Thursday, January 9, 2014

Starting Quarter Three

This week we went back to school, beginning our third quarter of the year. There will be seasons of homeschooling that are a lot more free-flow--for example, schooling from a sick bed, from the van on-the-go, or from the side of a soccer field--but , for now I am as full of energy as I can be (which may or may not be saying much) and I appreciate having school organized. I am enjoying learning to follow the (school) rules before I learn to break them (an old writing dictum).

Scripture reminder in the middle of my teaching table

I continue to work hard--spiritually, emotionally, psychologically--on achieving meekness. I came across a wonderful article ("Four Simple Solutions for Teaching our Children Calmly and Effectively") which began with Scripture that pierced me. I taped a copy of it to the very center of my teaching table so it stares me in the face all through our school morning.
"And the Lord's servant [slave] must not be quarrelsome, but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness . . ." (2 Timothy 2: 24-25).

John (7) and Margaret (2) sitting across from each other, not that Margaret does much sitting!

I re-organized some aspects of the school room over our Christmas break, thinking much about my ergonomic movements. How do I move about the room, how many times am I crossing it unnecessarily, how many cumulative minutes am I wasting searching for the right books? I moved the children's school books out of the drawers into magazine holders, each child having the books right at his or her workstation. I labeled their spots with their names.

History text books by the history reading books instead of across the room from each other:
only took me six months to figure out that one  . . . 

In the morning of our first day back, the children discovered little heart-shaped motivational notes from Mama at their workstations. Margaret was indifferent, Mary was beaming but shy to show me, and John flung his arms around me in a bear hug.

The biggest change I began trying was introducing recess. John has Wiggly Boy Syndrome, as diagnosed by his very own mother. Half a school year into first grade, I had two exchanges with other mothers in a short period of time which hit me like lightening: their children (who happened to be sons) got recess . . . every day . . . multiple times . . . before the end of school when they played outside some more. Around here, I was trying so hard to plow through school, but then it's lunch time, and then it's Quiet Time (which certainly can't mean letting the energetic boy outside, can it? no, he's got to stay in his room), and then they're hungry so it's snack time . . . so it was usually three o'clock before my children were getting any time to play outdoors!

Drum roll, please . . . introducing recess for my children! (More experienced mothers are laughing at me now.)

John (1st grade)
Mary (preschool)
Margaret (2) and Joseph (baby)



Recess #1




Recess #1



Recess #2





Preparing lunch
Recess #2
Recess #3


Quiet Time

  • Start by 9:00 a.m., finish by 11:30 a.m. 
  • Reduce numbers of children in the room.
  • Keep children supervised, so they're not wandering the house, getting into mischief.
  • Be able to teach John and Mary one-on-one.
  • Greatly increase their outdoor play.
So far, the new routine is an invigorating improvement. John is old enough to get his own shoes and jacket on, and play alone in the back yard. Mary is just newly old enough to do so. (I've learned that "old enough" varies widely by family, age range of siblings, layout of the house, type of fencing in the back yard, and whether the child is a 'runner' or not.)

When the weather is bad, the children may do indoor recess, which might mean time on the computer in the kitchen (within earshot), watching an educational DVD, or playing one of the many educational games (as simple as Play-Doh or as complex as Snap Circuits Jr.) I have accessible.

Rule: The child must come in from recess the first time I ask. If he dawdles or refuses, he is going to lose his next recess (or recess for the whole day, whole week, whatever).

I can supervise most of the back yard from my school room window.

But this whole recess concept does not help with my girlie who will tell you that she is two-and-three-quarters because I can't send her outdoors by herself. I bought a couple of quiet, easy games, without small parts, that I thought might buy me ten or fifteen minutes of her quietness at a time (such as a Marbletick Magnetic Designer). The dollhouse got little use in the girls' bedroom because they rarely spend time there, so I moved it to our reading nook, envisioning that they might play with it while I read to them.

Arranging furniture is sometimes serious business!

The enhanced media corner

I also created an enhanced media corner. Margaret was already accustomed to choosing books on CD or music to which she could listen with her headphones and the CD player. Now I've added our portable DVD player (old school from when I was flying cross-country with two-year-old John and didn't know how to entertain him) and a bin of educational videos (Signing Time, Leap Frog, Holy Baby, Preschool Prep, etc.). With my strong bias against screen time, you can imagine I'm considering that desperate times call for desperate measures.

No surprise: Margaret really likes getting to watch her own little videos.

One morning, all the children lost all screen time because they wouldn't stop bickering over the content. I was perfectly content with that because I figure it will ensure better behavior in the days to come because they don't want to lose it again!

Mary doing Right Start Math Level A

Mary doing an art lesson from "Draw, Write, Now"

A pig following a chicken down the street, as drawn by Mary (5)

Coveted stickers for cheerful attitudes

Another tip I picked up from a fellow homeschooling mom is stickers. I was chatting with her casually about bad attitude while doing work and she replied, "Oh, yeah, if mine has a bad attitude, she doesn't get a sticker on her work." I had forgotten how much most children love tiny little things like stickers! I've begun putting stickers on the children's weekly assignment page. I have a whole desk drawer of tiny stickers that are exclusively Mama's Stickers . . . which automatically makes them coveted. Whatever innocent little tactic work, I say, use it!

Getting in on the action: I told the girls to color while I was doing History with John. When I finished and turned around, my three bunchkins were in a row, with Joseph (11 months) having clamored up, grabbed a pencil, and joined his sisters in scribbling!

Even when we are having a rough morning--with three children having caught new colds, two of them having woken Mama approximately one zillion times last night with their tears and inability to breathe--we can still figure out ways to do some schooling while meeting our needs. Sweet Joseph was so tired, he actually let me lay down his sleeping self on the sofa, instead of snoozing on my back, where he takes virtually all of his naps.

We're off to a lovely start of the quarter, with me feeling refreshed, and I look forward to however long this lasts until it changes again! Big thanks to my husband yet again for being so supportive of our being a home schooling family.


  1. This is just wonderful! 4 kids 6 & under has taught me to cling to structure & routine!

  2. I just love all your organization! Love how their school books are next to their seat, love recess throughout the morning and how you rotate each child unto something different yet age appropriate throughout your school morning. Beautifully done!

  3. And I love your Scripture reminder on your desk. That is a reminder that I need to hear too.