We are definitely eclectic homeschoolers. While I feel most connected to the Charlotte Mason approach and I envision our homeschooling through that lens, I happily adopt elements of other educational models. In particular, I love aspects of the Waldorf tradition*. The concept of rhythm–a foundational element of the Waldorf lifestyle–resonates with me. Rhythms happen naturally. The ocean has a rhythm. The days and nights have a rhythm. Even the newest babies have a rhythm to their sleeping and waking, their hunger and alertness.
Schedules, on the other hand, are imposed upon us, or we impose them upon ourselves. Schedules tells what to do at what time. At 8 o’clock, I must eat breakfast. At 12 o’clock, I must eat lunch. The reading lesson starts at 1 o’clock. Dance class is at 5. You get the idea.
Perhaps this kind of rigidity works well for some people, but in my family, a schedule is a promise of failure. I can guarantee that someone will have a dirty diaper at breakfast time. Phonics will take longer than the time I allotted. We’ll fall in love with our latest novel and not be able to stop.
So instead of watching schedules be unmet day after day, we follow a rhythm. I love reading “day in a life” posts and articles, so I hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse into how our days run–the rhythm that keeps this family of seven moving forward.
Morning. I wake up with the baby. Sometimes that is 5am. Sometimes, like today, it is a glorious 7am. Usually, we are up for the day between those hours. I change the baby, and I get myself ready. I make breakfast for my husband, and our toddler usually wakes up during this time. I make the little guy breakfast, too. I sit down at the computer to breastfeed our youngest. She’s four months old. While we nurse, I post to my doula business page and the organizing support group I lead on Facebook. Ideally, I spend some time in my Bible at this point. One of my goals in 2017 is to make my Bible study time more of a priority, so I’m trying to read the scripture before I jump on Facebook.
I put in a load of laundry. Slowly, the other kids make their way downstairs. The big kids can make their own breakfasts, so they busy themselves with cereal and bagels while I nudge the young ones toward getting ready for the day.
I glance at my meal plan and the to-do list in my bullet journal.
Everyone is wide awake, and the inevitable squabbles are starting. Milk has probably been spilled. Oatmeal is probably getting cold. Eggs are probably sticking to a pan. I have already let the dog out about six times.
The process of morning chores is underway. Each child (except the baby, of course) is responsible for bringing his or her breakfast dishes to the sink, dressing, brushing his or her teeth, and tidying his or her bed. I don’t say “making the bed” because I want to make the job as easy as possible. As long as the comforter is neat and the pillow is at the head of the bed, I’m happy. I don’t need to know what dwells beneath the blanket!
When I think enough time has passed for everyone to be ready, I sit down at the piano with a baby in my lap. I play a few simple songs (sometimes with one hand). This is our “school bell.” The kids know that it is time to come to the dining room. I hope that we will come together for school by 9am, but that doesn’t always happen. We sing a bit. We read a bit of scripture, and we dig into our current family read-aloud book. Right now, it’s Little House in the Big Woods. Sometimes, we read a few pages. Sometimes, we read a few chapters. We do the picture study from Ambleside Online, and we listen to a piece from our current composer (also from http://www.amblesideonline.com).
The rest of the morning is spent on handwriting, language arts, math, and history. I move from child to child and back again. I attend to diapers, spit up, the dog, and the toddler who isn’t quite ready for formal school activities yet. He and I do a puzzle together. I eat a pretend bowl of soup with a pretend piece of birthday cake in it. I savor it with a hearty “yummmm,” and my son laughs, his chef’s hat askew. I switch the laundry. I nurse my daughter half a dozen times. I sneak a peek at Facebook and chastise myself for doing so.
I coax my middle son back to the table. He hates writing, but we manage to inch our way through his assignment. I give instructions (again) through clenched teeth and remind myself to stay calm. I shove down my fears about the standardized test he will take this year, and instead, I focus on the huge notebook of drawings that he wants me to see. I praise him and kiss the top of his head.
Lunch. Lunch is often a hodgepodge that happens some time in the vicinity of noon. I plan to give everyone an entire hour for eating and playing. I make a few peanut butter and jelly wraps. I make a grilled cheese sandwich. I serve yogurt, fruit, and veggies with hummus. This isn’t gourmet. The kids eat and talk. I call my mom for a quick minute. Sometimes that quick minute turns into a long one, and I have to rush to gather everyone back together for school. On other days, I take the rest of the lunch hour for myself. I nurse the baby, read, or mess around on the internet. I enjoy this time while I keep one ear open to the sounds of my children playing with zero agenda. There are arguments to moderate, but mostly, they play well together.
Afternoon. We finish up our history lesson. We do science, art, or music. Sometimes all. Sometimes one. The toddler takes a nap (on some days). On Wednesdays, we go to a homeschool history class at the public library. We’re done with everything by 1 or 2pm. I bring all activities to a hault so that we can do a quick clean-up before the kids run off to play. The oldest reads for pleasure, making his Mama’s heart sing. I put on music, and it isn’t unusual to find someone dancing. I scramble to do a bit of cleaning, make things less chaotic before Daddy gets home. That’s the goal.
Evening. On Mondays, my daughter goes to dance class. We have dinner afterward. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we have church activities at 6pm, so we eat dinner before heading out. The kids set the table, and they clear their own dishes afterward. I contemplate how our chores need to evolve as these children grow and mature. They are ready for more. I wipe up spills and marvel at the number of utensils under the dining room table. How does this happen? My husband starts the dishes, and I give him a big hug from behind. The baby is in a wrap, sandwiched between us. The rest of our evening involves board games, stories, and a little too much wrestling.
On Fridays, we attend a homeschool co-op from 9am to 12:30pm. We have lunch there, and the kids have some playtime with their friends. Co-op is such a blessing to us. I love watching my children form meaningful relationships with kids from a wide range of ages. When the weather is nice, they play outdoors and run off some of that wonderful childhood energy.
This is how our days roll. We move from one thing to the next. We have interruptions. We go with the flow. We make messes. We recover from the messes. The next day comes. It is predictable yet entirely new. I soak in these moments and give thanks for both their comforting rhythm and their inevitable surprises.
*Waldorf education is founded on Anthroposophy, a philosophy by Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf schools all over the United States and internationally celebrate festivals that have Christian and pagan roots. Some elements of Anthroposophy do not align with Christianity in the way that I practice it, so I do not adopt Waldorf as our primary mode of education. I do, however, have a great respect for the lifestyle, as well as the right for every family to choose the style of education that works best for them. For more information, please visit http://www.waldorfeducation.org.