Saturday, 31 December 2016

Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work

This year I am taking part in the Virtual Curriculum Fair 2017, which is hosted by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds.

This week, the theme is See How We Learn.

Over the next month, these will be the themes for each week:

9th January - Playing With Words: The Language Arts
16th January - Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and some Science
23rd January - Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science
30th January - Seeking Beauty: The Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work

We have 4 children, none of whom have attended school. The eldest is now 11, which means that we have been officially home educating for a number of years now. The book that has helped me the most is The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, and many of my curriculum choices have come from this book.

This post, however, is not primarily about the core principles that have driven the educational decisions we have made, but some of the practical methods that I have honed over the last few years to make everything run as smoothly as possible. Of course, this doesn't mean that every day runs ideally - there are plenty of blips, and a few outright disasters - but in general we manage to work efficiently, and to have some fun along the way too.

Of course, some of the methods or principles which work well for us wouldn't be a good fit for other families, or for other home educating parents. Every family has particular circumstances or needs which will affect how home education has to be carried out. For example, my husband is a church pastor, which often has implications for how we run our family life in all sorts of ways. Also, my third son had significant speech issues which have had a large impact on how I could teach him, and also on how I have planned my day as he has needed so much one-to-one time. No doubt each of us can think of similar examples for our own families.

However, here are 10 ways that I have found make our lives run smoother; I hope they are a help to others too:

1) Independent Learners. I have worked hard to teach my children to complete their studies even when I am not watching over them. When they are little, this means teaching them to concentrate on their own for short periods, with work that I know that they can manage without me helping them for every step. For my 5 year old, at the moment, this is her mental maths sheets, 20 addition or subtraction questions that she has to do as her first piece of written work. If she does it in good time (under 5 minutes), then she is rewarded with an egg-cupful of raisins. As they get older, the amount they are able to do increases, and my expectations also increase. If they are slow, then they get less free time!

How much a child can manage on their own at any given age depends very much on the individual child, and we are best placed as parents to judge what is right for our own children. For some 7 year olds, 10 minutes of concentration would be a major achievement; for others, much longer is possible and could be expected. We need to make wise and fair choices for our own children, with the goal of independent learning in sight, recognising that different children will reach this goal at different points.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I don't spend plenty of time actually teaching each child - that's my job - or that I'm not available to help when they get stuck. What it does mean, however, is that I won't stand over my 11 year old and tell him to do each question in turn. He learned a while ago that I wasn't prepared to do this, and now is able to be pretty disciplined about his work, and can be very efficient on his best days (of which there are plenty!).

This didn't happen overnight; I think it's fair to say that a number of years of gradual improvement got us to where we are now. However, this is the biggest single factor in our home educating family that makes life run smoothly.

Independent Working (With a Hamster!)

2) Home Education Diary. I'm new to this method of planning - this is only my second year using a diary. I used to have weekly sheets for each child, but these were a pain to fill in and it was irritating to have everyone's work plan in their own folders. Last year, I asked my husband to organise me a diary of my own design, so he did. It is very simple, and written for our family, which makes it very easy to use. The children also like being able to see exactly what they have to do for the day ahead, and ticking off what they have done. This also helps them to be independent too.

My Home Education Diary

3) Marking Box. This is new this year, and has really helped me to keep on top of marking the children's work. It is just a file box where they put any work they need me to mark before the next day. I don't always manage it in the evening after a day's teaching as we often have church meetings in our house, but I can usually get it all marked first thing the next day.

This seems obvious, but it has taken me too many years to really sort this out (and I am generally pretty organised!), so I'm pleased to have a simple and effective solution!

4) Stuff has a home. Everything, from plain paper to watercolours to Lego, has a home, and the children know where it is. This means that when things are running optimally, everyone can find what they need quickly and without help, and put it away afterwards. Of course, things don't run optimally all the time, but most of the time we don't faff around trying to find the hole punch or the oil pastels. If a child (usually my youngest) doesn't know where something is, I will show them so they can find it for next time, not just fetch it for them.

5) Routines. We have a pattern to our day - we start with reading aloud, there is independent reading after lunch, a daily walk before lunch and so on. This basic shape helps everyone to know what they are supposed to be up to on a normal day. I have also shaped the order in which the children work so that each of them can have my full attention for particular subjects where they need it, and are working alone while I am needed to teach other children. Subjects that they study together are usually left for the afternoon.

