Monday, February 10, 2014

Schooling with Littles :: Our Daily Schedule

This will be the first of a few posts about homeschooling with lots of littles in the house.  I have had several emails recently on this topic that motivated me to add more details here about how it looks in our family.  Right now, I am homeschooling only one grade (second) but have four other little ones to care for at the same time (ages 5, 3, 2, and 1), with another baby due in May.  I think that in many ways, it's much more difficult to juggle many different grades at once than it is to juggle many littles underfoot!  But having a house full of small people does have its own challenges, and I hope to share a bit about my experiences here on that topic.  I'm no expert, but I am in the trenches...and let's hope that I'm getting something out of my time there! ;)

two of my current toddlers in all their adorableness
Today, I simply want to share our daily schedule as an example of one way school can happen when there are littles involved.  In the next week or so, I'll go into a bit more detail about the core parts of our schooling schedule: Morning Basket and Naptime School.  I also hope to hit a few other topics, including how to take steps toward a routine and how to "keep toddlers busy," so if there's anything you'd like me to talk about, please let me know--share a comment or email me. :)

Before I get to the nitty-gritty, a few caveats:

:: A "daily schedule" is a bit misleading in that several days we don't follow this schedule at all: one day we're out all morning on our nature outing, another afternoon we're gone for piano lessons, etc.  As I have mentioned before, I schedule our school on a weekly basis.  So we have daily subjects that I aim to hit four days a week, and then we pick and choose on a daily basis from our weekly assignments.  By the end of the (perfect) week, everything on the checklist should be checked off
:: I'm assigning times to our routine, but there are only a few items that actually have a set time here: wake up, naptime, quiet time, dinner, bedtime.  The rest depends on daily tasks, moods, and so on.
:: This is what works for us.  I'm not suggesting it's the only way to do things nor am I suggesting you try duplicating this approach.  Take this post in the spirit of one homeschooling mom offering up her schedule as one way of organizing a school day.  .
:: As you're reading, feel free to sprinkle this record liberally with "break up squabbles," "get children in and out of time out," and "spend time dealing with a tantrum."  I think it would be hard to find a home dealing with so many personalities that doesn't devote time to child-training on a daily basis.  But I don't actually schedule those kinds of events. ;)
:: I'm sharing our complete daily routine rather than just our "school" schedule because as you'll see, school happens in bits all day at our house. 


So what a school day looks like here:

6:45am - Children up!  Kids read books together--bigs often read picture books to littles.  They often trade off 20 minutes of piano practice during this time.  Breakfast, prayer, morning chores, and computer time for me.

8am - Morning prayers with the children.

8:15am - Breakfast for the kids.  I start Morning Basket work: calendar, memory work, poetry, a bit of Italian.

8:45am - Breakfast clean-up.

9:15am - Kids head out back to play.  I keep the baby entertained indoors for a couple hours while doing chores, school planning, household tasks, computer time.

11:15am - Kids come inside and get washed up.  Big kids start on their math warm-up while I read a few picture books to the littles and give the baby her naptime bottle.  Tidy up.

11:30am - Naptime School.  Naps for my youngest three (ages 1, 2, 3) and rest time for my preschooler (age 5).  Big kids and I sit down with some of our weekly books and see what we get through in 45 minutes.  For example, we might read and narrate a chapter from Our Island Story, half a chapter from Mother Mary Loyola's First Communion, and two short chapters from The Kirbys' The World at Home.  Then I might read a few pages from Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales, one of our free reads.  My preschooler looks at her own book lying down next to us or listens in, as she prefers.

12:15pm - We go back to our math.  I set up one child at the dining table and one at the kitchen table.  After teaching each his or her lesson, I go between the two while I eat lunch and they work.

12:30pm - My preschooler joins us.  She draws while we finish up math.

 12:45pm - We go back to the rest of our Morning Basket work if we didn't finish it in the morning.  For example, we might have a bit more memory work to finish and artist study to do.  We also do "binder work" (copywork daily, mapwork and timeline weekly).  We play Italian games and do a bit of conversation practice, listen to a chapter of our current audio book, and do another weekly assignment if we have time--maybe a drawing lesson.  My preschooler joins us for all of this.

1:45pm - Babies are up from naps.  I send my preschooler up to entertain them while the big kids and I finish up any other schoolwork, put things away, and make lunch.

2pm - Youngest three come down from nap.  Lunch and drawing at the kitchen table.  Baby has lunch and her afternoon bottle.  I get dinner started.

2:45pm - Tidy up, then "Quiet Time," which is actually anything but quiet (we should probably change the name of it now that it has morphed into its current iteration).  All the children head into the living room.  Littles play together.  Big kids read a couple of their school assignments for the week and come to me in turns to narrate while I make dinner, handle kitchen chores, etc.  For example, they might read a chapter each from The Burgess Book of AnimalsChildren's History of the World, and Heroes of God's Church, stopping between each to run in and narrate to me in the other room.  They also keep an eye on the littles, including the baby.  When they're done with any school reading, they can choose from their free reading selections.

