The first books read at the beginning of a homeschooling journey play a major role in a homeschooling mom’s understanding of education and the learning process.
In those early days, I read books from Charlotte Mason educators and unschoolers, so our homeschool has always been influenced, in varying degree, by both.
In this post, I want to give you a general idea of what classical homeschooling looks like in my home right now. The current season I’m in includes teaching kids aged 12, 10, and 9 while juggling the adorable madness of a 2-year old and twin 1-year-olds. The size and shape of my family has a major impact on how I approach classical homeschooling.
It looks different in every family, but here’s what it looks like in ours:
Babies & Toddlers in the Mix
Homeschooling looked a lot different when it was just the three older kids (note that I didn’t say easy – just different).
Now that we’ve got a whole new crew of babies and toddlers underfoot (praise be!), everything has been turned on its head. Every single component of our homeschool- from curriculum choices to the fleshing out of a daily schedule- is impacted by the presence of little people who like to love on mama and cause a ruckus around the house.
For my older kids, work times are punctuated by periods of being on baby-duty, taking the toddler outdoors to blow bubbles, or making play dough cat after play dough cat to keep the 2-year-old happy. I plan the most intensive work (in our home, this means math) for the twins’ nap time and let the toddler watch a show (gasp!) so that I can give my kids undivided attention and we can all concentrate on the work at hand. Some days, my kids do more playing-with-little-people than they do working on their own school stuff, and that’s okay because on other days, the opposite is true.
Having all these babies in our house is exactly what God had in mind for my crew, so I’m quite certain the poetic knowledge we gain from taking care of babies and toddlers while we’re diagramming sentences and drilling math facts is in His plan as well. Flexibility is key here- when I get frustrated by the daily juggle of bigs and littles (and I do), I have to remind myself: you are where you are and God meets you right there.
Read Aloud Everything Possible
Reading aloud isn’t just for Charlotte’s Web and the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (although those are great choices if you need something new!). It’s also for science texts, history bits, catechism, fables, and fairy tales. It’s for everything.
Andrew Pudewa convinced me that older kids need to hear language read aloud even more than they need to read it themselves, so we read aloud everything we can.
Before the recent rush of babies, we’d read aloud for 2-3 hours every day. We aren’t able to get nearly that much in anymore, though it’s an ideal I will continue to strive for. The basic principle here is that if it can be read, it can be read aloud, and I’ll probably try to do so if I can make it happen.
We have probably all heard the analogy: a college professor stands in front of a lecture hall with a large vase and a variety of rocks, all different sizes. If he puts the small rocks in first, he can’t get the big ones in at all. If, however, he begins by placing the big rocks in first, the small ones are able to fit into the nooks and crannies around the edges- all the rocks fit into the vase.
I do the same thing with my homeschool. The big rocks are the most important things- the subjects or skills that I prioritize over everything else. For our family, these are math, language, and Morning Time. Everything else (even formal religion class, because so much of what we do is just a living out of our faith by attending Mass, receiving sacraments, and living a life of prayer) fits in around those priorities.
When we’re feeling squeezed, we pare back to the big rocks and don’t stress too much about the rest.
This has become such a key part of our homeschool that I can’t leave it out. I’ve written more about morning time here and here– this is the way I weave beauty and goodness into our homeschool even when we’re in survival mode. Morning Time is a big rock.
Here’s where so many of our homes look a bit different from one another’s. In our home right now, we memorize the Classical Conversations timeline, some whole-passage scripture (not verses pulled out independently), poetry, and lots and lots of Shakespeare. We don’t do a lot of other facts or tidbits. I’m not opposed to such memory work, but when push comes to shove, I really want to prioritize the memorization of beautiful language, so that’s where we put our time and energy.
Do the Next Thing
Probably the way our homeschool is more relaxed than most others is that I don’t work toward a set of lessons being completed in a set amount of time (within reason). My focus is on doing the next thing, doing it well, and then moving on. We do have a set schedule (large blocks of time set aside for certain subjects or activities), but I don’t plan out when we’ll complete a particular book or resource.
In a recent conversation I had with Andrew Kern, he encouraged homeschooling moms not to fit extra work into the homeschool day, even if it was possible to do so. Decide first what needs to be done that day, do it, and then if it gets done early- go rest. If it doesn’t, stop at your allotted time (40 minutes for math, perhaps, or 5 minutes for handwriting) and wait till the next day to pick up where you left off.
When I do this, my focus shifts from getting through the book or checking off the lesson to helping my child achieve real understanding and learn how to work diligently every day. This means that my lesson plans look rather open-ended because I don’t know how long it will take to get through a math book or read through a stack of literature.
We take each day at a time and just do the next thing. It helps me teach from rest and remember that I’m teaching people, not lessons.
For us, classical homeschooling looks a lot like a full-to-bursting life with an emphasis on diligence where it matters most.