August 9, 2010

Keepin' It Real During the Off Days?

This past May, three weeks before I had my fourth child, I called a very unceremonious end to our school year.  I was done.  My pregnancy was such that I could no longer keep up with the physical requirements of homeschooling.  Heck, it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning!  Fortunately my seven year old is very eager to help in any way.  So with her help, we were able to keep the house from falling down and thanks to a local pizza place, every one was fed.

At the end of May, I went in do be induced and ended up having an emergency c-section, so I was looking forward to a nice long recovery before starting my second year of homeschool.

I should have known better.  It didn't take long until my kids were all foaming at the mouth.  So when my baby was a mere four weeks old I was at my wits end!  My husband had already gone back to work, extended family had long since left me to tend to my four children ALONE (the nerve) and I was so ready to ship them off to the nearest military academy.

Then I remembered what school was like those first few months before the morning sickness kicked in.  It was Heaven!  My kids were nice to me, they were sweet to each other (mostly) and my home was consistently peaceful for the first time in years.  Not to mention the fact that since I no longer had time to "waste time" I was much more productive while perusing my own interests and guilty pleasures.

The answer to the problem of my rabid children wasn't to put them into straight jackets and lock them in the garage, but to start school again.

I was smart enough to plan next year before my boy was born, so everything was done and all I had to do was start.  Monday morning rolled around and I just pulled out the school stuff, dumped it on the table and hit the floor running.  Oh we were so productive that first week.  I was awesome.  We finished everything on our lists, we played with friends, we went to the pool, my house was clean and we had dinner nearly every night.  Saturday came and I was exhausted.  But it was a good exhausted.  The second week was just as good.  Third week I started to lose steam and two days into the fourth week I decided we'd take the rest of the week off.

I usually take one day during the week and declare it a Home Ec day.  That is the day "we" catch up on laundry and other chores (I try and have them help, but they are still young enough that they are more in the way than anything else, it's the age-old parenting dilemma, but that is a post for another day).  By that fourth week, while I had done my best to keep up on the house work, the corners of my house needed a good scrubbing, not to mention the fact that my brain needed a BREAK!

Now don't get me wrong, I love my kids and I love to teach them, but we all know that you can't draw water from an empty well.  And my well was getting pretty dry.

But after two days off, I wanted to pull my hair out again.  My kids were bouncing off of the walls and the only quiet I could find was in the corner of my bedroom closet.  But only because they didn't think to look for me there.

When thinking of my family, I am always reminded of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol where it says :

The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty.  The consequences were uproarious beyond belief...

My home is the most peaceful and my children are the most happy and enjoyable when we are actively having school.  But it's unrealistic for me to have school ALL the time.  I just can't do it.  Not only do I have to do things like clean up after them and myself, try and prepare healthyish food, educate myself, exercise and find time to fulfill my other commitments, but sometimes I just need some time to be by myself and be still.  Unfortunately, our daily quiet times aren't enough to fulfill those necessities, especially since I usually spend that time with my oldest.

Does anyone else have this problem?  How do I keep my children happy and occupied (and quiet) while I am tending to things that, while not more important then they are, nevertheless need to be tended to?

My children have no shortage of imagination and can entertain themselves quite effectively, however, more often then not, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Distruction keep me from accomplishing anything during those few hours allotted for me to play catch up (Heaven be thanked for my seven year old, who is the eye of the storm).

I have found lately that I am relying more and more on the television to do this for me, but it's not what I want to use, nor is it effective for very long.  I was pondering this problem during school a few weeks ago.  I was dreading the weekend and feeling like the Grinch:

"For, tomorrow, he knew...

All the Who girls and boys
would wake up bright and early. They'd rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That's one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!"

It's not even the noise itself that bothers me, that comes with the territory.  It's the endless barrage of "Mommy she/he... It's not fair... He/She... Mommy can I... Mommy can you... Mooooommy's" that get me down.  But I digress... big surprise.

I was pondering this problem and a hint of a thought came to me (no doubt an answer to my prayer).  It hasn't evolved into a full thought yet, so I want your ideas too.  But there just is not enough time during our school days to cover all of the subjects that we (I) want to.  Music and Art are just a few of the life enriching things that just didn't make the cut this year.

And as much as I might want to, I don't have to be present for every subject.  And now that my eldest is getting to the point where she can read quite well independently, sometimes I can pass the teaching roll to her, and I just know she'll love it.

