Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How Do They Do It? {A Home Schooling Blog Series}

Welcome to...

I am so very excited about this little blog series, both for myself and for you. I am in shock that I am even in this place of being so eager to learn from more experienced home schooling moms, I just figured I would stink at it, quit and send the kids to school. While most days I do feel like I stink at it, so far it hasn't discouraged me but only motivated me to ask questions and try every day to do a little bit better. There are so many mothers I could have asked for advice from for this series-- and it may be something I try to bring back each year so I can get the most from each and every one of them-- but for now I have a handful joining me, and I couldn't be more honored that they are here.

Up first is Kendra from Catholic All Year.

She is a mother to eight beautiful children and has 6 wearing their uniforms for school daily. She is basically a wonder-woman and I stand in awe of all that she does both in the home and with her awesome blog. If you want to read more of her plentiful home schooling wisdom, here is a great round up of all her home school related material on her blog. 
Hit it, Kendra:

1: How do you deal with interruptions from littler non-schooled ones during school time? What are some tips and tricks for keeping them occupied? What sorts of discipline do you implement when the interruptions don't stop?

I've never homeschooled without a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler also in the mix. They're just a part of how we do business around here. We mostly do our schoolwork at the dining room table, which is situated between our playroom and the sliding glass door to the backyard. So, little kids end up bouncing around between playing in the playroom, playing in the backyard (year round, here in so cal), or sitting with us at the table. We only have one TV, which is in the living room, which is also adjacent to the dining room. So, TV has never been an option for us for keeping little kids occupied. I kind of think it's just as well, because we've been able to do without it. And the iPad is not an option for preschoolers around here. Because if it is, it's all they can think about. So it's off the table.

We have a very consistent routine of doing schoolwork every day. We begin at 8am and are usually finished by lunch. So the little kids know that that is school time. I've sometimes had special activities like sticker books and lacing cards for little kids to do at the table with us. But the longer I've been doing this, the less I worry about that sort of thing. If Frankie (almost 4) wants to sit at the table with us, he usually just draws on the white board we use for spelling. Lulu (almost 2) likes the little math manipulatives bears we inherited from our neighbors. I don't spend a lot of energy trying to entertain them. They get to do that for themselves. If they get too chatty, they go outside. If they continue to be disruptive, they get to have some time to themselves in their rooms.

I'm much calmer, and so is our school day, since I decided that the entertainment of little kids was best managed by little kids themselves. They just don't have the expectation that I will come up with things for them to do. I think it's reasonable that they would learn that if they can't find things to do and get along, they'll just hang out in their beds and look at books for a while. No one ever died of that.

But some of my favorite homeschool memories are of preschoolers joining us for things. We usually do spelling and poetry and Bible stories and a read aloud chapter book all together. I love that my preschoolers can mostly recite the poems that the third grader is working on. I love that my toddler gleefully shouts out random sounds when we are practicing phonograms, and then the kids are completely convinced that she knew that one if she happens to shout the right sound. I love that my little kids are exposed to great literature so much earlier than my oldest ones were. I love that homeschooling is a whole family thing.

2: The thought of growing our families, giving adequate attention and love to all of our children AND giving our all to home schooling can be so daunting. How have you managed being open to new life, having many little ones AND schooling so many at home?

Honestly, I think it's the only thing that makes me pay any attention to them at all.

Does that sound horrible?
But, for me, I think it's true.
I am a person who needs to be very busy, and who needs to feel that the things I'm doing are important, and couldn't just as easily be done by anyone else. I was never going to be the kind of mom who sat on the floor and played trains with you. That's on like page six of my priority list. But schooling my kids feels important. It feels like something I can do for my kids better than someone else could. It gives me a framework for engaging with them every day. ALL of them, not just the school aged ones, can count on my (divided) attention all morning long. I very rarely do chores or work on the computer in the morning hours, because if I do, everything goes straight to heck. They need me, physically there and mentally engaged. So that's what I do.
Then, during naptime, I get my alone time in my room with my baby and my iPad.

3: What are your top 3 favorite resources of all time for home schooling?
My three favorites are . . .

First. Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl: I love the super-old school feel of this book. Like, I kinda of feel like I really ought to be wearing petticoats to use it. It's got a bit of everything. And I get to feel like the teacher in a one room schoolhouse, instructing my wild barefooted charges. I love the conversations we have on of what use a cat might be about the barn or house, or how one might write a letter inquiring about the purchase of some rabbits.
Second. All About Spelling: I do Mother of Divine Grace and LOVE it. With one big BUT. I hated Writing Road to Reading. I think it's just the worst. I remember finally, sheepishly giving up on Writing Road to Reading and ordering All About Spelling, and when it arrived, it was everything I had ever wanted in a spelling program and had never had. I just wanted to kiss it right on the mouth. It is an actual scripted out program, with lessons that begin and end and progress along from one book to the next. There are manipulatives, and funny sentences, and it MAKES SENSE.
Third. It's a tie between Story of the World, the Baltimore catechism, Hundred Easy Lessons, and, um, every other book we use. Because we're homeschoolers. I'm in charge. If we didn't love a book, we wouldn't use it.

4: What is one thing (or many things) you wish you hadn't done in your first years of home schooling? 
I was too slavishly tethered to the syllabus. Now I'm only somewhat slavishly tethered to the syllabus. I love box-checking and other quantifiable accomplishments. I hate the idea that someone else's kids can do an entire Saxon Math problem set in 40 minutes like it says in the Mother of Divine Grace suggested daily timeline. But my kids can't. No matter how much I encourage, hassle, or berate them, it would take them well over an hour, sometimes two. So, finally, I decided to have them do half the problems instead. And that works for us. The syllabus also calls for kids to be reading chapter books on their own starting in second grade. Again, my kids can't do that. So I read them aloud to them until they can do them on their own. I drove my oldest way too hard trying to keep up with these imaginary "other people's children who could do this whole syllabus in a reasonable amount of time." I love box-checking, but we've been much more effective now that I allow for a little customization.

5: With all of the craziness of homeschooling and how much demand there is on moms physically, mentally and emotionally during the day, what are some tips for making sure your spouse and your marriage isn't getting overlooked? 
I think the most important thing I do is make his homecoming each day a priority for us. Everything works out so much better if I order our day so we'll be done with school, and have the house tidied up and dinner ready when he gets home from work, rather than have him walking in the door to me sitting at the computer, yelling at the kids to finish that assignment, meaning to get up and start dinner. Us being ready to greet him, and to sit down to dinner together shows him that I value our time with him.
And being out of the house all day at the park on Fridays is a great excuse to have the kids make themselves mac and cheese for dinner and go out on a dinner date without them.

Thank you so much to Kendra! I know I'll be coming back to this again and again and again.... 
And stay tuned for more! 


  1. I never entertain my children ever. So I agree, during school time I don't either. And they're fine, and entertained. Lazy mom win. And I never play either. I wish I did, but I'm not wired that way. I do read books, though, and I'm present (mentally too!) for school.

    My kids aren't early readers either so far. But having no independent readers is tough, especially when imaginary other kids read so well!

  2. This is great! I have a first grader (for the first time) this year, and my 4.5 and 2.5 year olds run wild while we do school, or sit at the table and interrupt lessons continually. I have scrubbed more crayon and pencil of furniture, a walls, and floors in the past five weeks than I have in 6.5 years of parenting... But nevertheless it is affirming that other people ignore their toddlers and preschoolers as well and send them to play. I just need to be a bit more assertive about it, and use the books on bed technique more often!

  3. Great series! I'll be looking forward to more. And although I think Kendra is AMAZING, I would also love to see a post from your mother-in-law!

  4. This is great! I'm sure there are a lot of us - in solidarity with that feeling of "what the h am I doing?! I appreciate your being candid,Ana ! And also the wisdom of those moms are deep in the experience of homeschool. Thank you, Kendra, for sharing your thoughts!

  5. I really appreciated this post- I can relate on so many levels! The curriculum reviews are helpful for this new homeschooling mom too! I have another question for you though: How do you juggle play dates, dr appointments and mom obligations. Do you table all events till afternoon or do you have one day dedicated to those things?

    1. The MODG syllabus is set up to mostly give moms Friday off. Little kids don't have any assignments, and bigger kids have a lighter day that they can mostly do on their own. So I schedule appointments and do errands on Fridays before parkday or over lunch, usually. If I schedule kids' appointments for around 11am, I can get the important work done in the morning, and give them a sandwich in the car.

  6. I agree with Kendra and Amanda, I'm not the playing type either, and whereas that's not something that's a good excuse, because of that tendency I've come to see that ours kids seem pretty good at entertaining themselves and using their imagination and not complaining of boredom and such. And I'm really actually very glad I noticed this, because otherwise I might have thought I should just grit my teeth and do what I'm 'supposed' to do and play. Anyway. Anyway. Point is that I think, even though I personally do it sometimes from laziness (sometimes from a need to do other, higher priority things), it seems like a good deal in the end!

