Homeschool – A Day in the Life, Part I: Overview

This is homeschooling.
This is homeschooling.

Periodically, people ask me what homeschooling looks like. This is a tough question to answer because homeschooling can look vastly different in different households. Some families embrace experiential learning and avoid workbooks, some use an out-of-the-box curriculum, some use structured parent-designed curricula, and some use online K12 programs. Some families have no involvement with the local schools, others attend some classes or participate in sports or instrumental music programs at their public school and do the rest of their instruction at home. Some take community college classes, some attend homeschool co-ops of various designs, some hire tutors, and some use a charter school program that allows them to learn at home but participate in field trips and outings with other homeschoolers within the charter school. Some families have a primary parent who “does school” with the children, while other families tag-team the instruction with mom, dad, and even grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends getting in on the action. Some families have two income-earning parents who arrange their schedules so they can homeschool their children, others are single-parent households, and others have one stay-at-home parent and one who works outside the home. And this isn’t nearly all of the arrangements possible (I’m thinking about my friends who are boat-schooling their two children).

There are so many ways to homeschool. I couldn’t begin to catalog what a day in the life looks like for every homeschooling family, but I can tell you what it looks like (for the moment) in my family.

In this post, I’ll give an overview, and then in subsequent weekly posts I’ll break it down so you can get a sense of all of the moving parts that make up our homeschooling lives. I speak only for how we do things in our family, and only about what is working for us right now. By the time I publish the last post, some or all of this will almost certainly have changed.

In my family, I am the stay-at-home parent, and I do the majority of the homeschooling. My spouse sometimes does a math or science lesson or spearheads flute practice on the weekend, he’s in charge of taking our daughter to her flute group class and our son to his sports class, and he reads to both children in the evenings before bed. Everything else, however, is within my purview. I send our annual report and our intent-to-homeschool letter to the school district; I research, select, and purchase our curriculum materials; and I do the instruction during the day.

Our schedule and the materials we use are highly influenced by The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. We don’t follow their plan precisely, but then, apparently neither did they. I was not there for the keynote address Susan Wise Bauer delivered to the Utah Home Educators Association Convention several years ago, but I’m told that she assured Utah homeschoolers that she knows that the schedules in the book are unrealistic to follow to the letter, and that they were included because the publisher requested them, not because they reflect the plan that she followed with her own children. She encouraged parents to use the schedules as a jumping-off point rather than a prescription for exactly how one should homeschool.

This is also homeschooling.
This is also homeschooling.

We school year-round because I want to feel comfortable taking a day here and a day there for illness or just for field trips or taking a break every now and then, and I wouldn’t feel confident doing so if we took a traditional three-month Summer Break. In addition, both of my children do much better when we keep to a routine. I fear that if we took three months off, getting them back into homeschooling would be painful for all involved. Summers are a little more relaxed, though. We don’t stop schooling entirely, but we go at a slower pace, and we take more days off.

Autumn through spring, we do lessons in the mornings and do outings in the afternoons; in summer that’s reversed so that we can have outside time before the heat of the day. Each morning (or if I’m particularly organized, each night before I go to bed), I post a list of subjects on our dry-erase schedule pages. Then I let my daughter decide the order in which to do things. I’ve begun listing the amount of time I expect each subject to take to help my daughter with her planning.

It usually takes us 3 to 4 hours to finish all that we have on our list. This is just direct instruction and doesn’t include the reading and other activities my daughter does on her own. Most of the time we’re finished with homeschool by lunchtime, but some days we have to do some catching up in the afternoon or just after dinner. It’s remarkable how much you can accomplish when the teacher:student ratio is 1:1.

I always underestimate how long Latin will take.
I always underestimate how long Latin will take.

After lunch, we either head out for an afternoon of homeschool activities or errands, or we go for a neighborhood walk and then come home and read books together. Then my daughter goes off to do her own thing, which usually involves six or seven books open across her bed so she can go from one to another gathering information for the “stories” she likes to make up and act out. My son and I play together or make dinner together or sometimes, if the stars align, we each do our own thing, too.

Most days, my daughter is at least resigned to our homeschool plan, if not actively enthusiastic about lessons. And she’s often outright enthusiastic, which I love. But if my daughter just isn’t feeling it one day, I try to honor that. Some days, it’s just not going to work out, and I feel comfortable calling an impromptu “snow day” from time to time, regardless of the weather. But I always try to find a way to work out a reasonable solution before we call off for the day. I might arrange a short dance party for the kids and myself or fix a special snack or read a book and then try to sit back down to lessons. Other times, we agree to play a game, like dominoes or Pengoloo, alternating moves in the game with homeschool lessons.

If a particular subject or curriculum is giving us problems on a regular basis, I take it as a sign that we need to reevaluate and perhaps change course a bit. We might need to modify the curriculum we’re using, or we might need a whole new curriculum or a different approach entirely (classes, tutors, group activities) to help learn the same material. One of the things I love about homeschooling is the flexibility it affords us. If I tried to follow a particular plan too rigidly, I would be sacrificing one of the major benefits of educating our children the way I do, so I try to bend like a reed when possible.

So, that’s the overview for us. In Part II, I’ll provide details about the curricula we use and how we chose the materials we use.

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