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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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?