    And I second Rebecca's questions.. We decided this year that daily mass should be a priority, not that it needs to be for everyone, but between that and our Thursday swim classes and Friday writing co-op, seems awfully easy to get off track. And stay off track. (Daily mass is either at 9, so we start work at ten, or possibly 1730, which is sort of ideal for LESSON purposes, but not for dinner purposes.. Anyone have any big ideas for that? Crockpot to the rescue every day? Probably not.)

    And good call on the series, Ana!
    And thanks for the advice, Kendra!

    1. We decided to do a weekly "school Mass" on Saturday mornings, because 9am Mass meant we just weren't getting our work done. Our other option for Mass is 6:30am, which works for me when I don't have a sleeping in baby, but I don't bring the other kids. They just don't get enough sleep if I get them up that early.

      It all depends on what your days look like, and how many different grades you're trying to fit in, and if you're willing to work though nap time.

      It's a beautiful thing to get the kids to Mass every day, but once I had more students, and older students, we just couldn't make it work daily.

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  8. I love hearing all you perspectives on homeschooling. While I don't homeschool, I think that is great. I always wonder " how does she do that??" On playing on the floor.... I don't do that either. Too much to do! I just play and walk away. I start and really good games of shoe store, baby doll hospital, school, or whatever and they use their imaginations from!!

  9. This was so much fun to read. I love getting a peek into other people's homeschool days. It also made me feel "normal"-- not entertaining the little one; only schooling for a few hours each morning; and not being able to meet some of the syllabus standards. I hate that we feel we need "permission" to do what works for us, but I tend to. And reading this made me feel a lot better about the educational choices I've been making for my twin second graders.
    Our first three years of homeschooling (pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade) were done in a remote village in rural Alaska, where interruptions (except from little brother) were few. Now we are in Washington state, where I am growing Baby #4 near medical care & family, and getting through the week without any interruptions feels akin to topping Everest! Finally, about four weeks in, I decided that I had to prioritize school over ALL ELSE. It hasn't been easy, but saving appointments for afternoons has preserved our morning school time and kept us on track.
    I am so excited to read about other homeschool moms who rock & will be following Kendra!
    Thank you!!!

  10. I'm definitely not an entertaining little ones kind of homeschooler either but I do think they, and I, regress in our discipline. Are your little ones really always that well behaved? I am much more inclined to just let the toddler climb the counters while I finish the 'easy' lesson then I am to put down the book every 2 minutes to stop him. He's really starting to test the boundaries now that he isn't my highest priority anymore. In my imagination school teachers never have to deal with those kinds of interruptions. I suppose theirs are of a different kind.

  11. Every time I read one of your posts I think, we could be great friends! Ya know, if I lived in LA or you lived in Michigan:-)
    By the by, my mom homeschooled me exactly how you homeschool your kids, and I loved every minute of it. From a grown child's perspective, let me say that your kids will have such fond memories of closeness/special times with you, and that relationship will flourish on into adulthood with you.
    I found I couldn't handle homeschooling full time, so
    My kids are at a great charter school, but we do religion and story of the world every morning before school so I can get my time in with them and connect.
    God bless you!

  12. Hi ladies,

    I would so appreciate some encouragement for the 'playing trains on the floor' type of situations. I have a 3 yera old and a 6 month old so far, and to put it mildly, I very strongly dislike 'playing.' And I hate myself for it; isn't that what a mom does? How can I be truly engaged with my child if I don't want to play with them all day? etc etc. I don't know if it's because she's my first one and I was her only companion for 2.5 yrs before baby was born, but she needs/expects me to entertain/play with her all. day. long. every. day. and it drives me nuts. I love her so, and I want to like playing....but I don't. But I also don't know how to basically tell her that I'm not going to play with her. Maybe it's not reasonable to expect that I won't have to play with her, at least until baby/more kids come along that can all play together? I wonder if I just need for our family to grow up a bit, so that the kids have each other to play with, and until then, it's on me? I so appreciate thoughts mamas! And encouragement for not feeling like a total jerk that I'm not dying to make believe at the dollhouse all day...

  13. I can so relate, Carrie! I do not like playing with my kids at all. Not only does it bore me, but I think it gets in the way of their own creativity. Also, when I'm at playgroups and other moms won't stop playing with their kids, I wonder if they really need or even want mom friendships lol! I love to read to my kids, but not play imaginative games. I like real life experiences I can share with them, such as taking walks, going to park and beach, etc. I already had my childhood, and don't need to go through that phase again. They, on the other hand, need to have it. I have two little ones at home and they do fight, which is hard, so I frequently have to redirect them and get them going on other things, and that's what I see as my job. Hope this helps!