So this is what I'm going to try, no more days off from school.  But on those days where I need to play catch up, we will not have any of the subjects we normally put a priority on.  No math, no english, no history or science.  That will be the day for painting, for piano plinking, for play doh and other crafts that don't require my help or instruction.  I also would love to have my big girl read about art and music history and generally to get her hands dirty with the arts.

Any other ideas?  How do you deal with the chaos of school withdraw?  Be specific!  I'd love your recommendations :)

Courtney is an overly scheduled, overly stressed, overly sleep deprived and overly blessed homeschooling mom.  She has been married to the greatest (and best looking) man for almost nine years and has loved every minute of it (almost).  Her husband recently joined the Air Force and so far, she is thoroughly enjoying the military life.  She has two girls, ages seven and five, and two boys ages 3 years and four weeks.  She is in her first year of homeschooling and has decided there is no way she is going back.  Courtney knows it is selfish of her, but she feels that her children are entirely too much fun for someone else to enjoy their company all day long while she can't.  Courtney apologizes if this post is long winded and rambling.  She tends to feel very passionately about things and has a hard time ever shutting up.  You can find more of her and her musings over at My Ordinary, Every Day, Happily Ever After.

13 comments - Add a comment below -:

Mariel said...

I love this post because I can totally relate! Except, I've only been doing homeschool for one week :) But, I did notice last week how much more peaceful my home seemed. There was more order, less mess and chaos. I felt productive, like a fabulous mom :), and that my kids were having fun and learning. But, meanwhile...the laundry and dishes pile would continue to grow...the weeds are taking over the lawn, the mold is growing on the grout in my shower, and I'm plum out of energy! Oh, and I'm 7 months prego with my 5th. Having the energy to keep up on the housework is totally MY QUESTION for everyone too! Every day I pray for more energy, but I can't get enough! I need a maid, a personal assistant...wouldn't that be nice?!? I agree with the arts/craft idea...that's what I've been doing. I ordered several cute crafty projects on Amazon that come with everything you need. The kids have loved working on those. I bought a sprinkler and a bunch of popsicles and send the kids outside...and it's a requirement to stay out there for at least a while! I've also done reading time where they have to find a quiet corner of the house and just READ for an hour. Oh, truly is the greatest and hardest thing ever! Love it.


Rebecca said...

One thing that has helped a lot over the summer is having friends over to play (as long as they get along well :p). I think that is an important part of learning. I often count it as recess or PE. However, with school starting up, that won't help much during the day.

I have the same troubles, though, and by February last year, I just couldn't do school anymore. It was not a good month.

I look forward to hearing from others, too.

One idea I have had that I have yet to do :) is create a busy box or a list of missions (I have boys and they would like the idea of having a mission to accomplish). The box would only be brought out on those really "special" days or I would try to keep changing what was in there, so that it stayed fresh.

Why haven't I done this yet? :D

Rosalie said...

With 7 children I found that breaking things down to 10-15 minutes a day I can fit most subjects in.

I have simple routines set up for morning, education, evening times that are laminated and on the wall so that the kids can go and check off their items that they completed. I only have 5 items for them to do in the morning and evening routine so I don't overwhelm them.

Because we work on things in small increments I'm not fighting with the kids to do all their work. I'm able to encourage them to do their best and get what they can get completed in 15 minutes. I have a timer for each child. This gives them the feeling of control when they set the timer and they see the countdown. They are more willing to do things on their own so instead of pushing them to learn I find myself guiding them and answering their questions.(best timer I found is at

With this schedule we cover 8 subjects a day and are able to be finished by lunch so the afternoon is free. I know this doesn't sound like a lot of time for education but doing this I have found less stress and we accomplish more. Because it's only 3 hours a day we are not burning out and can do this year round. Even when we travel the kids can do their education routine.We just add where we travel as a field trip.

Doing the math on this if you educate 260 days for 15 minutes a day your child receives 62.4 hours in one subject. If you are covering 8 subjects that is 499.2 hours of education. Then add in extra activities that can be completed in the afternoon or on field-trips such as 4-H, music or dance lessons, or sports or anything you love to do will add 130-300 hours of education. So for the year your child could receive 500-800 hours or equivalent to 125-200 hours per quarter.

I am amazed at how much we are able to accomplish in the allotted 15 minutes. What makes it more amazing is when a child finds something they like they will do the 15 minutes then continue on their own in their free time. We have completed many math, history and science books before schedule this way.

