As anyone with children knows, trying to keep a clean house is next to impossible when they are all at home. Add homeschooling to the mix and you are guaranteed to fail.
Here are my basic rules.
Well, first of all, there are some seasons in life where you just have to accept a dirtier house, unless you have help like a maid. I’m talking about when the kids are all under 5 years of age. Sure, they can help with some of the chores. But there is no way you will have as clean a house as you did before kids or at least before they started crawling.
The older the children get, the cleaner the house will be as a result. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. And I still struggle some days when I’ve spent an hour cleaning up the schoolroom only to see it looking like a tornado went through it after the mornings work.
Secondly, make a schedule. Now, I love schedules for myself. But my kids? Not so much. And I don’t like to tie them to any particular activity. Especially when they are young. So my schedules tend to be loose. We try to find a balance between what is needed and what is wanted.
The younger kids are not beholden to any schedule other than when to eat and when to sleep. The rest of the day is free for them to do as they please.
This works because my house is mostly kid-friendly. So just about anywhere they want to be, it is safe for them to be there. But here is where my tolerance has to be high. I have to expect that whichever room the toddler has chosen to be in will be slightly less put together than when she arrived. (Please note: This does not mean my child has run amok. I do know where she is at all times. And any place that is unsafe for her is also impossible for her to access i.e. locked.)
In the event of a meltdown or during a rough day, I have been known to put on a video. But I try to make this an exception and not the rule.
Thirdly, allow the child as much independence as possible. This sort of ties in with the last section where I give my littles so much freedom. By trusting them with the majority of their day, they learn how to be bored but also how to work alone. They are not dependent on constant guidance throughout the day.
This helps when they get older to regulate their own school day based on the day’s lessons.
And last, be willing to change what works every year, every month or sometimes even every day. This is essential. Life is constantly changing. Your schedule should, too.
How does this work for us?
When I first started homeschooling in 2016, I had one child “doing school,” one preschooler, one toddler, and a newborn. Plus, it was my first year dealing with the French inspections.
I had lofty goals.
Which were quickly dashed by life. You know what I’m talking about. Kids don’t care about your theories or methods or plans. Especially newborns. So within weeks, I had to trash my carefully planned year for something more fluid.
Our basic outline was this: morning work in French, afternoon work in English. We worked for about 2 hours in the morning and another 2 hours in the afternoon. Though we changed subjects often, I still found it to be a bit much for her attention span. So we varied the time spent depending on how well she paid attention. Or whether I needed a nap with the baby. Or if the others needed some attention. And so on and so forth.
It needed to be hands on as much as possible. Not only was V learning how to read and write in English but she had to read and write in French as well. To be clear, she didn’t learn to read in both languages at the same time. We started in English (her first language) and when she could read a short “I Can Read” Level 1 book with ease we started French lessons.
We continued this basic schedule, French in the morning and English in the afternoon, in her second year. I also started backing off a bit with helping her for every step. That’s not to say I wasn’t available. On the contrary, she could always come to me for help or clarification. And I guided her when to start the next subject. But V was doing much of the work on her own. At 7 years old. I know, right?
However, when I added my second daughter, I knew that things had to change. I couldn’t do her first year exactly the same way as V. For one, I now had a very lively toddler who always wanted my attention. But I also had V, a 3rd year student who still needed guidance, if not actual help. In addition to the very real feelings of “why is mommy spending all her school time with L and not me anymore?” Her mind may have understood why not, but her heart, not so much.
So I changed again.
Our current schedule
With the addition of another child (and with it the number of activities “after school”), I have had to change the French/ English split. I wanted to include V as much as possible while still giving her time to do independent work. Moreover, there were some subjects they could do together.
So, as of this moment, we now have Morning Time where both girls work on subjects that can be done together. In the afternoon, V does her independent work while I work with L. French and English are now combined in morning and afternoon work.
This may seem counter intuitive. After all, when they were younger we made a clear division of languages. Mommy spoke English; Daddy spoke French. I continued this division with V during her first two years of schooling. But this was no longer possible with multiple kids at multiple levels.
But actually, by having them switch from English to French, subject after subject, all day long, we were just replicating our real life. I speak English with my kids but when we are out, will switch to French to talk to someone else. Their father does the same. He will speak English with me then switch to French to speak with them. This is our reality.
