. I work outside the home so we don’t have a fixed schedule. Of course I asked my kids what they thought of that idea, one says: Its a waste of time, the other, can’t wait. lol Why are they so different???
    Thanks so much for sharing, that is quite a handful you have. I am sure your heart is just as full!!
    Loved this, shared on facebook.
    Jen’s latest post: Lego Challenge- Make Something That Floats

  6. This is a beautiful post! I do have a question this will be our 5th year homeschooling and all the years before this have been pretty smooth. We have had a full course of academics the previous 4 years. This year we had our 5th child and our homeschool year has been horrible. I did want to relax and not stress myself out with so many academics but with the baby there has been no order whatsoever. I just don’t feel like I can get traction. We have been doing the basics at least but it feels as there is no joy this year. Oldest is in 8th grade, he does his math, some worldly wise for vocabulary and I have him reading. He also likes to draw so he does that. That’s the same for my 7th grader and he’s trying to learn coding and programming. My 3rd grader does All about spelling and math otherwise he loves making paper airplanes. And my 2nd grader does all about reading and math and otherwise plays. I am hoping to add in some language arts this second half of school. And we need to get science in there too somewhere!!!
    I feel like we are missing something like I am not doing enough and my oldest complains often that he doesn’t feel challenged! I am treading water this year! Am I doing enough? I got such peace and flowing from your post and I desire that in my household too! Thank you for sharing your day in the life!!! It was very encouraging!

    • Oh Bobbi, school years with a new baby can be hard. You’re doing so much (mental, emotional, spiritual) work and trying to keep regular life stuff rolling at the same time. It’s a lot.

      Like Kara says, I am sure you are doing a thousand things right every single day. Is there someone who could come look over your shoulder and remind you of that? I know getting another perspective always helps me.

      Another thing that sometimes helps in that season: I try to remember what amazing life skills the kids are learning. They’re learning new householding skills, new relationship skills, and getting to practice self-starting skills, too. That’s like a whole other subject added on to their days.

      Sometimes when one of my kids isn’t feeling challenged, I take that as a sign that they’re ready to look for an independent project to challenge themselves. I let them know how great it is that they’re in touch with their own learning needs—and then I ask how they want to address that. What project do they want to start? What do they want to learn or work on? How do they want to go about it? And I see where they go. Sometimes they need more from me, but often they need encouragement to pursue their own projects that I could never have thought up on my own.

      Deep breaths. Big hugs. You’ve got this. 🙂
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: When You’re Not Sure You’re Ready for the New Year

  7. I love your planning week idea. Right now I do most of the planning for everyone 11 and younger, my 14 year old will usually choose books from the library (she also does Life of Fred and a vocab. book), and she likes to create her own schedule and assignments. This has worked out well since she loves to read and write reports of her own choosing. (If I assign her a report, all of her interest is gone.) My 15 year old likes when I tell him specifically what to do. He is very high energy, so much of his learning happens through documentaries and historical movies because, while I do assign him reading, he can’t focus well. He also does Life of Fred and completed one of the LOF Language Arts books this year. My 16 year old is by far the most studious. She chooses what she wants to learn about (she really likes using textbooks), and she asks me to break everything down into weekly assignments for her. Sometimes I help her with geometry, but otherwise she pretty much does everything on her own without being reminded. Since we do school 6 weeks on, 1 week off, I might try to implement some of your planning techniques during our off week, and we could plan for 6 weeks, rather than 4. We”l see if that actually happens. We have 10 kids at home, so things don’t always work out the way I’d like!

  8. Thanks for sharing! I love reading about what realistically works for big families. 🙂 (My kids are very similar in age to yours, except I don’t have a 15 year old.) What does your 2 year old do during read aloud time? We almost always have to do reading when my guy is sleeping cuz he’s a crazy nut! I like your idea of having shorter term (4 week) goals as well as having the kids plan what they need to do the next day. Thanks for taking the time to share!!

    • The two-year-old is one reason that there are so many snacks involved in our read-aloud time! 😉 I ask one of the older kids to be her buddy and to dole out snacks sloooooooooowly to stretch out our time. After awhile she tends to wander off and play for a few minutes while we wrap things up.