Another one of my big helps is that I focus my goals on giving my children the love of learning legacy. I believe that when we install a love for learning, creating and reading in the heart of a child they will learn and grow all their lives.

Liz said...

Fantastic post! Hilarious. I have this same problem, only we haven't even started homeschooling yet. Our first year ever will begin in a couple of weeks (wahoo!). Still, kids do much better when they have a clear direction every day instead of wandering through the house wreaking havoc on home and mom. :D So far, I just solve this problem by sending them outside. They play great together out there and keep themselves busy for loooooong periods of time. I'm excited to read what other homeschooling moms do, though, so that I can build up an arsenal of tricks for the future. Thanks for posting this!

Emily said...

Reading this article seems like maybe homeschooling isn't the best choice at every point in a mother's life. If you are trying to do subjects that don't require your presence, maybe they would get better attention at a public school?

I guess I am just curious about why one would choose to homeschool exclusively rather than supplement at home, especially when they are in the exhaustive stages of raising a newborn.

It sounds like you are exhausted but dedicated. Thanks for the feedback about your experiences.

Kendra said...

It's good to know that other people feel this way! I know that when we have structured days and I'm not feeling "tired" then my house is so much more peaceful. With us I have noticed that if I resort to TV {movies cuz we don't have Cable} my kids are more grumpy. We have days where they do more on their own, while I catch up and work around the house. They are more hands on Montessori days where we color, play outside, play dough, cars, Sand art, all that fun stuff. Then I am usually good for the next week. I also am not planning on doing school on Fridays. We will do a little reading and stuff in the morning, but Friday is going to be our fun day where the kids will cash in on rewards they earned during the week and we do something fun out in the community! Let me know if you figure anything else out. I would love suggestions also!
This is my first school year and I didn't really have a good summer because my kids got board, but I needed this summer to help me prepare, I hope to only have small breaks and keep educating my kids all year long.

Wow I'm long winded also! Must be a homeschooling mom thing :)

Cindy said...

Wow, that sounds just like my family. In fact I read this post on a day that I felt like that woman in the picture at the beginning. I too have a new baby and my oldest is 7. I'm in my second year of homeschooling and loving it. The only thing that keeps me sane during the summer is that my kids do swimming lessons for 6 weeks. Otherwise I'd probaby go crazy too. I like your idea of doing music and art on those "days off". I will try it! Thank you!

Plain and Precious said...

Your ideas are GREAT! Way to be inspired!

Some of the ideas I have found helpful for a few minutes of catch-up time are:
Books on tapes
Science DVD's
History CD's or DVD's
I also don't sweat too much about quantity when they are under eight. Short bursts of fun learning is more productive for us than staying on schedule. We work better and are kinder to each other when we all stress less. There is time for staying on track and cramming in quantity when they are old enough to work more independently. I should be ashamed of how little formal education my young ones received, and yet they are still WAY ahead of all their peers and much better behaved. The more consistant I am with gentleness and cuddling and working with them when I am calm, the more I see real progress.

Sherry said...

Sounds like a great idea. My boys are 4 and 3 and would probably benefit from the time spent being independently creative while I keep some things under control. (I feel your pain too, as I have a 5 month old also!)

Amanda said...

We are starting our 3rd year of homeschooling in very similar stages. My kids are 7, 5, 4 and 1.

My kids do so well when we're on task and doing school. They know what to expect. During the summer, when routines are out the window, the kids are wild. I think it's because they don't know what's happening from the moment they wake up. Other than having breakfast, nothing else is scheduled for the day and the unexpected makes for chaos.

To keep us on task and keep the house picked up (we're never completely scrubbed), we have a list of 4 things for the kids to do each morning (brush teeth, get dressed, read scriptures, do chores) and evening (brush teeth, put on pajamas, clean room, say prayer) on their own and then before school starts in the morning we have daily chores. Each child has a chore they are always responsible for and then we have rotating chores. An example of chores would be, feed and water the dog, take out trash and recycling (including checking bathroom trash cans), water the garden (seasonal). These are all things my little helpers can do and having someone else do them saves me about 5 minutes per chore. At the end of the day that really adds up. The rotating chores are clear the breakfast dishes form the table and wipe it down (so we're ready to start school), pick up the living room floor (so I don't see the clutter while we're schooling and get distracted) and clean the kitchen (empty dishwasher, clear counter tops, etc). These allow us to have a clean school environment even if the rest of the house is dirty.

I try to do st least 2 loads of laundry a day, one in the morning before the kids get up and one at night after the kids go to bed.

