Because we could all use a little improvement, right? 
Like ’em or not, here are 6 tried-and-true ways to improve your school days at home with your young ones…

But first, a few pictures from life in these parts:

1. Sing to the Lord, O my soul! || 2. Looking out from our castle/fort in the woods || 3 & 4. The children enjoying the beauty and wonder of Phipps Conservatory || 5. My daughter and I in costume for the PA Renaissance Faire last weekend || 6. Our home-made Viking longhouse~school really IS cool! || 7, 8 & 9.  Relaxing, playing, and sharing time together.  || 10. Our charming fairy garden || 11. Sharing a kiss with my sweet cowboy || 12. Why I do what I do~they make my days so rich || 13. Proud student! || 14. Joy-riding with grandpa on his dune-buggy! || 15. Our campsite

Ok, here we go, friends~ this is not an exhaustive list by any means, but we are learning as we go, and here are a few tips that have helped tremendously~

1. Get up before your kids.

Cannot be over emphasized how important this is.  How MUCH earlier you get up is up to you.  But do not let them start the day ahead of you, or you’ll spend the remaining hours trying to catch back up.  It’s one of those things we all kinda know already.  We need to be “up and at it” before the day starts.  And you know young children go from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds once their eyes are open.  You will never regret those precious, quiet hours (or minutes) of peace in the morning.  It’s a gift you can give to yourself

Get up before them by at least 1/2 hour and I promise you you will be more cheerful & balanced throughout the day, you’ll be excited to SEE their faces when they come into the kitchen to say good morning, and most importantly, YOU’LL be the one driving the ship for the day.

Do you have little kids who get up at the crack’o’dawn every single day and you are 100% certain that no matter how early you rise, one of them will either a)be up already or b) hear you getting up and decide to join you, thus ruining your morning solace?  Guess what? I’ve got 2 of those little morning people, and it got to the point where we set a rule that they cannot come downstairs until the clock reads 7.  Yes, it is that bad.  So now, I don’t have to tip-toe around and fear they’ll hear me up, showering, working, preparing breakfast, or whatever.  If they hear me up, and it’s not yet 7am on their clock in their room, they can either stay in bed or play quietly on their floor.  Problem solved.

My morning time is so vitally important to my survival I really actually feel sorry for moms who are totally run down and exasperated with all that homeschooling entails, yet don’t get up before their kids~and if we’re honest, moms, it’s because we also don’t go to bed on time!  I am totally guilty of trying to burn the candle at both ends, and in the end, I’m just that: burned out.   So–go to bed earlier, get up earlier.  This is one strategy, that if not consistently applied, WILL cause a mama (particularly when your kids are very young) to break down QUICK.  

2. When you go to bed, and when you wake, make sure all machines are running.
Dishwasher, Washer, Dryer.  A load in before you go to sleep, and you’re ready to transfer in the morning.  For us, here, that means what was in the washer last night is ready to be put in the dryer this morning, the clothes in the dryer are ready to be carried up (folded later), and the dishes that washed last night are ready to be unloaded by the kids in the morning.  If the dish washer was not quite full last  night, then we add breakfast dishes, wipe down the kitchen counters, and begin our school routine while the dishwasher hums in the background.  
There is nothing worse than being greeted by a sink full (or kitchen full) of dirty dishes when you come down to make coffee and breakfast in the morning.
You can even set the timer on most coffee makers the night before, which is always so nice to have waiting for you when you come into the kitchen bright and early.

3.  Work from a checklist.
Is anything more fulfilling than checking things off of a list each day?  Don’t we all love the sense of accomplishment?  Whether I write my daily list of work for my Kinder and 2nd grader on the chalkboard, a notecard, or a printed list with little boxes for checking off, it makes such a difference when we can each see what we’ve done already, and what we’ve got left.  There is less arguing about the tasks at hand, or how long we’ll have to work each day when the kids can see the list, and know where they are and how much more they have to go.  I began using Google docs for my checklists this year, and I love it.  I change it week to week, then print of 4 copies for myself (Thursday we are out of the house for our homeschool group, so we don’t follow the same routine).  To keep us on track, I include almost EVERYTHING on my checklist (you can see it here).

4.  Use a timer.
This one is so huge for me, because both my daughter and I are highly distractable. We both tend to meander through our work, and without using timers almost daily, we would probably still be working away at school stuff when dinner rolls around each day.  
I really owe this to Charlotte Mason, who believed young children should have short, interesting lessons, and not have to suffer boredom because something was dragged on and on.  This strategy is only successful when our young pupils are in agreement that they must put their full attention to the task at hand until the time is up.  When we catch them dawdling, we remind them of this agreement gently, but firmly.  If they finish the task before the allotted time, they can put the extra time towards free play.  
Charlotte Mason challenges educators to begin at infancy to encourage/ask our children to attend to something for just a bit longer than they are inclined to.

5.  With young children, whenever possible, finish formal schoolwork by lunchtime so afternoons are free.
Don’t belabor it!  You and your kids have other things to do besides academics, right?  Of course, older students will need more time to complete their work, but there is no reason why younger aged elementary students cannot finish by noon each day.  Let’s never forget, play is the real work of childhood.  Turn your kids loose just after lunch (for us this is from about noon until our quiet time at 3) to explore and play!  They need the downtime, and though you might think their brains are shutting off, it’s actually during those times that they make the important real-life connections from all they’ve been learning.  Study after study confirms that children learn best through real-life play, yet kids today have so little time for true, imaginative play.  Instead, their free time is eaten up by television or video games which are repeatedly proven to have a negative impact our our children’s’ mental health.  We also need to be cautious about over-doing it with extracurricular activities and sports with our young ones.  These activities are pursued at younger and younger ages, and so often leave them exhausted at the day’s end.  Furthermore, when we over-structure our kids’ time for them, there is no time left for them to play and organize and come up with their own games.

