Routine: Working Out the Flow
by Kyndra Steinmann
It’s one of the last lovely days of summer, and I am sitting on my porch, listening to my five-year-old play with a friend. The three-year-old and two-month-old are napping, and the seven- and eight-year-olds are having “quiet-time” in separate rooms. This is as close to peaceful as we usually get during the day, and I relish the time to sit and think, or to work on projects that are best done without the help of little hands.
I’m especially relishing this time these days because, as the children are growing—and with more family members—I’m starting to think that our daily rhythm is going to have some fundamental changes this year. We’re adding a weekly co-op and more extra-curricular stuff, yes, but the needs of the children—and the number of children needing instruction—is also changing, and our usual morning hours are probably not going to be enough.
Every year when I do my lesson planning, I also look at what skills the children are weak on, and what skills I want them to acquire over the year—not just things like spelling or penmanship, but also things like study skills, knowing when to just push through something difficult and when to ask for help, learning how to put something aside and move on to something else, and so on.
This year I’ll have two middle-elementary students, a first-grader, and a preschooler in addition to the infant. The littlest three will need most of my time, but the bigger two are not yet ready to do all their work without instruction. My focus needs to be twofold: managing our school time so that everyone gets covered, and teaching everyone how to work well.
The Blessing of Routine
I’ve made a little schedule for the flow of our days, using the following guidelines:
- When does the baby nap?
The Plan: We need to be ready to sit down to school when she’s ready to go down, with morning chores done, breakfast eaten, and things squared away for school. Since she goes down around 8:00 on most days—and I have some children (not to mention myself) who are slow in the morning—we need to start our day at 6. (This means that I should really start mine at 5:30.)
Right Now: I’m working on getting everyone up and through their chores in a timely manner. I want chores and morning routines to be habitual before we start lessons in September.
- What gives the older two the best start, while enabling me to focus on the little boys?
The Plan: Last year I learned that when I had the older two do some schoolwork—something easy, like a page of handwriting—before breakfast, they were reminded to be in “school mode” and attitudes were much improved. Likewise, if I spend the first 30 minutes of school teaching math and going over other assignments, they know what to do while I’m working with the little boys.
Right Now: I’ve put “do two subjects” on the older children’s morning chore list, and I remind them of that addition to chores from time to time. I’ve also made weekly assignment sheets for them that I can fill out at the beginning of the week, so they never wonder what they should next. I’m working on having everyone remember not to interrupt me when I’m talking to or doing something with another sibling.
- How well do the little boys follow directions?
The Plan: I have a lot of little craft things the little boys can do while I’m helping the bigs, but they need to be able to follow the directions and do things solo. Crafts—especially cutting and gluing kinds of things—are great for fine motor skills and can be good lesson reinforcements. They can also be a hassle and create a mess, which is not what I need.
Right Now: The five-year-old gets to do a paper craft from a book during his naptime. He gets an extra round of “Stack the States” with me at night if he follows the directions and cleans up after himself. The three-year-old is practicing following directions by having his very own chore list, with chores done well getting him a round or two of Stack the States as well. (The little boys are great companions to each other and generally want the same rewards!)
- How well do the bigs do at minding their own work even when the littles are distracting?
The Plan: The big children need to be able to focus on their own lessons. They each have a desk in their room and can work in there instead of in the school room, but removing the distraction of the little boys only works if they won’t get distracted by something else.
Right Now: I’m working with them at chore time to stay focused. The biggest help has been my checking up on them every ten minutes, doing a partial inspection, and grading their chores based on how well they focused and how quickly they were completed. We use a grading system on their job charts—Well Done, Incomplete, Satisfactory (but too slow), or Fail—and jobs are rewarded according to grade. I have seen a significant improvement in focus over the last few weeks since we have implemented this system.
My hope is that focusing on these four areas will make implementing our schedule changes in a few weeks smoother and more natural than simply jumping in.
Kyndra Steinmann is a homeschooler mom and blogger and creator of Sticks, Stones, & Chicken Bones at Kyndra Steinmann.com.