One thing that REALLY helps me is to wake up before the kids. This changes my attitude about starting the day. I get to choose whether I'm ready to get up and start rather than feeling pushed out of bed by hungry kids. This is a hard one when you have a newborn, but when you feel like you can manage it, try to take 15-20 minutes to get up before the kids normally get up. Go to the bathroom (a luxury for a mom, sometimes), get yourself completely dressed including shoes so you're ready for anything...sometimes the thought of getting everyone dressed just to run to the store for milk is overwhelming, but if you and all the kids are already dressed it's not such an overwhelming thought.

Have a schedule. I plan out time for music...we do piano and violin. Somedays it's hard to find the time to manage it all, but if it's on a schedule then I already have time allotted for it, I just have to do it.

And remember, it's not the end of the world if you have 4 day school weeks for awhile. We still manage to get it all in, even when we have a crisis and need to take some time off.

Good luck finding what works for you!

kim said...

Love to hear what everyone else is doing.

I wanted to respond to Emily since she asked a couple very valid questions that I think a lot of people I know also wonder.

First off, just because things get crazy and you need some time for the kids to work on their own doesn't mean that they aren't still getting more one-on-one teacher/child time than they would in school. I've worked in the classroom and it probably only works out to a few minutes a day, if even that, for the teacher to be with each child on their own (probably more like 15-20 minutes a week, and that's only in the younger grades--there's pretty much no time once they get up to middle and high school, unless the kids come in on their own.) So even if as a homeschooler, you only block out about 1 hour of your time to work on "instructing", your kid is probably getting plenty (depends some on the age and subject.)

Also, the supplementing versus homeschooling seems to come up a lot with my friends. I've recently decided we're going to try first grade at a charter school this year, and I'm pretty sad about it, (but my daughter is so excited and it really is a great school, so we'll try it out). Anyway, everyone keeps telling me I don't have to give up all the fun things we do, I can just supplement on the side of school. But I'm wondering, when? When she'll leave for school at 7:30, we'll get home around 3:30/3:45 and then have to fit in HW, dinner, bath, getting prepped for the next day, all before a 7:30 bedtime, there really isn't time to do science projects or get out the art supplies. I'm overwhelmed at the thought of running to music lessons and sports practices between school and dinner, even though I know that's a pretty typical experience. And after a full day at school, she's probably just going to want to play on her own, or with her brother. I think free time and unstructured play is very important, too, so I don't like to overdo it.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is the reason to homeschool is because you get to do all the extras with your kids, without the crazy pace that most families have to live. It's crazy in a different way because there is seldom quiet or alone time, but when the rest of the neighborhood was rushing to get to the busstop on the first day of school last year, and we were sitting at the table, enjoying a leisurely breakfast in our pj's watching the birds in the backyard, I couldn't help but feel a sense of calm. It might only last for a moment, but those little family times are a big part of why I wanted to homeschool. :)

Courtney said...

Thanks Kim! Amen to all you said. I would like the clarify as well.

My life is extremely hectic, what mothers life isn't? But it's much less so now then when my daughter went to public school. Especially since the little darlings that make my day wild and crazy are not the ones that would be going to school :)

And most of the time, school days aren't hectic. They are peaceful and very enjoyable. It's the weekends and the days off that aren't.

And I very much enjoy my one on one teaching time with the kids and I do as much of it as I can, especially because I enjoy learning about the subjects as well. But that it probably isn't necessary for EVERYTHING and that if I let them do more on their own, then I might be able to get my mom stuff done without the chaos of kids.

Angie said...

Last week, I read about the 6 weeks of school, one week off schedule. I really like that idea, because schooling almost straight until Thanksgiving was stressful for me! Then I figure I can have a couple of weeks off here and there and can end up going year around.

And I also figure with going with a 6 week schedule, I can more easily work around up-coming stressful family pregnancy, newborns, moves, vacations, etc. And plan the larger breaks around those times. And I can always look forward to a break, so hopefully, I'll avoid major burn out. Hopefully!

We started school this week (because everyone else in our town did, too...crazy!). We're doing a 4 day school week with Fridays off. Monday, we stuck to the schedule. Tuesday, we got it all done...eventually. Wednesday, we ran errands, and Thursday, we worked super fast so we could go to the pool...and then we stayed up late to watch the meteor shower. Come Friday (the off-day), my oldest said that he wanted to to an art project. He wanted to do school on an off day? okay!

Someday...I may actually stick to a schedule. I'm always a work in progress!