A good education prepares a child to function in society. Thus switching between English and French helps my children to function better. Plus, we get lots of giggles when I am helping L with an English lesson but V comes to me for help in French and I respond in English but then go back to L’s English speaking French. It can get confusing. But it’s so much fun. And a great way to connect.
So, I know I’ve been talking a lot about the homeschooling aspect of our day. Let’s get into how we fit activities into this.
First of all, a short explanation of the French school system. In the grade school years, school is only four days a week. There are many reasons for this but one of the main ones is because of outside activities. In the US, sports teams, music clubs, art lessons and other activities are connected to the school. So if you want to play soccer, you just stay after school and play on the school’s soccer team. Or if you want to play an instrument, you join the school band. Of course, you can join clubs outside the school, but since most schools are finished for the day around 3pm, it is not a problem to join a club and practice after school.
This is not how it works in France, however. School is for school. All other activities must be practiced in an outside establishment. To make this possible, most activities are scheduled on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Regular school hours are on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The day is a bit longer, ending around 4:30 (depending on the school). So evening activities tend to start after 5pm. But Wednesdays and Saturdays are wide open.
My girls are involved in ballet, music, and art classes. My son takes a combined music and art class. That means that we are busy four days of the week. Monday is ballet for V from 5:15-6:15. Tuesday is viola for V from 4:00-4:30 and ballet for L from 5:15-6:15. Wednesday is for music classes at the Conservatory for L from 10:30-12:00 and V from 3:30-5:00. Thursdays are art classes for V and E from 5:15-6:15 and L from 6:15-7:15.
So we “school” only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Obviously, Wednesdays are busy in the morning and afternoon making lessons difficult.
We’ve now covered lessons and activities. What about housework and chores?
I don’t expect any formal chores before six years old when they start formal “schooling.” I still expect the littles to help with clearing the table, picking up toys, putting laundry away and taking out the trash. But it is not enforced.
But at six years old, I include life skills in our lesson plan. It becomes part of the school day. They become active participants in the upkeep of the house.
So here is how our schedule plays out with approximate hours. (Again, I have a loose schedule so we may change hours based on activities or appointments or just “hard days.”)
The kids will wake anytime before 8:00. I do not set alarms. I feel it is important for kids to feel their natural urges. We’ve lost that ability as adults forced to conform to society rules of schedules. But if kids learn in childhood how their body feels after a good night’s sleep as opposed to a short night, they will naturally know how to regulate as adults. They also need to learn how to be flexible.
Whatever time they wake up, chores begin around 8:00. They are responsible for dishes, putting laundry away, and the cleaning of one section of the house. Evening chores consist of cleaning off the table and a 15 minute tidy in their bedroom before bed.
Between 9:30 and 10:00 we begin Morning Time. This includes our devotional, Bible reading, read-aloud (currently Pilgrim’s Progress), Artist Study, Composer Study, Handicraft, Drawing, Composer Study, Folk Music, Hymn Study, Poetry, Recitation, Copywork, Book of Centuries and in French, Handwriting, Science, Géographie, Règles de vie, and Histoire. The only morning time subjects we do everyday are the devotional, Bible ready, read-aloud, Poetry, Recitation, Copywork, Book of Centuries, and Handwriting. Everything else is spread out over the week.
Lunch is around noon. “School” begins again at 2:00 and finishes around 4:00. This is where we do History, Biography, English, Français, Geography, Literature, Math, Nature Study, Reading lessons, and music practice. Again we don’t maintain this everyday. English, Français, Math, Reading lessons, and music practice are the only daily lessons. The rest are spread out over the week.
As mentioned before, most of the activities start around 5:00 pushing dinner to at least 6:30, if not 7:30. Bedtime routine will begin after this with the actual bedtime fluctuating between 8:30 and 9:00 depending on the day.
Do I expect this to be my magic schedule?
No! Of course not. It works for this year because that is where we are at. I expect this to change yearly as I add children to the school mix and as the activity schedule changes.
And if we ever return to the United States, the schedule will probably return to a 5-day one.
But if I’ve learned anything about homeschooling, or just being a mother, go with the flow. Expect the unexpected. And, most importantly, keep God at the center of everything.
With this you can’t go wrong.