6) Big Breakfasts: My children get ratty if they are inadequately fed, so we have pretty much given up on cereal for breakfast except as an extra, or for when I forget to do an online food shop. We eat boiled eggs, omelette, bagels, porridge, mini pancakes, or lots of toast. This definitely stops them from flagging too early.

7) Daily Walks: I like to have a full and fairly ambitious programme of study for our children, but they need fresh air, exercise, and fun. To be honest, so do I (even if I don't always feel like trekking to the swings on a grey, damp, wintry day).

A Regular Park Trip

8) Regular Small Changes: There are often aspects of our life that need a bit of adjustment, or areas of learning where a particular child needs help. Big radical curriculum changes are occasionally necessary, but most of the time I have found that small tweaks are more effective. If I change a whole curriculum, this is disruptive and often means that the children can't consolidate what they have learned so far effectively. However, if I make a small change to how I deliver a particular curriculum (time of day, for example), that can make a big difference. Also, if I find that a child has a particular area of weakness that needs a bit of work, then I have discovered that great gains can be made with just 5 minutes a day. For example, 5 minutes every day of times table practice, or of Latin verb memorisation can have a really significant impact on a child's confidence in either maths or Latin, and with very little time taken up.

9) Keeping up with Chores: This is so dull, but it makes a big difference if I at least keep on top of my general cleaning routine (and the children keep up with their chores too). Since we have quite a lot of church meetings in our home too, I find that I need to keep up to prevent any frantic panic cleaning. I have set days to clean each bit of the house so that no day has more jobs than I can manage, and no bit of the house is so disastrous that I can't use it.

10) Quick and Easy Fun: Not so much big elaborate projects (though we do these sometimes), or amazing trips out (which we also do from time to time), but small activities or treats which can add a little colour to a dull day, or a bit of a boost to a flagging child. I mean making popcorn half way through the morning, or taking a longer walk to a different park, or fitting in an extra art session one afternoon. I mean hot chocolate on a damp afternoon, or a read aloud by candlelight, or a nature documentary for a science lesson.

Dressing as Celts 

It's far from perfect every day, but these are a few of the ways that we try to keep some sort of order in a busy home educating household.

I invite you to see how my fellow bloggers learn in their homeschools (note: all posts will be live by noon EST, Jan. 2nd):

The Evolution of Our Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Us-School Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
It's All About the School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Setting the Stage- the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! by Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses
New Year, New Goals, New School! by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Homeschooling - A Glimpse into How We Do it by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Spotlight on How We Learn in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Our Unique Eclectic Homeschool  by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
How We Learn on the Go by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning
Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Schedules, where would I be without them? by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Education at Our House by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Starting the Day Well by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Making a Change - Accountability and Responsibility Through Routine by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A time to be encouraged is coming.. the Virtual Curriculum Fair by Annette @ A Net in Time
Loving the Moment! by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Keeping Our Homeschool Organized by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Homeschool Goal Setting – Looking Forward, Looking Back by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
How We Choose Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
This Is How We Homeschool by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
How we don't learn in our homeschool & how I don't plan {2017 Virtual Homeschool Curriculum Fair} by Meghan @ Quiet in the Chaos
Learning Our Way by Lisa @ McClanahan 7
Limping Along: Our Semi-Eclectic Approach to Homeschooling by Debra @Footprints in the Butter
2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair: See How We Learn by Dana L @ Luv'N Lambert Life


  1. Oh my goodness!!! I LOVE your diary! That is awesome. I use a calendar that I buy from our co-op that is similar, but I love the idea of making your own simple little diary. It's perfect.

    1. Glad you like it - it has saved me so much time!

  2. I agree about big breakfasts. My kids can work so much more efficiently when they are well fed.

  3. Lots of great ideas here. I need a marking box---such a simple, but brilliant idea (I'm horrible at getting math marked).

    1. I only started this in September, and it has really helped me be disciplined (and often my husband marks all the maths whenever he sees the box is full, so that helps too!).

  4. Your schedule looks well planned. We need to focus on numbers 6 and 7 consistently.

    1. Thank you - I like planning. What I find hard is ditching my plans when I need to!

  5. Wow, these are some great ten things to look into for any homeschoolers. Love it!

  6. These are all GREAT ideas! I like the walk idea! Though I exercise every day, I forget my kids need some activity as well.

    1. Mine are climbing the walls a bit without a walk, so they really need it!

  7. What a great list! Routines are very important. I don't worry about a specific schedule, but they like knowing what is next and what is expected of them throughout the day . . . and I wholeheartedly agree about breakfast!