      Some of the other kids were less cooperative as two-year-olds, though. Other things we’ve tried: a special basket of toys that only comes out at read-aloud time; having one parent read while the other keeps the toddler busy; have one of the older kids read while I build a puzzle or some other quiet activity with the toddler; listen to audiobooks (especially in the car or at bedtime) instead of reading aloud ourselves; or exactly what you do–read during nap time. Good luck! 😉
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: When You’re Not Sure You’re Ready for the New Year

  9. That is such a neat way to plan. I have never heard of anything like that. We currently do 6 weeks on, one week off. It helps us re-group and me plan.

  10. This is a great schedule! Thank you for sharing ❤️. May I ask where did you get your planner? It is beautiful ! Thanks 😉

  11. Wonderful to read! Your approach sounds so supportive of each of your kids. And so different from our home. I love the variety in homeschooling.
    Nicola’s latest post: 365: 7

  12. I love this! Thanks for sharing. Reminds me a lot of what’s going on in our home, and gave me some new ideas too.

  13. I love the idea of a planning week. I also like the idea of using notebooks for the kids to plan their own time. I need to do more of that in my own homeschool. Thanks for the great post and for sharing your day (and your kids’ questions)!
    Anthea’s latest post: The Best Learning Is Done Together

  14. What planner do you use?

  15. I’ve involved my kids in planning before, but for a semester. I like the idea of planning for a month. I think it would be more effective and enjoyable. One question: Do your older kids play games on the computer or watch TV? How do you manage that? Thanks!

    • Hey Kathy! So, we don’t have computer games or traditional television, but we do have a couple of tablets on hand with educational games, and we have Amazon Prime for movies/shows. We think of ourselves and our kids as a team working toward establishing healthy tech practices (for all of us!) and it’s always a work in progress–of course. What’s working for us right now is to differentiate between using tech for purposes of creation, vs. purposes of consumption. If someone is creating, we lean toward unlimited access to the screens. If someone wants to consume, we ask them to check in with a parent first and talk through how much, how long, whether this is the right moment to engage in that, etc. It’s been really enlightening to all of us, I think, to really pay attention to that divide!
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: When You’re Not Sure You’re Ready for the New Year

  16. I love your spiral notebook idea. We have tried a variety of ways for my 8 and 12 year old to know what they need to do each day, but nothing has worked well for us. Can you tell me more about how you use the notebook? I also love the 4 week/plan week schedule. I think we may try that next year.

    • Britny, I’ve modified Sarah Mackenzie’s spiral notebook suggestions to work for our family–here’s her thorough explanation.

      We just write down what we intend to accomplish each day, the night before. If I’m on top of things, I’ll have the kids write their own plans first and then I’ll come along behind and add to their lists. If I don’t have a chance to have the kids write in their books before bed, I just write for them based on the monthly/weekly plan we’ve made together. 🙂

  17. I love that you plan WITH your children! What a wonderful way to keep them accountable! I may need to try this with my 3 boys! Thank you for the glimpse into your day!

  18. Annie Keese says:

    It sounds like you’re teaching your kids to be objective, forward thinking, flexible and responsible but in a very fun, intentional way during the planning week. I’d love to know some of your go-to questions that you pose to help them evaluate and set goals. I’m at least a year away from being able to include my daughters in that conversation because they’d end up making Chickfila playdates our top priority. 😝

    • Thanks, Annie!

      I start by just asking what they want to work on or accomplish in the next four weeks. I listen and nod and take notes. (This might be where some of us say things like “more playdates.” Or “I want to accomplish going to Disneyland!”) 😉 We do talk about which of those things are reasonable and why or why not.

      Then I also have a list of subjects that we need to make progress in, and I ask them for thoughts on each of those. Sometimes they have projects in mind, other times they’ll say things like “I think I’ll plan on X amount of Life of Fred lessons per week,” and we pencil it in. If they need a project, we often turn to DIY.org for ideas, or else I will make suggestions. We also keep book lists and catalogs around for inspiration.

      When I think we’ve covered everything, I make sure to ask again: “anything else you want to include?” Because I’ve found that the most interesting stuff tends to come up then, when I think we’ve already finished. 😉
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: When You’re Not Sure You’re Ready for the New Year

  19. LOOOOOOOVE this idea (4 weeks on and one off)! Just goes to show, it’s never too late to make a change that will improve things. 🙂 Even though two have graduated, I still have nine to go (18 down to 1). I love the idea of sitting down and looking over what’s went well, and what we still need to work on. Thanks so much for sharing! I know it can be difficult to put yourself out there when it comes to homeschooling, but I appreciate it (and so will my kids)!

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