4:00pm - Playtime for all in the living room.  Big kids trade off practicing piano if they didn't have time in the morning.    

4:30pm - Clean up and dinner time.  Then the kids do their after-dinner chores.

5:30pm - I finish the dishes, clean the kitchen, and then putter around with my own projects while my husband either gives the kids their baths or plays a board game, bocce ball, or wrestling.  You know, Daddy stuff. ;)

6:30pm - Back downstairs for Family Rosary.

6:45pm - Tidy the house and head up for the bedtime routine (brushing teeth, evening devotions, a couple picture books if there is time).

7:30pm - Bedtime for all the children.

My husband and I spend the rest of the evening however we please: watching a show or movie, reading, writing a blog post, working on crossword puzzles.  I luxuriate in the all-kids-are-asleep quiet. :)  I have a strict 10:00 bedtime that I always usually follow.

So that's how we fit school in our day.  My main principle is to have a basic family routine with a couple daily learning blocks, and we do what we have time for day by day.  This kind of flexibility has allowed us to stay on schedule with no trouble at all for the past couple years.  And as my children get older and their schoolwork encompasses more of their time, I hope to move them toward a high degree of independence.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to share a bit more about our Morning Basket work!  (Update: Here it is!)


  1. I appreciate you posting this, Celeste! I am particularly struck by how you have bigger kids helping to watch littler kids as well as by your late lunch and early dinner. I like how you build in time where you either have kids helping with the littles or you have them in bed early enough that you get time throughout the day to do other things. I'm good about having the kids help with cleaning and laundry, but not so good about watching siblings - which tends to leave me pretty frazzled by the end of the day. I'm also struck by how you give them freedom within limits - where you say, "play outside for this period of time" or "playtime in the living room for this time slot" - it seems like that would really help corral the mess! My kids tend to free range during playtime - inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs... and clean-up always seems so overwhelming to them because stuff ends up spread EVERYWHERE!!

    I narrated your schedule to the family at dinnertime and we had a nice discussion about it. :-) I always end up in a scheduling flux for awhile after a baby is born, trying to figure out what will work best now. This provides me with some new ideas and some good food for thought. Oh, and I love that picture of the baby looking out the window at her siblings!

    1. Hi there, Amber! Thank you for your comment--I'm glad you're getting something out of it. It's always good to have fresh ideas, and I totally agree with you about wanting to shake things up when a new baby comes. I'm desperate during those newborn days to get to a "new normal" that we can all settle into. :)

      Yes, we do have strange-ish kids eat a big breakfast and a big dinner, and then a small lunch (more like a snack, really). We eat an early dinner so that we have a bit of time to hang out afterward. They used to eat later, but then it felt like we were rushing through the evening--hurry and clean up from dinner for baths and prayers and bed. ;)

      As for bigs helping with littles, yes, I definitely do! This is one big benefit I see in how my family has been planned by God, actually. It can be a little crazy at times with my littles all so close in age (the biggest space between my youngest four is 16 months), BUT it also means that they easily see each other as playmates. So the big kids watching them really just means keeping an eye on things--the littles mostly entertain themselves. ;) And I felt totally overwhelmed when I had just "twin" infants, but now I have TWO big kids that can trade off responsibilities and chores so that neither feels overwhelmed. "Many hands make light work" and all that. :)

      Managing play time in one room or another is one of my versions of toy rotation. The toys from each room pretty much stay in that room too, which means they end up playing different things at different times of the keeps things fresh. And yes, keeps the mess contained too. ;)

  2. I loved reading your daily schedule, Celeste! I am finding myself in a new place in home education - my oldest is nearly done, my next oldest is completely independent and that "self-educator" I worked so hard to cultivate in those early years...and it leaves me with a "fresh crop" of littles that I'm working with. It's really enjoyable returning to those things I treasured doing with my olders when they were little, but it's challenging, too, in figuring out this new normal as mommy of biggers and littlers. I love reading your posts for fresh inspiration and ideas!

    Loved your Morning Basket post, too! I'm in the midst of revamping ours since we're in term wrap-up! Got some neat ideas to pursue from you! Thanks!!! :)

    1. Thank you, Jen! You were the first inspiration for our Morning Basket, as you know, so I'm so thankful to you for sharing about it way back when. It was my first approach to homeschooling and continues to be a fruitful part of our family routine, as I'm sure it will be for years to come!

      A dear IRL friend of mine, a homeschooling mother of five, is in the position you are now--one boy in college, two older boys that are very much independent (but of course still need planning and guidance), and now "starting over" homeschooling her two little girls and looking for fresh ideas. I am in awe as she juggles it all! So much of motherhood seems to be about growing, stretching, finding new rhythms, adjusting to the needs of the family as it changes. At least we can never say our job is boring! :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I have five 13 to 1 and you sound more organized than I am. I commend your excellence and my only advice is keep up what you are already doing with the older ones helping the younger and with independent work as they get older. The time spent training them to be good readers, good narrators, good at looking up things comes in very handy when one day you wake up and they seem to know exactly what to do.