6.  Focus on relationship.
 I love to join my kids in leisure time when I am able.  Really? you wonder. Even after you’ve been in school with them all morning?  Yes, and here is why: there is something so different and special about spending TIME with our children where the mutual goal is simply to enjoy each other’s company.  Additionally, I find that it is so beneficial for my mental, spiritual, and physical health to get out of my own home and in God’s grand creation a bit each day, which is usually where my kids prefer to play.  Some stressful days or weeks, it is nothing short of therapy for my weary soul~to put aside the house cleaning for a bit, to disconnect from technology, and just BE with my kids.  True, this policy does not leave me with a spotlessly clean house, but I have learned to be okay with that.  I will never have the opportunity to raise my children again.  No do-overs, not even one day can be taken back and changed.  So make the most of LIFE, mamas.  School is important, yes, but your relationships with your children far exceeds any other “job” you have on your plate.  I enjoy sending my kids out once we finish schoolwork while I prepare and nice, simple lunch for us on a tray.  We’ll sit in the back yard together, or down at our campsite in the woods to relax and eat lunch.  It is so good just to be together.
Don’t I ever want to just get away from them?  Um…yes!  (right about 7pm each and every day, and many days, sooner!).   But the reality is this: all four of our children are under age 7, which means they all still have a strong need to be close to mama bear.  Instead of fighting this, I am learning to surrender to it.  If I have gardening to do, I ask them to play out back by the garden, and often they’ll want to help too.  If I am cleaning out the garage, they’ll be close by riding bikes.  We all love our woods, so we spend many, many hours in our favorite spot, just relaxing on the hammock, working on our fort, or making new trails.  And you know what I’ve found? We have the best time together–interesting conversations, tons of laughter, and I get such precious insight into their hearts when we spend time together in this manner. Very often I get going with my thing, and they do theirs and we seem to ignore one another for a while–they’re usually content just to be near me. Then when it’s time to go in, clean up, prepare dinner, run an errand, we stick together as a team.  Everyone eventually learns to do their part, and they’re mostly happy to do it.  Each and every time I make school work the #1 focus, or our routine, or a big project, or a clean house, I am left feeling totally exasperated and discouraged.  But when my relationship with my kids is the focus–and their spiritual and emotional well being and growth is the daily goal, I am encouraged and rewarded.  


Ok, it’s your turn!  I’d love to hear any other practical or relational bits of advice you’ve learned along your homeschool journey…so comment away!

Blessings, Joanna


Linking up today with Trivium Tuesdays

9 thoughts on “6 Ways to Improve Your Homeschool Day

  1. Tamara Smith

    I am in complete agreement about getting up BEFORE the children do. It has made a huge difference in our homeschool. I used to stay up late trying to get “me time” but I would pay for it the following day-not just me but the kids, too. Everything would be rushed, mom stressed and impatient, no flow of joy in the home. Finally, this year, I surrendered to what the Lord had been speaking to me for a while..get up earlier and go to bed earlier. Transformation.

    I have also been using a timer this year-have to learn to be more disciplined about it so that I stop whenever I should. This also helps to make a less stressful day. We have also been finishing our formal work before lunch. Again, major difference here. Implementing a quiet time after lunch is something else that we have gotten back to doing. The children can nap or not but they must all separate and remain in the designated rooms for about 90 minutes. They may read during this time if they
    choose. Afterwards, everyone is ready to reunite and Mommy has been refreshed.

    I noticed on your checklist that you enjoy tea while reading stories to your children. We also do that and I have to say that that is my favorite part of the day.

    I will run the dishwasher before bed but I have yet to use a checklist. I am going to begin using one next week, as I can see how it will benefit the children as well as myself.

    I have a question for you. After looking at your checklist, I wonder what time of the day do you begin?

    Thanks for sharing with us the great tips!


  2. Amy Maze

    Oh no! I just left a super long comment and I got an error message when I hit ‘publish’ =( Sorry, I’m not re-typing, but I loved your tips! I agree with all of them, but had never thought of #2 before…I’m going to try that one! Thanks for the tips!

  3. Beth

    That is a great list. I have found that not only is it getting up before the children but being ready before they get up or at least 50% ready.

  4. itavitaafrican

    I totally agree with your tips! Don’t have much to add, except that on the days we can finish before lunch, I really do love it. Loved your picture from Phipps Conservatory–we visited there this past June while visiting the in-laws. 🙂

  5. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Thanks for stopping in, Anna. What a FANTASTIC tip! I am thinking how much better our days or weeks are when we DO have something really cool going on. Love it. Enjoy these early years with your babe 🙂 ~Joanna

  6. Anna Ilona Mussmann

    I like these tips. I don’t have any home schooling tips yet (my baby is too little!) but here is one from my experience as a classroom teacher: Have at least one really, really fun project or lesson a week (fun for the TEACHER and not just the kids) that you are enthusiastic about and looking forward to. It always helped me.

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