loosey-goosey homeschool: take three

This is a random post about how homeschooling looks in the Chapman house. If homeschool isn’t your jam, feel free to carry on.


I spend more time than I want to fretting over how atypical our school routine feels. Most of the people I talk to and blog posts I read imply a nice, structured homeschool experience, not unlike what a kid might find in a brick-and-mortar school. Our school is a lot more… well, loosey-goosey is the only phrase coming to mind. There’s very little structure and normal educational stuff takes up the smallest fraction of our day. There’s no circle time or lighting a candle or set order to anything. We just squeeze it in after lunch plus a little at breakfast if we can while everyone’s contained at the table. So I thought I’d add my voice to the long list of homeschool moms, just because I want to share what’s actually working for us in our not-so-schooly life.

I took a minute to read over the last two Octobers’ homeschool posts to get an idea how things have changed.

Year one: “I’m so excited! This is working, despite the fact that I have a newborn and one-year-old!” Eventual reality: I dropped it entirely. The curriculum I used was way too intense for me to keep up with prep and the lessons were too long to keep my 4- and 5-year-olds’ attention.

Year two: “I’m so excited! Last year didn’t actually work, but I switched curriculum and I have the highest of hopes!” Eventual reality: we did better. We did actual school several times each… month. Jenna learned to read anyway, and when we did school, they blew through the lessons, so we did a year and a half’s worth of math, almost catching up from the prior year’s slacking.

This brings us to year three: “I’m not sure I’d call myself excited, but I put washi tape on my freezer, and I think we’re actually doing this thing!”

I’m not even kidding. This Friday marks the end of the first quarter—nine weeks of school—and I think we’re gonna make it. This is the most legit I have ever felt as a homeschool mom.

Wanna see the magic?


(Even filters can’t make this Pinterest-worthy.)


That’s the extent of my awesome new system.

Washi tape, a label maker, and a dry-erase marker. (And this is the version 2.0. Version 1 was just a dry-erase marker listing off what subjects we did each day.)

The numbers above each subject indicate how many times I’d like to hit that subject in a week. The magnet clip below is unrelated, but it holds seventeen pieces of random art I don’t want to throw away yet, but don’t have space to fully display. (I could use a few more of these.) (The clips, I mean. I have plenty of art.) Monday through Thursday are our regular days, Friday is just for catching up on things we may have missed. (You might think we would have done handwriting an extra time last Friday since we only hit it once last week. You would be mistaken.) A check indicates we did something. It might be a little, or it might be twelve math lessons because they want jelly beans, which they get at a rate of one per page… my only requirement is that we try.

Our homeschool district requires each student to set a goal for the year. When our teacher asked Katherine what her goal was, she responded with her trademark mischievous glint: “I want MORE SCREENS!”


Thanks for that, kid. Mom of the year right here. Screens are the highlight of this child’s life.

After about half an hour of trying to get a legit education goal out of her, we settled on a somewhat complicated rewards system wherein if she got the a certain amount of school done M-Th, she’d get a show before lunch on Friday. (This is big stuff, because usually weekday screens are limited to afternoons.) If she got twice that done, she could have a whole movie.

So the checklist above is technically just Katherine’s work, but because they do it together, Jenna is pulled along, and we’re using Katherine’s drive to earn screens to keep my type-B self on track. School gets done during the babies’ nap time now, and they earn a movie at about 10 every Friday. I think they are actually getting less screen time overall, though, because school ends up eating a lot of the time I might otherwise throw screens at them. Whatever.

So there you have it. My super-official, very schooly innovations for this year. Washi tape and screen bribery.

the list I forgot

We talked a couple days ago what we’re doing to make our homeschool year more… well… educational this year, but I totally left something out.

We did a couple weeks of a daily checklist for the kids. Get up. Have breakfast. Clean rooms. Do school. Free time. (It’s clearly a super exciting list.)

It worked great. When I have a list to keep me on track, I can tick on through the day and get all the things done.

But there was something vital I missed.

Everything else.

I spent so much of each day chugging through their list that I neglected all the other whole categories of things that need to happen in a functioning and happy house.

I realized after about two weeks that I felt terrible and the house had gone pretty much to pot.

The solution to this was another checklist. (Duh!) I’m not as obsessed with checklists as I sound, but they’ve proven useful, so I made one for me. It had all the little routine items that I used to do (back before Lilly was born) to keep things running smoothly. (Well, as smoothly as a house full of tiny humans can run.) 

I reinstated things like a daily load of laundry and cleaning the kitchen each night. I came up with a rough draft of a weekly rotation of chores. (Do the bathrooms on Monday. Change sheets on Thursday… That sort of thing. Again, very exciting.)

This isn’t really a list of new things to do, just an ordering of the things I already have to complete. I find that assigning them space helps me get all the things done with more focus and less stress. Also, if a thing doesn’t get done when it’s supposed to, that’s okay. It’ll come back around.

Just as importantly, “self care” got its own legit check box. Every day.

And, because I frequently fudge on stuff like that (“‘Self-care’… okey dokey. I went to the bathroom by myself, that counts, right? CHECK.”), I also have a list of options to choose from. Read for 15 minutes. Find five minutes of silence. Write. Create. Learn something. Move.

(The girls’ corresponding box reads “free time,” but what it means is “Netflix.”)

I remember reading Lisa Byrne’s words, “Self care isn’t ‘me first,’ it’s ‘me too.'” I don’t prioritize self care above my family or even above mundane housework, but it at least gets a place. Refining this idea further is my friend Jenn, who brilliantly divided self-care into a few distinct (and necessary) categories.