  4. This is such an inspiring and realistic sharing of your day. I will definitely pass it on to families with lots of littles to see how one family handles life with littles.

  5. Really, really pondering changing to nap time your post about relinquishing rest time in the middle of the day and I've already seen myself needing to do more chores doing my "rest time", so I can see how doing chores while the littles are up and spending time on school while they sleep would be wise (newbie #4 due in 3 weeks!!)....but I'm nervous that I'll be too tired. Though I'm not napping of course. One big question: playing outside while you work: this would be a challenge. Any ideas/counsel/advice? Our yard is safe (enough) with a fence, but I could seem them squabbling or being "bored" or in and out constantly. I would really appreciate some ideas about this. Of course it might be smoother than I think since it would be early in the day and right now I try to get them out later (hotter).

    1. Hi, Rochelle!

      I think for everyone it's going to be a trade-off: either you'd prefer to have that quiet rest time even if it means juggling school and toddlers at the same time; or you'd prefer to give up that rest time and have school be more relaxing. It definitely depends on temperament. I get stressed out when I'm trying to do too many things at one time, so I have chosen the latter route, but I know some moms can totally handle the former and guard their rest time. It's a matter of preference, for sure.

      To answer your questions about sending kids outdoors: this is actually one of the reasons I school during naps. My littles nap better and act better with plenty of outdoor time in the morning. (Actually, my oldest son behaves better afterward too. ;)) And I can't send them out solo--so the bigs go out all morning also. I know at some point I'll have to adjust that, when there are too many hours of school to be done to fit it all in during the early afternoon hours, but I imagine always having some early elementary kids that can watch over the toddlers while the bigs stay in with me at that point. Anyway, the bigger kids watch over the littles and make sure they don't get into trouble out there. We have a safe, small yard, so it's not difficult for me to keep tabs on them all through the windows. There are *definitely* squabbles out there on a daily basis, but there would be squabbles inside too. ;) So I just work around those. And as for being bored and coming in and out--I don't allow it. Once they're out, they stay out except to use the bathroom for the whole two hours. I occasionally bring someone in to do a time-out, but usually I even have them do their time-outs outdoors. ;)

      Let me know if I can clarify in any other way!

      P.S. Congrats on baby-on-the-way!!

  6. Revisiting this again. :) Thank you!! Your response was very helpful.

  7. Do you have your children help with the chores at any point? I am trying to teach my 4.5 year old and almost 3 year old to do simple chores, but it takes such a long time and really eats into any play and school time. I want them to help out and learn to contribute, but it is a struggle to find a balance between play and work for them. Any advice on how you go about this with your kids?

    1. Yes, my kids do help with chores. My current 4yo and 3yo help set and clear the table, fold and put away the laundry (the towels, rags, bibs, etc.), put away their toys, and do little chores for me when I ask. My big kids do a lot more than that, obviously. ;) I have a couple posts on this that will give you some more specifics:

      When my oldest two kids were 6:

      Our current chore schedule:

      Chores do take a good chunk of the day, but I think they are very important. They are a way children can serve their families and those they love. They teach good habits like attention, diligence, orderliness, and so on. They are good for busy-kid energy. :) I like to have chores scattered throughout my kids' days at set times to become good habits.

      Hope that helps! If you have specific questions, let me know! :)

  8. How do you handle snacks? We haven't ever done official snacks between meals, really, but I'm feeling pressure about implementing a snack time somewhere, and to me that means more prep, mess supervision, and mess clean up. Any advice, or do you allow snacks between meals? Thank you.

    1. Hi, Jennifer! We don't do snacks here -- haven't yet had a need to. I know that would not work for every family, but it works for us! :)

    2. Thank you for your reply! That just reassures me we can do this no-snacking thing, too. We are the minority, I think. :)

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  10. Dear Celeste, have you written an update to this anywhere now that you have older kids? Also, I would love to know what you feed your kids for breakfast that holds them over for so many hours! :)

    1. Hi Samara!

      This is probably the closest thing to an update: I wrote it a couple years ago, but our schedule still looks really similar.

      You can see an updated version of just the Year 6 schedule at the very bottom of this post:

      I'm hoping to share the new version of our schedule when I get to posting this year's plans + chore chart.

      For breakfast, we do oatmeal, french toast casserole, PB+J sandwiches, egg + sausage casserole, baked nothing very special, but they do eat a LOT at that meal. But we are just used to eating this way, with a long break between our breakfast and our light lunch, so maybe we're just used to it? :)

    2. hi there Celeste! I found you through using the CMEC and I'm blown away by all the amazing resources. I'm curious, do you have a updated timetable/Chore cart that you'd be willing to share? I have 4 under 8 and find that sticking to "schedules" is the hardest thing for us to do, but the idea of doing school during non-traditional hours so to speak might just be the trick. Any more advice or guidance would be greatly appreciated. Oh! and how to give a captain idea to inspire children to do chores when they are used to basically doing nothing would be super helpful too. thank you!