The way my home runs does not at all resemble clockwork, but it’s no longer chaos and I’m a lot less stressed out in general, which means we’re all a bit calmer. I’m even starting to notice how much I enjoy teaching (and learning with) my kids.

How about you? Are there things that you need to add back into your day to bring back some order or vitality?

homeschooling so far

And now for something completely different…

That’s my girls’ actual first day of school picture.

We started homeschooling this year. The littlest was about six weeks old, and I started doing kindergarten work with both the big girls. (They’re 4 and 5.) I knew going in that I was going to be the biggest slacker homeschool mama ever because, well, I’m new, and it’s kindergarten, and I just had a baby.

I wasn’t wrong. 

I grew up in a homeschooling family with a trained elementary teacher as a mom. The bulk of my current experience with it has been through a best friend who home schools and is also trained as an elementary school teacher.

I am not an elementary school teacher.

I subbed in elementary schools for a bit. Subbing was fun. (ish.) But I can’t really imagine teaching elementary school for a living. (God bless the elementary teachers.)

So I knew that my kids’ schooling experience was going to look a little different from the homeschooling I’m familiar with. But I didn’t really know what it should look like. I live in Alaska where homeschooling is a pretty normal choice, so I asked some of the many moms I know who do this and joined a facebook group and, well, I’m making it up as I go.

My life still doesn’t look a lot like my perception of the other homeschool mamas. And I’m not sure I’m doing it right. But I’ll share how we’ve started anyway, because I really needed to see lots of different approaches, and maybe you do as well.

So here’s my version of homeschooling kindergarten. So far. (It’s been six weeks. So the jury is still out.)

I bring you: The okayest homeschooling routine ever!

We start the day with oatmeal.

Well, I say that. But really, we do math first. It’s Right Start math, and it’s heavy on manipulatives and activities. They actually just did their first real worksheet this morning, which is fortuitous, because work samples are due this week. Anyway, it takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes if they’re cooperative. And when they’re done, they get to play with the abacus! Hooray! While they do that, I get the toddler out of bed (and, since we’re being honest, he’s certainly leaked through his diaper, so I rinse him off and toss his bedding in the laundry) and I warm up their oatmeal. Baby Lilly could be anywhere at this point. Sleeping? On the floor? In the wrap? Who knows? We’re working toward routine, but haven’t really found our groove yet.

My kids are unaware that I know how to make breakfast foods that aren’t oatmeal. They make choices all day. And by “they,” I mean “I.” have to lay out choices and talk them through making them. And breakfast is just too. darn. early. So it’s oatmeal. I started making it in the crock pot since we started “school.” (“School” gets air quotes.) I make a huge batch, then throw it all in the fridge. In the morning, I scoop it out and heat it up. Done. Ain’t nobody got time to get into philosophical discussions about breakfast with a 4- and 5-year-old.

Once the oatmeal is done, but before Brian the Toddler gets out of jail (or his high chair which is now, along with his hair, covered in oatmeal), we crank through phonics. The curriculum I picked has handwriting and phonics together, and there’s another 15 or so minutes of that. Katherine (the 4-year-old) doesn’t have the focus or the fine motor control to do the handwriting part especially well, but we muddle through it. She’ll pick it up.

(This is a pillar of my current schooling approach. I’m doing kindergarten ONCE with the girls. Katherine is 17 months behind Jenna, so she doesn’t get the material as fully or as quickly as her sister, nor does she have the attention for it—because of her age and her personality—but I’m not going to sweat it. She’ll learn to read. And if she doesn’t do that this year? Well, she’s FOUR.) 

At this point, we’re done. Yeah. I’m serious. We’ve done half an hour of school. It’s not ten yet. Nobody has left the breakfast table. (Brian may still be covered in oatmeal. He might even still smell like pee.) But that’s it.

Sort of. We go on about our morning, make it through feeding the baby and discipline stuff and lunch and whatever. Once the little two go down in the afternoon, we do some strategic reading. I have a pretty rad collection of really pretty story books. We made it through Aesop’s Fables, we’re into Grimm’s Fairytales, working our way towards Dickens and Shakespeare. (Again, yes. I’m serious. Dickens and Shakespeare are, in fact, next up. The kid versions, anyhow.I read some sciencey stuff. If I’m super on top of it, I remember to grab their respective AWANA books and we do verses.

And that’s it. Really.

And that’s on days when we don’t have morning commitments. So three mornings a week, this is the plan.

And by “plan,” I mean “hope.”

Some days the whole thing gets scrapped in favor of “character training.” Because I don’t really care if they’re reading or adding this year if they’re little hooligans. So if we have to, we spend all morning (day) on discipline.

Really? Some of this gets done. Most days.

Six weeks ago, it ate 100% of my time and attention all day to do half an hour of “real school” and some strategic reading. It’s gotten easier. I feel like I can be a person again, at least kind of. (KIND OF a person. That’s all I can manage with the addition of maybe a total of 90 minutes of work with the read-alouds. I’m not sure how “real” homeschool mamas pull this off.) 

But anyway, that’s what it looks like so far. Don’t do it this way. Leastwise not on my recommendation. I don’t have any evidence that it works at all. And even if my kids do learn to read, it’s probably not an indication of my awesome teaching so much as the fact that they just want to read. So whatever. This is what I can manage right now, and, at least for now, it seems like it’s enough.

This post is part of the write31days challenge… I’m trying to post every day in October. Or, you know, lots of days in October. The rest of the posts can be found here.